As graphic novel month concludes, we’ll wrap things up with a roundup of new (to me) graphic novel series.
It’s actually unfair to put the first four volumes of Mike Carey’s Lucifer series (Devil in the Gateway, Children and Monsters, A Dalliance with the Damned, and The Divine Comedy) into a general roundup, because they deserve to be broken out into their own entry. But getting unfairly lumped in with other things is probably the book’s lot in life, because it’s a spin-off of Gaiman’s classic Sandman.
Right there, you thought to yourself, “Oh, a spinoff. Well, let’s see what else he’s talking about in this entry.” That’s what I thought, too, until I got a strong recommendation from Pam Korda (who will no doubt get around to writing up her own review any month now). So I’m going to say this next part in bold letters to emphasize how preposterous it sounds, and yet how true it is: Lucifer is every bit as good as Sandman . In tone, subtlety, adeptness at character and plot, and world-building detail, it is fully the equal of Gaiman at his prime, and far better than Gaiman’s recent graphic novels.
The most impressive thing Carey does, though, is to manage long-term plot arcing. The secret to this is to introduce important characters and mysterious objects as small elements in the midst of an important and moving plot; and then later reveal that this chance event, this tossed-off line of dialogue, this minor character, is suddenly the key to a wholly different story. (It’s like what Tolkien did with the magic ring from The Hobbit, only without the retcon.) If you do it right — and it must be hard, because few people do — the result is a long story where each episodic arc feels like a complete story, yet inexorably drives the events of the next episode, and where a pile of supporting characters (each with their own advancing character arc) insensibly emerges. This macro-plotting is what sprawling and digressive epics can do better than any other art form, and Carey does it exceptionally well.
If you liked Sandman, go buy Lucifer. I mean it. (There are two more volumes so far — I have no idea how many there are ultimately supposed to be — and as soon as Amazon gets them into my hands, I’ll read them, too.)
Hmm, maybe that really should have had an entry to itself. Well, too late now, so let’s move along to Bill Willingham’s Fables, vol. 1: Legends in Exile . In subject matter and tone, Fables is pretty much Sandman crossed with Alias — it’s the seamy noir underside of the fairy tale world. In this first volume, Detective Wolf (last seen destroying pigs’ houses) investigates the murder of Rose Red. It could be quite silly, but... well, it works. But it only works; it doesn’t sparkle. It’s hard to say concretely why this is merely very good and not great; but read back-to-back with Lucifer, it’s clear that’s the case. Still, “very good” isn’t a criticism.
Finally, another work from the insanely prolific Brian Michael Bendis, The Pulse, vol. 1: Thin Air . Bendis is at his best when he’s doing unorthodox angles on the Marvel Universe, and that’s what he’s doing here: The Pulse is set inside the Daily Bugle, focusing on the newspaper that chronicles the world of superheroes. In a week when I hadn’t read Lucifer, I’d probably say that this was great, but for the moment, I have to downgrade it to near-great. But it is enormously fun, and it sort of ties together Bendis’ various works — Spider-Man has a part, Jessica Jones (of Alias, to which this is a quasi-sequel (but without all the adults-only trappings)) is a protagonist, and extensive references are made to Bendis’ Daredevil work. (Did I mention Bendis was prolific?) Anyway, good stuff, but you really need to have read at least Alias before this.