This book feels a lot like an epilogue, with the prior volume (The Wild Hunt) being the actual “final chapter” with Lucifer as a main character.
In addition to feeling much like a concluding volume, there is also the matter of the Bleeding Cool article from last August. There it was stated that most of the new Sandman Universe comics were being discontinued, in particular House of Whispers, The Dreaming and Lucifer. The Wild Hunt arc, it seems, is the last of the run to be serialized as individual comics. The fourth story, The Devil at Heart, was published as a single graphic novel along with the three other collected editions.
At the end of The Wild Hunt, Lucifer attempted to thwart a prophecy that would compel him to return to Hell. The prophecy stipulated that Lucifer’s destiny would turn on whether or not he was supplanted as the one who calls and leads the Wild Hunt.
(The Wild Hunt, for clarity, was a magical/ceremonial expulsion of destructive yearning from the universe’s collective subconscious. The Hunted God was the target of this purging and destined to reincarnate forever so that the leeching can continue in each generation)
Lucifer, as the leader of the Hunt, whittled the soul of the Hunted God until it could no longer be perceived in future reincarnations. Lucifer then lost interest and the four permanent, primeval hunters were left dormant until roused by Odin. Lucifer would be supplanted if Odin, as the leader of the Hunt, stopped the heart of the Hunted God. Odin succeeded but, at the last moment, Lucifer replaced the dying heart of the Hunted God with his own, immortal heart.
This did not work the way Lucifer intended. We might speculate about the specifics of why. The most probable implication within the text of both The Wild Hunt and The Devil at Heart, is that Lucifer’s heart-switch was either too late or that the heart-switch itself finished the work of killing the Hunted God.
Lucifer, being the type-A perfectionist he is, will neither return to Hell nor admit defeat. His plan for remaining a step ahead is to invade the garden of Destiny of The Endless and remove each and every mention of his own name in Destiny’s book. For those who haven’t read the original Sandman, that basically excises you from having ever existed.
Naturally, this stops us from seeing Lucifer grapple with his failure. Since Lucifer’s vulnerability and fallibility were front and center in The Wild Hunt, this is a little unexpected. The emphasis on “human” (?) “frailness” is inverted in The Devil at Heart, though.
The fundamental idea of vulnerability and fallibility within Lucifer suggests that the First Among the Fallen might share commonality with mortals. In this most recent story, there are mortals who become invested with the qualities of Lucifer. Beverly Walsh, the modern incarnation of the Hunted God from The Wild Hunt, now has the heart of Lucifer beating in her chest. Behemoth, the cat that Lucifer adopted earlier, is now in the care of a boy whose father killed his own cat.
Behemoth and Beverly find each other again in the house that Lucifer built on the Fowler estate. They are joined by an ancient, magical human from China with one of Lucifer’s eyes. Next is Remiel, one of the two angels dispatched to Hell to oversee it in Lucifer’s absence. Lastly there is a crow, perpetually rummaging in some nearby garbage.
The stories that bring these characters together were reminiscent of how The Sandman would alternate between a central plot and collections of shorter stories involving peripheral characters. Also like The Sandman and it’s treatment of dreams, each of these characters represent a facet of a metaphysical experience they have in common. Biyu, the undead Chinese woman with one of Lucifer’s eyes, expresses the rebellious dimension of Lucifer while the crow is the trickster. Behemoth the kitty embodies the totems of Lucifer and Remiel, as one of the recent rulers of Hell, represents Lucifer’s domain.
This ties into another thematic consistency within both The Devil at Heart and the rest of the Dan Watters Lucifer stories: exorcism. Whether moving something inside of you to the outside removes that thing or releases it into the world.
The four changed beings attached to Lucifer have all experienced direct contact with him. They are also all channeling an abstracted representation of him in his absence. Inside v. outside is prominently featured in the plights of the other angels and in a small vignette about Francisco Goya.
Goya is portrayed as being so deeply haunted by fears of mortality and disease that he painted images of these things on the walls of his home. He tells his son that he did this as a kind of exorcism: to move his fear from inside to outside in order to remove their ability to affect them. The paintings are so vivid that a demon in Hell is able to use them as a gateway. This constitutes escape from an inescapable place (Hell) which for Lucifer merits punishment: before Goya’s horrified stare, Lucifer devours the demon. Goya channels this event into his painting Saturn Devouring His Son. Within this incident, he sees his broken relationship with his son and attempts to exorcise it like his other fears. His son still wants nothing to do with him even after he dies and wills his entire estate to him at the expense of every other family member.
The angels, meanwhile, are manifestations of God’s will. Lucifer, the first Angel, was the closest to the source. With Lucifer now removed from history, angels have stopped hearing the voice of God. Which, for many of them, means that God appears to be gone. They even begin to get hungry and ill. These mysteries are one of the reasons why Remiel temporarily leaves Hell to investigate.
This impact on the angels of The Silver City is where the biggest narrative risk is taken. Big fat ending spoilers here, just sayin.
Because the voice of God has disappeared without Lucifer and all angels are weakening, they begin cannibalizing each other. These panels are overlayed with sections of a letter from Lucifer to Mazikeen. In it Lucifer explains that the angels of The Silver City, because of their reliance on God, will sooner or later bring Lucifer back from non-existence.
Specifically he says that God made a cyclical universe and sooner or later there will be another war in the heavens and another rebel angel will fall to fill the void. So while the angels are attempting to kill and consume Remiel and Duma, Remiel escapes and is skewered through the wing by Michael. It even happens in the same place within the Silver City that Michael’s blade punctured the floor in his original battle with Lucifer. Shortly afterward, Remiel lands on Earth, cackling laugher in Lucifer’s unique lettering.
The very absence of Lucifer caused the war in The Silver City and the fall of a rebel angel to re-occur in the present. This is paralleled by infrequent vignettes about a young girl’s encounter with murder. She kills her infant brother because he cries too much at night. Afterward, her mother’s tears of grief keep her up at night. After that, her own crying keeps her up.
There is another set of vignettes about a separate pair of siblings in pre-history. One of them entertains a fantasy about killing the other. Like the little girl in the present, an opportunity to do this without getting caught presents itself. As the pre-historic man considers it, he briefly glimpses a frightening shadow on the wall and the earliest myth of Lucifer is born. He is frightened into not carrying out the murder.
With Lucifer’s name excised from the book of Destiny, he instead kills his brother and escapes exposure. This suggests that Lucifer’s non-existence was a factor in the murder committed by the child in the present.
The ancient fratricide was prevented by the appearance of Lucifer’s mythic archetype. The little girl who killed her newborn brother experiences anguish in the wake of her actions just in time for Remiel to become, for all intents and purposes, the “new Lucifer.”
The four beings gathered at the Fowler Estate are united by a void left by Lucifer. They are united by an aspiration to externalize Lucifer. Ultimately, the personal experiences they all had with Lucifer influenced them more than they influenced the world. If Lucifer removed himself from the book of Destiny, he should not have been around to give either his eye to Biyu or his heart to Beverly (sounds weirdly like a lyrical construction 😆).
Yet Beverly still has his heart and Biyu kept his eye until her eventual, withering death. Biyu also happened to have died at the same time Bev puts her hand on her head to offer comfort. After that, Bev traded barbs with Mazikeen while the lettering of her dialogue briefly changed to Lucifer’s lettering. This is not long before Bev leaves both Mazikeen and the story for the rest of the book.
Before she leaves, though, Beverly also has the lines “I’ll admit it. I went and fucked it up” spelled with Lucifer’s normal lettering. She is apparently talking to Mazikeen about the failure to replace Lucifer. If we entertain the possibility that Bevery’s lines that appear with Lucifer’s lettering are attributable to the heart of Lucifer, that statement could just as easily refer to Lucifer’s vanishing. He did it, after all, and his letter to Mazikeen described his vanishing as a “joke”, since the angels are bound to bring him back because of his enmeshment with God. Imitating Mazikeen’s speech-pattern is also the kind of dick move Lucifer is more likely to attempt than Beverly.
Remember to that Remiel was one of the four at the Fowler estate. Remiel was also the one who was the least interested in the attempt to fill Lucifer’s gap. Sure enough, the rebel among the Lucifer surrogates, who was a custodian of Lucifer’s former home, is the one who actually embodies the new Lucifer. The exorcism/suppression motif even continues with Remiel, since he frequently voices his fear that he may be a “fallen” angel since God sent him and Duma to oversee Hell. He worries constantly about being “fallen”. In the end, he does his highest duty to the angels of the Silver City by becoming the “First Among the Fallen”.
All of this is pretty ordinary for Sandman metaphysics. What completes it as Sandman metaphysics is Lucifer’s claim that his erasure is a “joke”. This would imply that he knows he will return, which means Remiel did not simply “fill the void” like Daniel did in the wake of Morpheus. Remiel seems to have literally “transmuted” into the same being, personality and memories and all.
The story clearly partakes in magic pertaining to the retroactive editing of time. It may be that the erasure was undone and now Lucifer has always existed. In spite of Remiel being the clear vessel of embodiment. This is what I meant by the biggest narrative risk.
As for being a satisfying read- it works best if you think of it as a coda to the three other volumes. As unlikely as a continuation looks right now, I think the child-murderer, Beverly Walsh, Biyu and Behemoth (alliteration lol) would be great for protagonists in future stories. As an ending, it totally works, especially with Lucifer’s arc revolving around escaping God’s plan. The vignette subplots provide the opportunity for the Francisco Goya digression which feels consistent with the appearance of William Blake in The Infernal Comedy. The function of the crow in the very the end also brings us full circle to Lucifer killing a huge pile of ravens in the prologue to every first volume of the new Sandman Universe comics.
The crow even bridges us to Season of Mists, in a way. Speaking of callbacks, there are parts of this book that look a lot like Mike Dringeberg’s work on the very first Sandman comics. Just for the sake of clarity it is not him: the art is credited to Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara and Brian Level.