The Amazon fairy brought me some reading goodness over the past weekend, in the form of a trio of graphic novels from one of my favourite writers: Mike Carey. The first was a reprint of a series I’ve long had in the less-convenient monthly form, Lucifer, the latter two were the sixth and seventh installments of Carey’s current magnum opus, The Unwritten.
Lucifer was one of several spin-off series that DC Comics released in the wake of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Of all those spin offs, it came closest to the original in form and longevity, though Carey brought a very distinct tone to it. Whereas Sandman was a tour through mythology and storytelling, revolving around the enigmatic figure of Morpheus, Lucifer skews closer to a traditional quest tale, as the much more forceful title figure overcomes all obstacles as part of his plan to obtain his freedom from all authority and destiny.
Carey’s Lucifer hews closely to the Miltonian ideal of the ultimate rebel and borrows heavily from the “Magnificent Bastard” trope: an unsympathetic figure who’s just so damned (pun intended) impressive that you can’t help but root for him. Carey plays this up by regularly placing his protagonist in positions where he’s powerless and has him come out on top by out-thinking those who set themselves against him.
This beefy collected edition brings together the original Lucifer miniseries and the first 13 issues of the regular series. It’s far from perfect, as Carey seeks to find the right way to tell his tale and deals with changes in artist, but by the end it’s caught the wave that would carry it all the way to the end, the details of which I’m not going to spoil here.
The Unwritten is much more recent vintage Carey, sharing much of the same interest in myth and storytelling, but here using them as a theme rather than as props. Like Lucifer it builds on the work of another author, but here the chosen one is J.K. Rowling. The protagonist is the son of an author of a Harry Potter-like series, and his life is turned upside down when questions are asked about the links between him and his father’s most famous creation.
This isn’t just a Potter pastiche though. Carey’s interest is in how stories affect us and how we in turn affect them, and to explore this he tosses his likeable cast into a labyrinth of literary theories and allusions. Not that he wanders too far into the highbrow either: there are vampires and monsters aplenty to go with the ever-present Potterisms, and a multitude of mysteries to be uncovered.
As the books I received were well into the long-form story, I won’t discuss them here, other than to say that they continue the process of revealing the truth behind Carey’s universe of stories. It’s a journey that I’ve been enjoying ever since I picked up the first book. Carey as a writer has come on in leaps and bounds since Lucifer, and he was already pretty damn good then. Anyone with even a passing interest in myths and stories could do far worse than picking these tales up.