Review: The-Sandman #4 (1989)

A humble beginning for the Sandman's Lucifer.

Written by Neil Gaiman, Pencils by Sam Kieth & Inks by Mike Dringenberg.

Welcome everyone, to the start of Let's Talk About's 'The Month of Lucifer'! With Lucifer season 5A launching at Netflix at the end of August, I wanted to something to celebrate. I've been watching and enjoying the show since the pilot but it hasn't been a smooth ride. First, you got all of those petitions to cancel the show before it had even gotten a full season order and then Fox cancelled the show after 3 seasons because the ratings were 'only average'. Luckily for us, the show got picked up Netflix at the very last second, bringing us 3 more seasons.

What I think a lot of people don't know about the show is that it's technically an adaptation and no, I'm not talking about the bible here. No, the show is an adaptation from the Lucifer Morningstar from The Sandman graphic novels written by Neil Gaiman from way back in the '80s. Lucifer was only a recurring character in those, but he got his own spin-off series that went deeper into the character and those are the ones that the series is based on. I thought it would be fun to use this opportunity to take a look at the original comics, to see the very first appearance of the Lucifer that led the way to our beloved show way back in the fourth issue of the second volume of The Sandman published way back in 1989. 

Let's dive in.

 

The issue follows the titular Sandman, or 'Dream' as he's (it?) is mostly referred to during his first visit to Hell in millennia. He's looking for his crown, the symbol of his power, which got stolen by a demon a while back and he's there to take it back. After getting through the gates of Hell he's let towards Lucifer's place by Etrigan the Demon along the forest of suicide, through the mountains of despair (where he encounters his former lover imprisoned and rotting away) before finally arriving at his destination. He's escorted to the top of the palace where he meets the lord of Hell, the Lightbringer, the fallen; Lucifer Morningstar. Well, it's more accurate to say he meets a lord of Hell. You see, there had been a bit of a power struggle since last time Dream was in Hell and as a result, it is now ruled by a triumvirate. Dream manages to convince the triumvirate to bring all of the demons in front of him so he can identify the thief. Said thief challenges Dream to a battle for the crown, one Dream is uncertain he can win at his current power level yet accepts nonetheless.

The first thing that I noticed while reading the issue, as a someone who never had read any Sandman material before, is that it has more ties to the DC universe proper then I thought it would. I always figured that The Sandman was set in its own little bubble, that just like how Watchmen (used to be) it's a separate universe and there wouldn't be any crossover. Turns out, I was wrong! It wasn't long until Dream mentioned an encounter with John Constantine, the Hellblazer and as stated in the quick plot-summary Etrigan the Demon appears in the (demon)flesh for quite a meaty appearance. As a DC comics fan, this was quite neat to see. It gave me a sense of familiarity while reading it and it was fun to see/mentioned in such an earlier point in their careers.

Moving on to the reason why I took a look at the comic in the first place: Lucifer. I can confirm, this is definitely not the Lucifer that we know and love. Makes sense, it's his very first appearance after all but the differences are striking. First and foremost is his appearance. He doesn't have black hair or facial hair, doesn't have white wings or wear expensive suits. He's a blond-haired, blue-eyed toga-wearing David Bowie look-alike. It's closure in depiction to the bible version this way, so it makes sense and isn't anything out of the ordinary, but after seeing Tom Ellis in the role for four years it's just a little jarring. His personality is also widely different. You can notice that Lucifer, as a character, hadn't been thought out yet. I'd go even further and say Lucifer doesn't have a character at all in this. He's presented more as a way to move the plot along, to give the exposition on how Hell works exactly than be his own character. Aside from one or two mentions of about how Lucifer thinks about Dreamer he's really only there to further the plot and not much else. Bit of a shame if you ask me.

Fun fact: that Lucifer looks like David Bowie is no coincidence. His likeness was used as the basis for Lucifer's design. Why you might ask? I've got no clue. Maybe Neil doesn't like David Bowie?

To go a little more in detail on the rest of the issue before I sign off, I'd like to talk about the art and general writing of the issue. While like I said earlier this is my first The Sandman comic, I didn't feel lost anywhere. The issue is set up and written in such a way that it has a clear beginning-middle-end structure and you're given enough information that while you might not understand everything, you can follow what's going on with no problem. The art isn't my cup of tea but I wouldn't call it bad. It has a very 'sketchy' feel to it. Very angular and disproportionate, lots of heavy shadows and visible 'pencil stripes' throughout. This results in the book having a deliberate, ugly feel to it. It's not how I like art, but it fits the overall tone of the book nicely and it's not hard to see what's going on so I can't really fault it.

Conclusion

The Sandman issue 4 isn't a bad book. On the contrary, it's quite good. It's well written, easy for new readers to pick up and get into, atmospheric and intriguing. I'd give it a recommendation. The character of Lucifer is quite a bit different from the one of the TV series, but that's understandable. It's at the earliest point the career of this interpretation of the character, after all, he hasn't had much time to develop yet. Still, his appearance here is a bit lacklustre as he doesn't have much to say or do and is more of a plot-device with the promise of more than anything else.

That was the first posts for the month of Lucifer done, now on to the next! I'm statying inside the comic world of the Sandman a little longer and will take a look at the very first solo-series this version of Lucifer got. I hope to see you there!

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