Lucifer, the Morningstar: 8 – The Wolf Beneath The Tree

The eighth Lucifer graphic novel collects issues 50, 45 and 51 – 54, in order of appearance. Issue 50 and 45 are drawn by guest artists P. Craig Russell and Ted Naifeh respectively, whilst the remaining issues are drawn by Peter Gross and Ryan Kelly. These comprise the stories ‘Lilith’ and ‘Neutral Ground’, plus the four-part title story



In an echo of Sandman‘s 50th issue, Craig Russell was brought in to draw a double-length story set in the deepest of pasts, in which we see how Lilith’s rebellion ultimately influences Lucifer to his own. Russell’s beautiful, delicate, clean-lined and sensitive art is joyful to read.
Lilith was created to be Adam’s first wife. Unwilling to accept a subordinate role, physically or otherwise, she left Eden, and wandered, coupling where she would. Her womb quickened with every encounter, until she became mother to the Lilim, the children of Lilith, each with a different father, each with different attributes and aspects.
This is so far back that Mazikeen, daughter of Ophir, the snake god, is a tomboyish child, and already a fierce child, willing to strike her father for disrespectful words about her mother. But Ophir retreats rapidly on the arrival of messengers, sent by Gabriel to judge and condemn Lilith for her lusts. These are the angels Ibriel and Samael: the Lightbringer.
Though Ibriel is willing to parrot Gabriel’s lines, to threaten Lilith with death if she does not change her ways, which are her being, Samael is not so quick to judge. Since God completed his Creation, he has not spoken. Gabriel is the (self-appointed, we intuit) voice of God in the silence, and his is the voice of the Puritan church, forever condemning what strays from narrow lines. He and Samael are already arguing, and have been for a very long time.
But Lilith, who was made for a purpose but lives for herself, loving because it is her joy, seduces both angels. Samael with argument: only she will hear out, and give answers not pat and submissive, to his concerns, his desire for independence, his hatred of his Father for being his Maker, though her words are not sympathetic nor comforting.
Ibriel, however, she seduces in the flesh, and is perhaps seduced herself by his beauty. Ibriel’s passion is the city he wants to build for the angels, the Silver City, from which he is restrained by Gabriel: angels do not build: only God builds.
But Ibriel lies with Lilith and the seed bears flower: a boy, Briadach. The birth is a horror to Ibriel, who forswears Lilith, rebukes her, repents of his sin. Only after she tempts him further, by offering the Lilim as a workforce, to actually build his Silver City does he re-engage with her, though not in the flesh.
This is not enough for Gabriel, the ultra-fastidious. The City rises, beautiful and light. Ibriel beseeches Samael to raise a fountain of flame, a symbol of Life, rising eternally, though personally the Lightbringer considers it vulgar. But Gabriel will not have the merest stink of demonspawn near his finely-drawn nostrils: unless Lilith and the Lilim are removed entirely, he will interdict the Silver City: no angel will enter it.
Unfortunately, Mazikeen and Briadach hear this. They are loyal and aggressive in support of their mother. They lure Ibriel into a trap: a block is dropped upon him and as he lies dazed, Mazikeen stabs him in the heart with a dagger tipped with her father’s poison.
You can sense the relish in Gabriel, even as he positions himself above emotion, filled only with the spirit of justice that comes from the voice of God. Speak not to him of children: this pair have no repentance in them, and they must die. Lilith and her army of her children come to the gates of the City, demanding the return of her young pair. If she is refused, the Lilim will take back what they have built.
And in this impasse, with Gabriel thirsting for blood to satisfy his own lust to give orders, to compel, Samael lights Ibriel’s fountain. Lights it hot and high, hot enough to burn all. It takes the intervention of his brother, Michael, to have Mazikeen and Briadach released, and conflict averted.
But this is not enough for Samael. He renounces his name, takes that of what he is, the Lucifer, and renounces the Silver City. As he leaves, others follow in his wake, though he doesn’t seem to care. Mazikeen gazes after him with the same rapt fascination he has held for her since first he landed among the Lilim.
Lucifer has rebelled. The seed is planted. None can know what seeds they are, until they flower.

Lucifer 2

Neutral Ground

In contrast to Craig Russell’s guest art, Ted Naifeh’s is deliberately ugly, angular, repellent, in keeping with the punk underpinnings. This fill-in is printed out of sequence, having been omitted from the seventh collection on space grounds. It is inconsequential as to the overall story.
It’s one of those stories whose pages are contained between two instants, moments apart, where we begin with the ending and work back to it. It concerns John Baxter Sewell, by day a Law school dropout/Accounts Clerk in a big firm, spotting a financial discrepancy that his boss tells him, shittily, to forget.
By night, John sings in a punk band, the Genital Warts (that kind of band, as the lyrics make it plain). Unfortunately, they’re not the sort of band who should be booked into a goth club, as the subsequent riot and the club-owner seizing Puce’s amp until the damages are paid makes clear. Puce is John’s girl-friend, of sorts, and he’s not to come near her until he brings her amp back. The other guitarist, Marky, goes after her to quiet her down.
Unfortunately for John, this is just before the point his body is seized by the demon Unagar, who’s providing a venue – neutral ground, you might say – for all the Demonlords in and out of Hell, for a Conference. God has gone, and there are things that can be done, and the Conference is there to decide exactly what, who, when, etc.
It’s boring to Unagar so he decides to take John out for a spin, make him give in to all his urges. Drinking, whoring, maxing out his credit card, stealing, public nuisance, spell in the cells and, since things are going so well inside, Unagar takes John back to his firm where he challenges – and strangles – his bastard of a boss before Unagar siphons off everything the man’s embezzled into a new offshore account in John’s name. Then it’s off to Puce’s.
Where she’s naked, with Marky’s head between her legs. Unagar/John smashes Marky’s face in with his own axe and throws him out of the window. Puce isn’t going to stand still to be raped, she’s threatening to jump, so Unagar takes her over, just to make her docile. And when Johnny jumps on her, they both go out the window…
Meanwhile, my Lord Lucifer has turned up at the Conference, to which he was of course invited, as Chair. But Lucifer and the demons are at cross-purposes. Their aims are not identical: theirs will create chaos, and Lucifer does not want chaos at a time that Creation is gradually fading away. He’s just stopped by to say he’s going. And he’s locking the door behind him. With Unagar inside. And John plummeting towards the street.
Unagar is philosophical: things happen. But it’s a shame to miss what comes next…

Lucifer 3

The Wolf beneath the Tree

And here is where it all starts getting very serious, as we turn towards the end.
The arc begins by intertwining two seemingly separate stories. The first of these concerns a madman, Charles Gilmour. Charlie has killed his wife, Sarah, and his young son, Bobby, by smashing their heads in with a ballpeen hammer. He’s been found fit to plead, which is a crock, because he’s plainly not of this world. He sees and hears other worlds and voices, believes Sarah and Bobby are still alive. In prison, the walls crumble and he sees a gigantic tree, full of stars, where his family wait for him to find them. Charlie Gilmour is the madman, and he will be the chariot.
For whom? For Fenris, the Wolf, the embodiment of destruction, he that is the end.
A long time ago, Fenris held a banquet for all his enemies. The meat they ate was his flesh, the wine, his blood. Now that God has abandoned his Creation, and it is beginning to crumble, Fenris has returned, to be its end. First, he must recover all of himself, and to do so he must recall his enemies, those guests at his feast. So, with his aides Abonsam and Bet J’Ogie, small gods of spite and destruction, he attends upon his cousin, Bergilmir, for information.
Bergilmir is properly respectful: not so his companion, Jill Presto, on whose behalf he begs forgiveness. Jill is Jill, caustic and independent and unyielding. That is, until Bet J’Ogie vents her spite on the silver-handed woman who won’t share details of her couplings with Bergilmir. Jill was pregnant, by the Basanos, and she is pregnant still: she is carrying twins, and she only got rid of one.
That’s all of Jill for this volume, and of Bergilmir too. The safest place to watch the destruction of this world is from another one and he’s off into the long grass. He’d take Jill if she’d go with him, and as she will not, he will not soon forget her.
So, with his aides to pave the way, Abonsam the trickster, Bet J’Ogie to beguile, Fenris tracks down his targets, old Gods, long past their utility if not their arrogance, tracks, locates and eats, recovering his memories and his self. Having reminded himself of himself, Fenris sends Abonsam and Bet J’Ogie to bring the chariot from his prison. The journey is not easy unless you ride, in which case the chariot, seeking his wife and child, bears the brunt of a journey far from easy.
But what of Heaven, the Silver City? Lucifer regards his own realm as safe, created to his name, not that of Yahweh: mortals may enter until the last moment, but angels? Michael, refusing to allow things to end, determines to fight where his brother abstains. In order to read whether or not there is a future, he visits the Garden of Forking Ways, to consult Destiny, of the Endless.
Destiny refuses an answer that will reveal the future, but promises Michael an indiscretion that will answer him, in two hours. Until then, Michael must wait and dine with two invited guests, his daughter, Elaine Belloc, and his brother, Lucifer, who is equally discomfited at this meeting but chooses to cloak it in sardonic comment and his usual arrogant superiority.
Elaine tries to keep the peace and, when Michael departs, having gained his answer by Destiny’s slip in saying that, a short time from now, the very script of his book changes – there is a future to fight for! – she follows him, leaving Lucifer alone with Destiny.
Lucifer, whose very nature leads him to hate predestination in any form, clashes with Destiny’s implacable complacency. As a gesture, he tears several pages from Destiny’s book and incinerates them. But he is answered by the ashes, which read, Fenris. Yggdrasil.
The world-tree, the foundation of creation. Fenris’s destination.

Lucifer 4

Michael has returned to the Silver City. After a final word of apology to Elaine, he enters the room of the Logos, the chamber of the Voice of God. He is the Demiurge. He lays down and sleeps, and in his sleep he uses his power to recreate Creation, second by second, over and again.
Another time, that might have worked, but Lucifer is hot on their heels with the news he has learned, that could shatter his own Creation too. Michael must be woken, which Lucifer accomplishes by using his power to destroy the tower, and the Logos. He, Michael and Elaine must go to Yggdrasil to defend it.
Hard on the heels of Fenris, they walk, and the journey is terrible. Charlie Gilmour has lost his right arm, and his memory of who the woman and child are that he has been seeking. Fenris and his terrible certainty, his purpose and inevitability, are whole, as are the Trickster and the Temptress, the Woman who is both Beautiful and Terrible. But those who walked are worst. Michael is wracked and bleeding, his wings destroyed, Lucifer unconscious and bleeding, Elaine blind and helpless.
To destroy Yggdrasil, its roots must be watered by the blood of a kin-slaying. Charlie’s wife and child are not dead, not yet anyway, Abonsam stole them, left figurines to be killed. But their death is now due, and one-armed Charlie must slay them, with Bet J’Ogie to seduce him to it. And Abonsam and Fenris approach the stricken angels, the trickster pretending another identity, that of a healer who will bring medicinal water to Lucifer.
But Abonsam sat at Fenris’s table all that time ago, knowing of his purpose and it’s end. He is filled with Fenris’s purpose: the Wolf slices open his belly and Abonsam’s last trick is to pour his blood into Elaine’s hands, to be conveyed to Lucifer’s mouth, to poison him with Fenris’s rage, hate and fury.
Lucifer attacks Michael, who defends himself. But, broken as he is, he is no match for the Lightbringer, who downs him with fire. Michael is broken, dying, his blood – a kin-slaying – watering Yggdrasil’s roots. Bet J’Ogie, distracted by the light, leaves herself vulnerable and is slain by one-arm Charlie, himself killed by Fenris. It is done. The end is begun. Sarah and Bobby live, for so long as anything lives.
Michael is dying. Within him is the demiurgic power. It will be released on his death, and will wipe Creation in an instant. Lucifer, humbled by his own errors, must now help whether he will it or not. The only hope of safety is to transfer the power to Michael’s daughter, blind Elaine, the former London schoolgirl. It must be dammed in her, find its level. But can she contain it? Aye, can she contain it?


Due South: s03 e12/13 – Mountie on the Bountie (Parts 1 & 2)

Due South

At the start of this season I commented on the peculiarity of my Region 1 boxset in completely obliterating Callum Keith Rennie and proclaiming David Maricano, in both words and pictures, as Paul Gross’s co-star. That’s not its only gross inaccuracy. The other one is that it presents all 26 episodes on the discs to be season 3 when the truth was that these stories were divided into two seasons, each of 13 episodes. So this two-parter was the season finale, which teased heavily the breaking up of the odd couple partnership between Benton Fraser and Ray Kowalski (aka Vecchio for this season at least).

The show’s failure to succeed in America, coupled with its much higher popularity in Britain that led to BBC to contribute fubding that enabled the last two seasons (much as they had done earlier with Cagney and Lacey) was a direct cause of the series’ haphazard filming and odd season lengths. I have found nothing to suggest it was in danger of not being renewed for the eventual final season, so I can’t attribute the underlying storyline to the possibility it might have to act as a swansong, but the possibility is tantalising, and reminiscent of Homicide: Life in the Street‘s ploy over NBC’s then un-exercised option to extend season 3 from 13 to 22 episodes.

Basically, we start in media res, Fraser and Ray under fire, their only escape a Butch and Sundance leap into the harbour, forced by the Canadian on the can’t-swim-American that results in a bitter argument, Ray punching Bennie in the face in frustration and the two deciding to apply for transfers (Fraser’s potential for transfer to Ottawa puts Inspector Thatcher into an emontional panic). It’s all over, the partnership, until an eye-patched, hook-handed pirate with a knife in his back falls out of the sky onto the hood of Ray’s car. As they do.

One last case.

With eighty minutes to play with, the show had room to expand its cast into a plethora of character-rich situations. Dean McDermott as Constable Turnbull, straight-facedly out-frasering Fraser whilst maintaining a signal abilit to fail to get the point, had his first extended role. There was an hilarious extended interrogation scene in the second part where Francesca browbeats a suspect into confession by constantly talking at him and constantly getting every cliched Police interrogation term wrong, a modern day Mrs Malaprop (‘Listen to me, Hairbottle’).

But the spine of the story was piracy at sea, the retrieval from Lake Michigan (actually filmed on Lake Ontario but a Great Lake is a Great Lake when you’re out of sight of late) of millions of dollars of stolen gold bullion coupled with the intended devastating dump of toxic waste that could destroy the ecology of the entire Lakes system, and the attempt by the crooks to conceal their operations by creating their own mini-Bermuda Triangle, frightening off other vessels by means of a Ghost Ship.

The ship was the Robert McKenzie, for which a complete fictional history of its loss on its final voyage was concocted, together with a song, sung and co-written by Paul Gross. Originally, Gross, who co-authored the screenplay, wanted to refer to the Edmund Fitzgerald, the real-life disaster commemorated in song by Gordon Lightfoot. Lightfoot gave permission for the use of his song, provided that the show secured the agreement of the families of the lost sailors, an acknowledgement that it would not cause them pain. Instead, Gross and the show created a different wreckage, which was the better idea anyway.

The upshot was that Fraser and Ray, without reporting to either of their superiors, joined the crew of the Henry Allen, captained by an old friend and drinking buddy of Fraser’s Dad, which encountered the Ghost Ship. On Fraser’s urging, Captain Smithers refused to turn back from what he had been assured was no ghost at all. Instead, the villains holed the Henry Allen amidships, sending it to the bottom of the lake, with Bennie and Ray, the latter imprisoned in his own handcuffs, trapped below decks.

That was our cliffhanger. Unfortunately, the second part let the overall story down by several times taking its time over various scenarios instead of ratchetting up the tension with the pace demanded. Ray and Fraser’s escape from the doomed Henry Allen was extended over a dozen minutes and involved more phases than necessary, creating the impression, reinforced by later scenes, that the episode had more minutes than the actual plot could provide.

To speed things along, the struggling partners got out of the sinking ship, swam to and found the ‘ghost ship’, spent ages running around its hold, discovering the gold and the waste, before escaping in a two-man submersible, painted bright yellow. Yes, you got that, a Yellow Submarine.Meanwhile, back in Chicago, armed with four digits Ray has managed to convey before his walkie-talkie’s battery conks out, Thatcher finally susses that these are Latitude and Longtitude. She calls in Cavnadian reinforcements in the shape of a squad of rookie Constables led by the formidably eccentric Sergeant Sam Thorn (Janet Wright), who believes Canada needs a strong Naval presence to defend itself from, who else, the USA. She leads the rescue force out onto the Lake, including Thatcher, Turnbull and Lt. Walsh, in a replica of the Bounty.

Yes, at this point, the story overdoes itself in whimsical eccentricity, but the sailing ship is a beauty to behold. Of course, it is given its own space, during which story momentum is again becalmed, but it was a pleasure to watch and, if this had been the only slow sequence, could have fully justified its existence, especially as it was given a bit of romantic gloss, with Walsh and Thorn sparring romantically, Fraser kissing Thatcher, Ray snogging an uncredited seriously hot blonde rookie Mountie (female of course) and even the stupid Turnbull putting his own, mildly homoerotic spin on personal interest.

Anyway, this all led up to a climactic conclusion as the sailing ship fired its cannons, grappled its hooks, climbed the rigging, poured aboard and generally hammed itself up with decent restraint (Errol Flynn would have been proud of them) whilst Fraser and Ray save the day, retrieve the gold, prevent the ecology bomb going off and capture the villain. In a net, naturally. After, with Bob Fraser’s ghost encouraging his son to understand the give and take of partnership, both our heroes decided not to take up their transfers and to go with the status quo. As we all expected all along.

To be honest, despite the many things I did enjoy about it, the second part seriously let down the story. As well as its far too frequent slow spots, it ended up being sloppily plotted, with too many loose ends left loose, and with too much of an eagerness to be wilfully eccentric without regard to logical structure. To be further honest, from what little I can remember of the remaining episodes that constitute season 4, that is something we’ll all have to get used to, whether we like it or not. We start the final phase next week and next year. As long as there is more Camilla Scott every week, I may be able to bear up to it.

The Infinite Jukebox: Black’s ‘Wonderful Life’

Times and tastes change. That’s an inescapable truth. I could fill pages and pages with songs and music I once loved and wanted to hear continually, that now I have not even a nostalgic attachment to, records I owned and sold, their meanings to me overwritten. It happens. We are not guaranteed to be the same all our lives.
It’s not actually something to be sad about. I don’t miss anything about being into The Moody Blues as vigorously as I once was. But when two of you shared a song that you both loved, that entered into and became part of your life one summer, and one of you ceases to be interested in the song whilst the other still responds the same way every time they hear it, that, that is sad.
Black had started off as a band who’d already produced one great and glorious lush and romantic song called ‘More than the Sun’. But by the time ‘they’ struck big with the top 10 hit ‘Sweetest Smile’, a number 8 hit in 1987, ‘they’ were just Colin Vearncombe, who’d originally chosen the name Black because he thought his real surname wouldn’t be memorable on stage.
‘Wonderful Life’ had already been released as a single and fared poorly, reaching no 72. In the wake of ‘Sweetest Smile’s success, it was re-issued, and this time hit the top 10, peaking like its predecessor at no. 8, but becoming an international hit, in demand for multiple commercials that kept its sound and melody in front of the public for years.
‘Wonderful Life’ was Vearncombe’s artistic and commercial peak. It set a high bar for future songs that preyed on his mind but which, more punishingly, undermined him by the near-universal response to later songs of, “it’s good, but it’s no ‘Wonderful Life’”. In the Nineties, Vearncombe was a regular panellist on a Radio 2 comedy quiz hosted by Roland Rivron, featuring the guests improvising all manner of singing: Vearncombe was teased a dozen times over thirty minutes by songs turning into ‘Wonderful Life’. I found it hilarious then but, knowing what I know after, I can’t now think of that without remembering that all teasing has a foundation of cruelty to it. They don’t call it poking fun for nothing.
What the song did was marry Vearncombe’s rich, smooth, deep vocals to a captivating melody that bled into a chorus that made you want to sing it exactly as he did, words by a man staring out into paradisial sun, sand and sky, seeking a friend so as not to be alone yet still turning his face to the world, refusing to run or hide because it’s a wonderful, wonderful life. Yet it was a deeply ironic song as I know now, written at a time when, in Vearncombe’s own words, “By the end of 1985 I had been in a couple of car crashes, my mother had a serious illness, I had been dropped by a record company, my first marriage went belly-up and I was homeless. Then I sat down and wrote this song called ‘Wonderful Life’. I was being sarcastic.”
I didn’t know that then. We didn’t know that then. The rich, jazz-inflected music bore the words up and presented them to us as something serious and straight. It was a powerful appeal to optimism, a paean to the indomitability of the human spirit. It was a dream of a song.
And for me personally it was a song the love for which I shared with a woman I worked with, who, to my utter surprise, not only liked me, and wanted to spend time with me, but who fell in love with me. The first woman to do that, the first of only two such long-term relationships I have had. We bonded over many things, especially music that I loved and she had never heard of before, R.E.M. being the first and 10,000 Maniacs her favourites. Even ‘Gharbzadegi’, of recent mention.
But Black’s ‘Wonderful Life’ was something we genuinely shared, both coming to it on our own without need of one to play mentor to the other. We both loved it, and every time we were in a pub with a jukebox that had it, we would put it on and luxuriate in Colin Vearncombe’s voice.
We never had an ‘Our Song’ that we officially agreed upon – she didn’t go in for that kind of sentimentality – but ‘Wonderful Life’ was pretty much it, a song into which our feelings for each other could be vested and celebrated every time we heard it, and we made sure to hear it a lot.
But times and tastes change. Our relationship slowly grew more volatile. She had escaped an abusive marriage, summoning up the courage and determination to not only get him to go, but to establish her own independence, a harder thing to achieve because she was staunchly Catholic and her religion stood against what she was doing. She loved me truly, but at the very same time, I was a threat to her hard-won independence. Her hatred for compromising that by her emotional dependence on me gradually dug away at her feelings. The latter half of our decade became increasingly volatile until it eventually splintered beyond repair.
And she lost her love for ‘our song’, becoming indifferent to it. I have no reason to think that that was in any part contingent on her effort to distance herself from me. Her tastes in music were developing away from mine, she got heavily into Mariah Carey, she just stopped liking it as much.
That she was no longer moved, or engaged by it, indifferent to it when I chose it from a pub jukebox, left me sad. I still find it painful now, and it infects my thoughts when I hear the song again, its memories too strongly tied to then, one of the times I had it good, and better than I ever dreamed, but none of those times ever lasted as long as I wanted.
Nowadays, I run and hide, for these are not the days of a wonderful life. But once upon a time…

Not Just For Children – Alan Garner: 7 – Tom Fobble’s Day

Tom Fobble's Day

Chronologically, Tom Fobble’s Day is the end of the story begun in The Stone Book, and in every collection of the series as a Quartet, it is placed last, where it comes. But it was the second to be published and that is the order in which I am taking things. By the time it appeared, I was not troubled by the expense of the hardback, and bought it quickly.
Only time has moved on, time and its accretions. We are still in Alderley, but it’s not Chorley any longer. It’s not the 1860s but the 1940s. There’s a War on. And this time there’s a boy, not a girl, named William. He is Mary’s great-grandson.
Obviously, the two books couldn’t be further apart but that doesn’t only speak to their historical placing. Mary’s book was so far removed from us – it was more than a century past when it was published – and the world it depicted was so far from the conditions under which we live that it might have taken place at any time, but that distance meant that it was able to accommodate the fantasy of its conclusion, the magic of the mark and the bull.
Now we have moved to 1944, just round the corner from ourselves. I was born less than a dozen years later and not many more miles from here. Alderley Edge was not East Manchester, even then, but William stands on the same ground that I do: his world is the same as mine, and like the back street terraces I grew up amongst, it has no room for fantasy. Everything in this story is concrete. Except within.
I’ve googled ‘Tom Fobble’s Day’ online but found nothing that doesn’t refer to this book. As such it can be labelled esoteric knowledge, if such a term can properly be ascribed to what was instinctive knowledge amongst a group of boys at play in a specific place. I don’t need to know it. It applied to marbles, after Easter, a way by which you could nick – or was it borrow? – your mates’ marbles for yourself by grabbing them and calling out Tom Fobble.
It’s the key to the story. Stewart Allman, a contemporary but a bigger boy, ‘Tom Fobbles’ William’s rough and ready sled. There’s a field, there’s two fields actually, connected at one corner by a gap that was once a gate and which is guarded by a hump below. The boys are sledging. Mostly they sledge down the lower field, from top corner to bottom, diagonally on the slope. Above it, the slope twists, in the opposite direction. According to their ability, and their bravery, the boys start in the top field, the braver from halfway up. Get up speed, hit the gap, turn the sledge, go fast down the lower field, again and again.
Until Stewart Allman Tom Fobbles William’s sledge, against all the private rules that govern these boys’ lives, except the overarching one about the biggest boy. And he smashes William’s painstakingly made but codge of a sledge.
William goes off to the blacksmith’s forge, trailing the ruins with him. His grandad is the Smith. Whilst they talk, Grandfather dry and disparaging of William’s efforts, his Grandad makes him a replacement sledge. We watch, uncomprehending, as his skills are bent to it, uncomprehending but understanding that magic is taking place. Not until the end do we learn that this gift to his grandson is his Grandfather’s last job: one of his own, for his own. He retires and cycles home.
William takes the sledge back to the field. This time he resists or half-resists Stewart Allman’s attempts to Tom Fobble this sledge: bending but not breaking. But Stewart Allman hasn’t the gift for it. William has. He is the master of the sledge, the master of the hill, starting from the very top corner, outracing everyone, outskilling them. He’s learning what is his place in the world, understanding what he is by becoming part of the hill itself, part of the community his family comes from.
Racing back to exclaim to his grandfather what a wonder the sledge is, William finds the old man’s house crowded with men of his age, silent, shuffling. Grandfather has taken to his bed and his rest. His job done, he sees no reason to waste time hanging around but is ready to depart. William catches his eye once, but the reader understands that the look is one way only.
Ignored, William creeps away. He employs his own version of the illicit Tom Fobble, exchanging newly collected shrapnel for the two horseshoes suspended in the chimney that represent luck for his Grandad and his Grandmother who went on before. In it’s way, it’s a theft, as they are not his, but their purpose has been served and unconsciously he is absorbing himself deeper yet in his family, accepting the superstitions of their time, the history that has borne him, for a time in which, like the mines that destroy the mark and the bull, the scepticism of the modern world and its inability to connect itself to place and past will become overwhelming.
Already, in a sense, the story is over. William’s future belongs to a boy named Alan, who needs to go back and discover what it is the education of Manchester Grammar School took out of him. All of the past, not just beginning and end, must needs do for that.

Wednesday Morning Sitcom – The Office (US): s01 e04-06 – The Alliance/Basketball/Hot Girl


I bought the boxset, all nine seasons. Time now to catch up on the back half of the short first season.

I’m not going to re-rehearse all the differences between the American The Office and its British inspiration. It’s softer, and its four principal actors (B. J. Novak, as new boy Ryan Howard, does not get appreciably more screen-time than the supporting cast and has yet to carve out a character for himself) offer different interpretations of the characters they’re channelling. Yes, they’re operating in a narrower range, even Jim Halpert and Pam Beesley, who are playing the nice and sympathetic characters, so Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute are diminished even beyond their unbearable originals.

But it was very noticeable how much more enjoyable these three episodes were, for the simply reason that they took little or nothing from the stories Gervais and Merchant conceived, and instead took the characters and their basic natures and let them direct the situations. Once the direct comparison between how McKenzie Crook and Rainn Wilson act in identical circumstances is removed, it becomes so much easier to separate the latter from the former and enjoy him for himself. If enjoy is indeed the right word for how you put up with the Dwights of this world.

Episode 4, ‘The Alliance’, used the background of rumoured down-sizing that ran through the first series of the UK show. It’s being rumoured. Dwight can’t get an assurance from Michael that he won’t be affected, only a totally false assurance that there will be no down-sizing. So, for mutual protection, he proposes an alliance with Jim, each to have the other’s back. Of course the alliance is a phoney: Jim intends nothing more than to use it as an extended wind-up, in collaboration with his mate Pam, and comes out with a surrealistic triumph when Dwight insists on being taped up in a box in the warehouse to overhear a ‘secret’ conversation, whilst Dwight is only using Jim in order to weaken him, as comes out in the closing scene, when we have our first clash between the enthusiastic Jim, carrying a torch for the pretty receptionist, and her warehouseman fiance Roy.

It’s this episode that really cements Jenna Fischer’s role in the series. She’s still a bit too pretty, and none of her dressing-down can conceal that, but she’s evidently bright, she has a clear affection to Jim and, in terms of Jenna Fischer, here is where she truly comes into her own, absorbing from the UK version the invaluable trait of acting with her eyes only. This woman is good.

Episode 5 went into territory Gervais and Merchant never considered, taking the Office down into the Warehouse, for physical comedy in the form of a pick-up basketball game, a ‘friendly’ that, naturally, becomes less friendly the longer it goes on. It’s Michael at his worse, though you can’t help but overlay it lightly with Ricky Gervais playing five-a-side football and compare in unfavourably. Chacun a son gout: a David Brent version of the secene would have lasted about thirty seconds until the first hard tackle. T|his version allows much more time to develop the players, including a very competitive one-on-one rivarly between Jim and Roy, with Pam looking on with enjoyment on both camps.

That’s another difference I’m looking forward to seeing explored. Roy is nothing like as big a self-centred, chauvinistic dickhead as Lee, though we start to see a few traces of development along those lines, whilst Pam is much more relaxed with him, and overtly sexual, than Lucy ever was. You can see elements of why they are together, and engaged, than between Lucy and Lee, where the unexplained ‘attraction’ between them was left to the audience to justify for themselves (loneliness and insecurity were my two primary rationales).

Though at least one imdb reviewer thought the final episode of the series dreary and a downer, I couldn’t possibly agree. It guest-starred Amy Adams as Katy, a hot redhead allowed to set up selling handbags in the office, whilst stirring the hormones of both Michael and Dwight, though at the end it’s the considerably more natural and unserious Jim who gets a date with her, which isn’t exactly looked on with favour by Pam despite her wish for her office best mate to find someone for himself. This was the one that really had my toes curling under themselves in the horribly familiar manner watching Michael trying to get off with Katy (Dwight was a no-hoper from second 1).

Actually, it was an episode that demonstrated what, at this early stage, is the essential difference between the UK and US versions, especially with regard to Dwight and Jim. We don’t have to imagine McKenzie crook in place of Rainn Wilson, we’ve seen Gareth trying to get off with Stacey. Dwight’s stupid and inept, but in a very ordinary fashion. He lacks Gareth’s obliviousness and crudity, the element of darkness inside the superficially stupid performance. In exactly the same way that Jim and Tim are too intelligent for the jobs they are doing, but whereas Tim is frustrated at what he has to go through every day, but is too undriven to actually change things, Jim is simply too laid-back to bother. Tim is ambitious for better but too afraid of change to stretch himself, Jim is just content to do what he’s doing. The pranks he and Pam play on Dwight are motivated more by the urge to be silly, with Dwight as the obvious target. The pranks Tim and Lucy play on Gareth are motivated by boredom, frustration and a genuine dislike, bordering on loathing, of Gareth in particular. This far in the US version, all the dark depths are covered over with carpeting, the rough edges sanded smoother, the absurdity translated from despair into complacent silliness.

It’s funny, and several tmes in this triplet, very funny, and I’m looking forward to starting season 2 when it’s turn on the rota comes up again, but I have reservations as to where it will go. The sheer length of the series overall – thirty-one times the length of the original – suggests we’re going to go very soap opera, but I await correction.

The World At War: e16 – Inside the Reich (Germany 1940-1944)


The other side of the coin, Germany’s experience of the years at the centre of the War, proved to be very difficult viewing. Like Britain’s story last week, the episode chose to circle back to its beginning: from the victorious German Army returning to Ber;lin in triumph, marching through the Brandenberg Gate to a near hysterical reception from a nation gratified and relieved at such speedy and relatively painless success, to the mainly civilian Volk Army, silent and grim, their faces and eyes empty, marching out through the same gate to face the ever-approaching Red Army in 1944.

In between, the story of those years broke into four broad phases. The triumph and joy was understandable but, just like last week, my reactions to it were coloured quite heavily by my instinctive response as a Britain, and one born ten years after the War and brought up in the light of its events. Though rationally I understood the joy, the intensity, and that I w ould have been in no whit different from the rejoicers, I could not totally surmount an instant reaction of almost hatred. Sure, they shouted and wept for joy, proud in theit victory and superiority, the more so for the country’s experience in the First World War that had made them so fearful beforehand, but couldn’t they see that their delight was invalid? That this was an evil War, without justification, that they were aggressors, that they had no moral right to wallow in victory?

No, of course they couldn’t. Only an exceptional few saw things that way. We didn’t exactly meet any of those but we did now hear testimony that set out, yet again, the basic errors in Hitler and the Nazis’s preparations. You could easily call it hubris. The whole campaign had been built on Blitzkrieg, the short, sharp war. The Reich was not prepared, indeed couldn’t even conceive of a long, drawn-out War, stubborn, pig-headed British resistance, American involvement. Hitler wanted to keep War and Civilian life completely separate, fulfil the fantasy of a rich, warm, luxurious home life. War production was scaled back. Luxuries, music and the arts proliferated. War as fantasy.

That began to break down as soon as Germany invaded Russia. There was no rehashing of the events of that campsaign, save the outline. The German Army, halted by the snow. The cracking of the myth of global superiority. And the defeat at Stalingrad that marked the point at which the War was lost and it became only a matter of time.

There was an angry defiance to replace the euphoria. The Allied leaders had demanded Unconditionall Surrender. Germany responded with Unconditional Defiance. Total War. The commitment of everyone. The strutting, hectoring ranting of Dr Josef Goebbels, of whom we heard more in contemporary footage than Hitler himself. Surrender was for cowards.

But everything had changed. Inside the Reich, the entire nation started to find itself under seige, with bombings by day and by night, bombings that were a terrible shock to the German people, a shock I was unable to find sympathy for: your turn, and see how you like it. And now the episode moved to its third phase and the one most deeply powerful and affecting: the Jews.

Not everyone in Germany obeyed the official, and terrifyingly widespread hatred for the Jews, but many believed that their ‘resettlement’, the euphemism for the ongoing transport east, to Auschwitz and its satellite camps, was just that. Others knew better. Others were denounced as idiots for believing foreign propaganda, but they were right. We heard from a couple of women, one German, the other an Englishwoman married to a German. Both, separately, were part of silent, invisible networks, of ordinary people if you could ever call the ones who, in that time, did these things ‘ordinary’, who took in Jewish people, sheltered them, moved them on. Who risked not just their own lives but the lives of their entire families, their children included, if they were caught.

For a couple of minutes, we listened to the Englishwoman, Christabel Beilenberg. For all that she had married a German, had German children, lived in Germany, she was still the almost stereotypical Englishwoman, undemonstrative, determined not to show her emotions, just to tell her story with true English reserve. She told her story of being asked to shelter a young Jewish couple, a married pair. The woman, twisting her wedding ring in her fingers, would help in the house the man would hide in the cellar. But her husband was away. Her neighbour, another of this informal network, demanded that she refuse, that the risk was too great. She had turned against that advice, her sympathies outweighing her fears, but told the couple they could only stay two nights. Two nights passed. The couple moved only, silently, in the dark. The husband left behind a bad re-made. Christabel spoke slowly, calmly, but what she was feeling, was thinking, was behind her eyes and the way she held her head. If it were not thus obvious, the camera kept cutting to her hands, folded in her lap, the way she twisted her finger as if she were twisting an imaginary ring, the way they kept twisting around each other. Later, she learnt, the couple had been arrested trying to buy a ticket. They had been sent to Auschwitz. And in words that could plainly never be enough to express how she felt, thirty years later, she condemned Hitler, because he had turned her into a murderer.

After that there was little that could have been said nor anything that meant more. But there was the final phase to go through. This dealt with the increasing understanding – knowledge – that Germany was beaten. That the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, was so far disconnected from reality that he would bring doom down on anyone. That he had to be removed and that the only way of removing him was assassination. So we came to the bomb, and to the heroic but doomed aristocrat, Colonel Count Claus von Stauffenberg.

The bomb failed. Stauffenberg was shot out of hand. Hitler was confirmed in his Messianic belief in himself but, at the same time, which came as news to me, he was broken. His mental stability and ability to concentrate was broken, his paranoia amplified. He was still the Leader, suspicious of everyone but Himmler, Bormann and Goebbels. He was still in charge. But now he was the true political symbol of his country, sliding towards Unconditional Defeat. So we came back to the Branderbeg Gate, Der Brandenburger Tor of my very earliest German lessons at School, and the men with rifles marching without hope in their eyes.

The Infinite Jukebox: Jacky’s ‘White Horses’

Little girls love horses. Lots of them grow up and never lose that enthusiasm, my ex-wife among them. Back when I was a kid there was a popular kids programme all about horses. Actually there were several, and more of them kept appearing after I’d grown out of children’s television, but perhaps the most famous and beloved of them was the one that seemed to be the least accessible, because it was foreign.
Over here, the series, which was still being repeated a decade later, was renamed White Horses, because it took place on a farm that bred Lippizaner horses. The series was a Yugoslavian/German co-production, though it was set entirely in Yugoslavia, specifically modern day Slovenia, where it was titled Pocitnice v Lipici. Wikipedia has it as being dubbed into English but my recollections are of a completely incomprehensible language (in 1968 I was still in the early years of learning French and German, 98% of which I have irretrievably lost).
I can see and understand the appeal of such programmes a lot better now, from closer involvement in that world at the side of a woman who understood it thoroughly and loved every minute of it that we could afford to follow. I can appreciate the grace and elegance of a good horse. I even discovered that I enjoyed following a cross-country course from fence to fence.
But what has all this equine nonsense got to do with a post about a song? Those of you who are old enough to have memories like my own will already know, and those too young to tell will have already noticed that the song is the same name as the series and have correctly deduced that it was the theme song: take a tick on your homework.
‘White Horses’ was written especially for the British broadcast of Pocitnice v Lipici. It was recorded and sung by Irish singer Jackie Lee, who had already been around over a dozen years, working as a very successful singer in vocal groups, solo and as a session singer on an amazing range of tracks, from Tom Jones to Jimi Hendrix! Re-named simply as ‘Jacky’ for this song, perhaps to emphasise that the song was being aimed at the young audience for the series, ‘White Horses’ was a success, reaching No. 10 in the charts, and being one of the few pop songs of that era that I not only actually heard then, but also remembered.
As befits the level the song was meant to operate upon, ‘White Horses’ is a very simple song, with a clear and open melody, and Jacky sings it in a sweet, breathless voice, combining the openness of the nursery rhyme with something else entirely, that makes the song so memorable and so appropriate to its subject. Something that, I’m certain, led The Penguin Television Companion in 2003, to proclaim it the best television theme song of all time.
It’s there in not merely the words but in Jacky’s delivery of them. On white horses let me ride away, she begins, to my world of dreams so far away. Let me run, to the sun.
It’s not a plea, nor a demand, just a portal into dreams, the dream of being on horseback, and neither having nor needing anything but to ride, to gallop endlessly, you and your horse, a perfect combination. It’s a dream that sometimes feels as if it can and has come true, a world my heart can understand, a warm and gentle wonderland, far away. Stars away.
God knows I’m no rider. My ex- swore she’d get me on horseback at least once and I said I’d do it but it never came off, so I don’t know what it feels like, except in this song, so in awe of its own being. I listen to it and I really regret that I never got my chance, to sit astride and ride beside her, sharing yet one more part of her life.
It’s not just the words, it’s also how they’re sung. There’s a middle eight that further extends the unreal, almost cartoon imagery of this perfect world, where the clouds are made of candy floss as the day is born. When the stars are gone we’ll race to meet the dawn. The lightness in Jacky’s voice turns what might be simplistic into magical. It’s not just a statement of how this feels but a wistfulness, a yearning for this idyll, when nothing from the outside can penetrate, not its dirt nor its dearth of happiness, its woes and sorrows. The song is outside the world in all the ways that only the perfect can be.
So when I can only see the grey of a sad and very lonely day, Jacky sums up, that’s when I softly sigh, on white horses, snowy white horses, let me ride away. Away she calls again, ethereally, twice, as the song fades. And this verse, explicitly turning the idea of being on horseback, also implicitly turns that into a no-longer-possibility, something once had that can no longer be again. The song is all about innocence, of a kind we can never sustain, an innocence that the final verse bids a sad farewell to.
Not such a simple song after all. But play it again, and even those who have no passport into that world can be carried up and wish to gallop on a strong-limbed horse, forever pursuing a sunset that, if we are as lucky as we feel, we will never reach.

Film 2022: It’s A Wonderful Life


For the first time since I started watching a film on Sunday mornings, a Film season has fallen upon Xmas Day. What better film, what other film could I choose to begin the day?

It’s a Wonderful Life, directed by Frank Capra, starring James Stewart as George Bailey, Donna Reed as Mary Hatch Bailey, Lionel Barrymore as Henry Potter and Henry Travers as Clarence, the Angel (Second Class), is a classic that, like many other classic films, was not well-regarded or particularly successful when it was first released. The critical side of me, which is getting its sole run-out here, wonders if this theme is a function of nostalgia, a looking back on what was and that we perceive as having been better infesting the films of the time with a retrospective glory their contemporaries dismissed? Right, that’s it. I chose this film so I could wallow, and wallow I shall do.

We all know the story by now. It’s cliched and it’s predictable and the bits with the angels talking in the heavens is just plain silly, and it’s stuffed full of more sentimentalism than an entire warehouse full of Paxo, but we don’t care. Because it’s played throughout with the one thing that a film of this nature must have, and that is complete, heart-deep sincerity. It’s played with belief, and for 130 minutes we all believe, and can pretend that the world really is like that, because inside us we know that we as human beings can be extraordinarily wonderful, and that we don’t always have to try to be, and this is us being and doing just that.

But let me remind you of the story. Stewart plays George Bailey, a talented, passionate young man with a gift and an ambition. George was born, and has always lived in Bedford Falls, a sleepy, no-horse American midwestern town, a long way from everywhere else. It’s quiet, it’s homely, it’s limited, it lacks any purpose but to just exist. It’s classically American and you can tell at a glance that ditchwater is fascinating next to it. George thinks so. George wants out, and George is going to get out. He’s going to see the world, all the great and glorious things in it that Nature and Man have made and he’s going to shake that world by designing and building bigger and better things to improve it for everyone. He’s got the ambition, he’s got the talent, he’s going to be great.

But of course he’s not. Bedford Falls is dominated by its leading citizen, the crippled Henry Potter. Potter owns everything, runs everything. He’s confined to a wheelchair, sour, offensive, dictatorial, but by god he is master of all he surveys and he always will be. It would be another decade before the analogy came into being but Potter has an Asterix‘s village holding out againat him, the Bailey Bros. Building and Loan, dealing with the poor, the ordinary, the working stiffs, the cattle that Potter despises beause they are so easy to own and control. They are the thorn in his side, the one thing he can neither run nor ruin.

Barrymore is superb. Without once exaggerating, he is the embodiment of evil, an indictment of capitalism. His determination to rule everything, without any benefit or pleasure, is Hannah Ahrendt’s banality of evil turned out upon the streets of America’s heart and heartland. He radiates the desire to rend, tear down and destroy everything within his grasp for no reason an ordinary human could understand.

Bailey Bros. is George’s Dad and his silly, forgetful, easily distracted Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell). The film starts at its end, with George in despair, suicidal despair, a course from which Clarence (a basically bumbling character still awaiting his wings) is sent to save him. We don’t know why or what from, so the film builds up George’s life in jumps through time as, one after another, as if planned by a malignant devil, his every opportunity, his every shot at escape, at growing out and away, is torn out of his hands by crises. George Bailey is a man whose very life is spent where he desperately wants not to be, doing a job that is beneath his abilities, that he hates every day of his life. The banality of everyday life, surrounded by people who are in no way his equals, supported by a wife he loves but before whom he is secretly ashamed that he cannot give her the life of content, luxury and freedom he believes she deserves, is a prison for him, a hell-hole.

The film has been criticised, loudly, for emphasising that, for painting Bedford Falls, as some kind of paradise, for impliedly castigating George for ambition as if that was above his station. Which is true in one aspect. But each time George stays, forgoes his dreams and desires, he does so at his own choice. He gives himself up for others’ welfare, to serve his father’s confident and heartfelt dream. The prison walls around George are built with his own sense of responsibility, and duty.

By now we’ve seen enough to understand that though George has happiness with Mary (Donna Reed didn’t want to play the part, thought it too bland, admitted she was wrong) and his four little kids, his life is built upon frustration and a despair that only needs one thing, one unsurmountable obstacle to trigger it. And that thing occurs on Christmas Eve. Uncle Billy takes $8,000 to Potter’s Bank to deposit it. He takes the opportunity to taunt Potter over Harry Bailey, George’s younger brother, a War Hero who saved the lives of an entire troop convoy. In his excitement, he accidentally wraps the envelope of money up in Potter’s newspaper. When Potter finds it, he keeps it. It’s his golden opportunity to destroy George Bailey, the pipsqueak who stood up to him, for once and for all.

It’s the push that starts the spiral. George faces disaster. Ruin, prison, the loss of everything he’s worked for, the entire house of cards come falling down around his ears. His fall is swift but unstoppable. In his despair, the only course that seems viable is to die: his Life Insurance makes him worth more dead than alive.

So, from the start of the film we come to the start of the film. Clarence pre-empts George by jumping into the river himself, knowing that who and what George is means that he will not allow the wierd little guy to drown. And in a stroke of genius brought on by George’s inwardly-directed bitterness, Clarence gives him his wish, not to have been borm at all.

And suddenly the film turns into a horror story. Everything turns round. George gets to see what life would have been without him in it and it’s a neon-swirling, hateful and aggressive nightmare. Bedford Falls is Pottersville, and Potter’s spirit invests everything. It’s lively, progressive, active, awake, busy, but everything that is bright is coarse, appealing to human weakness: bars galore, lurid films, weekly fights, stripclubs. Oh yes, this is Pottersville. Everything George did has been wiped out, and everything is the worse for it.

George stumbles from point to point, unable to take it in, searching for some point of stability, some point of familarity, but nothing remains. It’s one in the eye for social spirit, oh yes, but the breaking point is naturally George’s own personal loss. The one unequivocally good thing in his life, his wife, his children. There are no children because there was no marriage because there was no George, and Mary is an old maid, tightly-wound, nervous, frightened of everything around her. Donna Reed was a beautiful woman, and her part in this film, as the girl who has loved George since she was a kid, the rock upon which his life is constructed, the pragmatic, practical one who achieved her ambition, to be with George, is handled beautifully, but in the few seconds in which she plays her other self, Reed is astonishing, pulling herself into herself, a pitiable creature and, the master touch, we still see behind that shrinking frame, those big round glasses, enough of the beautiful woman Mary Hatch could have been, if only…

And so George recants despair and his real life is turned back on, and everything comes back to him, including the responsibility that has driven him all his life, and with it the great big drowning in sentimentality ending as everyone who has known George, whose life has been touched by him, that we can now see for the better, chips in, money galore, more than $8,000, more than he needs. A Tolkienian eucatastrophe of stunning proportions that we can’t quite believe in in the real world, even though we know we can do it and simply don’t, but which sweeps us away, emotion overriding everything, which is as it should be on Xmas Day.

The film was a flop and now it’s a classic, thanks to a clerical error. In 1974, when the film’s copyright was up for renewal under the system then in use in America, something went wrong and the copyright lapsed. Television networks realised that like all public domain products, they could screen it without having to pay any licence fees. They started showing it at Xmas. The rest is history.

I’ve seen this film many many times, on TV, at Xmas, with a blazing gas fire filling the room with heat. I can’t remember when I saw it first, it’s just part of the blurred memory of Sunday afternoon and Xmas-time black and white films, watched for comfort or watched because there’s nothing else to do, or just what the hell? Today, it’s begun Xmas Day, preceding all the other aspects of the day and I feel contented. But you’ll have to excuse me now, I’ve a pile of presents to open…

Lucifer, the Morningstar: 7 – Exodus

The seventh Lucifer graphic novel collects issues 42 – 44 and 46 – 49 all of which are drawn by Peter Gross and Ryan Kelly. These comprise the three-part arc, ‘Brothers in Arms’ and two parts each of the alternating – and linked – stories, ‘Stitchglass Slide’ and ‘Wire Briar Limber Lock’.


Brothers in Arms

This is all but a comedy episode, albeit one with a serious underpinning.
Yahweh has gone, departed from his creation. Two brother Titans, Garamas and Gyges, great of size but not of brain, ponderous but sly, seek to establish for themselves a new place. At first, they try to graft themselves to the Endless, attacking The Dreaming, claiming to be brothers Duplicity and Deceit, attending on family business but, though Dream is absent, the Castle is well-warded. So Garamas, the elder and, marginally, more intelligent, comes up with another idea: they will become Yahweh.
Rather less comically, Beatrice Wechsler, once a waitress at Lux, is driven by an obsession. It is two years since she was used by Mazikeen, since she last saw the half-faced woman, but whores in half-faced masks don’t help and she returns to her day job, waitress at a bowling rink. She doesn’t know it, but she’s involved in something, and the ending is reaching backwards through time towards her.
In Lucifer’s cosmos, on Edom Plain where the Lilim camp, two angels, Zonaquiel and Uriel, seek answers from the Morningstar about what God vouchsafed before leaving his creation. Lucifer tells them that God wished for he and Michael to share the succession. But neither want it. Others will, though, and they will need to pre-empt them.
The Titans continue their move to usurp Yahweh’s space, fulfilling – in heavy-handed manner – his Old Testament role. Beatrice’s bowling alley is destroyed by a wave of something. She survives, but hears voices speaking strange sentences. After being interviewed by the Police, she goes to hospital, to have her cuts attended to. The Doctor allows her to leave by a back door: she too is destroyed as voices speak.
Having gone back in time to usurp Yahweh’s history, Garamas and Gyges come to Lux to borrow Lucifer’s gateway, to reach the Silver City. His fires cannot burn them: they are of God, and the Titans are now God.
But Lucifer can still misdirect them. The gate takes them not to Heaven but Hell, to Effrul, There, he resurrects Effrul himself, whom once he killed. The giant has the power to crush the Titans, whilst they are still getting used to the power of God. It won’t be for long, but it gives Lucifer the interim, which he uses to return, for the first time in uncounted millennia, to Heaven, to speak with his brother, Michael.
The Archon sits in silence at the foot of Primum Mobile, wanting nothing, least of all conversation. So, in the absence of challenge from his brother, Lucifer seats himself on Primum Mobile, the throne of God, and pronounces himself God of this, and his own Creation. Talk about blasphemy!
On Earth, Beatrice, still dreaming of Mazikeen, comes to the cathedral-like Lux, standing outside its gateless walls. But she is now the centre of Garamas and Gyges’ plan: to defeat Lucifer, they will forge a duinum, a duplicate that will embrace and destroy him. For this, they need true memories of Lucifer, from one who knows him. Their discussion echoes the words from the bowling rink: they reach out and seize Beatrice.

Lucifer 2

Michael objects to Lucifer taking Primum Mobile, roused to anger as Lucifer intended. Still, he refuses to act, except to threaten destruction of all. There is nothing the brothers can say to one another, but before he departs, Lucifer points out that there is a third who can continue Yahweh’s line, can be a threat to the Titans. He offers Michael a blindfold, so he won’t have to see what they do to her.
Having created their duinum, and sent it ahead, the Titans abandon the near-broken Beatrice. She is taken up by Mazikeen and brought to the Silver City where the Morningstar, having failed to persuade his brother to action, seeks the Armory, where he dons the armour made for him before the Rebellion and the Fall. Mazikeen, dragging the reluctant Beatrice, follows him against the will of all the Angels. She will not allow him to die.
Lucifer goes out to meet the Titans. He is defending himself, not Heaven, though the two are for the moment synonymous. He leaves the Angels in a double-circle, guarding Mazikeen as she prepares to enact the solution through Beatrice. He evades his duinum for a time and battles the Titans, until his fetch catches up to him. Michael intervenes, now nearly as cynical as his brother, but so long as the Titans hold Yahweh’s power, he cannot destroy them.
But there is a way. Mazikeen anoints Beatrice with blood, drawn in strange patterns. Beatrice confesses her love, which Mazikeen acknowledges is already known, even though the young woman knows what the Lilim intends to do. At the chosen moment, Mazikeen runs Beatrice through with her sword. It releases a power that flows backwards, through Beatrice’s experiences, to the moment of the Titans’ revival in Greece, at the start of the story.
And it destroys them. Before they can usurp Yahweh.
Beatrice is not dead. The Silver City stands, and the Angels now gather to send Mazikeen away, she having played her part. But the Lilim has a great need to blaspheme, for which she requires Beatrice’s further assistance. Passion is blasphemy here: Mazikeen bestows upon Beatrice a most passionate kiss.
The crisis is passed. Michael will not take the throne but neither will he allow Lucifer the seat. He will be a more vigilant protector in future. Lucifer will not be needed again.
So Lucifer returns to Edom Plain. And Beatrice accompanies Mazikeen, in thrall to her instructions. Like the rest of the Lilim.

Lucifer 3

Stitchglass Stride/Wire, Briar, Limber Lock

Though the remaining four episodes of this volume are officially two separate stories, told in alternating chapters, they are in many ways a more simple story than Exodus.
Stitchglass Slide is told by two narrators, first Thole, then Martin. One is a strange, insect-like creature, that spins emotions into stitchglass, full of beautiful colours. Negative emotions come out as slop.
Thole is building a nest for the female of his strange species. His stitchglass will attract a female who will fill the eggs he weaves with the essence of future children. His slops he empties, neatly, through the slophole, which is one of Lucifer’s gates.
It’s other end is in an attic, in a house, where Martin lives with his parents. Martin is a young boy, a disturbed boy. ADD doesn’t begin to describe it. He is a severe problem child and his exasperated, strained, unsympathetic parents have brought in a Chakra-Balancer, to cure him. But Martin’s problem is Thole’s slops, over which Thole, discovering what he has done, experiences great guilt.
Yet he is still tied into his biological imperative (which echoes of the late James Tiptree Jr’s fantastic short story, ‘Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death’: read it.) When Martin runs up to the attic and into Lucifer’s creation, Thole eventually reconciles to his presence, and begins to care for him. Until his dream-female arrives: massive, vulgar, and more inclined to treat Martin as food than as Thole’s friend.
Meanwhile, following the episode of the Titans storming Heaven, Lucifer has come to a decision, and he wants Elaine Belloc to enforce it for him. Simply put, he had tolerated the presence of Gods, demons and immortals in his realm: now they must leave. Left to do the job himself, he will simply kill them all, it being quicker. Elaine, however, will only kill where there is no alternative.
In Wire, Briar, Limber Lock, (the first line of the skipping rhyme that ends with the much more famous line, ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’), Elaine assembles a team of six, to work in pairs. One consists of Mona, with Gaudium, another of Spera, with the tiny Lilim, Elahim Shaer, who rides a small flying dragon. The third is herself, in the body (now a slim young woman of about twenty-one), with the exceedingly reluctant, but dutiful and loyal Mazikeen.
Each team encounters resistance but overcomes it. Being in the body tires Elaine, who sleeps. Mazikeen chooses to deal with one last immortal herself.

Lucifer 4

This is Thole. The second half of Stitchglass Slide is narrated by Martin, who understands but resents Thole’s concentration on the oversized and worse-than-insensitive Uuna, whose first act is to walk through the slide Thole has made for Martin, as if it wasn’t there, and whose demands grow ever more excessive.
Piqued, he decides to run away again, to show Thole, but on the other side of the slophole, no time has passed at all. Here, enough has run for Uuna to reach her – well, we’re going to have to call it climax, though there’s really no comparison. She follows Martin, who she intends to eat, and force upon Thole.
Whilst she is gone, Thole struggles against his most deep-rooted Tholeness, and finally prepares a trap for Uuna. All his life, his intents and purpose, must be overridden to save the boy. That’s easier said than done, as even the newly-arrived Mazikeen faces defeat before Martin intervenes, handing her the self-stone Thole had made to relieve him. Uuna is killed, the nest and the eggs ruined, and now Thole must face the Lilim.
But Elaine, angry that she was not woken, arrives with a different solution. Lucifer’s objection is to immortality. Thole is now so committed to his human-animal that he foregoes his immortality. He can stay, and raise Martin as a father – after all, his own parents have been seen to by Uuna. The two live together for fifteen years: after Thole’s death the now adult Martin moves on.
Elaine’s anger at Mazikeen doesn’t last anything like as long, though it begins as if it might. She has left Martin burying his parents, and it calls up bad memories, of her ‘parents’. She and Mazikeen compare their histories in terms of parents and siblings.
The team gathers in a clearing, to tally their success. But the forest attacks them, knocking out Elaine first. But it is she who ends the battle on reviving, identifying the hitherto-hidden spirit responsible, the infant Guardian of the Green (a very new Swamp Thing in fact). It cannot leave this place, it is this place. It can only die, bringing in autumn. Elaine, however, keeps a cutting, for next year, which only Mazikeen sees. It is against Lucifer’s instructions.
Meanwhile, on Earth, Lucifer has summoned the Angels to Lux to show them something. His gateway is dissolving, gradually coming apart. Within a week, no more, the gateway between creations will cease. This is because God’s name is written at each corner, to power it, and God has left his creation.
The problem for them is that God’s name is written upon every atom of that creation. His Name is fading. God’s Creation will shortly fail and cease.
In Lucifer’s Creation, Elaine mentions that the Guardian of the Green said that he was protected by/protecting a final immortal, the Kera Theodmet. Mazikeen stiffens at that name. She takes Elaine aside, promises she will deal with this last entity. She offers to swear an oath that she will not tell Lucifer about the cutting, but Elaine trusts her and hugs her.
Mazikeen goes alone. She knows the meaning of the title, Kera Theodmet and who it means. A woman who had many partners but who was widowed only once. Kera Theodmet, Bereaved by God. She lives inside a mountain, guarded by a waterfall of knives, through which Mazikeen passes. Inside is a garden and a tall, ageless woman. Mazikeen greets her as Mother: Lilith.