Lucifer On Netflix Has Deep Roots in Comics
Lucifer on Netflix starts its run on May 8, picking the show up after its cancellation by Fox. As a television show, Lucifer shouldn’t work. It’s a show about the literal devil, who has abandoned Hell to run a piano bar in Los Angeles. After meeting a comely detective, Lucifer decides he misses punishing people, teaming up with her to solve crimes. In fact, the ridiculousness of the premise is known to the cast, who came up with lyrics to the show’s rock-and-roll musical sting. “Crime-solving devil. It makes sense, don’t overthink it,” Lucifer, played by Tom Ellis, sang in a season two episode. Still, despite all the reasons why it shouldn’t work, it does. Not only is the show entertaining, but it inspired enough fans to storm social media with a #SaveLucifer campaign. Netflix took notice, and fans get at least ten new episodes of their favorite devil.
Yet, what fans of Lucifer on Netflix, and Fox before it, is that this series owes more to comic books than it does to the Bible. In the Christian Bible, and the Hebrew text the Old Testament is based on, the devil is never named. Rather, the word “satan” is used, which translates to “adversary” or “accuser.” The majority of the nine times the word is used in the Hebrew Bible, satan refers to Earthly opponents. There are four times, however, where it refers to a divine being. It was only well into the early days of Christianity that these adversaries were tied to the being that tempted Jesus Christ in the desert and the “serpent” of the Book of Revelation. No, the version of the Devil we see here was created by three writers: John Milton, Neil Gaiman, and Mike Carey in fiction, specifically comics.
Paradise Lost: The Modern Devil
English poet John Milton invented much of what we, today, think of as the Devil’s mythology in religion. Milton, a devout Protestant Christian, does something that might be considered blasphemous by more rigid believers. He makes Lucifer the heroic character of his epic poem, but one that ultimately loses in the end. In the Homeric tradition, great warriors and rulers go on a quest and usually defy and defeat pagan gods. In this poem, the Christian god, known as the Father, is the antagonist for much of it. Lucifer leads a rebellion against God, is defeated, then tries to corrupt Mankind via tempting Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Yet, Milton is not writing a song of praise to the Devil, but rather to criticize the Roman Catholic Church and protestant faiths repeating their mistakes.
The point of Paradise Lost is to highlight how far the church drifted from what Milton viewed as the way Christians should worship. He objected to the idea of grand cathedrals and other religious finery. When Adam and Eve want to atone for falling victim to Lucifer’s ploy, they promise to build altars to God. The Archangel Michael tells them that God does not require such things, implying that going to church does not bring one closer to God. He also uses the Adam and Even relationship to suggest that marriage is something that should be left outside of the scope of religion. While Adam is “closer” to God than Eve, their marriage is a contract between them and them alone. Like Lucifer on Netflix, some small-minded people believed that Paradise Lost was heresy. Yet, instead, it’s a work of fiction using familiar characters to examine the human condition.
Mr. Sandman, Bring Me a Devil
Some three centuries later, another plucky British writer by the name of Neil Gaiman took Milton’s Lucifer and built on that foundation. In his landmark comic book series Sandman, Gaiman imagines a universe where all the myths are real. That means that Hell exists, presided over by the Abrahamic devil. Rather than red skin and horns, the artists draw Lucifer as a handsome blond man, who purposefully looks like the late David Bowie. In this iteration of the Devil’s tale, the premise is that Lucifer grows bored of Hell and wants to retire. He then expels all the souls and demons from it, locking the gates and giving the keys to Hell to Dream, the titular “Sandman.” Lucifer is only a minor player in Gaiman’s epic, but the character so rich that writer Mike Carey took him for a spin in a solo series.
Play Us a Song… Piano Man.
Lucifer on Netflix will likely continue to be a crime-solving procedural, despite featuring only ten episodes in this new season. However, the comic book series that inspired the show featured no such dynamic. Rather the Mike Carey series explored larger mythical themes, as well as issues involving emotional abandonment, found family, and living up to parental or societal expectations. It’s a much more cerebral and fantastic version of the character, but there are elements in Carey’s Lucifer that show up in the show. Yet, some of the elements of Lucifer’s character are obviously comparable. For example, in the show and the comic Lucifer runs an L.A. nightclub called Lux. He’s assisted in this endeavor by a Lilim (daughter of Lilith), Mazikeen.
The central theme of the comic book series is all about free will. Lucifer resents being a part of his father’s plans for the universe. While this element makes it into the show, the comics take it much further. Lucifer learns that his father didn’t “damn” him to Hell, but rather sent him there because it was the farthest realm from the divine presence. Still, this isn’t enough for the Lucifer of the comics. So, he goes so far as to create his own universe, effectively competing against his father. Unlike our world full of rules and commandments, Lucifer’s version of Adam and Eve are given only one rule to follow. “Bow down to no one,” he says, “Worship no one. Not even me.” Lucifer gives his universe the one thing he feels he never had, real freedom.
The road to television for Lucifer was arduous and hellish. With comic-based properties now big-money projects for TV and film, Warner Bros. partnered with Fox to bring the show to life. Yet, since Fox is a broadcast network, they felt it needed a procedural element. Other comic-book fantasy shows, such as NBC’s take on Constantine, struggled to find an audience, even with “monster-of-the-week” episodes. So, instead, writer and producer Tom Kapinos added the traditional police procedural element. They filmed a pilot, aired it online, and then went back to the drawing board. Supporting characters were recast. Kevin Alejandro took up the role of Dan, a fellow detective and the female lead’s ex-husband. And the role of Mazikeen, reframed as a “torturer” from Hell who’s loyal to Lucifer, went to Lesly Ann Brandt. Those changes appear to have worked, because the first season of 13 episodes became a mid-season hit.
Lauren German plays the role of Detective Chloe Decker, a woman who Lucifer feels drawn to in the pilot. She is the only human being, man or woman, who ever successfully resisted Lucifer’s sexual advances. This intrigues him, and the first season is all about why Chloe affects Lucifer in strange ways. The most detrimental (but good for drama) is that, when he’s around her, he is no longer immortal. This means that if he’s shot or stabbed or hurt in any way, he could die just like a human. Still, for this version of Lucifer, it’s less desire for free will that drives him, but a desire to see the guilty punished. This is the justification for a crime-solving devil: He is intrigued by Chloe and enjoys punishing bad people.
Who Is Lucifer Morningstar?
There are plenty of elements first introduced in Gaiman and Carey’s comics that made their way to the series, beyond just the piano bar. The main character trait that the two Lucifers share is their unwavering commitment to telling the truth. So, even though one of the Devil’s names is “The Lord of Lies,” this Lucifer tells the truth and nothing but. Another element reappropriated for the show is the idea of the Devil and his deals. Lucifer makes deals in the comics, but typically not for “wishes” or things like that. The Lucifer from the show is basically a genie in a bottle (of bourbon). People come to him and ask for favors, which he will make happen for them. All he asks is that, one day, they return the favor should he ask. This is great for the crime procedural narrative, as Lucifer is owed a lot of favors from criminal informants.
The biggest change in the character from the comics to the show is that TV’s Lucifer loves humanity. The Devil in the comics couldn’t really care less about humans, save for a few that become supporting characters in his story. Lucifer on the show, however, can’t get enough of people. Whereas Milton’s version of the devil resented humans for their favor with God, Lucifer doesn’t care much for “Dad.” So much does this version of Lucifer love human beings, that he kills one of his angelic brothers to protect them. This is something that not even the Lucifer of the comics would do on purpose. But, as the show’s cancellation proved, humans love them some Lucifer in return.
In the late spring of 2019, Fox brought the ax down on a number of beloved series, including both of their D.C.-based shows, this and Gotham. Though unlike Gotham, Lucifer didn’t win a final season. This move particularly pained both the show’s creators and fans, because their season ended with a huge cliffhanger. After three seasons of will-they-or-won’t-they drama, Lucifer revealed his “devil face” to Chloe. The burned-out, monstrous face is crucial to Lucifer’s identity and his power to inspire fear. It’s also an irrefutable way to confirm to mere mortals that he is, in fact, the Biblical devil. A “bonus” episode of the show released after the cancellation showed that Chloe makes a kind of peace with it. Yet, fans didn’t get the sort of emotional closure they wanted.
Yet, the fact that there were two bonus episodes at all reveals why Fox cancelled the series. The ratings weren’t huge, but the show drew in around two-and-a-half- to three-million viewers each week. So, it wasn’t the viewership that doomed it, but rather the robust sports schedule for the Fox Network. The previous season saw three episodes delayed because of sports. The two bonus episodes for season three were part of the show order, but the cast and crew knew they wouldn’t fit in the schedule until next year while filming them. It’s why they were able to reference the season finale reveal. Surprisingly, the fans of the show took to social media, specifically Twitter, with the #SaveLucifer campaign. Netflix heard their cry and rescued the show from cancellation.
Can a Show About the Devil Not be ‘Blasphemous?’
To get fans pumped-up for Lucifer on Netflix, the above video with the cast hit YouTube this week. In it, they talk about on-set hijinks and an actor who Tom Ellis didn’t like. Yet, the one thing they all want to make clear at the end of the video is that even though this a show about the devil, it’s not blasphemous. Even though the Devil and “Dad” are at odds, the show avoids the great religious debate. So, Lucifer is okay with most of the lesser deadly sins, such as avarice and lust. However, he’s definitely against needless violence and murder. In the show, Lucifer is like Fonzie: he talks a good game about killing and maiming, but he never actually does it.
One of the best concepts in the show, however, comes from the comics. It’s the notion that neither God nor the Devil are responsible for people ending up in Hell. Instead, Hell is filled with the souls of mortals who think they deserve to be punished. The tortures they suffer are created by their own minds. The message of this show is that all one needs to do in order to be “good” is to treat people with compassion and help however you can. It also speaks to the very human trait of being unable to forgive ourselves for the things we regret. Lucifer on Netflix or Fox is not a show with a religious message, but rather it is a commentary on humanity, emotional growth, and, of course, love.
What to Do When You Finish Binge-Watching Season 4
So, when you settle in to watch Lucifer on Netflix, remember that Tom Ellis’s sly Devil owes his existence to the comic books. And, if this truly is the last season of the show, you can ease your sorrow by picking up the dozen graphic novels of Mike Carey’s series. It tells a much different story, but it is one that’s worth reading.
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.