Finding Freedom and Unexpected Heroes in Mike Carey’s Lucifer

I didn’t decide to read the Lucifer graphic novels, written by Mike Carey and primarily drawn by Peter Gross, for their queerness, or for who became the true hero of the series for me (spoiler: Mazikeen). That was all a pleasant—unexpected, revolutionary—surprise for me as a late teen. I came to Lucifer because I had just split from the religion of my youth, Mormonism. A friend had told me how good the series was, and promptly after my first, knee-jerk reaction of “I can’t read something that stars the devil!”, I snatched them up. Why not, after all? It was a spin-off of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, which I was currently devouring, and I wasn’t Mormon anymore.

Let’s be honest: I hadn’t entirely left all that religious baggage behind. A huge part of my interest was pure titillation from doing something so taboo as to read a comic called Lucifer. Underlying that, though, was my desire to find something different, a new perspective to reflect my altered stance in life. I was 18, freshly atheist, ready to discover my own sense of morality without a prescribed doctrine, and finally free to figure out why I seemed as attracted to women as I was to men. (This was before I knew that romantic attraction, not sexual, was as far as it went with anyone, never mind that I was genderqueer. Those things came later.)

Excepting The Sandman, in most of what I’d read in life thus far, characters who broke away from either religious norms or heteronormativity (or both) were usually the villains of the story. Even if some of those villains weren’t openly queer, they were queer-coded. (Hello, Disney movies!) They were the outliers, trying to pick at the supports of society, to disturb the order for their own selfish gain. Growing up, because of not wanting to follow the rules for the rules’ sake, and realizing my attraction to women, I had always felt like a freak—and I had the creeping guilt and shame of feeling like the bad guy in my own story without even knowing why.

Lucifer flips all of that on its head. It’s about the devil, already the ultimate rebel, who has quit his job in Hell and retired to Los Angeles to open a bar, just to do something different. He isn’t left in peace, of course, and he eventually goes so far as to make his own universe in order to exist only under his own power and authority. Of course, that doesn’t go smoothly either, and soon he must defend what he once tried to topple (Heaven) in order to save multiple universes. Eventually, he wants to forge his own way so badly that he leaves all of creation behind.

I was instantly captivated by Carey’s Lucifer—his extreme individualism, and his quest to stand wholly on his own, apart from any grand plans of his father’s. Not only did I admire his stubborn drive, that burning willpower that so defines him, and his inability to blindly follow a path someone else laid out for him; I loved the good in him—his unique sense of morality, his compassion for (a select few) others, and his emphasis on the importance of choice and self-actualization for everyone, not just himself. He wants to be free, and he’s happy to help others gain their freedom along the way.

Maybe the devil could be a hero instead of a villain. And so could queer people.

It was no real surprise that I fell in love with the devil (as written by Mike Carey). But then I fell in love with the devil’s bisexual, demonic army-general of a girlfriend: Mazikeen, child of Lilith, Adam’s first wife. After ditching Adam because she didn’t want to be subservient to him, Lilith went on to spawn a race of misfits who were denied entry into both the Garden of Eden and the silver city of Heaven. The Lilim, as they are called, don’t even belong in Hell, cursed to remain somewhere in between, welcome nowhere. It’s fitting, then, that as one of the Lilim, Mazikeen ends up working at Lucifer’s bar.

I found her a bit unassuming in her first pages, but from the moment she crumbles up a handful of cockroaches like so much paper to perform a demon-summoning ritual, I knew she was made of sturdier stuff than I’d thought. (Cockroaches are, like, my greatest horror.)

At first, I wanted to be Mazikeen. The reader shortly finds out that she’s the ultimate badass warrior, never hesitating to rush into a fight—which she usually wins. She kills her would-be rapist ex-husband in the most satisfyingly brutal way I’d ever seen, literally taking him apart with a massive wrench. She’s an unfailing guardian of Lucifer and annoying children alike. She’s a brilliant tactician who eventually leads armies into battles of cosmic proportions, and who manages to overcome singular opponents against impossible odds. She wields powerful blood magic. She rocks armor as well as slinky cocktail dresses. She loves her face (half of which is… uh… missing) and slurred voice, which she doesn’t see as damaged, but rather beautiful, and which she spends most of the series trying to get back after another character misguidedly “fixes” them. Not only all of that, but she’s dating the devil.

Many, many times, she saves the day.

I didn’t think myself capable of 10% of Mazikeen’s bad-assery—I was still struggling not to feel guilty about drinking coffee, gazing longingly at women, or even reading a comic series about people like her—but I was inspired by her. And then she managed to surprise me even more, and the way I thought about her—and related to her—changed.

Mazikeen leaves Lucifer because he shames the Lilim by refusing to let them be a part of his army. She’s utterly devoted to those she cares about, but also has an unshakeable sense of honor. So, as the military leader of her people, she declares war on Lucifer. When Lucifer decides to leave behind all of creation, and Mazikeen by extension, she leaves him with a scar across the face to remember her by. Oh yeah, and then she gets a girlfriend, Beatrice.

A girlfriend. Just like that. My mind: blown. The series doesn’t do all things queer perfectly; there’s an early incident of violent homophobia that could have been handled more delicately, and without centering the aggressor’s redemption arc. But somewhere along the line, maybe when I realized that Mazikeen was as fearless in her bisexuality as everything else, I fell more in love with her than the titular star of the show.

Mazikeen and Lucifer’s love affair is pretty epic—appropriate, given the scale of the story—but her relationship with Beatrice came to mean more to me. Not only was this amazing demon-woman bisexual, she was bisexual in somehow both the most casual and defiant way possible, which touched the core of what I was feeling at the time. It was both a reassuring hand on my shoulder and a high-five. Burned into my brain is one of the best scenes in the entire series: Mazikeen stands in the middle of the silver city in Heaven—which her people built and were banished from and which she’s just saved—and tells Beatrice, “Passion is blasphemy in this holy place. And I have a great need to blaspheme.” Then Mazikeen kisses her while flipping off the heavenly host over her shoulder.

I said she was multitalented, didn’t I?

What’s more, if the ending isn’t entirely happy for Mazikeen, her story closes with the possibility of a happy hour date with Beatrice to come. Neither woman dies, and they even might end up together! (I choose to believe they did.) This part of the ending felt more miraculous than the universes getting saved.

Mazikeen opened my eyes to the types of heroes you can have in books, and in science-fiction and fantasy in particular. She’s not just a demon dating the devil; she’s a woman, she’s an outcast, she’s a blasphemer, and she’s queer. She turns away from the path that others have laid out for her and strives to be true to herself just as much as Lucifer does, and she takes pride in herself while she’s doing it. And none of that prevents her from saving the day—or multiple universes—over and over again or ending up (mostly) happy. She was the hero I desperately needed to find at the time. And she’s a character who impacted my writing for years to come.

First I wanted to be Mazikeen, then I wanted to be with her, and then I just wanted to write queer, fierce, dynamic characters like her, who can open eyes to the ways in which we can be—be individual, be queer, and be heroes. It’s probably no coincidence that my upcoming book, Beyond the Black Door, stars a biromantic young woman with a dark side who makes mistakes and falls in love with a devilish villain, whom she later defies. In many ways Kamai is not like Mazikeen at all, but she’s seemingly not hero material until she becomes a hero right before our eyes. I hope people see themselves in her. I hope they feel a little freer, or perhaps more like the heroes of their own stories, after they read her story. That’s what Mazikeen and Mike Carey’s Lucifer did for me.

A.M. Strickland was a bibliophile who wanted to be an author before she knew what either of those words meant. She shares a home base in Alaska with her husband, her pugs, and her piles and piles of books. She loves traveling, dancing, tattoos, and every shade of teal in existence, but especially the darker ones. Her books include Beyond the Black Door and Wordless. Find her on Twitter.

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