on the panels for a better view]
Samsara or nirvana? The eternal cycle of life-death-reincarnation or the one-time live, death, heaven-or-hell option? Where philosophers would take a couple of volumes to debate this eternal question, Mike Carey finishes it off in a 48-page comic book with a plot thick with deceit and intrigue.
In this stand-alone tale, Lucifer is the target of a vengeful angel who hires an immortal "hitman" to slay the morning star. But the devil is the King of Lies and will not easily fall into a trap. So the Silk Man, an assassin born before the dawn of man, entraps a Chinese girl as bait for the devil. Her Buddhist beliefs are meant to misdirect the King of Lies.
To seduce the girl to become the bait, the Silk Man offers her as the only hope for her dead husband, Lun, who committed suicide only recently. He dangles him in a birdcage and pronounces, "I can bring you and your husband together again." Buddhists do not believe in eternal heaven and hell but in the eternal cycle of life birth, misery and death according to karma. To break the cycle, if you want to, is to achieve the state of nirvana a state of oblivion from care, pain or reality. In other words, to cease to exist. This is the fate that awaits Lucifer, should the trap be sprung.
The girl, Cai Yue, initially decides to save her husband who is prevented by the Silk Man from his "nirvana". She reasons it is her duty to help her husband. By helping him, Cai Yue will open the gate to Nirvana and possibly extinguish Lucifer.
By weaving the plot between Lucifer and Cai Yue, Carey is touching on the fundamental beliefs of Christianity and Buddhism. While the Christian is responsible for choosing his own path, he has to face a book of rules and regulations, to be motivated by fear of Hell and the reward of eternal life in Heaven. Not so for Cai Yue who never meets Lucifer in the tale but tells the story in a letter to her sister-in-law. Her motivations are founded on duty and love for her dead husband as well as her own goals in life. Cai Yues belief is expressed in the books conclusion:
"Im happy with samsara. Birth. Death. The world of forms. I dont want to be released from my life into something else.
"As Bankei Zenji wrote in his sermons: Beauty chains me to the earth. But if I were to fly, where would I fly? The heavens are not a place for human souls."
Lucifers story is one of attack, counter-attack, deceit and trickery. How he makes a pact with the Sandman to find who had sent the dream assassins to attack him. And his killing of 7,000 innocents to foil the trap. It is a tale of power and corruption.
Muths watercolors are carefully reddish with fine inking to give definition to the faces. This wholly painted comic offers a dreamy ambience and is the perfect look for a tale of the afterlife.
In the post-Sept 11 aftermath, a comic that displays one religion founded on loyalty to God and another founded on personal goals and obligations should provoke some thinking about how religion influences life.
We still want to know if one country has a God-given right to invade another and depose a dictator because thats the "right thing to do". - Michael Cheah
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