It”s hard to explain the precise level of trepidation fans of Vertigo”s “Lucifer” comic are feeling right now. Fox has picked up a series for their 2015-2016 season based on the cult-favorite comic; it should be a joyous occasion. “Lucifer” now joins the ranks of “The Walking Dead” and “Preacher” as a beloved cult classic comic with morally ambiguous themes to be adapted for television.
But, as I”ve covered, from what we”ve seen very little of the comic book seems to remain after the show was cleaned up for primetime television.
When Hollywood adapts a book or comic for television or film, concessions must be made. Side characters must be merged, journeys shortened, subplots excised. It”s the nature of the beast.
There”s nothing wrong with some of the changes. For instance, Lucifer”s hair color. If “The Tudors” can successfully turn bonny ginger Henry VIII into a brooding brunette, then we need not get worked up about hair hue. Same for Mazikeen”s character missing her iconic mask; maybe the Basanos already fixed her face, maybe the budget didn”t allow for gruesome prosthetics. Most likely, the show needed Lesley-Ann Brandt capable of holding a conversation the audience can understand. And I”m certainly not going to lose sleep over grizzled old white angel Amenadiel being played by D. B. Woodside. In the end, none of these changes affect the core story. Some of them are a welcome reimagining.
But these incremental tweaks are not what”s causing me to wring my hands over this adaptation of the character created by Neil Gaiman and given life by Mike Carey. Based on what we”ve been shown so far, TV”s “Lucifer” seems to be systematically dismantling the source material until nothing recognizable remains of the main characters outside their names: Lucifer, Mazikeen, and Amenadiel.
From the official series order:
Bored and unhappy as the Lord of Hell, Lucifer (Tom Ellis) resigns his throne and abandons his kingdom for the shimmering insanity of Los Angeles, where he gets his kicks helping the LAPD punish criminals.
Expounding on that, from announcement of Lauren German”s casting:
German plays Chloe Dancer, an LAPD homicide detective who finds herself both repulsed and fascinated by Lucifer. As they work together to solve a murder, Lucifer is struck by Chloe”s inherent goodness. Used to dealing with the worst of humanity, Lucifer begins to wonder if there”s hope yet.
On its face, this is a fun idea for a television show. Versions of Lucifer show him as a punisher of the sinful, so having Satan bring criminals to justice is a viable angle. Playing off the “Will they / Won”t they?” dynamic has worked well from everything from “Moonlighting” to “Bones.” Throw in a little supernatural danger in the form of demons, give the Devil a soft side by having him talk to a therapist, and you”ve got the basis for a compelling show.
But nothing about the plot synopsis remotely resembles Mike Carey”s “Lucifer.”
Vertigo”s tale of the Morningstar is – quite frankly – too controversial for primetime television. The series is pinned on the theme of predestination vs. free will. Lucifer is the anti-hero fighting for the freedom to choose his fate. The angels of Heaven are positioned as benignly evil keepers of the status quo angry with Lucifer for ruining the order of the universe. Neither side gives two hoots about humans in the same way humans don”t consider how stepping on ants makes them feel. The main plot focuses on Lucifer chafing under his father”s plan and creating his own universe to escape. Various mythological entities are drawn into this family drama, each with their own agenda. All of this builds to a crescendo as the various mythologies wage war while Lucifer confronts his absent and morally ambiguous father – aka God.
The comic is a trans-dimensional tale with a decidedly acid-trip vibe. Lucifer ventures from Judeo-Christian to Navajo to Japanese mythology, and even outside the universe itself in his quests. Meanwhile, a litany of replacements from angels to the personification of Dreams to a human keep Hell running smoothly. One tries to rehabilitate the damned while another turns human suffering into tangible drugs for demons. It”s the kind of tale that would be difficult for HBO or AMC to pull off in our Christian-majority country, much less network television.
Which begs the question: Why is Fox even using “Based on Sandman”s Lucifer” as the selling point? For fans of the comic, the direction the show seems set to take is baffling. To give an analogy: Imagine if, when HBO had bought the rights to “Game of Thrones,” they stripped out the dragons, the white walkers, the magic, and the war for the promotional material to create the appearance of a family dramedy focused on the antics of the Baratheon clan in medieval England.
Who knows? Maybe this is all a bait-and-switch. Perhaps the showrunners are fully aware they can”t show the true nature of “Lucifer” to a general audience. If we”re lucky, the plan is to get non-comic fans hooked with a familiar formula and then slowly introduce elements such as forgotten gods living in the shadows, multiverse, and Elaine Belloc.
Then again, maybe it”s just as far off-base as it looks. Comic book adaptations don”t exactly have the best track record.