Lucifer... It's not a matter of one or the other. Life is not simply white or black--
Joseph Michael Linsner first introduced Dawn on the cover of Cry for Dawn #1. The comic, which he started when he was twenty, was a contemporary version of a horror comic. Its stories often addressed fear in the sexual realm. Dawn, a distinctly made-up, provocatively-dressed redheaded woman, acted as the comic's host, but Linsner always knew he would write stories about her.
Return of the Goddess first appeared in several issues of Dawn, but Linsner made a number of additions and revisions before releasing it as a graphic novel in 2002. It features the same obscure yet ponderous symbols, surreal imagery, and uncertain underlying philosophy as its predecessor, Dawn: Lucifer's Halo. It reads more easily, however, partially because Linsner has put additional thought into it, but also because he has chosen to ground the story in a more familiar reality.
Lucifer’s Halo told of a young man's journey to find his place in the cosmos. The Return of the Goddess focuses on a teenage girl, and her relationship to herself, her mother, and the divine.
Two teenage girls, one of them a mother, practice neopaganism in a New York's Central Park. Two boys they know from school disrupt their ceremony, attacking the brujas and chasing them out of the park. Mary, the young, wide-eyed seeker wishes she could reason with them; Bridget, her more doctrinaire friend, claims this would serve no purpose. As they ride the bus home, she retells a hardline wiccan view of history and society, with mention of the burning times, violent men, and the beauty myth.
When they arrive in their neighbourhood, a dark car passes. One of the boys from the park looks at Bridget, and she sees him transform into a demon.
At Bridget’s funeral, some time later, the boys, now dressed as priests, attack Mary in an alley. Dawn, the Goddess, rescues her, and we’re led into a quest that is much Dawn's as Mary's. Significantly, the two women resemble each other more than a little, and their journeys parallel each other’s.
Dawn must deal with a religious organization out to destroy woman-centred expressions of religion. Along the way we encounter the same similar-seeming Ahura Mazda1/Lucifer figures from Lucifer’s Halo, the Horned God of Death, and the usual changes of costume and mask.
Mary, for her part, must deal with friend's death, mend her relationship with her devoutly Christian mother, and protect her child—perhaps, even, against the Goddess herself. Mary will find no easy answers to her questions—- only the courage to raise her child and continue searching.
Once again, Linsner’s art sells the story, and helps when the exposition becomes excessive. His characters, even when idealized or grotesquely distorted, carry a strange sense of reality about them. The world he paints with light and shadow and an eye for detail rare in comics.
In Return of the Goddess, he creates a more familiar world than in Lucifer’s Halo. Granted, Dawn herself and the places she inhabits can seem strange, a universe of a shifting, dreamlike images that suit a goddess’s reality. Mary, however, lives in a very ordinary New York City. The other worlds occasionally intersect with and disrupt the familiar reality, but the story has a familiar reality, something not found in Lucifer’s Halo.
Not everyone will appreciate Linsner's work. Some will object to his use of religious figures, even when they represent concepts. Others may question the story's commitment to feminist spirituality; it condemns "today's anorexic and silicone visions of ‘beauty,’" but the comic focuses on an idealized female figure outfitted by some gothic version of Victoria's Secret. Dawn is, however, a goddess, and her physique is actually less distorted than the average comic-book female's. Mary, while an attractive teenaged girl, has plausible proportions.
The various tales of Dawn may be flawed. Some readers, no doubt, will find the art technically strong, but somewhat campy. Nevertheless, Linsner's Dawn series demonstrate the potential of the comic-book medium for telling something other than conventional stories, and his work will prove interesting to many readers.
1. Referred to in more Judeo-Christian terms in Lucifer’s Halo, but the Zoastrian name makes more sense, since Linsner clearly intends us to see these characters as a duality.