Friday, 30 May 2014

Cerebus Book 10: Minds (#187-200)

"Cerebus will be a lot better this time.  Cerebus is no saint, but you'll see Cerebus can be very nice when he wants to be." - Cerebus

After the mess that was Reads, I felt a little deflated and wasn't really looking forward to reading onwards, afraid that everything would be tainted now by Dave Sim's weird politics.  But thankfully Minds is a superb book.  In fact, atlthough critical consensus says Jaka's Story is the best of the series, I would rate Minds as my joint second favourite.  Mainly because it deals with something I have always found fascinating - that being how fictional characters can take on a life of their own with their creators often surprised as to where they end up going.  I've read this so many times, from so many creators, and it's with Minds that Dave Sim explores his relationship with his creation.  Instead of hectoring and yowling in text pages seperate from the comic itself, he writes himself into the story as "Dave The Creator", an unseen presence who talks with Cerebus as he hurtles through the solar system.

On the subject of characters taking on a life of their own, Grant Morrison says it better than I in Supergods (and indeed Grant Morrison had himself a few years before Minds, travelled into the fiction of the Animal Man stories he was writing to converse with the lead character about what he had done to him):

Grant Morrison:  "Everybody's heard writers talk about a moment in the process of writing a novel or a story, when 'it was if the characters took over'...When a character becomes sufficiently fleshed out and complex, he or she can often cause the writer to abandon original well laid plans in favor of new plotlines based on a better understanding of the characters motivations."

Minds is all about how Dave Sim reached this point with Cerebus, and how, once he wrapped up the threads of storyline dating right back to when he started the Cerebus project and addressed Cerebus with the words: "Your turn" he began rowing into uncharted waters storywise as he says in the intro.

Dave Sim: "I had no idea what Cerebus's dialogue would be from that point on. For close to ten years, I wouldn't even let myself speculate on it as I lived with the little grey bastard... day in, day out. I had to trust that such an extended period of living with the title character of this large and strange experiment would make the improvisation go well, but I had no way of knowing."

Cirin, Cerebus and the Throne carry on through space.  Their wounds heal as they pass Mars, although Cerebus' missing ear is not restored.  Both of them bellow about Tarim versus Terim, then the throne is shattered and the block they are standing on gets split in two and they both head off in different directions.  We get a flashback of young Cerebus, who has taken a knife from his home and gone to confront a bully, who takes it from him and causes a grevious wound to Cerebus's groin.  Then, still alone with his thoughts, Cerebus starts cursing and praying in Tarim's name alternately until finally "Dave" an unseen presence starts to chat with him.

Cerebus: "Tarim?"

Dave: "I know you must get tired of hearing this, but no - I am not Tarim. I am your creator, but given that no creator where his ideas come from, even that's a shaky premise."
Cerebus and Dave Chatting
 He then goes on to reassure Cerebus that he is not just hearing voices in his head, nor is he a demon and that he can manipulate Cerebus's memories or step outside of his head.  He talks about a revelatory moment he had gone through near the start of Cerebus's story:

Dave: "It happened shortly after you met the Bug for the first time.  I knew very little about you at that time.  But I did know you were a hermaphrodite and I did know that your female plumbing was irrevocably damaged in the kitchen knife incident.  But suddenly - I found I had a lot more to say.  I knew that the story, your story had to be large.. really large... really, really large.  I knew the situations I wanted you to face and I was eager to see how you'd react.  And I knew that someday (many years later) we'd have this chat"

He goes on to take Cerebus through his experiences as Prime Minister and Pope and how neither of them had made him happy because he was pinning his happiness onto things he couldn't control; "If you don't understand that you are the baker and your life is the bread - that you are the only one who can make yourself happy or unhappy - then you don't understand anything."  This book is basically a cold, hard lesson for Cerebus from "Dave" and the hardest lesson he needs to learn is about Jaka - his "panacea".  Dave decides to show him what Jaka was thinking when she made her "I love my husband speech" during Jaka's Story.  The image below contains her thoughts (click to enlarge).

Don't Worry Cerebus/Jaka Shippers, This Gets Retconned Away Later..

Dave: "I didn't kill Jaka, Cerebus.  Jaka is alive.  Her marriage is over.  She's back in Palnu with her Uncle Julius.  And everywhere she turns she feels herself devoured by the eyes of men hungry for wealth, hungry for power.  And when she sees that look of transparent avarice - that arrogant, sick need to possess her - to own her, to control her.  She thinks of you."

Ouch.  Cerebus looks crushed and miserable by this revelation as well he should.  But he still insists that he loves her, even when Dave proves he knows little about her except that he loves her.  Which isn't good enough.  Moving on from Jaka, Dave says he wanted to talk to Cerebus and Cirin together, but as Cirin comes into view she is drowning out Dave's attempts to talk with her with ragefull telepathic screaming about blasphemy,  So they move on again, and Dave says he wants to tell her story to Cerebus.

The story starts with two robed women in a library called Cirin and Serna, drafting what will become the Cirinist manifesto.  The occupying forces of their country will be leaving soon, executing all men between the ages of five and forty. The manifesto states that their needs to be "communal safety, the sharing of resources, hard labour from sunrise to sunset, quarterly festivals of excess and debauchery and asceticism in all areas of existence."  An interesting, and in some ways very communistic manifesto. Robes are introduced so women can be free of the tyranny of vanity  and relate as equals, men are allowed to drink and spend their free time how they wish.  Any man who who hurts a woman is later found with his throat cut courtesy of Serna's community safety officers, who begin to demand more and more of the communal resources as Cirinism spreads across the whole country.

The Birth Of A Movement

Cirin becomes concerned by the increased militancy of Serna's Safety Officers and begins excluding them from the "quilting circles" that make up the loose government of the country. Then one day Cirin and Serna confront each other, and it turns out the aardvark leader of the Cirinist movement we've been seeing in action over the past few books is actually Serna.  Cirin is the mysterious old woman Cerebus met and chatted with in Women.  Serna takes Cirin's place as leader of the movement after sewing Cirin's mouth shut and leaving her under armed guard.

Dave: "She inherited Cirin's meticulously crafted movement so throughly in tune with human nature and human ideals.  And grafted onto it a war machine which had absolute tolerance for  the free expression of ideas and a brutal intolerance of any action taken outside its clearly defined parameters....Cirin wanted to help and she did help.  She replaced competativeness, greed and violence, with cooperativeness, selflessness and peace.  She lived exactly as she thought others should live, she did her fair share of the work.  And equally shared in the rewards.  No more. No less."

It may be an allegory, but it's fascinating how Dave Sim has hit on the real life problems the feminist movement was suffering during the late 70's and 80's when a movement based on the idea of equality between men and women and raising womens expectations resulted in extremist parts of the movement allying with the repressive elements in society to enforce a single feminist ideal that attacked women who dared to have opinions on matters of things like sexual expression that fell outside of this type of feminism fascistic standards.  And back with Cirin and Serna, if Cirinism has proto-communistic elements then Serna is definitely it's Stalin.  Purging her opposition and rewriting history to suit herself.  And despite all the Void/Light bibble from the previous book, Dave seems to appreciate the ideals of the early Cirnist/feminist movement and is saddened that it became so corrupted.  Dave then shows Cirin that when Cerebus was stabbed in the groin as a child, it damaged his female parts so he cannot give birth.  Now he is of no interest to her anymore, and although we hear about her in later books, "Cirin" never appears again. Now it's Cerebus's turn to ask questions of Dave.

So of course the first thing he demands is a chair to sit in, some ale and food.  Which Dave provides.  After waking from his nap, he does have a question, about the three medallions he wears. "what are these damn things anyway?".  Dave replied that long ago a vision of Cerebus was seen by a Pigt Shaman-King, which started up the worship of Cerebus.  But as doubt about it spread, the Shaman-King forged the three medallions, helmet and short sword.  "These will be his" he proclaims before commiting suicide by driving the sword into his chest.  Kicking off centures of civil war between the Pigts over them and his remains.  The three items were lost, only to be found by Cerebus on his travels, if he had kept them all, when he first met the Pigts they would have turned to gold and Cerebus would have fulfilled his dreams of conquest.

Instead he hocked the helmet for some ink, so he could paint a merchant symbol on his medallions and blend into the city he was in.  Losing the helmet had chaotic repercussions, first literally in the shape of the Chaos Gem.

Dave: "The crawler, mishapen and ravenous - a manisfestation of the aimless, plodding future before you. The last ruler of a dying race - a bumbling, yet arrogant fool.  A manisfestation of your self-deception, incompetance and bluster... Elrod and the Roach become inescapable manisfestations of your inadequacies and failed nature.  With the helmet and the sword gone, the last residue of magic is fading from your life.  You influence events and people but in a chaotic fashion that you cannot control.  You journey into the Seventh Sphere a pawn in a larger game.  Elrods spirit possessing the Hsifian assassin, the apocalypse beasts, Professor Charles X Claremont.  The Regency Elf.  Going.. going.. going...gone."

Put like this is actually makes the seemingly random events of the early books make all kinds of symbolic sense as well as the reasons for gradually phasing them out, which shows how much Dave Sim must have planned in advance.  Or it could be just a very clever retcon tying those adventures and characters together in a way that works in retrospect.  Either way, well played Dave.  He goes on to talk a little about Cerebus's time as Prime Minster and Pope, but Cerebus gets bored.  And interrupts that Dave could make Jaka love Cerebus.  And when Dave tries to tell him more about his background, Cerebus goes into a sulk.  So Dave shows Cerebus several examples of what would happen if he forced Jaka to love Cerebus.

First we see her miserable, lying in bed, dreading the time she'll have to have sex with Cerebus.  Cerebus who shouts at her, and threatens to hit her, and makes her cry.  And how she is already planning her escape from him.

Dave: "I can make her love you - but I can't make her love stronger than her need to be happy. Or her instinct for self preservation."

Cerebus isn't listening and tells Dave to make Jaka happy with him no matter what, leading to this unpleasant vision.
Even Imaginary Cerebus Is A Dick
Cerebus then tells Dave to make Jaka happy and make it so he will never hit her.  So Dave shows him what would happen then.  In an extended vision Cerebus is shown meeting an attractive new neighbour called Joanne (who will turn up again in a later book for real).  He ends up sleeping with Joanne and Jaka commits suicide when she finds out.  The vision ends with Cerebus crushed and distressed, sitting on a planet he calls "Juno".  Dave says that Cerebus is Pluto and wants Jaka to be his Charon, "to derive her pleasure and her happiness from sharing your desolation."  He says he changed everything about her to please Cerebus and it still wasn't enough.  Cerebus tells him to "shut up".  Dave punches him in the face.

Dave: "No, my obnoxious grey creation.  YOU shut up and YOU fucking listen.  For ONCE in your FUCKING life.  You wounded Jaka, wounded her so mortally that she felt she had no recourse but to take her own life.  You wounded Joanne the same way.  And who do YOU think is to blame?  I know who YOu think is to blame.  YOU blame Jaka for your infidelity and Joanne for Jaka's suicide."

It's again interesting that Mr. Female Void/Male Light again is portraying women as decent and sympathetic and the injured parties in all this.  Punishing Cerebus for his horrible  behaviour towards them.  He seems genuinely frustrated by Cerebus refusing to "get it" and decides it's time to get nasty.  The punch has left Cerebus with a swollen eye, and Dave in the most post-modern move yet refers to a "quirk in the history of the medium within which you exist.  The 'injury to the eye' motif".

This was a trope identified as a recurring part of comics by the German academic Frederic Wertham in his notorious book The "Seduction Of The Innocent", a 50's book which inspired a media panic about comics and they only survived by adopting a voluntary Comics Code that neutered the industry's output for many years.  Dave holds Cerebus still and with novocane and a scalpel, drains the swelling under Cerebus's eye while Cerebus is trapped and frozen in extreme terror. Finally with the ordeal over Cerebus has another question.

Cerebus: "Why did you create Cerebus?"

Dave: "To make myself rich and famous.  It sort of worked.  I became sort of rich and sort of famous.  is that the question you wanted answered?  or would you rather know why I keep telling your story?

Cerebus: [shrugs wordlessly]

Dave: "uh.. basic curiousity... I always want to know what choice you're going to make...what you're going to do next. As you get older it becomes more interesting.  Will you improve as you go along? get worse? Stay the same?"

Cerebus gets up and starts to walk towards an image of Jaka setting a table for a romantic dinner.  Dave tries to tell him no, hasn't he had enough?  Jaka then embraces a boyfriend causing Ceerbus to collapse to the ground.  Finally he admits to Dave "you win".  He then tells Dave to go away and leave him alone.  Dave bids him farewell and "no hard feelings" leaving Cerebus sad and broken, face down on the planet's barren, rocky surface.

We then get an epilogue with a Cerebus who is crazed with loneliness, stranded as he has been for weeks without company.  He keeps calling for Dave, wishing that all he wants is to be at the tavern by the Wall Of Tsi he went to with Bear to many years ago.  Finally Dave answers his pleas and Cerebus shows he's had a breakthrough.

Cerebus: "Cerebus has wasted years - years - waiting for someone who doesn't love him - Who probably never did love him - to come back. 'Alone, unmourned and unloved'. That's what the Judge meant isn't it? If Cerebus keeps just waiting for Jaka to come back, Cerebus is always going to be alone.  If Cerebus never makes friends with anyone, how can Cerebus expect to be anything other than unmourned.  If Cerebus never tries to love anyone but Jaka, who's going to love Cerebus back? Right?"

He apologises to Dave for calling him evil, and Dave accepts his apology and tells him he can transport him to the tavern he wanted to go to if Cerebus just jumps.  Which Cerebus does, falling happily onto the page Dave Sim is currently drawing, which is of himself drawing the page, of himself drawing the page and oh I've gone crosseyed.  With a final page leading into Guys, the next book in the series.

Post-Modernity Ahoy!
It's hard to explain why I enjoy this book so much, when it's mainly a conversation between two characters, one of whom you can't even see.  But it's enjoyable seeing the trailing plot threads tied up, seeming random events from as far back as book one given extra meaning and the way Cerebus is forced over and over to drag himself out of his obssession with Jaka which has been holding back his emotional development since he first met her.  Although crucially, while this may seem like a male light freeing himself from the baleful effect of a female void, the key breakthrough is that stopping being obssesed with Jaka will leave him free to love other people, not no one at all and that he is the one clinging to the relationship not her.  The lessons Cerebus learns in this book, will be put into practice as the series continues into it's final third.  His close relationships will shape the narrative now the grand backdrop of politics and ideology has been dealt with, things are to become more intimate.  This book genuinely sees Cerebus change, and although the lessons are harsh, they are believable.  Whether that change is for the better will be explored in the books to come.  For now, Minds is a fantastic book, a much better meditation on the creative process than Reads was, and a fine capstone on both to the "Mothers and Daughters arc and  the first two hundred issues of the story overall.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Cerebus Book 9: Reads (#175-186)

"Cerebus could kill you all in a few seconds!!" - Cerebus

And so we come to Reads, the book I was simultaneously looking forward to writing about, but dreading at the same time.  Because this book shows so very clearly the best of Dave Sim's writing and his absolute, self indulgent worst as well.  Each chapter/issue is split into two halves.  The first half carries on the plot of the comic, with Astoria, Suentus Po, Cirin and Cerebus gathered in the church for the True Ascension.  This is the good part, in fact it's fantastic.  The other half of each chapter is full pages of text first with one small drawing on the facing page then with no drawings whatsoever, telling the story first of Viktor Davies, Iestian based writer of Reads, before turning into Dave Sim addressing the reader directly with various rambling anecdotes about his life and his frankly insane opinions about the ghastliness of all women.  Because both parts have no relationship to each other, I shall tackle them seperately starting with the best.

These good parts are the illustrated, comic strip half of each issue that cover the main storyline. The four of them regard each other, Cirin and Cerebus especially suspiciously,  when Cirin demands to know what Po's game is, he says he is there for "balance".

Po: "I prevented or perhaps delayed Astoria's execution, I have brought the three of you together."

Astoria: "Why?"

Po: "To break the cycle Astoria.  Captor and captured.  Accuser and accused.  Executioner and Executed."

Astoria:  [sees the throne in flames and hears the word "Echoes"]

Po: "Echoes Astoria, they can't hurt you."

Po tells them that both God AND Goddess exists all around them if they cared to look and then entreats them to give up on the Acension and walk away from the church.

Po: "This place has stood as a monument to institionalised oppression and violence in the name of transitory and and temporal power since time immemorial."

The Confrontation Begins...
Po tells Astoria that the moment she left the hotel without bodyguards or followers, she was truly free. That she should have lost herself in the crowd and not come to this place, instead she has gone from a political prisoner to a would be messiah.  But she has seen the truth and now no longer desires the thing that would give her a throne, followers and obedience.  Astoria doesn't verbally agree, but her bowed head shows she knows the truth in what he says.

Cirin sneers at Po's advice to live a simple life over one of power.  He responds that "one persons trifle is another persons reason for living."  He then reveals the truth that Astoria has a genuine miscarriage and is not a mother.  Cirin has know this but has kept Astoria alive for political reasons, to relentlessly persecute as an example to her followers.  He then tells Cirin again to avoid further suffering and again, to walk away from the throne.

Three Aardvarks Together At Last
Po then turns to Cerebus and tells him how aardvarks have some mysterious powers, including the ability to shape events and even reality around them.  He then pleads with Cerebus to also walk away from the Ascension and that successfully performing it will only bring him misery.  He then apologises for attacking their beliefs, and humbly takes his leave of the three of them.  Both from the church and from the plot overall.  We don't see or hear from Po again, mores the pity, as he spoke a lot of sense.

Cerebus :" Right.  Who wants to die first?"

He says they can either shut up and die or shut up and leave as he has had enough of talking.  Astoria says she will leave but has a couple of things first, sending Cerebus into a tantrum, which she successfully halts with the following words:

"You're a hermaphrodite... You have both male and female genitalia. Even more interesting you have both male and female reproductive organs."

I Love Cerebus's Expression Here.

Ok, that's certainly something I would never have predicted.  Astoria goes on to say that the reason Cirin didn't have him killed was she was sure he could impregnate himself (Um Dave Sim, biology does not work that way!) and so could potentially be a "mother".

Astoria: "As long as I am laying all my cards on the table.  I was at my most fertile when I provoked you into 'raping' me, and I didn't get pr-"

Wait, WHAT?!  No.  No, no. no, no, no, nonononono, no, no, no, no, no, no. no, no, no, nonononono, no, no, no, no, no,no. no, no, no, nonononono, no, no, no, no, no,no. no, no, no, nonononono, no, no, no, no, no,no. no, no, no, nonononono, no, no, no, no, no, NO.

That is a complete retcon, she may have behaved provocatively towards Cerebus in that scene, but she obviously DIDN'T plan on being raped.  And how do we know this?  Because Dave Sim let us into what was going through Astoria's mind as she was blindfolded, gagged and assaulted.  Come with me back to that scene in Church and State II.

Astoria: "Ack Stop it!  How dare you! You little grey bastard I'll....kill you.  I've never been so humiliated in my life. Finally.  That it? All done? Then GET OFF ME!"

Clearly NOT consensual sex.  And even if it was on Astoria's side, it certainly wasn't as far as Cerebus was aware.  It's like Dave Sim realised that the taint of being a rapist hung too heavily over Cerebus, that it wasn't something even the black comedy antics of his could excuse and hastily devised this way to undo it as it were.  Even though it doesn't in any respect actually fit or work.  Still, I shall stop beating the poor dead, raped horse about it.  The issues leading up to #200 are about clearing the decks for a fresh start for Cerebus, so I'll let him off this one time.

Astoria tells them that she is leaving and Cerebus asks her what she will do now.  She mentions that she remembered a daydream she used to have as a little girl:

Astoria: "I wanted to build my own church, open to the skies.  Like a courtyard, aviary and animal preserve and garden all in one.  Just the thought of it made me feel as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders.  And then I realsied it didn't have to stay a daydream.  I could have it and a small house built by spring.  Exactly the way I always pictured them... Of course it won't be a church.  It will be a home.  My home.  Who knows?  I might even teach myself to play chess."

Just, that's just beautiful.  Astoria of the three of them realises the same thing Po realised lifetimes ago, that a simple life lived for yourself is worth more than all the power you can grasp.  It's a fantastic ending to her character arc, but she wouldn't be Astoria if she couldn't get in one last snark.  She smiles to herself, then tells Cirin and Cerebus they could go about seeing if Cirin could get Cerebus pregnant the "old fashioned" way, much to their extreme horror.  Then she is gone from the narrative for good.  One of comicbooks best written female characters and thankfully not one to be tainted by what happens to the depiction of women in the series in the last few books.

 Cirin and Cerebus start a brutal fight that will last the rest of the book, we also bid farewell to two more mainstays of the series, The Roach (still as Swoon) and Elrod (still as Snuff).  Swoon is reading from a mystic book, as a character called "Kay-Sarah-Sarah", he finds the part about Elrod and skips right to the end:

Swoon: "Elrod was an illusion created from Cerebus' proximity to the Chaos Gem.  And kept alive only by his belief in his own existence. 'Lalala' said the non-existant albino, with his fingers in his ears. 'Lalala can't hear a...' [Elrod pops out of existence] but unfortunately he could.  'Bummer' though Kay-Sarah-Sarah, for Elrod had been her third favourite Cerebus character after Jaka and Lord Julius."

I must say as a way of removing a character that's pretty amusing, Elrod did appear in the same issue as the Chaos Gem back in issue #4, I doubt his exit was planned that way, but it's a clever way of using continuity.  It's goodbye Roach as well, his fourth wall breaking antics will have no place in the even more serious run of post issue #200 books.  He gets a blink and you miss it off panel cameo in Guys, but otherwise that's it for The Roach as well, which makes me sad as I love the character so very much.  Then we return to Cerebus and Cirin in a gory fight that takes place over around half the rest of the book.  It's bloody and exhausting with Cerebus coming close to losing, Cirin manages to wrest his sword away from him and cuts off one of his ears.  And despite how awful she is, it's hard not to be impressed that Cirin fights Cerebus to a standstill with a broken arm.  But before the final blow can be struck on either side, there is a huge cracking sound and the throne they are fighting over rips itself out of the church and with them either side of it, starts travelling through space. End of book.

Who Will Ascend?
And why does one fight scene take several months worth of comicbooks to tell?  Because of the padding of the text pieces which take up at least half of each issue.  The text starts out telling the story of Viktor Davies, Iest based writer of popular Reads, who gets hired by a company called "Vertigo Horse" (a combination of real life companies Dark Horse and the DC Vertigo imprint) under a female editor based rather obviously on Karen Berger, who ran the Vertigo imprint during the early 90's.  He is supposed to be writing a magnum opus about the Ascension, but squanders his time and money until the pressure from the editor forces him to start churning out guaranteed popular sellers, rather than anything more complex and difficult.  It's all pretty tedious stuff, retreading the same topic his Spawn comic was about, that doing your own thing is amazing and big publishers compromise art. Blah, blah, blah, NEXT!

Viktor Davies story doesn't even get any sense of closure as Dave Sim seems to get bored of writing an allegory and just inserts himself into the narrative.  Moving back and forth from a third person narrative to a first person perspective, he still calls himself Viktor Davies, but the rest of the text parts are all about Dave Sim and his amazing theories about men and women as he talks with a reader who is stuck in a sort of Mind Game dream enviroment forced to listen to the bizarre meanderings of someone with the political sense of a pub drunk.  And it's also the place where if I was lending the Cerebus books to a friend I'd mumble embarrassedly, shuffle my feet and tell them to skip the non-comic bits because really, as a female or even a normal, decent hearted male it's hard to justify what comes next from the pen of Mr. Sim as anything other than the bletherings of at best some kind of "masculinist" conspiracy theorist and at worst, utter raving, misogyny.  There's a lot here to take to task, but I will try to be as brief as possible without whitewashing out the worst bits.
Cirin Versus Cerebus
We get a series of rambling anecdotes about him hanging out with Neil Gaimen, Rick Veitch and Eddie Campbell.  Going out for a meal with Alan Moore and his wife and girlfriend and insulting both of them.  His thoughts on Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Onassis, Charles Manson and The Beatles etc.  All wrapped around by his big theory about male and female relationships.  In a 180 degree turn from the end of Church and State II, men are now the Light, The Form, The Creative Urge and women are Void, Lack, Emptiness.  And so women are always trying to trap men in relationships and feed off them like leeches, crushing mens ability to create art and other things.  Which for many reasons is completely insane, not least because he happens to be friends with Alan Moore, who was married and also had a girlfriend and two daughters during the eighties and that didn't stop him from creating work that redefined comics.  Mr. Sim even takes aim and fires at his readers, both male and female:

Viktor Davies/Dave Sim: "The Cerebus readership was there, composed in some (small? large?) measure of females and their male housepets. He squinted, endeavouring to see if any male was chaffing at the invisible conduits and metaphorical tubing which drained his life, his essence, his energy as sure and as effectively as any fictional vampire."

Wow, it's like he got annoyed that his depictions of women in the storyline weren't pissing his female readers off enough, so he levelled up, went Super Saiyan and fired a huge misogynistic Spirit Bomb at us. He doesn't seem to have anything to say about the fact that as feminism has taken hold more women choose to live singly than have ever done so before, and of course gay and lesbian couples would interfere with his Void/Light bollocks and so don't get a look in.  He even states that women were rightly denied the vote for so long so civilisation could reach the levels it has done without being retarded in the fashion it now is in our "feminist age".

Viktor Davies/Dave Sim: "More Female Void than Male Light, More Emotion than Reason.  It was the perfect snapshot of our Female Void Age.  Emotion was pre-eminent, ruling virtually without opposition in our Life Out Of Balance world of the last decade of the twentieth century."

"Oh Boo Hoo Hoo.  I'm a wealthy male white westerner and I'm being victimised by the slow fall of absolute patriarchy and the even slower move towards female and male equality.  Waaah my life is so hard now!"  I think most women would roll their eyes at the idea that women even in the west have even equal amounts of power to men, let alone more.

He goes on to tell us all he lives alone, that living in a couple only makes you able to express yourself in the context of their neuroses, inadequacies and failings and interfere with your "art".  Which is a statement rather undermined by, oh I don't know, all the thousands and thousands of creative types living happily and productively in coupledom, and the fact that Dave Sim wrote two of his best books when he was a) married (High Society) and b) in love (Jaka's Story).  But it seems as we reach the end of Reads we must conclude he is a holder of opinions unencumbered by facts:

Viktor Davies/Dave Sim: "Cerebus is a very weird little commodity in the context of the Female emotional Void Age.  It's too small to pay attention to and too big to ignore. It wouldn't be a stretch to categorise Reads as hate literature towards women.  All it would take would be one woman to be disturbed enough by Reads to file a lawsuit, or a womens group to file a class action suit, in this fascistic Feminist and that would be the ball game wouldn't it?  They could ban the book, seize the house and all of the inventory, all of the artwork and burn it."
Yes, too much talk, shut up Dave Sim.

Yes, because targeting a small print run, black and white indie comic with some peculiar opinions is top of the feminist agenda, beating the campaigns for equal pay, equal representation in the corridors of business and power, the low prosecution of rapists, the still too high prevalance of domestic abuse, the plight of women under repessive regimes around the world and other such trivial concerns.  Idiot.

I bet the letters pages in the comics during this run were hilarious.

Reading all this balls is mentally exhausting so here is my TL:DR version of what the Vicktor Davies/Dave Sim parts of Reads are saying:


And there we go.  For FUCK'S SAKE Dave Sim, it what sense of the words did you think we'd find these dribblings of your skull egg interesting or entertaining?  Why alienate at least half your potential readership and make most of the rest feel uncomfortable with your ignorant, filibuster pronouncements on women. The one crumb of comfort I take from all this is at least it is still separate from the storyline, and even in the following books this male Light, female Void rubbish doesn't really end up meaning very much to how things play out.  This book, has one of the greatest exits of one of the best female characters in comicbook history in it, yet also has some of the most reductive, paranoid, sexist claptrap I have ever had the misfortune to read.  In the following books Dave Sim the artist is back in control, but the spectre of Dave Sim the loony commentator lurks off-stage waiting for a chance to strike again.  And strike he does, but that's a story for another day...

But let us end on a slightly more cheerful note.  Comics Alliance did an article which showed what you might get mixing comic book characters with 8 bit videogames. Behold, The Legend Of Zelda Cerebus!
Made me laugh anyway.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Cerebus Book 8: Women (#163-174)

"Cerebus' coming has been foretold for centuries! Cerebus doesn't need you! Cerebus doesn't need anybody!" - Cerebus

This book is called Women, but more accurately it could be called "Dreams" because after the brisk forwards and upwards momentum of the preceeeding book Flight, this book has a fractured quality to it as it investigates the dreams of the various protagonists, held together by the most unlikely of people - The Roach.  Punisher Roach is spurned by the prostitute he fell in love with in the last book and so falls deep into emodom and we get to see his final incarnation (not including his off-panel cameo in the bok Guys) as a parody of Neil Gaimens Sandman character Dream - Swoon.  He also anoints Elrod as his "sister" Snuff which sees him dress up as Death also from Sandman.  Like previous Roach incarnations, he gains the powers of his parody target unexplainably and is able to travel into a dream realm, visiting the characters unconcious minds in some very odd and symbolic dreams.

Throughout the book we get exerpts from Cirin and Astoria's manifesto's.  Cirin's is very interesting because, in the same way that extreme right and left wing positions can become very similar, she takes the concept of
Dirty Boy!
a matriarchy as far as it can go and it overlaps quite considerably with patriarchy's view of women.  Basically she writes that women's only worth is having children, then instead of seeking careers they should dedicate themselves to looking after those children leaving the wielding of power in the hands of a select few (though unlike a patriarchy the ones in power are women and men are tolerated as a neccessary evil for getting women pregnant).  In the real world, Feminism especially in the 60's and 70's made efforts to decouple the idea of women only having value as simply baby makers whose desires for a career should take second place to being a good mother and housewife and placed emphasis on women having the same life opportunities as men.

Astoria - Kevillist Origins: "Most of the Matriarchy's rhetoric centres on the family (or rather: The Family) they are obssessive regarding children's needs for caring and nurturing and they hold the greatest contempt for those who hold any viewpoint contrary to this.  The bond between mother and child is their most scared totem and their universal rallying cry."

Cirin - The New Matriarchy: "In those situtations where.. career comes before childbirth: it is interesting to note that few daughters ever return to that career.  In those situations where career comes after childbirth, career is kept in its proper place as an ancillary interest to the fuller and more important task of child rearing."

What's interesting about Dave Sim's treatment of feminism here is that he has managed to stumble across the notion that there are many different types of feminism with Astoria's Kevillism providing a more modern, liberal approach to women and men having equal rights to careers and an investment in politics and power.  Later on he lumps all feminism together as one amorphous blob of anti-male propaganda that all women (and later all men but him) subscribe to.  But here he at least registers there are some nuances.  Though his naming Cirin's generals after famous feminists - Greer, Stienem, Dworkin - is quite quaint, considering the most those have in common is they are all women who describe themselves as feminists, but have quite different ideologies under that banner.  Cirin and Astoria do agree on one thing, something called "The Alchohol Sanction", where men who have been divorced forcibly for being neglectful are condemned to live in an Inn where they can drink as much free booze as they like and live on a subsistence diet until they die of malnutrition.  Although Astoria's manifesto calls for alchohol and the ability to visit bars to be extended to women, in defiance of the Cirinist prohibition on female drinking.  This concept is fully explored in the later book, Guys.
Roach-Swoon and Elrod-Snuff

Cerebus falls back to earth after being dumped out of the Eighth Sphere at the end of the previous book and crashes through the ceiling of an old woman being kept prisoner by the Cirinsts.  She tells Cerebus that the spreading power of the Cirinists is an "abomination" that she had a hand in starting, then she tells Cerebus to leave and hide out in a nearby tavern.  Which he does, getting drunk on buckets of scotch and having strange dreams.  In a dreamlike state he walks to the window and raises his arm, which causes the mountain on the top of Iest to rise again, then he drops the sword and the mountain falls, badly damaging the Regency Hotel and injuring Cirin.  Who then has strange dreams while she sleeps and recovers, meeting both Swoon and confronting Astoria on a giant chessboard.  Astoria is also dreaming after being injured in an escape from the Cirnists and is being protected in another hotel by her Kevillist followers, she also dreams of meeting Cirin on the chessboard as well.

We also get this satisfying moment when Astoria punches Cirin.
That was fun, lets see her do it again.

I enjoyed that.  Let's move on.  There are several cameos from other characters.  Jaka gets a brief dream that tells her Cerebus is still alive, done in the style of "Daughter Of Palnu".  It's farewell to Red Sophia and Mrs. Henrot-Gutch. Goodbye to the MacGrew Brothers. We get the final appearance of Lord Julius, still scheming away in a surreal style.  And it's also goodbye to The Regency Elf as she and Cerebus have a long conversation in another dream.  She tells him she was the fake Regency Elf all the time, created after Cerebus visited the Seventh Sphere back in High Society.

Regency Elf:  "See you were in the Ambassador Suite the first time you went to the Suentus Po place and you were zooming and zipping and swooping and veering and zigging and zagging and swooshing and swishing..."

Cerebus: "Cerebus gets the idea."

Regency Elf: " And with all that zooming and zipping and... and all that stuff and the REAL Regency Elf being right there, see. That made me. See?"

This reality bending ability of Cerebus results in a surprising pay-off regarding another character in the next book.  For now though, Cerebus just keeps getting drunk and gets badgered by visions of himself from the past and possible future.
Also There Was That Rape You Done
The endgame of the book starts when Astoria wakes up, now sporting an arm in a sling (as is Cirin when she awakes as well) and realises all her followers have panicked and rushed to her side presenting an easy target for being totally wiped out by the Cirnists.  The sudden futility of what she has achieved overwhelms her:

Astoria: "I spent years constructing a cell system in this city.  Penetrating all of the crucial departments of the church and the government.  I'm bought unconcious to this hotel... and what do you do?  You converge here, a flock of sitting ducks.. sitting and wringing your hands.. fretting.. worrying.. waiting for me to come up with some miraculous military plan that will allow a bunch of secretaries and stenographers to defeat several legions of trained mercenaries."

While Cirin orders Astoria to be arrested and bought to the church where Cirin will be attempting the True Ascension, Astoria suddenly realises she must leave and come to the church of her own free will and Cerebus, leaping his way from rooftop to rooftop has also had the overwhelming urge to go there too.  Everyone watching seems to freeze up as Astoria walks unmolested through the streets, followed closely by a mysterious figure in a hooded black robe.  When a Cirinist tries to kill her she whispers "go away" and the would-be-assassin vanishes.  The people in the street start chanting her name, the Cirinists outside bow to her, inside the church Cirin fends off a couple of assassination attempts but is told the golden sphere she ordered made has partially collapsed and the Ascension cannot take place.

Outside the church Cerebus arrives and makes to attack Astoria.  Before he can, the hooded figure reveals himself as Suentus Po.

Suentus Po:  "Come.  Let us not keep our hostess waiting".

And the three of them enter the church to confront Cirin, the three aardvarks together at last... 
Po Revealed
Women is an interesting book, it's genuinely laugh out loud funny in parts, mainly those bits that deal with "Swoon" and the general parodying of the Sandman tropes.  It perhaps relies a little to heavily on text captions over single image pages, instead of imparting the information via speech bubbles and sequential panels.  Though the use of different layouts and fonts to differentiate between characters is well done, and I appreciate he had a lot of information to impart in this book.  I'll say it again, I'm a feminist and at this point whether he meant it to be a good thing or not (and he probably didn't) Astoria's type of feminism is attractive to me even if it proves ineffective against the sheer brute force imposition of Cirinism, which while it is a misandrist philosophy no doubt, it's reductive and repressive nature against both men AND women show it more inline with various fascist ideologies than any feminist ones that I recognise.

That said, feminism in the real world is apparently what we have to thank for the Cerebus series as a whole, thus spake Dave Sim in the intro:

Dave Sim: " I wish I could look back on my life post-1970, and say something more optimistic than 'if feminism hadn't come along I never would have become this isolated, this distanced from human society and I would have felt no need to do three hundred issues of Cerebus.' That isolation has been so central to who I am and has been so critical to whatever progress I have made as an artist, writer and publisher, I can't even conceive of where another path might have led me.  For me, the trade off has been more than sufficient.  The one dollar lottery ticket that won the jackpot."

So, um.. go feminism?  Incidentally, during the production of the issues that made up Book 1 and High Society, he was actually married for five years to a woman who acted as his editor.  Considering what is to come, my mind boggles at what she must have had to put up with and how unpleasant the parting must have been.  Either that or Mr. Sim is rewriting his history, which frankly I'm more inclined to believe. 

Anyway, Women is a good book too.  Has some fantastic art in the dream sequences and builds to a great climax - maybe the best climax the series has - into the next book, Reads.  The most notable thing about the book when viewed as part of the overall story is how much of the cast is cut-down, both in this book and the next one as Dave Sim clears the decks of the overtly comedic characters quite ruthlessly, with the post-issue #200 books concentrating more seriously on Cerebus' personal relationships.  So lets leave the last word about that to Swoon...

Take That Fourth Wall!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Cerebus Book 7: Flight (#151-162)

"Cerebus is going up" - Cerebus

After the glacial pacing of Melmoth, the "Mothers and Daughters" arc kicks off with a chaotic rush, quick cutting to events and characters dating back to the very earliest issues of the first book in the series all while Cerebus tries to raise an rebellion against the Cirinists chasing him.  Then it evolves into an extended "Mind Game" dialogue between Cerebus and much mentioned, but still mysterious, Suentus Po, who finally explains who's been behind all the strange things that happened in Church and State II.  As Cerebus rises through a dream space called The Eighth Sphere, Po imparts a stupendous amount of information and back-story before Cerebus arrives at a huge chess game, and his role as one of the pieces in the larger chess game of local politics is revealed as is the role  of other pieces both in play and off the board.

What's only noticable in retrospect is how this book is the start of the reordering of the main storyline from one concerned with the satire of politics and ideology to one focused on just the personal life of Cerebus which is how the post "Mother's and Daughters" books play out.  So most characters and locations familair to us thus far are get their last appearences over the next couple of books, and post issue #200, the only main character left will be Jaka although some very minor characters are still about. The first part of the book then shows Cerebus immediately after the end of Melmoth where he cut down two Cirnist soldiers being chased by more whom he also kills before climbing to a balcony and as the men chant his name while the Cirnist's telepathically screem for his death he tries to foment a revolution.

There's something thrillingly rousing about the sight of Cerebus, covered in blood, sword raised high, a doll clutched incongrously in his other hand, calling for a rebellion against the hated Cirinists.  Because while I may be a feminist, I am not misandrist and yes Dave Sim their IS a difference,  I want this dreadful administration to topple, the same way I'd cheer the end of patriarchy when it finally happens.  And yet... there is something kind of awesome about the sheer power being wielded by these muscular, well armed, sinisterly robed women.  The men take up arms and charge them, fired up by Cerebus and they are crushed.  Completely and utterly, the Cirinists don't even break a sweat.  An army of badass women, and as we find out later, led by the baddest ass of them all, is a pretty cool idea, and it's especially refereshing to see larger, more physical imposing women, not ones that are all boobs and butt and clad in just in skimpy, revealing armour.

To Arms!
Shame their ideology is so insanely horrible really.  And that's the curious dichotomy of Dave Sim's writing at this point, he's trying to point out what he sees as essential flaws in feminist thinking and where it could lead if left unchecked.  But his women are strong and powerful, his men weak and pathetic, there is no power fantasy right now about men taking back "what's rightfully theirs".  This of course changes in the penultimate book, but the Cirinists stay in power for a long time mostly unopposed.  And when the men finally crush those silly women, it's in such a head slappingly stupid retcon that it's hard to take seriously.  But, that is yet to come.  For now we get some exhilaring artwork, of which my favourite is Cerebus' speech and his final call to arms.

Down With Wimmin!
Cirin's field commander Normina Swartzkopf ignores a direct order from Cirin to not kill Cerebus (and that might seem odd of her but we will find out why Cirin doesn't want him dead in a couple of books time) but before he can be taken out, he disappears like Astoria did at the start of Church And State II.  Although he is transported not to another physical location, but to a mental one, the Seventh Sphere where he talks with what the real Suentus Po later calls "capricious aspects of my personality" (which covers all the previous "Po" encounters as well).  Cerebus makes a decison, that the only way is up, and he'll keep going up until he reaches the top of wherever he is now.

Cerebus: "Anytime Cerebus decides to do something, someone comes along and gets Cerebus to do something else. The more people Cerebus is in charge of, the more distractions there are and the less Cerebus does what he wants to do and the more Cerebus does what someone else wants to do.  Well Cerebus isn't in charge of anyone anymore, so Cerebus is going to do what Cerebus set out to do."

A Rapist Ascends
While Cerebus' adventures in the Seventh and Eighth Sphere play out there are several cameo appearences from prior characters.  The aardvark worshipping Pigts from Book 1 decide to march on Iest in Cerebus' name but are wiped out by a storm and in-fighting, removing them from the rest of the story.  We see Astoria, still in chains now a prisoner of the Cirinists.  "Death" from issue #4 expires. An assassination attempt on Lord Julius is foiled, and both The Judge and The Regency Elf get into arguments with doppelgangers about who is the real one.  The most important plot strands though, involve The Roach and Cirin.

The Roach has a sudden, overwhelming return of memories and prior identities, before being reborn as Punisher Roach.  He arms himself with a pair of semi-automatic crossbows and goes to joins the men's rebellion.  Alas for him:

Punisher Roach: "Something has gone terribly wrong, the second cousin of all battles has already taken place and it seems the men have come a distant runner-up.   There is no sign of the Pope and judging by the looks on their hoods, the occupying force of Cirinists is not altogether likely to accept that my reference to 'stinking lesbos' was a whimsical and light hearted malpropism!."

But he decides to stand and fight and unleashes the power of his semi-automatic crossbows and does
killquite a few Cirinists.  But while this might look like the standard male revenge fantasy against strong women, Dave Sim uses the absurd hyper machismo of The Punisher archetype to say that a character sublimating that much into violence, basically needs to get laid.  Elrod hooks him up with a prostitute and he is helpless putty in her hands, a woman showing a different kind of strength over yet another rather pathetic male.  It's heavily implied that she is the first woman The Roach has ever slept with and he instantly becomes besotted with her in a plot strand that briefly carries on into the next book.

Meanwhile Cirin is shown not having the iron grip on her troops that you would expect.  Her orders to keep Cerebus alive are ignored.  We find out she is having all the captured gold melted down and built into a huge golden sphere to assist in the "True Final Ascension" and when another Cirnist changes the dimensions of it she completely loses her shit.  Finally when she orders Astoria to be brought before her, Astoria refuses to come, leaving the messenger the uncomfortable task of relaying what she said:

Messenger: " She said 'Tell the old battle axe that if she's uh coming crawling to me, that she must have uh both uh tits uh caught uh caught in the uh wringer."

Ah, never stop being sassy and cool Astoria.  Reluctantly Cirin orders her to be cleaned up and allowed to buy new clothes before they meet, another thread to be continued in the next couple of books.
Under Construction: One Giant Gold Sphere for Use In Nebulous Religous Ceremony

Finally the Cerebus portions of the second half of the book have him reaching the Eighth Sphere and playing a huge game of chess with the celestial presence of Suentus Po.  Po explains why he appeared to them during Cerebus' trial of Astoria.  The trial was an echo of a trial a previous incarnation of his had endured, before being burned as a heretic.  Po gives us some insight into Cerebus' history as well as his own.  He tells us about the times Cerebus felt pure joy in his life; as a child after eating a stolen pie, beheading his first enemy, standing on the Great Wall of Tsi and the first time he met Jaka:

Suentus Po: "The first night you spent with Jaka, when she agreed without question to accompany you, to be your lifes companion.  You had dozed briefly, drained by the excitment of that most enchanted days events.  And then you awoke to find her looking at you.  Without a word she had taken you in her arms...For the first time in your concious memory; for the first time in fact since you were a baby; a single tear, full and warm rolled down your cheek and you fell into a very deep and dreamless sleep."

Finally Po talks about his life as someone who tried to influence events as a great man of history.  And how disenchanted he grew with seeing the same events "echo" through his various lives.  Now he lives a simple life in Iest, his only luxury a hand carved chess set.  And he makes an observation about the nature of power that will prove important to another characters story arc resolution.

Suentus Po: "My experience taught me, there is no benefit and little wisdom in attempting to influence the minds and wills of massess of people.  In both my lives I described to you I sought that kind of influence and effect. I was a Reformer. I have seen the long range effects that profound change always brings about.  Each great movement is sown with the seeds of its own destruction, it's corruption and decay as inevitable as Death itself."

Which is really the very cynical, key quote that can be applied to the series as a whole's treatment of power and it's effects on the people involved in wielding it or desiring it.  The pursuit of power for it's own sake is, in the end a futile business as both inside and outside forces conspire to bring down those currently in power everytime, before being brought down in turn.  By refusing power willingly, Po, unlike Cerebus who had his power forcibly taken, he has achieved a kind of enlightment while Cerebus is still a tortured soul.  Their chess game over, and Po having said everything he needs to for now, Cerebus is transported back to the physical plain.  And the book ends. 

Comic Chess
After the somewhat pointless Melmoth, this is a real return to form.  It's great seeing so many old faces even if for some of them it's a last or nearly last hurrah.  The pieces are set in place for a three-way conflict between Cirin, Astoria and Cerebus, and the book has plenty of lively humour in the Roach and Elrod portions too. It doesn't stand alone, none of the books will now, such is the weight of character continuity, but it kicks off the "Mothers and Daughters" arc in style and leaves you keen to find out what happens next.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Spawn (#10) Guest Starring Cerebus The Aardvark

"C'mon.  Cerebus will take you home" - Cerebus

Another guest appearence by Cerebus, this time in the pages of Spawn back in 1992.  First a little
background though, which is relevant I promise.  In 1992 several "superstar" artists left Marvel to form Image, a company made up of multiple studios each headed up by one of the artists in question. The studios were: Todd McFarlane's Todd McFarlane Productions, Marc Silvestri's Top Cow Productions, Jim Lee's Wildstorm Productions, Erik Larsen's Highbrow Entertainment, Jim Valentino's ShadowLine, and Rob Liefeld's Extreme Studios.  For the purposes of this blog, the most important ones were/are Todd McFarlane's, Jim Lee's and Rob Liefelds. All three because Alan Moore worked for them during the 1990's, Jim Lee's because ABC span off from it and Rob Liefeld's because several of it's properties have received recent successful (and excellent) reboots that I'll be covering one day. 

Today we're looking at Spawn, a property of Todd McFarlane and the only one of the initial Image line-up to stay in continuous publication since the launch of the company.  At the start Image comics proved hugely popular, selling in their millions off the back of younger male fans who had taken to the simple, darker, grittier, more violent anti-heroes ironically inspired by the more literate and complex Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns and adult fans whose enthusiam was fueled by the speculator boom.  However, while the books proved popular successes off the back of the striking art, they were being panned critically for the quality of the writing pretty much out the gate.  The books were being written by the artists themselves and it soon became clear talent in one field did not always equal talent in another.  Seems obvious now, but here's an excerpt from the Rob Liefeld penned film script "Icons" about the founding of Image and this is what Todd Mcfarlane had to (maybe) say about comicbook writers back then:

Well that attitude soon changed.  Before Spawn had even reached double figures McFarlane hired Neil Gaimen, Alan Moore, Frank Miller and Dave Sim to write an issue each.  And the Dave Sim penned issue featured Cerebus.. sortof. It looks like Cerebus, but he knows he's a fictional character here.  It's set in a "dream world" and a place where other comic characters are imprisoned.  It's all very meta and weird.  Unlike The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spawn maybe isn't as familiar to everyone. He is a hellspawn who used to be an CIA assassin called Al Simmons.  He was murdered and sent to hell and made a deal with the demonic being Malebolgia to see his wife one more time, but was returned to earth five years later and with no memory of his previous life.
Spawn Is Granted Power By Superman and Others.
 The first part of this strange, elliptical tale sees a Spawn who is not Spawn and has all the memories Spawn doesn't seem to have at this time (I don't know much about Spawn, just what wikipedia says, so forgive any errors I make about him Spawn fans).  He thinks about his Hell Guide, The Violator (who we'll be returning to later in this blogs life), and his tower and the Seventh Floor which he does not know about, and because he is Spawn who is not Spawn he can draw on powers Spawn does not have and so travels to that floor.
"Oh Todd You're The Bestest, Love Dave Sim"
He finds a prison full of obvious Marvel and DC characters and a row of hooded, weeping figures.  The characters all give Spawn their power and he strikes a blow against the Violator (who is not the Violator) who is huge, with a dress made of "a billion dollars" although he fails to damage him/her (I think The Not!Violater might be a metaphor for the mainstream comic industry here).  Then a leather jacketed Cerebus appears as the world turns black and white.  Not!Spawn has questions:

Not!Spawn: "Who...who are they?" [about the prisoners]


Not!Spawn: "And these men?" [about the hooded figures]

Not!Cerebus: "Their creators.  The ones who sold them."

Then the world turns back into colour as Not!Cerebus returns Not!Spawn to his wife and kid, and he disappears, leaving Spawn holding his daughter and saying he'd had a terrible dream. The End. Huh. The wikipedia entry about Spawn isn't super detailed, and I assume this issue was rendered non-canon right away because it's not actually Spawn, he doesn't go back to his family and he has access to memories he shouldn't have at this point.
Spawn And Cerebus
 As far as I can figure out then, the story is basically a love letter to Todd Macfarlane, for breaking away from Marvel, for starting up his own publishing studio and not selling out his creation like had happened to the superheroic icons created by artists and writers working for the "Big Two" (Marvel and DC).  Well, he may not have sold Spawn to anyone, but Macfarlane sure rented him out a great deal.  A crappy movie, a cartoon series, a range of toys (the most lucrative of his properties), even having Spawn be the Xbox version of Soul Calibur II's secret fighter, I mean I could go on.  Now all this happened after Dave Sim wrote this issue, but the fact that several years later Macfarlane - with Spawn fully prostituted and abandoned by his creator- gets the dubious pleasure of a role in the worst Cerebus book of the series, shows that Dave Sim's concept of selling out is a somewhat hypocritical one when it comes to his bro's. 

Still the issue is worth a look if you are serious about Cerebus, and I have to say  I like MacFarlane's artwork on this issue. It has a gothic grandeur about it, with the huge brooding figure of Spawn contrasting with the small cartoony Cerebus in an incongruous but somehow pleasing way.  You'll have to track down the issue as an individual one, it was left out of the trade paperbacks that have been published, due to the aforementioned non-canonicity ( or possibly copyright, though that hasn't happened with the Cerebus/Turtles story)I assume.  I bought it brand new and never taken out of it's bag for a couple of quid on eBay. It's only essential if you want a complete Cerebus or Spawn collection though, an oddball, messy novelty otherwise.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Cerebus Book 6: Melmoth (#139-150)

"Aye..." - Cerebus

After the emotionally draining events at the climax of Jaka's Story, we get this.. strange little book.  Only twelve issues long, the shortest one so far, it tells two tales that only interact with each other for a couple of frames.  We get Cerebus dealing with what he believes to be the death of Jaka, and the slow decline and death of Oscar Wilde.  Not the Oscar character based on Oscar Wilde of Jaka's Story - he's in a Cirnist prison.  No, it seems after enjoying writing Oscar in that book Dave Sim wanted to do more with him, and so simply put in the "real" Oscar Wilde as a character, but uses excerpts from the letters of Oscar Wilde's friend Robert Ross about Wilde's last days and death, instead of writing new material himself.  Yes a peculiar choice which makes it a little difficult for me to write an awful lot about this volume, because over half of the text is not by Dave Sim.  In later books, F.Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway play major roles, as of course Oscar did in the previous book and are incorporated into the action in ways that make heir usage justifiable.  But here the Wilde portions of the book are far removed from the Cerebus parts, and give no insight into any ongoing characters nor do they even match a general theme.  It's the first worrying sign of self-indulgence on the part of Dave Sim, and while collected in one volume it's a pleasant enough hour's read, this would have taken twelve months to complete reading on a monthly basis and I can't imagine how annoying that must have been for the comic's audience back then.

After a short prologue showing The Roach in his disguise as normalroach spitting obscenities under his breath at the burqa clad Cirinist soldiers patrolling Iest (the full body robes, revealing only the eyes seem a strange thing for a "feminist" organisation to wear, maybe not so much in the very early 90's, but certainly odd to see now they are equated by some as symbols of female oppression.  They do get an explanation later on in another book though), we meet "Sebastian Melmoth" (the name Wilde gave himself after he got out of prison and moved to Paris) talking with "Robbie" about the Cirinist occupation and some of the strange ironies of their rule.

Melmoth: "One of the happiest of Cirin's many 'happy accidents' is complete freedom of expression.  In a society where dissenting viewpoints are suppressed those viewpoints are potent and dangerous. Where dissent is tolerated, it rapidly becomes quaint and is viewed as unsophisticated.  People merely amuse themselves with the expression of contrary opinion... Conformity then supplants awareness as the cornerstone of wisdom."
Melmoth and Robbie
 Which is a fascinating observation as to how an oppressive, authoritarian government can best deal with subversion, and makes me wish Dave Sim was writing all the Sebastian Melmoth stuff. As it is then, but for one or two scenes later on, the rest of Sebastian Melmoth's story is told via the real life words of Robert Ross, like Jaka's Story it's laid out as typewritten text on pages with one or two pictures, but with far, far fewer words per page, and unfortunately this time I have to criticise the pacing here.  It's just too slow and too uneventful especially with the lack of action going on in the Cerebus part of the storyline as well. The slower pacing of Jaka's Story was off-set by a detailed and beautifully written framing device, and frankly, Robert Ross' account of Melmoth's final days just aren't as detailed nor as movingly written and it's about a character we have never met before and who plays no role in the grander narrative, unlike Jaka. So Mr. Melmoth gets sicker and sicker and finally dies, the only time this part of the story meets up with Cerebus' is when his funeral cortege goes past the inn Cerebus is sitting outside.
The Unpleasant End Of Mr. Melmoth
I genuinely am not sure why Dave Sim felt he had to devote an entire years worth of comicbooks to pay tribute to Wilde.  I mean it's a nice idea and quite sweet, but really it should have been told in less than half the amount of issues.  If the aim was to provide some breathing room between the end of Jaka's Story and the next big arc, well again, it could have been done faster and more economically over a few months maybe.  Basically, there is no themetic reason (that I can see) why the death of Oscar Wilde needed to be told in the Cerebus storyline.  If it had been the Oscar of Jaka's Story and Dave Sim was doing all the writing then fair enough.  As it is, it is as I say pure self indulgence and in retrospect a mild warning of far greater indulgences to come...

The Cerebus storyline is even more uneventful.  Cerebus, completely shell-shocked after coming back to Pud Withers burnt out place to find Jaka gone, presumed dead, is shown blankly clutching the smoke blackened doll Missy while paying for room and board in another inn for the rest of his life.  It was
Pictured: Half Of The Book.
mentioned in the previous book, but shown more clearly here, that the net result of Cerebus-the-Pope taking all the gold out of the Iest economy, and that gold being swept up by the Cirinists during their invasion and takeover has therefore rendered the few gold coins left as insanely valuable with single coins being owned by big consortiums.  So he can pay for that lifetime lodging with the one coin he had left after the end of Church and State, and with the money from it, the inn owner Dino is able to refurbish his cafe into something planned to be quite sumptious.  And so work starts up on the improvements and as Melmoth lies dying elsewhere, Cerebus merely sits outside, day-in-day-out, unable to say much more than "Aye" or "Nay", holding Missy close to him with one hand and his sword with the other.  Haunted by strange dreams, totally desolate and lonely, having lost - he believes - his one true love on top of everything else.  I'd almost feel sorry for him if, you know, he hadn't raped Astoria.

Cerebus finally snaps out of it when he hears two Cirinist soldiers boasting of their mistreatment of Jaka while she was in jail.  He cuts them down in a blind rage, then we get a flashback to his mercenary days talking with Bear about how the Cirinists seem telepathically connected:

Bear: "They're women yeah...but they're like giant waddayacall hornets, like if you hurt one of 'em anywhere within miles of the others they all waddayacall feel it and they, you know swarm."
Women, Bees, So Easy To Get Those Two Confused...
Back in the present day and a blood spattered Cerebus  haunted again by the words of The Judge - "die alone unmourned and unloved" - comes perilously close to cutting his own throat.  But the arrival of more Cirnist soldiers snaps him out of it, and he flees.  To Be Continued...

Before we wave goodbye to this, strange, slightly pointless, grotesquely padded, non-adventure it's worth highlighting a couple of things Dave Sim says in the notes at the end of the book.

Dave Sim: "While I am not specifically a church goer, nor affiliated with any denomination or system of belief, I have appropriate respect for the Church of Rome and it's attendent Power and Mystery".
And also:

Dave Sim: "I could find no workable equivalent for 'jew' (sic) and didn't want a deluge of mail questioning the existence of Judaism in ancient Estarcion."

Remember these words, they'll be a test later on.  Next up, the beginning of the "Mothers And Daughters" four book arc, and also the start of Dave Sim's swimming into more contentious waters.  Oh it'll be such fun to talk about. But first, another guest appearence...