Sunday, 29 June 2014

Cerebus Book 15: Latter Days (#266-288)

 "So.  This is the book that's going to tell Cerebus everything" - Cerebus

Oh, very dear.  Having shed the final (apart from Cerebus) ongoing character from the series with the departure of Jaka we get this book,  where real Christianity and Judaism are introduced into the worlds of Estarcion as Dave Sim sacrifices all story integrity so he can lecture and badger the reader with his weird views made up of a strange brew of his interpretation of Christianity and anti-psychiatry ramblings.  Now I want to make one thing clear.  I was raised an atheist.  I still am mostly an atheist, with some of the teachings of Daoism and Buddhism incorporated into my own personal life philisophy.  I however have known and still know some wonderfully kind and tolerant Christians who I am proud to call friends of mine and whose faith in no way impedes my view of or makes me think less of them.  I will getting somewhat terse with Mr. Sim's rantings in this book, and I want to make it clear it's only with his twisted version of Christianity and not Christians in general.  If I overstep the mark and say things that could be construed as offensive to Christians in general I apologise in advance.  Also, although I said ignore the appendices in the previous two books, the odd, disjointed, supposedly allusive quality of the narrative in this book forces me to seek further enlightenment in the pages at the back of the book.  It's not pretty.  So, here we go with Latter Days, the very worst book in the whole series by some considerable margin.
It's supposed to be symbolic but I don't care by this point.
 The first part is uneventful.  Cerebus first spends years as a shepard, then more years as a Five Bar Gate player who always gets to the finals but throws them so he can rake in the cash from a bet, which he spends collecting a comic called "Rabbi" a parody of Garth Ennis's Preacher comic.  We get an idea of just how long lived Cerebus is going to be, when his long time opponent in the Five Bar Gate finals dies of old age.  Then Cerebus having lost all hope for his life, decides to travel to the heart of Cirinist territory and behave in as boorish a way possible, so they will kill him.  But as he carouses away he is discovered by three men  based on The Three Stooges.  I am unsure Dave Sim he did this, as they don't really act the way the Stooges did.  When Dave Sim introduced characters based on Groucho and Chico Marx he used it as a basis for lots of verbal humour and kept the characters loosely tied to their inspirations as well as giving them a character of their own.  Here we have a trio known mainly for slapstick which doesn't translate very well onto the page and they aren't really filled out as characters outside of any baggage the people they are based on had in real life.  Anyway they kidnap Cerebus, tie him up and begin the task of brainwashing him with the Book of Rick, Jaka's ex-husband's newish religion which unlike the broad strokes Christian parody of Tarimism is based very closely on real life Christianity and meant far more sincerely thanks to Dave Sim's own conversion to the faith.
The Three Wise Fellows
After reading the Book Of Rick over and over, to cleanse Cerebus of his sin.  Cerebus finally manages to give them an answer to one of the questions they had for him and they let him go.  He then decides to put into plan his idea for getting rid of the Cirinists.  For some inexplicable reason the Cirnists had allowed men to go shooting at hunting lodges and Cerebus's plan is to have all the local lodges join up and kill the local Cirnists.  Which they do under the command of a character based on Spawn writer and artist Todd MacFarlane, whom I talked more about in my review of the Spawn issue Dave Sim wrote.  Then Cerebus contructs a demon costume and thus disguised and calling himself "Spore" leads the men to victory over all the Cirnists, with Cerebus writing his own religious tract - "The Book Of Cerebus" which is about the war and it's aftermath
"Spore" In Action
And this just makes me tear my hair out.  Dave Sim it seems had a problem, that being he'd introduced the Cirnists as a powerful, conquering army that put down rebellions with ruthless efficiency, even if they'd been stupid enough to allow the men to arm themselves with guns, surely they would have armed themselves in return and be able to easily crush another rebellion.  So we get probably the lamest, weakest excuse for the mens victory as possible:

Cerebus: "Since even the best women shooter is barely going to be as good as a below average man, there is no way the Cirinists can get within range where they can hit us without first getting shot themselves."
Cerebus's Army
And so in a few pages and mostly off stage, a powerful ruling army who have held onto power for decades is wiped out by a bunch of men too stupid to have thought to use their guns before Cerebus told them too.  When pushed onto the back foot the Cirinists take off their robes and hide amongst the other women.  So Cerebus instigates a purge of any woman even slightly suspected of being a Cirinist or having Cirinist sympathies.  Mass murder basically.  Dave Sim says in the appendices that he meant it like "A Modest Proposal", but the difference here is that Swift's book was a coruscating satire aimed at shocking the ruling classes into giving a shit about the plight of the poor, and Dave Sim seems to be writing about how to solve the problem of um.. women, by killing any with even slight feminist leanings and it comes over more as wish fulfillment that satire.  Also one of the women killed is based on a real woman who was somewhat critical of him.  Classy, Sim, real classy.  She's also the last woman to get a speaking role in the rest of the series.  From now on women fade into the background as Dave Sim's engagement with Christianity takes centre stage.

With the rule of law placed in the hands of the mob, after they kill all the lawyers, a bucolic, facist "utopia" is established, which mostly seems to involve men building "little houses", while unruly women are confined to special camps.  There doesn't seem to be much in the way of art or culture produced and free speech is ruthlessly dealt with.  Making life under the "Cerebites" seem much less enticing than under the Cirinists even for men.  And with nothing to kick against, and no women left in his life, Cerebus becomes aimless in his existence.  Back when I covered Minds, he ended up trapped on the lonely planet Juno, and esteemed commenter Lucy McGough pointed out that Juno was the Goddess of wives and mothers.  So it was a warning in my opinion that a life without women, without love in fact would be a lonely one.  And for several books the prospect of being alone would have Cerebus see the rocky landscape of Juno in his minds eye.  So it's ironic that with women removed from his life entirely he's given up and idly embraced being stuck on the metaphorical Juno and crucially he doesn't seem happy about this or the society he has built but can't be bothered anymore to change his situation, taking solace in the beliefs that were brainwashed into him.
The main problem I have with what happens here is Dave Sim falling into the trap of telling and not showing.  I'm not interested in Cerebus raising sheep or playing Five Bar Gate for years, I want to see how Rick's religion spread, how Tarim worship became so easily deposed, I want to see the Cirinists catching, trying and crucifying Rick in the name of his religion not hear about it second hand.  Once again there is a tonne of talk and very little action and when it comes to something as important as explaining just how Cerebus was able to implant and nuture Rick's "Christian" religion so easily in the minds of the men he sends off to war, well I want to know see how come.  It's frustrating that's what it is.  There is a better, more interesting story going on here that we are only hearing about.  Something with the same scope as the "Mothers and Daughters" arc, but the extreme focus on Cerebus alone hurts the narrative and the wider plot has to be conveyed in a tonne of speech bubbles and captions rather than flowing via the use of  sequential art, you know, like a comic would.

After the last of The Three Wise Fellow's dies, Cerebus comes to a sad realisation about the lack of friendship in his life and how the last time he really remembered anyone's name was when he was back in the tavern shown in Guys.

Narration: "It's not that people didn't like Cerebus most of the time.  When Cerebus went to watch a house being built someone would come over and strike up a conversation.  And when they left they'd say "it was nice talking with you" in a way that Cerebus could tell they really meant it.  But the thing was:  Cerebus was never the one to strike up the conversation.. and for the life of him, Cerebus heh heh could never figure out exactly what had been so darned "nice" about talking with him.
Pictured: A Comics Fan, Apparently
So Cerebus tries to fill the void, first with going back to sheparding and when that fails he decides to go back to collecting the comic "Rabbi" and get a full mint set.  Thus follows some rather unpleasant implications about comic book collectors, not helped by the fact that Cerebus is rather fat by this time.  Indeed in the appendices Dave Sim calls the completionist urge a kind of psychosis, which is a rather nasty thing to say about people reading your comic especially ones who have followed you this far.  Then Cerebus finds a old comic book journal with an interview with the writer of Rabbi called "Garth Innocent" (Garth Ennis was the writer of the comic Preacher, which takes a somewhat jaundiced look at organised religion and it's not hard to see newly religious Dave Sim taking swipes at him even if he claims that he himself is meant to be Garth, tormenting Cerebus his own creation).  Anyway the jist of the interview is that "Garth" wanted to turn people off religion, his book was a gorefest designed for thirteen year old boys and that Cerebus was stupid and needy for becoming so attached to it and he hoped this interview would send Cerebus into a nervous breakdown.  Which it does.
The Young Konigsberg
Luckily Woody Allen comes to the rescue as the character Konigsberg who is from the obscure sect called the Jews (which back in Melmoth Dave Sim said they didn't exist in Estarcion but whatever) and he brings The Torah which he wants Cerebus to help him understand.  And so we get to the most infamous part of the whole Cerebus series, a third of the fucking book spent on Cerebus's annotations to the first five books of the Bible.  Interspersed with the memoirs of Konigsberg done in sixties psychoanalytic speak of which Woody Allen was famous for putting in his films and early stand-up.  The main jist of the annotations are that YHWH is a different deity from God whom Cerebus calls "Yoohwooh" and is also female because well, lets hear from Dave why:

Dave Sim: "Read Deuteronomy yourself.  It's just one YHWH blabfest pretty much from start to finish. Hysterical, grudging, paranoid, defeatist, threatening, dictatorial, beseeching, self-aggrandising, illogical, convoluted, cajoling and wheedling."
To be honest, I didn't read much of this portion of the book, because if I pluck a section at random you'll see just how deathly it is.

Torah:  "This twentie yeeres I with thee, thy ewes and thy she goates haue not cast their younge and the rammes of thy flocke haue I not eaten."

Cerebus: "A little reminder of Yoohwhoo's she-goat and he-ram covenant with Abraham [laughs] probably convinced Yoohwhoo that no, she didn't feel well enough to get and go look for her asprin".

Torah:  "That which was torne, I brought not vnto thee: I bare the losse of it"

Cerebus: "'That isn't really what I sound like?' Yoohwhoo wonders."

Torah: "of my hand didst thou require it, whether stollen by day, or stollen by night."

Cerebus: "[laughs] Cerebus pictures a tiny little "angel" of God appearing in front of Yoohwhoo with a copy of verse five, chapter nine."

And so on.  Bleedin' hilarious I don't think.  If you want Biblical comedy that is actually funny, try the LoLCat's Bible instead, always makes me laugh. Praise be to Ceiling Cat!  Ah, "But Varalys" you say.  "Dave Sim is being comedic about the Bible, how does that fit with his Christian conversion, eh?"  And I say "Good question, come with me to the appendices".  Now Dave Sim says a lot about reading and rereading the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) over and over, and reading a lot of Biblical scholarship and how so little of it agrees with each other, so why not do his own interpretation?

Dave Sim: "...My biggest concern was: what would God think of this?  Just how seriously was I putting my soul in jeopardy by deciding to go public with the fact that I thought I was right about what the Bible said and that everyone else was wrong?....what if I was right in what I was reading?  What if this had been planned by God all along? What of he had known exactly what I was going to write before I was born?  Omniscience is a much easier word to say than it is to even imagine."

O...Ok, back away slowly folks and when you are clear, run like the wind. Anyway, there we go.  A third of the book devoted to single page drawings and masses of tiny, tightly spaced unfunny text. Konigsberg grows old and dies as Cerebus secludes himself working on his notes to the Torah (quite what the random TRACED images from European cinema have to do with either the Bible or Psychoanalysis, even the appendices aren't very helpful in this case, but they sure do look purdy - if you like TRACED artwork that is).  Finally Cerebus comes out of seclusion and gets married.  The woman is considered so unimportant that we don't even see her real face, just Jaka's imposed over it.  Le sigh and end book.
Jaka's Actually Been Dead About 150 Years By This Point
In every conceivable way this book fails.  It fails at being funny.  It fails at being satirical.  It fails at being thought-provoking.  It fails at being profound.  It fails at being entertaining.  It fails at providing interesting characterisation. Dave. Sim. You. FAIL.

The bible commentary and psychoanalytical bibble went on for nearly a year if you were following the comics monthly.  And I imagine this was where the series shed it's most readers if they hadn't already pissed off after the mean spirited attack on them earlier in the arc.  I've probably made the book sound more eventful than it is, but it's an incredibly ennervating read, hence why it took me so long to write it up.  There are no characters to root for, Cerebus's character has been irrevocably changed, the whole book doesn't feel like it has any links to the previous fourteen and comes across more like a sequel series than something that stands as part of the run as a whole.  The whole book, including the appendices feels like being cornered at a party by a slightly peculiar evangelical Christian who wants to tell you all about how his interpretation of the bible is the correct and only one.  Latter Days is an actively bad book.  Monumental events happen which are barely covered or alluded too, the bible commentary is a shocking piece of padding that no amount of pretty artwork can render acceptable.  Everything that made the Cerebus story good and worthwile is flushed down the toilet or twisted to fit Dave Sim's "spiritual awakening". It's flat and worst of all it's boring. It sucks basically.  Only one book left then.  Dave Sim tells us not to expect a happy ending in it, but he misunderstands what's left of his readership if he thinks any of them think Cerebus deserves a happy ending, especially after this book.  Will the final book manage to make up for the mess that is Latter Days and end the series on a high note?  Find out soon folks (I promise it won't take as long this time).

[You know what was doubly insulting about this book?  There are far fewer copies in circulation than any other and it appears to be out of print too.  So I had to spend the best part for fifty quid for my secondhand copy.  Fifty quid!  That's as many as five tens.  And that's terrible].

Friday, 20 June 2014

Cerebus Book 14: Form And Void (#251-265)

"Please... tell Cerebus where his Mum and Dad are buried" - Cerebus

When I saw the title of this volume, my heart did sink a little as I thought it would be a rehashing of all the male light/female void stuff from Reads.  Actually though, despite the dribblingly insane appendices, this turned out to be quite an exciting page turner of a book with some stunning artwork and page layouts that ends on something of a series high note.  It's also another book which contains Sim's take on a famous author, this time it's Ernest Hemmingway and his wife.  Now Mr. Sim is no fan of Hemmingway and I'll cover why in a small section on the appendices at the end of the review of the actual comic pages.  Luckily there is no pastiche of Hemmingway's writing in the book, so my lack of knowledge of yet another classic author's work won't cramp my style.  The non-Dave Sim writings included in this book are from Mary Hemmigway's How It Was, an account of her and Ernest's time in Afria. The layout of this book takes us back to the masses of panels found in the early books, with pages regularly divided into twenty-five panel or more grids.  This slows the pace of the book down, but unlike the sparse Melmoth, there is a lot of text  being slowly doled out that you are gradually being walked through as events gather pace and momentum, building to a real heart breaker of a conclusion and where for me, the whole Cerebus saga reaches a natural end.  Shame there are two books after then really.

Right from the start we are introduced to writer Ham Earnestway and his wife Mary.  Cerebus and Jaka end up staying at the same hunting lodge as they do, and Cerebus is starstruck upon meeting Ham who is one of his heroes being as he is a paragon of masculinity to Cerebus.  Ham in return is tactiturn and depressed.  His wife does most of the talking and she and Jaka bond, while Mary tells Jaka about the best and the worst times during a marriage now Jaka has resigned herself to that as her future.  They are accompanied by two black African guides one of whom is Muslim, a worrying incursion of real world religion into the book and  also I was left uncomfortable that these are effectively the first black characters we have seen in the saga, and they are tribespeople.  Although they are portrayed as sympathetic, kind and intelligent it still made me realise just how whitebread Dave Sim's portrayal of Estarcion actually is.
Mary and "Ham"
Staying together in a winter home, Ham writes while Mary gives Jaka some advice about married life.

Mary: "None of my business, but you can't just give in all the time.  You've got to give as good as you get.  Comes time when you have to put you foot down.  No law says a woman can't build a house as good as a man."

Jaka: "I.....? I never thought of that".

Mary: "None of my business of course, but a good marriage is like a good partnership"

Once again Dave Sim puts reasonable arguments in favour of gender equality in a character he considers doomineering and pathetic in his appendices, yet in the text she comes over a strong woman, dealing with a profoundly depressed and useless man.  Cognitive dissonace ahoy!

Cerebus gets drunk and thinks of all the manly adventures he has had in the past and wants to tell Ham all about them, although he is badly starstruck by being in close proximity to Ham who is a big hero of his.

Cerebus: "Cerebus has a nervous breakdown because he is having dinner with THE Ham Ernestway"

Pissed again
Later Ham talks to another visitor and confides that he "can't finish the book.  This wonderful book and I can't finish it".  He then decides they will leave the winter home and go on a camping trip even though it is snowy and cold.  While Mary tells Jaka that Ham has been treated for depression in a Cirinist clinic, Cerebus comes outside and blurts out a tale of one of his adventures to a blank faced, unresponsive Ham.

They then all set off, with Jaka and Cerebus still heading for Sand Hill Creek to see his parents.  They are accompanied with Ham and Mary's black tribesmen guides.  Jaka becomes scared that they'll get stuck in the mountain pass over winter, but Cerebus is confident Ham won't steer them wrong.

During a fireside chat Ham asks Jaka if her can call her "daughter", but she demurs.  Mary tries to reassure her, explaning that's just his way and Ham yells at her to shut up and throws a drink in her face which she takes in her smiling stride.  Mary continues to advise Jaka about married life, while Cerebus tries to tell Ham some stories of his life, eliciting only a terse "shut up" in response.  Undeterred, later that night Jaka cuts Cerebus's hair to look like Ham's
Hair cu-ut, Hair cut-ut...
Next day Cerebus is introduced to a rifle, having never used firearms before he is completely delighted by it.

Mary:  "Must have led a sheltered life up there in Sand Hills Creek".

Cerebus: "Actually ma'am Cerebus hasn't been to Sand Hills Creek for a long time.  Cerebus spent the last few years running a tavern and before that Cerebus was...travelling.. alot."
Pew Pew Pew
When they return to camp, Mary shows the padlocks on the box where they keep the firearms to prevent Ham getting at them unsupervised as he is a suicide risk.  Cerebus then finds out Jaka slapped Ham because he grabbed at her.  This lead Cerebus to ask frostily:

Cerebus: "Would you ever slap Cerebus?"

Jaka: "If you gave me a good reason to certainly".

Dinner is held in silence after Ham tells them to "stop chewing so fucking loud".  Cerebus and Jaka make up in their tent afterwards.  Soon they arrive at a hunting lodge, but unmarried couples can't stay there.  Jaka says that if they both say they are lesbians, they can stay.  She is just about to reveal Cerebus's hermaphrodite status when Cerebus bellows at her to "Shut UP!" and throws a drink over her.
Don't Over Share Jaka!
Later they talk about it.

Jaka: "I don't see a vagina as something to be ashamed of, or being a lesbian for that matter...I thought you'd laugh.  I thought you'd treat it as a silly joke 'Cerebus and Jaka. The hunting lodge lesbians'.  Instead I feel as if I don't know you anymore."

Preach it sister, go us lesbians!  Funny how Dave Sim can put tolerant and reasonable dialogue in the mouths of his most sympathetic characters, yet can't seem to find it in his heart to think that way for real.  Hey ho.  Mary interjects at this point to tell them about her and Ham's trip to a continent in the shape of Africa.  It's here that Dave Sim bases his her reminisences on Mary Hemmingways own book.
I Hear The Rains Down In Africa
She talks about the animal hunts they went on in Africa (the first named actual real world place I can think of in a Cerebus book).  There are some gorgeous drawings of animals and the black Africans are rendered respectfully and without charicature.  Mary has dreams about the lion they are tracking.  Next day they find it and kill it, at first Mary thinks she did it, but later realises this wasn't so and gets upset, though not so upset that she doesn't eat her lion steak.
Beautiful Artwork.
She talks of an interview with Ham (who she creepily refers to as Papa) that a reporter did on them while they were on safari, and Ham says some eye opening things.

Mary: "Reporter 'What are your favourite sports sir?'
            Papa: 'Shooting, fishing, reading and sodomy.'
            'Does Mrs. Earnestway particpate in all these sports?'
            'She particpates in all of them.'"

This, along with Ham's confession that he likes to be the girl to Mary's boy freaks Cerebus out completely.  Mary continues her tale, about how happy they were on safari.  They hunt more animals.  Board an airship that crashes, get rescued by boat, get caught in another airship crash which leaves them both injured.  A doctor advises Ham to stop drinking and rest up but he continues partying.  He starts behaving strangely and violently.  He becomes abusive towards Mary which she smiles through.

Mary: "I refreshed myself by remembering the loving, friendly phrases Ham had been making throughout Africa, before the crashes and the fire."

They returned to an active social life in Iest.  A writer called Scott is digusted when he hears they ate lion, and after and argument with Mary, challenegs Ham to a duel.  Which Ham turns down as Scott is not a worthy opponent.  Mary's story concludes and she and Ham retire to their tent, leaving a rather shocked and bewildered Cerebus.  Again, in the appendices Dave Sim makes out that Mary is kinda lame and pathetic, but she comes over in the text as a woman with the patience of a saint, dealing with a big baby of a man-child.

Anyway, later that night Cerebus hears a gunshot and comes out to find Ham dead from a bullet to the brain and Mary standing sadly over him.  Cerebus looks at the key in the padlock and shivers out the words:

Mary: "I think no wife.. has the right.. to deprive her husband.. of his possessions".
Boom! Headshot!
A shocked Cerebus starts walking back to his tent as the clouds roll in and it starts to snow heavily.  The final section of the book finds Cerebus and Jaka alone and lost with only a box of biscuits between them to eat.  They are in dire straits and Cerebus is convinced they will die.  That night Cerebus has a dream in which Rick appears and shows them the way they should go.  He also shows Cerebus his stigmata and and tells him the following:

Dream Rick: "Someone will come to you with a book.  He will identify himself to you by the phrase you tried to remember earlier.  The book will tell you everything. Mungu. Mungu Mkona. God in the hand of..."
The Rick Mystery Continues....
Then a loud noise wakes both him and Jaka up.  Inspired by the dream, Cerebus hurries Jaka out of the tent with the bribe of allowing her to eat all the biscuits.  They make it over the nearby ridge and find a pathway.  Jaka eats all the biscuits.  They find an inn to stay in and Cerebus ponders Jaka's selfishness over the biscuits and his worries about how Jaka - a city person - will adapt to life in a village like Sand Hill's Creek.

Jaka: "If I can master twenty-five ways to say 'hello' based on rank and seniority, I should be able to get the hang of gender distictions in a northern logging and fishing community."

Cerebus and Jaka slip past the local Cirinists and find some underground tunnels to continue travelling through.  Next day they bicker constantly as they make the final leg of the journey.  Cerebus tells Jaka they must pretend they are married as the village is Orthodox Tarimite.  They crest the hill with the village in sight and happily Cerebus runs down to it, his joy turning to fear as he realises how empty the place is, with even the tavern all shut up.  They find one old man who speaks angrily to Cerebus, who with mounting horror asks where his parents are buried.  Jaka tries to talk to him and he turns on her.

Cerebus: "Go on.  Beat it. SCRAM!"

And he turns his back on her and walks sadly away.  A Cirnist shows up in a coach and hands her Missy which they had left behind in the tent.  Our last image of Jaka is her weeping in the back of the coach, clutching Missy to her chest.

Incoherent with rage and grief, Cerebus rends his clothes and rubs dirt into his face before howling in frustration and sadness across the very last panels of the book.  It's a fantastic, emotive ending and for me overall it's where Cerebus ends properly for me.  What's that you say?  Two more books, with none of the cast of characters we've come to know and love?  And full of Dave Sim's insane take on the bible and Christianity? And you want me to review them too?  You heartless demons.

Form And Void, is the Cerebus saga's final gasp of glory.  Full of beautiful art and perfect pacing and characterisation.  Why did Cerebus get rid of Jaka?  I can think of a couple of reasons.  He's just lost his idol and his parents, we know how emotional fragile he is and I think he just snapped.  Plus having spent so much time with her, she was no longer on the pedstal he had placed her on, and getting to know her properly meant finding fault with her, her perfection was tarnished by reality.  She isn't a bad person by any manner of means, she puts up with a lot of shit from him, but she is flawed and in the end, I think those flaws added up and with the  bombshell of finding his parents had died he just wants to be left alone.  He no longer fears Juno it seems.  Anyway, excellent book, but what about those appendices.

Well, let me sum up.  Dave Sim doesn't like Hemmingway's writing (he keeps calling it "typing" a "hilarious" joke).  He doesn't like it that a flawed and suicidal man like Hemmingway was held up as a paragon of masculinity.  The people to blame for this are feminists, who deliberately praised and held him up as an ideal of manhood to be aspired to, so when he fell from grace all men would feel bad about themselves like the feminists planned all along.  I think there is a step involving underpants in there as well.  Completely ludicrous as you can see.  So if you ever decide to buy the books that have appendices in them, don't read them, they rarely shed any non biased light on what he's been writing about, just more murping on about bloody women. Rubbish. And it gets so much worse in the final two books....

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Cerebus Book 13: Going Home (#232-250)

"I love you so much" - Jaka

"Cerebus loves you too" - Cerebus

When it came time for me to start looking ahead to this book in anticipation of writing about it, I did as I usually did and tried to bring up my memories of my last time reading it.  And I found I could barely remember anything about it except that it has an F.Scott Fitzgerald expy in it and a scene that was incredibly nausea inducing (and even then I wasn't sure if that scene wasn't actually in Form and Void).  Not an auspicious start then.  Flipping through looking for pictures also made me realise this was the first Cerebus book to contain a large amount of appendices, inspired it seems by Alan Moore's scrupulously well researched and interesting ones for From Hell.  Although the major difference is of course Dave Sim using them not to shed much in the way of light on his process, but to continue to bang his drum about being the one special snowflake who is resisting the worldwide feminist conspiracy that rules the world.  Sigh.  Anyway, this books takes us along the journey made by Cerebus and Jaka as they head westward to visit Cerebus's parents.  Interestingly after leaving the pub in the previous book, it seems Cerebus has become so committed to a new life with Jaka that he left behind his last few possessions - his medallions and vest - his final link to past events severed.  The book is not particularly eventful, but has a lot of dialogue as Jaka and Cerebus fall out and make up with each other and generally start to wonder if they really are as suited to each other as they both thought.  The book is split into two parts - "Sudden Moves" and "Fall And The River", with the next book "Form And Void" also being part of the overall "Going Home" arc.
Doesn't Last.
"Sudden Moves" begins with them walking on their way to Cerebus's hometown, as he insists carriages are for old people.  They stop regularly at inns along the way, the first one we see being a place where people can use action figures to communicate with each other.  We also get to see how the Cirinists are keeping a close eye on Jaka and Cerebus as they travel.  While Cerebus pretend to be asleep in the action figure pub, Jaka converses with the owner about their relationship.

Bar Owner: He's the luckiest guy in the whole world.

Jaka: You're very sweet to say that.  Of course this is the 'beginning' part.  The 'beginning' part is easy.  We'll have to see how 'lucky' either of us feels after we've had a chance to really get on each other's nerves.

After tangling with one of Lord Julius's look-a-likes in another pub they carry on with their journey.  Jaka keeps wanting to stop and admire the scenery or shop for clothes and soon Cerebus's inner voice starts to panic that they are falling behind schedule and might at this rate end up stuck in the Conniptin mountains during winter. On this first leg of the journey Jaka drops a small bombshell about what she had been thinking during Cerebus's stay with her and Rick:

Jaka: "Remember when you came to stay with us? And I gave you my little 'I love my husband' speech?
Cerebus: Aye?

Jaka: "After I finished I sat there hoping you would say 'Fine Jaka. You love Rick.  But you belong to Cerebus.  Pack a bag, we're leaving tonight.'  I would have packed my bag, kissed Rick goodbye and left without a backward glance."


Jaka: "Unh huh."

It feels like something of a retcon of Jaka's Story, because I find it hard to believe Jaka would have left the decision to leave Rick in the hands of Cerebus alone. But it can work as a non-retcon, if it is more like something she has come to believe in retrospect because of a combination of being angry at Rick over the end of their marriage and idealising Cerebus the same way he idealises her.
"But I Must Have New Clothes Every Day!"
Their journey on foot continues. Taking a certain route later on sends Jaka into a fit of despair as there aren't enough clothing huts along it for her to be able to change her outfits daily.  While she huddles on the bed in misery, Cerebus mentally thinks the worst will happen and that she will leave him.  She doesn't of course, but they do end up travelling by coach.  When she reminds him of what he said about coach travel he makes light of it with a joke and we are reminded of the advice about Jaka passed on in Rick's Story.

"She's basically and unhappy person...With the unhappy ones you've got to be happy enough for two.  You're a naturally happy person and as long as you stay that way you should do fine. Just be happy every damn minute of your waking life and you've got her for as long as you want her."

As they travel, Jaka keeps getting invited to receptions by local Cirinists, as she is still Palnu royalty.  Curious, Cerebus wants to see what they are like and so Jaka accepts an invitation to a local gathering.  Lots of women, young and old turn out to see her and having seen enough, Cerebus leaves to go for a drink at the local pub while Jaka goes to speak to at the local community centre.  Both have a strange experience, for Cerebus it's an old man mentioning "prophet Ricke" and asking if Jaka is "a scorpion, or a lunatic, or an angel or just a woman?".  While Jaka after leaving the community centre is accosted by a Cirinist who tells her "Cirin is too old.  Too much has changed" and tells her that her local Mothers will swear allegiance to Jaka right now.  Both Jaka and Cerebus run away and bump back into each other.  Both somewhat discombobulated by their respective encounters.

The next day, Cerebus and one of the local Cirinists are examining the hacked up remains of what appears to be the one who tried to speak to Jaka.  The Cirinist makes a veiled threat regarding Jaka, that her Royal status won't protect her from a charge of insurrection.  Cerebus says he "gets the message".  When the remains are tidied away, Jaka is brought to Cerebus in the carriage, she is almost hysterically thankful to see him, thinking that something awful must have happened to him and it was her fault.  Cerebus grips her tightly and tells her she MUST be more careful who she talks to. She gets the message as well.  While Cerebus's inner voice keeps tormenting him, he keeps up his happy facade.  They engage in a bout of vigourous lovemaking in the back of the carriage and we get a wonderful image of Jaka mopping half a pint of aardvark spunk out of her ladygarden.  Bleaurgh, thanks for that Dave, where's my brain bleach?
Their journey continues.  Cerebus tries to talk to Jaka about religion, but for reasons never expanded upon she shuts him down. They carry on, sometimes they are grumpy with each other, other times they laugh and joke and are happy.  At the last inn before the boat the intend to board for the next leg of their journey, Cerebus has a dream that him and Jaka are having a conversation with Alan Moore, who I am sure needs no introduction.  And Rick Veitch who appeared briefly in a Guys dream sequence.  Rick Veitch is a comic book artist and writer who worked closely with Alan Moore on both Swamp Thing and Supreme.  I know Moore was friends with Dave Sim for a good while (though I can't imagine he was after Sim's later bouts of extreme homophobia).  So the parody here has a good natured element of light hearted joshing about it.  When Jaka wakes Cerebus up, they go and board the boat and the first half of the book is finished.
That's One Long Spliff Man
"Falls And The River" turns the intimacy of the Jaka/Cerebus relationship and turns it into a love triangle with the addition of fellow traveller F.Stop Kennedy.  Now I have to admit here that apart from The Great Gatsby which I read back in school, I don't know much about F.Scott Fitzgerald (who Kennedy is based on), so I can't say how accurate a pastiche of his writings the excerpts from his book are in this half of the story.
F.Stop Kennedy
When Jaka spots him she refers to him as a "perfectly dreadful man".  Apparently Kennedy and his wife behaved badly at a party thrown by Lord Julius many years ago.  Jaka insists that they don't ignore him, just treat him very standoffishly, instructing Cerebus to nod and grunt so he'll go take his meals indoors.  Kennedy seems impervious to their rudeness and dines with them anyway.  He keeps taking meals with them and Jaka starts to enjoy his company, he has also started writing Jaka into his book.

Turns out Kennedy's wife is in a sanitorium, or the nuthouse as Cerebus rather insensitively refers to it.  Showing her changing attitude towards Kennedy, Jaka tells Cerebus:

Jaka: "You said to me 'Jaka, be careful who you talk to'.  I never once asked you why I should be more careful about who I talk to...Now why do you suppose that is? It's because I trust you, that's why.  And I trust you because I love you.  So if you trust me and if you love me, you'll go right over there and apologise to Mr. Kennedy for what you said to him."

So Cerebus goes and apologises and returns much later roaring drunk.  Lovingly, Jaka tucks him in as he passes out on the sofa, showing the real tenderness their relationship has at the moment.
D'awwwwww, How Nice.

Later the next day Jaka asks Kennedy if he can read what he has written about her.  He refuses.

Jaka: "Don't you ever tire of invading peoples private lives? Just to feed your noteriety/"

Kennedy responds that what he tires of is wondering which of his writings will result in his wife getting better or worse care from the Cirinists.  And which of his writings will see him either applauded or despised by them. And that he tires of being "judged. Sneered at..snubbed and slighted" especially by people he met once, long ago at a party.  While Jaka tries to prise more information about his book out of Kennedy, Cerebus is fishing and falls asleep.  He dreams of Rick, now looking very Jesus like, baptising people in the river.  He awakens with a start.
Dreaming Of Rick
Later Jaka is withdrawn and distant, pondering the nature of art while Kennedy sits on top of the boat getting drunk and thinking about his wife.  The next day Jaka and Cerebus chat about the future.  Cerebus talks about how when they get to his parents he'll build them a dream home. Jaka is somewhat unethused and goes to speak to Kennedy, who tells her about an artists retreat called Mealc.  Jaka gives him a kiss on the cheek telling him that talking about Mealc makes him seem younger.  The next day, one of the senior Cirinists comes to her room to fix something and heavily implies that when they dock they can kill off Cerebus for her and set her free.  Upset Jaka goes to bed, hugging Missy and a tear rolls down her cheek.

At their next meal together, Cerebus seems to finally cotton on that there is something growing between Jaka and Kennedy.  Jaka ends up running from the table in tears, saying she wants to be left alone.  This causes Cerebus to see the rocky landscape of Juno again.  He goes and gets miserably drunk pondering the advice about staying happy to keep her happy.  Kennedy invites Jaka to come to Mealc as a patroness and drunkenly imagines himself kissing her.  Jaka drags a sulking Cerebus back to their room.
The Artist At Work
Jaka finally tells Cerebus that she doesn't want to see his parents.  She wants to go to the art commune, Mealc to fill the gap for art in her soul that stopping dancing has left her with.

Cerebus: "In that case Jaka, Cerebus guesses this is goodbye.  Cerebus will go to Sandhill Creek and make sure his parents are Okay, and Cerebus will catch first boat south in the spring and meet you at Mealc, before the festival of the summer bonfire.  Cerebus can't live without you Jaka."

Oh Shit
The boat soon arrives at the dock.  The Cirinists aboard start acting strangely, seperating Jaka from Cerebus.  Suddenly Jaka realises what the Cirinists have planed.  They are going to kill Cerebus.  She bellows a farewell to Kennedy and panicking, manages to catch up with the oblivious Cerebus, leading him by the hand through the massed ranks of armed Cirinists, thus saving his life at the cost of her happiness. 
Saving Cerebus
I probably haven't done Going Home proper justice here.  So much of the book is just very long conversations between characters or excerpts from a F.Scott Fitzgerald pastiche that it's proved hard to summarise.  What is interesting is the ups and downs of Jaka and Cerebus's relationship.  We get to see Cerebus as happy as he'll ever be here but also what a fragile basis their relationship has.  As we go into the next book, the relationship will be tested even further, while it was Jaka turn to pull away in this book, the next will see Cerebus having second thoughts as well.  To be frank though, this book is a little dull although a student of F.Scott Fitzgerald might find more to enjoy about it.  There are some interesting plot points that aggravatingly never pay off, like the prospect of a civil war between the Cirinists and why Jaka was so reluctant to discuss religion.  And more information is dropped in regarding Rick's new religion which will pay off later on.  Otherwise this book passes the time easily enough, but apart from some fine artwork never really shines.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Cerebus Book 12: Rick's Story (#220-231)

"Listen, Cerebus can't just sit around all day listening to Cerebus go crazy" - Cerebus

This is a tough one to write about.  It's absolutely masterful from an art point of view with some amazing splash pages made up of broken frames and highly charged, symbolic imagery.  If you want an example of Dave Sim's art at it's absolute best, this is the book to check out.  Unfortunately married to it is a somewhat leaden framing device of the book Rick (Jaka's ex-husband) is writing which is made up of cod-biblical prose and done in a font that's hard to read.  The rest of the book is made up almost solely of Rick, Cerebus and Joanne's interactions with each other and how this gets incorporated into Rick's book.  In the intro, Dave Sim says the book was an attempt to explore what would happen to Rick - the type of person who mates for life - after his marriage broke up.  The answer appears to be that he had a major psychotic break, went mad and started his own religion out of whole cloth.  Which does actually pay off three books down the line.

The book starts with Rick bitching about Jaka and his relationship with her.  This includes an encounter with a misogynistic guy called Viktor (most likely Viktor Davies from the first half of Reads) who prompted Jaka to throw a drink over him.  When Rick found Viktor the next day he actually gives him relevant advice about her.

Viktor: "She's basically an unhappy person - with the unhappy ones you've got to be happy for two.  You're a naturally happy person and as long as you stay that way you'll be fine."

Interestingly this is advice Cerebus will take to heart in the next two books.  Rick then talks about the book he is writing called "Rick's Story" and how he will only put in true stuff so the Cirinists can't object.  As Rick gets drunker he starts having visions, including partial frames of Cerebus as a flaming devil. For unknown reasons he tries to bait Cerebus into beating him up then passes out.
Manly Dude.
Next day he apologises and tells Cerebus that he'll be staying and that Cerebus should cut off his drinking at a set point.  Cerebus is already imagining a cage around himself though.  They play Five Bar gate together which gets somewhat tense and Cerebus ends up injuring Rick's arm.  Meanwhile Joanne watches from the bushes.  Later in the day, Cerebus's inner monologue is distressed that Rick - who he calls "girly boy" - is staying with him. He hopes that Bear will return and they can "beat girly-boy to death".

Rick has more demonic visions but says they won't distract him from writing his book.  He sees his old style self as a shining angel, seeing off the demons.  He also thinks Tarim has replaced Pope Cerebus with him as the Chosen One.  Thatcher arrives and delivers the potato's, Rick sees her as a grotesque demon.  Cerebus chastises him for being afraid of her and says that to women like that he should say "G'wan, beat it, SCRAM".  Rick then sees his angelic self surrounded by the same words.

Later Joanne enters the bar and when it becomes apparent she's not asking to get back together with Cerebus he furiously serves her.  Joanne and Rick flirt and Cerebus is not pleased, thinking to himself:

Cerebus: "That, that BASTARD. Movin' in on Cerebus's...on Cerebus's what? SHUT! UP!  And that, that SLUT.  Sitting there staring at Cerebus as if..hh.. "As if" Cerebus was standing here staring at her? Twitching? And grinding his teeth?"

He angrily throws himself into cleaning the bar.  Rick sees Joanne as an angel, while Cerebus silently rages at them.  Then Joanne leaves inviting Rick to the local bonfire as she goes.  Cerebus, his masculinity under threat, tries to think of ways he can show Joanne what a loser "girly-boy" is.  His possessiveness taking over, even though he and Joanne split up at the end of the previous book.  While he's been plotting Rick had gone to the bonfire to meet Joanne there, but he returns with a severe headwound (that never gets explained) and says that Joanne wasn't there.
Rick's Screwed Up Perceptions.
Things from Ricks point of view get even weirder and detached from reality.  Joanne arrives, shocked at Ricks injury and starts to clean it, explaining that she wasn't at the bonfire because her mother had a fever. Rick see more monsters and demons. Cerebus sees an opening to strike.

Cerebus: "Rick if you let her get away with that, next time it'll be 'My grandmother had ringworm' then 'My uncle had gout'.  And pretty soon her whole family will have one foot in the grave - and she'll NEVER SHOW UP!"

A confused Rick doesn't know what to think and Joanne leaves upset.  Rick gets drunk and has angelic visions of Cerebus.  Next morning Rick's Story has changed from a dull account of his life post-Jaka to something more biblical.  Here's a sample of the prose, which is written in an olde worlde font and style:

Rick's Story: "1. After that Cerebvs had given Vnto mee the morninge cuppe of the full measure, Cerebvs placed it before mee then rose Vp within the sanctvarie and moued a little apart from me.  2. In seeing what Cerebvs had done, so too did I rise Vp within the sanctvarie (from the third stoole vpon his left hande) and made myself follow Cerebvs".
The Framing Device In Action

This continues in the same vein across several pages, with admittedly gorgeous artwork.  Joanne comes back in, with Rick seeing her as monstrous.  She says she wants to try again with Rick, and Cerebus, now desperate to be rid of Rick by any means, prays they get together.  She kisses Rick and leaves, then Rick says "Most Holy must forgive him for being tempted". Told via Rick's Story, Cerebus says he should go out with her as his only other option would be "to lie with men."  After this Rick goes out into the dark for a walk.  Here in the forest he hears a voice which tells him to keep writing his book about Cerebus and Joanne but (and this assumes great importance in the final two books) he must:

Voice: "From this day forward thou shalt no longer use the word Tarim, for Tarim is a heathen and pagan name, and the name of deuills and vipers and scorpions and of the first Angel who is cast out and who has in his dwelling place within and in the midst of these.  Henceforth thous shall speak the name of God only, for God is the name of me whom all men seek in wisdom and truth. There is one God, indivisible having one Name and one Apsect which is God."

After this revelation Rick returns to the bar.  The next day, shaved and bright and cheerful he goes to his date with Joanne.  He returns, still cheerful saying Joanne was there with another man and they had a drink together then he left.  Joanne arrives, angry and she and Rick have an arguement, while Cerebus gets very, very drunk and passes out.  When he awaks in the night he hears the sound of Rick and Joanne having sex and is relieved thinking Rick will now go and Cerebus himself can leave.
Joanne As Monster
Then in the morning, Rick is alone with Cerebus in the bar.  Withdrawn he quietly starts casting what Cerebus believes to be a "binding spell".

Rick: "Lies wound the truth. Truth will bind lies.  The truth said but once.  The lie thrice denies."

Rick then says that Cerebus told Joanne that Cerebus was married to Jaka.  Shamefaced Cerebus tries to explain, but Rick continues the spell.  He finishes and makes to leave.  Cerebus tries to wish him well.

Rick: "I'm going to tell you exactly what I told Joanne.  Go to hell."

Then he departs the storyline in person, (Joanne has gone as well) but both of them will have a strong influence over events in the final two books of the series.
Put A Spell On You.
Cerebus first celebrates Rick's departure, then he worries about the binding spell.  He gets dressed in his vest and medallions and oscillates between leaving and staying, before getting miserable about how he's just going to end up "alone, unmourned and unloved" whereever he ends up.  He returns to the bar, only to find a man there, it's "Dave" although this isn't made clear to Cerebus.  They chat about the bar Dave Sim mentioned in the Guys intro and Cerebus vents about all the time he's spent alone here in one place, going crazy with his thoughts.  Dave smiles and says:

Dave: "You might be surprised at who you're driving crazy. Staying this long in one place."
Meet Dave Sim
Which is obviously a meta reference to the readership of the monthly comic, guess this storyline wasn't so popular.  As Cerebus turns to get him a drink, Dave disappears, leaving a package for Cerebus on the bar.  Cerebus goes through several pages of agonising, before opening it.  It's Missy.  And as Cerebus looks at her, Jaka comes into the bar and when she sees him, flings her arms around him.  They have a warm and relaxed conversation, ending with them going to bed together.  Cerebus couldn't be happier.
The Long Awaited Reunion
The epilogue sees all the par patrons from Guys returning.  Jaka isn't happy about this and leaves.  Cerebus makes a decision.

Cerebus: "Hey Bear"

Bear: "Yo"

Cerebus: "You whatatayacall take care of yourself alright?"

Bear: "Hahaha, yeah and you too and uh... Good fuckin' luck pal"
Cerebus: "Thanks"

He leaves the bar and catches up with Jaka, taking her hand they practically dance away together in an total unambigous happy end.
Happily Ever After?  No Of Course Not.
This is a strange, strange book.  When I read it in sequence, not knowing what lay ahead I wrote it off as just another character dead end.  When I read Latter Days, sadly the book became more meaningful.  I say sadly, because Latter Days is where the wheels of the Cerebus plot go flying off with gusto.  But I have to respect the fact Dave Sim had planned some of it in advance with Rick's conversion to a new God based on real Christianity, rather than the parody version of it as Tarim worship that's been part of the storyline so far.  The fact that Rick is obviously mentally disturbed, seeing demons and angels and hearing voices does make his revelation as a basis of a new religion a strange one, especially when you know that Dave Sim wanted it to be a postive force for good in the later books.  Having it established by a madman throws some serious doubt on the future stability of his new religion which will play out towards the end of the series.

The other big event of the book is of course the return of Jaka, and the religion plot goes on hold for the next two books, which will explore the Cerebus and Jaka relationship and test it to destruction.  The appearance of "Dave" returning Missy and therefore Jaka to Cerebus feels like Dave Sim giving his creation another chance, to put into practice the lessons he learned in Minds and tried to live by in Guys and Rick's Story.  Whether he can do this or not, is explored in some depth.  For now though, if you were the type of person who wants Cerebus to have a good ending to his story, now would be the time to stop reading.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Cerebus Book 11: Guys (#201-219)

"Please Dave. Please.  Cerebus just wants to die." - Cerebus

After his adventures in outer space, Cerebus has come down to Earth and to a bar by the Wall Of Tsi. Shaken up, and sporting a bandaged eye after Dave's surgery on it, he celebrates his return by getting roaringly and miserably drunk.  The book itself has no real driving narrative.  It's like an episode of the old sitcom Cheers, in which men hang out, drink, argue and generally chat in a way they wouldn't do in the presence of women.  Much of what little forward momentum it has involves Cerebus struggling with the lessons he learned while stuck on Juno and his overwhelming fear of finding himself stuck there metaphorically again. The relaxed nature of the book is a welcome break after the preceding epic storyline with an array of fun characters and incidents keeping the slow paced story interesting as it wends it way along.  The front and back covers are especially symbolic of where Cerebus's head is at the start of the book.  On the front he sits alone, moody, nursing a drink.  On the back all the other characters are laughing and joking, their backs to him and standing some way off.  As the story moves along we get insight into how Cerebus both craves greater intimacy and close friendship and yet seems to resist it as well.  To the point that his internal "voice" is completely schizophrenic on the matter and he nearly drives himself to madness over it.

Having Fun Without Cerebus
The story begins with a Cerebus in the pub, along comes Mrs. Thatcher to chat with him and between them they fill in what happened during the time Cerebus was away in space.  There was another big time skip, this time of around four years.  Cirin returned right away from their "battle in the sky" and proclaimed the Goddess as winner.  Also now Iest is a giant wheat field after the mountain it was on collapsed completely.  Now Mrs. Thatcher thinks Cerebus should get himself married again, until then he can stay in the inn with as much free booze as he can drink.  And drunk he gets. There are several new characters in this story, including Harrison Starkey and Richard George who are of course based on The Beatles, as well as a weirdo based on Marty Feldman's Young Frankenstein character, plus the returns of Princes Mick and Keith and Cerebus's old mercenary buddy Bear, who gets a starring role this time.

Still Suffering A Sore Eye From Minds.
We get a series of pages of Cerebus's point of view as he blearily lurches round the pub.  Having been teetotal myself since Christmas 1992 I can only just remember what it felt like to get that arseholed drunk and Dave Sim captures it superbly.  Then Cerebus has a dream, first he sees a devil like creature who wants to smite him with the mother of all hangovers and then a character based on real life artist Rick Veitch - Roarin' Rick who chases the devil creature off by pointing out Cerebus is dreaming rather than drunk.  He then takes Cerebus through a his weird dream imagery.

Roarin' Rick: "Hey!  No need for embarrassment little buddy.  This is your dream.  If you want to have a dream about a middle aged man dressed in full-length black tights (The exclamation mark over the pubic area is a nice touch) then... whoa! [Rick changes clothes into suspenders, bra and frilly knickers]  Look what you've got the Roarin' One wearing now!  You see?  An unconcious mind is a virtual playground for repressed desires."

After more dream shenaningans, we cut to a pitch black sequence of panels where Bear is reproaching Cerebus for something.  Then Cerebus wakes up, has a horrifying vision in the mirror of having lost his other ear, wakes up properly and goes down to the bar to tell everyone about it, but Bear starts reproaching him with the same words as before.  When Cerebus get's all excited that he said this before, Bear punches him very hard.  Much to Cerebus's bewilderment.  Harrison Starkey, who is tending bar starts making comments that you wouldn't think to look at Bear that he enjoyed sexual liasons with local boys youth groups and suchlike, much to Cerebus's mounting rage:


Harrison: "Y-Y-You did"

Cerebus: "Cerebus did?"

Harrison; "Aye, aye.  Las' night whan yooz was droonk".

Cerebus; "...Who!? who heard?

Harrison: "Oh er.. ehm.. everywoon.."

Cerebus: ".. How do you know that?! HOW!?"

Harrison: "You wooz standin' on a table showtin' it at th' top uv' y'lungs".

Embarrassed and shamefaced Cerebus gets a telling off from Harrison about it being a shitty thing to do to a friend, and Cerebus resolves never to drink again.  Which is a promise he singularly fails to keep.  Life goes on in the bar.  People come and go, Cerebus gets drunk a lot, there is a lot of good natured drunken conversation and not much actually happens beside that.  Until one day when Cerebus and Bear are outside playing a game called "Five Bar Gate" (A cross between tennis and football) a man comes along promoting a new type of Read.  This time one in which the pictures and text are combined like our comics are today.  This one is a Spiderman parody called "The Wanker" (hee hee).

Yes It's Immature.  Yes It Still Makes Me Laugh!
Cerebus decides the book is really, really good.  But Bear is somewhat dismissive. After a grumpy game of Five Bar Gate, Cerebus decides to take the book into the bar to show the others, but howls of laughter break out when he does because "Wanker" is T'Capmin slang for... well it's UK slang for masturbation, I'm assuming the merriment among the other bar patrons means it's the same in T'Capmin.  This throws Cerebus into a huge sulk and Bear finally loses his rag with him completely and rages at him across several pages.

Bear: "WILL. YOU. SHUT UP! An' whatayacall FUCKING LISTEN! FOR ONCE IN YOUR FUCKING LIFE! It just wasn't enough for you to like that whatayacall "graphic read". It's NEVER enough for YOU  that YOU whatayacall like ANYthing.  Well I didn't like it.  I thought it was fuckin' stoopid. Izzat whatayacall O-Kay with you? SEE?! It isn't! It's NEVER fuckin'whatayacall  "O-kay with you".  It's like, it's like you're part chick 'r somethin'.  Everything's fine an' then sumbuddy Fuckin' says somethin' 'r sumbuddy does somethin', an' yer hurt, an' yer mad, an' yer unhappy, an'yer offended, ALL AT THE SAME FUCKIN' TIME!"

And the chewing out doesn't end there, Bear rants for several more pages about Cerebus's selfishness before finally concluding that the main reason Cerebus is behaving like a little bitch is because Bear was beating him at Five Bar Gate.  They have a very vicious game that ends when Bear makes a brilliant save and instead of protesting it, Cerebus catches himself and instead congratulates Bear.  And they return to the bar, the air cleared between them and ready for a drink.  I like this section, Bear's rage at Cerebus really does feel like Dave The Creator getting annoyed that Cerebus is not learning his "Juno" lessons properly and is speaking through Bear to try and get through to him again.  Which of course on a meta level he is! 

Time passes, seasons come and go.  Bear and Cerebus relax together, fishing on a nearby stream, sunbathing on the tavern roof and just generally enjoying the time they have to hang out.  They outright laugh at the idea they might want jobs.  Funny how "The Alchohol Sanction" enacted by a matriarchy as a way of controlling single men seems to be many mens idea of a great existence according to Dave Sim.  He might want us to be angry about the aimlessness their lives have been reduced to, but he makes it look like such jovial fun it's hard to see it as a bad thing.  But one day it all comes to an end when Bear's on-off girlfriend shows up atthe Inn.  The dreaded Ziggy.
Only Ziggy Can Tame The Mighty Bear
Now Ziggy is just the sort of woman you would expect from the pen of Mr. Female Void Dave Sim, a venomous harriden who switches between smiles and snarls in an instant.  But even then she works in comedic terms as the huge macho Bear is unable to resist her, going all gooey over her and doing whatever she asks.  For reasons not all adequately or convincingly explained, the entire barful full of men decide it's time to leave because of her and head north.  This especially makes no sense as both Ziggy and Bear leave as well.  Although Cerebus tries to persuade Bear that him and Ziggy never work out, this just makes Bear angry.  Then Bear wishes him well and leaves Cerebus now alone in the inn.  And his inner voice starts to go crazy, and in one telling picture we see Cerebus sat on a barstool in a rocky landscape as his thoughts run wild.  He's back on Juno again.
Alone Again.
Mrs. Thatcher arrives to check in and Cerebus tells her he has decided to take over as bartender so she won't need to get anyone else.  When she returns to check up on him and tries to order him around he gets nasty, and tells her that he is still the Eastern Pontiff and anyone who kills him will inherit that title.  And that if Cirin wants to finish their fight she knows where he is, and also he wants the larder filling with raw potato's (his favourite food).  A bewildered Mrs. Thatcher agrees and leaves, not quite sure what as to what just happened.  Half his inner dialogue think's he just signed his death warrant, the other half doesn't care.  But it seems to work and Cerebus is left to tend bar in peace.  Which he isn't actually very good at.  When he gets his first customer he only manages to fill his ale glass with foam.  After this, no one else comes to the pub for a long time.  Cerebus is lonely and horny.  Then one day a woman arrives.  A woman called... Joanne.

Joanne was the woman briefly seen in Minds in the scenario Dave created for Cerebus, in which he cheated on Jaka with Joanne.  This time Joanne feels like a tentative offering from Dave, to see how a relationship with her might play out without Jaka being involved.  Interestingly, Joanna seems to have a vague memory of the scenario she was involved in as she and Cerebus start chatting (told at first via text with added descriptions of their feelings).

Cerebus: (as if from a great distance) "Joanne"

"So we have met before, I knew it" (an awkward pause) "So how have you been?"

Cerebus: (from deep inside the memory) "Jaka killed herself"

(immediately)Oh, how awful! Jaka was.." (assessing  his expression) "your.." (uncertainly) "...your wife?"

Cerebus: "(still dislocated) "Aye" (rediscovering Joanne) "Don't you remember?"
All Women Have Trick Breasts, Fact.
Cerebus tries to describe how Dave bought them together but as Dave himself points out, he's at a complete loss of how to do so.  He tells Joanne that Dave is the writer who created everything, and she is fascinated even when she discovers that Jaka killed herself because they slept together and that Cerebus doesn't love her.  She makes a tactical withdrawal leaving Cerebus alone with his thoughts and his rage at another person being driven out of his life.  But Joanne returns.  Made up and showing a lot of cleavage and finally asks Cerebus if he wants to "go upstairs" with her. He manages to ignore his inner voice and they do so.

Cerebus's Brain In Revolt.
He tries to have a normal relationship with her, he really tries.  But the mundanity of her life, doesn't suit the mundanity of his life.  While she imagines she is melting the wall around his heart he is already putting in motion plans to leave after a certain number of days.  After a surreal dream in which he sees Joanne dressed as him and himself dressed as a baby who everyone laughs at, he wakes with a start and yells at her to leave, which she does in a haze of rage and tears.  The book ends Cerebus alone behind the bar again, until a buff and handsome bearded man arrives.  Cerebus seems familiar with him, but can't quite place him:

Cerebus: "Give Cerebus a hint."

Man: "A hint?"

Cerebus: "Aye"

Man: "A hint. Mmmm.  What would be a good.. oh! I know. You once told me. Heh. You once told me that you were in love with my wife."

It's Rick! And you can tell Dave Sim's character drawing has got more realistic over the years because this Rick bears very little resemblance to the spindly, goofy guy as seen in Jaka's Story. And thus the stage is set for the next book, Rick's Story.

Guys is an enjoyable read.  It's aimiable, languidly paced and tinged with more than a little melancholy for the nature of long term bar patronage and the interactions of the regulars.  It's the final time there'll be sustained comdey in the series. Also a book that has hardly any women in it for most of it's page count and a lot of drunk men might have been a ghastly hotbed of sexism and yet that is avoided once again.  Cerebus is shown to be his own worst enemy.  Thanks to his experiences in Minds he now knows what he needs to do to change himself and yet finds it so hard to do so.  Loneliness and boredom almost driving him crazy at certain points of the narrative as he argues with  and second and even third guesses himself to an insane degree.  While some might miss the grand political backdrop of the first two hundred issues, Dave Sim firmly lays out that the rest of the series is going to be all about Cerebus on a personal, intimate level.  Destroying Iest off-stage as it were, the place most of the prior books took place being his final word on the matter. "Never fall in love with a bar" says Dave Sim in the intro, but at it's best Guys makes it look like a long term relationship with a bar can be an enjoyable experience. Good stuff.