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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Cerebus Vol. 5: Jaka's Story


By Dave: Sim & Gerhard

Publisher: Aardvark-Vanheim; 6th Printing edition (September 1991)

Softcover  486 pages

Finished 7/21/2017

Amazon Listing



    “Over that night, as Jaka slept soundly for the first time since her mother’s funeral; as those wavering horrors which had filled the air between her and the room visible to her were banished at last; as she shared the solitude with Missy for the first time in their short life together…”
    This volume collects issues 114-136 of the series. Cerebus takes a back seat here, becoming a minor character and actually disappearing for the last quarter of the book - not that it detracts from the story. I have heard and read many people claim that Jaka’s Story is the pinnacle of his artistic achievement in art and story.
In this volume also the author begins his award-winning expressive use of lettering and speech balloons to illustrate the character’s verbal rhythms and intonations.
 
    Cerebus has returned to Earth, his empire, religious and secular, destroyed. The city-state of Inest, the largest in the world, has been overrun by Cirin and her religious fanatics. They are roaming about the city killing and maiming all those who will not bend the knee to the new faith of female supremacy. Men executed, men disfigured, men mutilating their genitals to join the new priesthood. It is commented on that most of the torture is confined to the poorer areas who cannot defend themselves- thus showing the true cowardice of the movement. Cerebus finds himself alone and in need of shelter from those who must surely be hunting him.
    The Cirinist movement is a violent sex-negative feminist sect with fascistic goals and an ideology determined to ground down a person’s soul until they are nothing but a ball of conformity. Women, especially mothers, are at the top of the food chain with everyone else expected to bow before them. Convinced that all men are on the verge raping women if their passions are aroused, their violent rhetoric is dove-tailed with certain elements of Islamic extremism. Cirinists dress in burqas, revealing only their eyes and act in a sort of Police of Vice and Virtue manner, committing summary executions on the spot for minor crimes, especially any hint of sexuality. It is interesting that the author had been discussing and warning us of what is now the norm for fourth-wave intersectional feminism at least two decades before it emerged. He saw the writing on the wall.
Author Dave Sim
 
    The action takes a jolt, or come to a screeching halt depending on your opinion, and a detour in style. Cerebus, back from a jaunt to the moon, spends the next 25 issues mooning over his lost love Jaka. The extraordinary events of the past issues not phasing him a bit- or changing him. Cerebus, if anything, is  the static character. Previously the action revolved around mystic prophecies, armies warring, political intrigue, betrayal, magic, and murder. Now it changes to emotional, rather than physical danger. A love triangle between her, Cerebus, and her unemployable husband Rick (technically a quintangle if we add their neighbor’s lust for Rick, as well as Jaka’s employer Pud secret covetous attitude toward her as well).
    This alternating of the tone is fitting to the character of Jaka. She had voluntarily given up her life of pomp and privilege to live simply and dance, diverging her power from the reaction of crowd swooning over her. As such, a story focusing almost exclusively on her would not involve world shattering events, but be a celebration of the mundanity of life, the in-between the exciting moments.    
The tone of these issues reflects the quiet before the storm. Alternating between a, possibly exaggerated, narrative account of her upbringing in Palnu under the Groucho Marx analogue Lord Julius, to her current existence dancing in a forgotten inn and shacking up with Rick and Cerebus, who add nothing to the larder. It is painfully apparent that this state of affairs cannot stay as it is. The bar has no business, Pud’s lust will boil over, Rick will need to grow up or end his marriage, Jaka will have to move on elsewhere, and Cerebus will have to flee or be captured by Cirinist forces.
 
    We are introduced to two new characters in this arc. One being Oscar, not-so-loosely based on Oscar Wilde. Who is secretly writing Jaka’s story based on conversations with her husband and his command of dialogue and body language. As such the stories from Jaka’s past, while factually correct, are possibly misinterpreted emotionally. The author does an excellent job capturing Wilde’s flamboyant, yet refined, style. And in the prose sections he captures Wilde’s style almost exactly with an overabundance of detail in every single act, which simultaneously casts a critical eye on their respective society.
    Next we have Rick, Jaka’s childlike husband. He is a well meaning goof. A typical guy in his early 20’: Unable to get a job, doesn’t really to get a job, hanging with the boys is the highlight of his day. Rick is completely without ambition and guile, which is why I suspect Jaka claimed him. He is the exact opposite of any man she grew up around, someone she could dominate, and as a rebellion against an uncaring “daddy” figure. Their relationship is strained, sexual, and punctuated with lots and lots of arguing. In short, it feels very real.
 
    The prose and visual mediums, while seemingly on alternate topics, connect on the theme of minor triumphs that escape the pages of the history book and make up the majority of our lives. Rick’s obsession with tossing a ball into a wastepaper basket, Pud mental recital of how he will declare his love\lust for Jaka and nearly making it (until she vomits on him), Cerebus’s drifting nature, Oscar’s story of young Jaka’s first feeble rebellion, the opening of a forbidden door- a triumph for her, barely notied by anyone else.
    The ending does offer a different aspect on Jaka, tarnishing her golden girl image. She is shown to be willing to allow others to suffer or be placed in danger to further her own selfish ends. As long as she feels happy the ends justify the means. This attitude leads to the deaths or ruin of every other character in this arc.
 

 


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Cerebus Vol. 4: Church and State II

 By Dave Sims and Gerhard

Publisher: Aardvark-Vanheim; First Edition edition (July 1988)

Softcover 630 pages

Finished 7/17/2017

Amazon Listing   



    “So Cerebus the Aardvark...First married pope in history… first divorced pope in history. First individual I’ve ever spoken to in all of the hundreds of thousands of years I’ve been here. <Sigh>. You’ll forgive me if I’m a little disappointed.” - The Judge
    Church and State II wraps up the largest and most ambitious arc in Cerebus’s run. Comprising issues 85 -111 of the series, it brings forth and defines the tone for the rest of the series. Cerebus, our anti-hero, is ulitmarly a failure. Though surrounded by greatness he is ultimately doomed to fail and will die, as the Judge proclaims “alone, unmourned, and unloved.” Oh… spoilers I guess… but considering the end happened in 2004 and was written in 1988, I suppose it should be called foreshadowing, though of a very blunt variety.
This is the time in Cerebus’s original publication history when sales began to take a significant drop. There were a number of reasons for this. The first being oversaturation of the market, direct sales meant a lot of smaller players could flood the distributors with fast and cheap products. This caused the whole industry to take a slump in sales, everyone had to deal with a much smaller slice. The second was that Cerebus is not a series that you can just jump into midstream.  To understand, beyond the vaguest idea, of what is happening you really do need to absorb it all from the beginning, or at least start at the second volume High Society
Author Dave Sim
    The book takes its time in developing its plot. It makes hints, adds things, but doesn’t really get underway for about 300 pages, (thought those pages are beautiful to look at). When I first read it, I thought the story dragged considerably, as I was anxious to get the get to the good stuff or some sort of explanation, but on a second read (or third, I can’t remember) I enjoyed it much more. Knowing the end, I can see much more merit in the journey.
    And to keep up with our Roach count. The character now becomes a religious fanatic, the Super Secret Wars Roach. The character is a perfect parody of the superhero genre in comics. He is a deeply fanatical towards the cause he is championing. He is powerful, superhumanly strong, and beats up anyone that opposes him (with the exception of Cerebus himself), but essentially he is ineffective as an agent of change. He changes from one persona to the next, but cannot alter the world. He is, in a sense, a failed Cerebus, as our anti-hero changes everything just by walking near it. 
Super Secret War Roach

    We finally catch a glimpse of the second Aardvark, or Earth Pig born, in the veiled character of Cirin who has founded the Cirinist movement, a female-centric religious fanatic organization, which Astoria (we remember her as Cerebus’s Hillary Clinton character) split off from on doctrinal grounds. She formed the rival Kevillist movement and two have been at odds ever since. This division will be explained more in future posts, as it is developed in greater detail in later volumes.
    There is a cross-over issue here, with the character of Flaming Carrot popping up during Cerebus’s ascent to the moon. Younger readers may not remember, or even have heard about, this indie sensation, as his popularity dried up with the comics book’s bust in the mid 90s. The character is a Don Quixote type, a man who reads too many comic books and ends up trying to be superhero with mixed results. The character had a spin off, Mysterymen, which was eventually made into a good film - one that was actually better than its source material. At the time of this meet-up, the character was being published by Aardvark-Vanaheim which produced Cerebus as well. So if anyone is confused as to what the hell is happening in that issue, it was a promotional thing, placed in such a way as to suggest it may be a delusion or mystic vision at Cerebus climbs the Black Tower. 
Flaming Carrot
    With the Ascension underway we see various aspects of religious thought emerge. Essentially it is a race (in this case literally) to the top of the mountain to see who will meet and then be Tarim. As was mentioned before the name Tarim refers both to the  deity and the prophet. Which they expect to meet and/or become is vague and even the players themselves don’t seem to understand. In this author offers a discussion on the nature of messianic figures. In this case it is a job title, not an ordainment of a predestined chosen one by a celestial being. Anyone who fits the qualifications can potentially get the position.
This is partially a reflection of the time of Jesus’s crucifixion. Judea at the time was lousy with messiahs. Such as Simon of Peraea, a former slave turned revolutionary and was likewise crucified, Moses of Crete who persuaded the Jews of Crete to walk into the sea, ala his namesake, to return to Israel. The results were disastrous and he soon disappeared. Simon bar Kokhba who lead a revolt against the Romans and died defending his fledgling Jewish state. And so on. Many with signs and portents and miracles attributed to their name. But being eligible for the top job is not enough, one has to have the right stuff. That something extra. This view is demonstrated by the fact that when Cerebus finally ascends to the moon there is another applicant waiting to try and kick him off. 
Cirin, the second Aardvark
The series steadily develops its major theme of the struggle between male and female aspects of reality. Primarily demonstrated in the argument between Astoria (on trial for the assassination of the Western pope) and Cerebus. Strangely enough their argument descends into an is-to\is-not spat over the correct terminology for their deity Tarim (the masculine) and Terim (the feminine). This verbal jousting, as always, leads nowhere, as one viewpoint cannot win out over another without a physical show of force to beat the other into silent submission. As the author postulates the entirety of life is a flux between male and female, void and form, essences. This struggle is eternal and all concurrent struggles are a reflection, or ripple, of the initial one. This is hinted during Astoria’s interrogation, a temporal slip occurs where she is the male Aardvark prophet and Cerebus is the female condemner. This struggle for control, for enlightenment, for peace has been going on as long there has been mankind with no end in sight.   

An interesting aspect is that when Cerebus ascends to the higher plane to meet the divine entity, he goes to the moon. Traditionally this heavenly sphere is associated with the feminine and yet the creature he meets there is a male. This does fit in with a yin-yang aspect to the night the sky. The black void is male, but the most prominent feature, the moon, is the female form emerging. And this is represented in both of the messiah claimants who eventually take part in the launch sequence and leave earth. Both physically represent male and female traits. The first, an Alan Moore characiature who is fused with both a male and female apocalypse beast (seen in the first volume of the series), and Cerebus himself is <SPOILERS> a hermaphrodite- though this is not revealed for a least a hundred more issues.  
Which brings us to the story’s culmination Cerebus’s meeting with the Judge. Personality wise based on playwright Jules Feiffer's character Judge Stern in Little Murders, physically the Judge was based on character actor Lou Jacobi , who played the role. While he is called the Judge, he should be referred to as the judgemental as inevitably all of his pronouncements are negative and pessimistic. The character talks much, discussing the nature of creation between Tarim and Terim and their accidental generation of the Big Bang, interpreted  as act of forcible sex (very nice play on words) and reproduction. 

                        Actor Lou Jacobi                                   The Judge
The character itself is an exercise in futility. He claims that he is there to observe mankind and to judge them, but he already knows what will happen in Cerebus’s future and the eventual extinction of all life in the solar system so what is the point of him observing? What is the point of him judging? For whose benefit? And who set him on the task. In his discussions of Terim and Tarim it is obvious that neither of these entities were responsible. The answer, of course is: Dave, the author, placed him there to be a cut-out, a buffer. As the author eventually becomes a character in his own series, we will have to view him as the ultimate and flawed architect of this universe.
One may see the Judge as a comment on religious exercise in general. All of this effort, all of this strife and death, for ultimately an unsatisfying and pointless encounter. Does how the creation of the world matter? Does knowing the spiritual why of things off-set the reality of what a person needs to do on a day-to-day basis? In the case of our anti-hero, it absolutely does not. 
Many have claimed that the author, Dave Sim, is a misogynist who hates women, an all too common term tossed about nowadays. But after reading the Judge's viewpoints here I don't see it. He simply comes across as a person who will offer more than one perspective on an issue. Therein lies the problem. Any deviation from a preconceived societal norm offers immediate attack and ostracization. And Dave Sim was one of the first of many public whippings in the progressive press for thoughtcrime.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Cerebus Vol 3: Church and State I

By: Dave Sims & Gerhard


Publisher: Aardvark-Vanheim; 1st edition (June 1987)

Softcover 592 pages

Finished 7/13/2017

Amazon Listing 











           “You represent a triumph of the mundane over the sublime. A triumph which is extraordinary only because it is so irrevocably and so inherently tragic. Like some great masterwork of theater...some timeless drama, which suddenly transforms itself into a Punch and Judy show.”

In this volume we add the Canadian born artist Gerhard to the mix. Beginning with issue 65 “Anything Done for the First time is a Demon”, he provided background art for the series over which Sims added his characters. The transformation of the series artistically is immediate. It becomes more alive, more detailed, more real.  The two styles blend together perfectly, one complimenting the other. It is quite possible that if you weren’t told there were two artists at work here, you may not have realized.

    These also contain the issues which Marvel threatened a lawsuit over. The area of contention was in the Roach character, who is a constantly shifting parody of various comic book characters. He eventually morphed into the Wolveroach, an obvious take on Wolverine- who at the time was swiftly becoming Marvel’s most popular hero. So cease and desist letters were sent to the author, along with a significant amount of saber rattling.
Of course the law was against comic giant. A similar case being wrapped up in the 50s between DC and EC when they parodied Superman in their new comic Mad. The Superdooperman case ruled in favor of Educational Comics claiming that a parody was protected speech. And there was no doubt that the Wolverroach was a parody, the character previously lampooning Batman, the Hulk, Captain America, and Moon Knight. Eventually the case went nowhere, but it had to be noted that Sims dropped Wolveroach pretty quick. While they wouldn’t win, Marvel could drain his bank account in protracted legal proceedings if they wanted. And, from what former employees have said, they were vicious.
Marvel gained some revenge by then parodying Cerebus in the form of the demon S’ym, who appears in various X-Men and New Mutants comics and was one of the chief antagonists in their Inferno story arc. The name is derived from the author Dave Sim’s own and the character refers to himself in the third person, a trait shared by Cerebus. S'ym also has the same purple-grey coloration as Cerebus and the same vest.
Marvel Cerebus parody S'ym
This volume also contains the infamous baby throwing scene. While Cerebus is delivering a speech, a woman keeps shoving a baby at him, demanding that he bless it. Cerebus takes the baby blesses it and throws it high into the crowd. He claims this was to illustrate the point that, “You can get what you want and still be unhappy.”  
    Our anti-hero begins an extended stay with a character known as the Countess, a complex character. She holds the attributes of the motherly nurturer, but wants her independence, so that she will not cohabitate with someone on a permanent basis.  
Here we see the Cerebus-as-pawn theme emerging once again. Despite, or because of, his celestial significance, he is always being used. Cerebus is manipulated by the Weisshaupt, a machiavellian politician, into becoming Prime Minister of the City State of Inest again, which he only agrees to in order to obtain a divorce from his former barbarian paramore Red Sophia whom he had married in a drunken state. Realizing that he has no actual power, Cerebus goes with the flow and endures, doing whatever he’s told to do.
One of the covers that Marvel threatened to sue over.
    The Church of Tarim was in crisis having had to execute the last three popes due to heresy. The Eastern sect, which dominates the Western, nominates Cerebus to be the new pontiff, believing based on his recent non-activites that he will be as pliable a pope as he was a prime minister. This is a mistake.
       While the sophisticated educated people may scoff at religion and see as a necessary evil, Cerebus peasant upbringing allows to understand the power just handed to him. To those who believe, most of the common, he is the voice of the god. And once given that amount of power, Cerebus will not be bound to anyone.
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely” and our anti-hero is no exception to the rule. The returned religious fanatic Bran Mak Morn who enables Cerebus’s worst traits of arrogance and greed.
    One of his first acts is to announce that the god Tarim would destroy the world in fire in nine days if the people do not give him all of their gold. This is a lampoon of the well known televangelist Oral Roberts who in 1987 broadcast to his flock that if they didn’t raise 8 million dollars in thirty days God was going to “call him home”, ie. kill him. Cerebus command results in a run on available gold and collapses the economy, causing the government to attack the church.
Author Dave Sim
 
Sniffing around on the story’s edges, we see the supernatural element with constant hints that a major event is brewing on a celestial level. Connected with the church and the Aardvark. The nature of Tarim is twofold and relates to the God and the prophet of the faith, and when the returned Bran Mak Morn uncovers a gold coin minted by the prophet, it begins to attract the other coins and meld them into a sphere. This and a series of dreams all foreshadow the ascension which will occur in the next volume. And that will lead to the great confrontation, as Cerebus discovers that there are two other Aardvarks (which in this setting magnify the events around them and set the psychic agenda for their world).
Finally we see the return of Jaka, the eternal love interest, now married and pregnant. She is the one who always gets away and this encounter is no different. . In a sense, besides different genders, she is Cerebus’s polar opposite. Born into privilege, she gives it all up and refuses all help because she wants to “make it on her own”. She says in a poor position despite everyone around her attempt to raise her up. Cerebus, born poor and with no aid, is constantly crawling his way up to the top, while everyone is attempting to drag him down. Rarely do they see eye-to-eye but their attraction is enflamed by the struggle and misses. Now once again, they reject each other, but only with great sadness.
 

 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Cerebus Vol 2: High Society


By: Dave Sim

Publisher: Aardvark-Vanheim; Reissue edition (November 1994)

Softcover 500 pages

Finished 7/7/2017

Amazon Listing
 
 

    Many often say that this is the best arc in the series. I disagree, my vote goes to the next two volumes Church and State I and II. The tone of the series shifts into a well written, highly intelligent story of power and greed, marked by humorous and bizarre elements to keep in touch with the original rhythm. It is an artful tale, expertly told. The art continues to grow, the author experimenting with different styles and presentation of material to create a new effect at the time. It is much copied, but seldom beaten.
There used to be a debate among creators and collectors on the place of the trade paperback of collected issues of comics, on how the graphic novel would affect sequential storytelling. Purists claimed that they would disrupt the flow of the stories, that the individual issues were not meant to be read immediately one after the other, and that a space between readings was needed to build anticipation. They also claimed that if the industry changed its writing style with the trade paperback in mind, it would make individual issues difficult to attract new readers who may not like entering into a story mid stream, like watching a film from the mid. Still another concern was that people would only purchase the trades, driving down sales of the single issues (at the time the bread-and-butter of the industry) and threaten the entire future of the medium.
 
    Cerebus, as always, was ahead of the curve and with this volume the series abandoned its single, double, and triple issue arcs. Here the author devoted twenty five issues to a single arc, “High Society”. Thus once again scoring a new first for the series. This story also  proved that the trade paperback could be viable and not significantly affect individual issue sales. The author began bundling the stories into large trade paperbacks, selling them direct market, even having a 1-800 number for orders. When the numbers came through, the big boys in marvel and DC  cautiously followed suit. Now it is expected that a series will be collected into a graphic novel. This was called “the Cerebus effect”.
    Cerebus evolves from the life of a barbarian and mercenary to accidently enter the realm of politics in the city-state of Inest - a near-bankrupt, corrupt theocracy on the verge of collapse.  While the action on the series has changed, Cerebus hasn’t. If anything the change of scenery emphasizes his more dislikable traits. Without the threat of violence against him he appears arrogant, evil-tempered, selfish, and a world-class alcoholic. He is in fact an anti-hero in many ways. He struggles day by day to succeed in a political system that he has no respect for and cares little about.
 
    It’s interesting that because of his inflexibility Cerebus becomes the least interesting character in his own series. Being so single minded, he is a pawn to the mighty and the graspers. His bid to become prime minister is a power play instigated by others, which he takes advantage of and eventually destroys. Power to him is an excuse to carve out an empire that he is incapable of managing.
    Joining the cast, we have the character of Astoria (named for actress Mary Astor) and a revamped Jaka. While Jaka was in the first volume, her character is essentially different here. Before she was a tavern dancer who referred to herself in the third person. In this volume (the character does evolve) she’s the true love/perfect woman character for the protagonist. Their encounters are awkward, Jaka trying to bring Cerebus back to his roots, while our hero brags to her about how rich and important he is, blissfully unaware of her wealthy upbringing. She returns his sword as a remembrance of why she fell in love with him and warns him of his danger. It’s interesting that true love characters often only have two characteristics, being beautiful and supportive. Jaka, like Agnes in David Copperfield, is nearly a manikin that speaks.
Her foil is Astoria. Capable, ruthless, power hungry, she is a Hillary Clinton character, a political mover that props up men in order to rule behind the scenes. First she uses the Roach character (here lampooning Moon Knight) to wipe out some political and religious enemies, then latches onto Cerebus’s rising star. While she is a capable power player, she doesn’t have the charisma to get there on her own. Without her Cerebus would have been back to killing people for beer money. We will see more of her soon and, like Laura Palmer, she’s filled with secrets.   
Author Dave Sim
 
    In the backdrop of the political climate lurks the religious element, the true masters of the civilized world here, though largely unseen in this arc. We are given hints on the Cirinist movement waiting in the wings, who are taking a special interest in Cerebus, and the Church of Tarim, which for most of the arc has sequestered itself in an “inward exodus” due to a religious prophecy and the murder of its Grand Inquisitor. Both will emerge in the next few books to reveal their nature. For this story the religious aspect is mostly shown in the character of Bran Mak Mufin (the one mocking Bran Mac Morn by Robert AE. Howard), who reappears minus tribal regalia to serve the “Earth Pig born”. He is convinced that Cerebus is a return prophet messianic figure and convinces our hero to run for office, then to declare a war which leads to Cerebus’s ruin.
And always lurking in the background is the insidious figure of Suenteus Po (some have mused that his name is a take on the Roman historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus whose work Robert Graves I, Claudius was based on). Not seen yet in his full form, we encounter his disembodied voice in Ming Game II, where Cerebus and Po trade insults and interrogate each other. In this world the name is a common one, so there is deliberate ambiguity here as to where the important character is actually interacting in the story.  But as he is creator of the Illusionist Tradition (more on that in later posts) it seems fitting. I always found Po to be the most interesting character in the series. He knows much, but cares little.
 

 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Cerebus


By: Dave Sim

Publisher: Aardvark-Vanheim (January 1991)

Softcover 534 pages

Finished 7/3/2017

Amazon Listing




“He came to our city in the early dawn… thought later we would be called the finest warrior to enter our gates, at the time he was but a curiosity… you see he stood only five hands high, had a lengthy snout, a long tail, and was covered with short grey fur. He was, in short, Cerebus the Aardvark.”

Thus begins the epic 6000 page long graphic novel Cerebus, broken up into 16 ½ graphic novels, which ran 27 years, from 1977 to 2004. It is a single unique achievement in the history of comics, the longest run ever done with the same author and illustrator. Though for some reason the author is not lauded more.

My New Year’s resolution for 2017 was to read the whole of Cerebus straight through from beginning to end. People have either expressed their doubts that I will finish it or have claimed that I am a masochist. Whichever way, a mere six months later I have cleared enough of my previously scheduled reading to begin volume one, collecting the first 25 issues.
Cover for issue 1

We see in these issues the beginnings of what will be the mythology of the Cerebus world. It is established early on that the world he inhabits is Earth, presumably in some forgotten past, in part of the 97% of human history lost to the sands of time. Originally the comic was intended as a parody of swords and sorcery Robert E. Howard characters, which were very popular in 1977 when the book was first published. Cerebus is the counter to Conan, and we see alternates of Red Sonja (Red Sophia) and Bran Mac Morn (Bran Mak Muffin), as well as others such as Elrod of Melvinbone (Moorcock’s Elric) and the Roach (which is used to mock various comic characters - this collection it is Batman and Captain America). And for those with questions about the name Cerebus, yes it was initially supposed to be Cerberus- the three headed dog warder of Hades, but the author, being young and in a rush, misspelled it. Talk about a mistake following you your entire life.
Sidenote: I just misspelled the word as well above, but the author did not have to luxury of a spellchecker
Eventually the series became its own unique self, but it started as parody. The term “Cerebus Syndrome” was coined to mark this type of evolution, when a series initially comedic or superficial, gradually becomes more serious, complex and dramatic. Debate ranges about when it happens. Most claim that it makes the switch around issue 20 "mind Game", but my opinion is that it occurs in issue 14 "The Walls of Palnu". But if you want to read the comic from the beginning, you must wade through the tongue-in-cheek material.
Not that it is much of a chore, as parodies go it is above average. The material has an odd tone to it, a sense of deadly seriousness mixed with some insanity. It never presents itself as being above the material it is caricaturing, mostly stemming from the presentation of Cerebus. In bad parodies, the protagonist doesn’t take his situation seriously, breaks the 4th wall to make a dumb joke or a remark about how silly it all is. Cerebus is deadly serious at all times. His killing and looting is very important to him.
Cover for issue 3
The early issues also flow very well with the serious storyline, believe it or not. The only real inconsistency I can notice is in the early issues Cerebus makes several comment on how “humans are” as if he isn’t familiar with them. Later on it is established that his parents were human and that the Aardvark, or Earth Pig, is a great celestial herald of change, a weird chosen one condition, like Christopher Lambert’s character at the end of the first Highlander film. I imagine the author, when first starting, had envisioned the Aardvark as a barbarian race hidden in the North, but eventually changed his mind after his LSD overdose.
The chosen one, or great influencer, angle is actually foreshadowed in an early issue “The Idol” where we see a primitive tribe worshiping a statue of an Earth Pig that is several thousand years old. But more importantly, we see the themes that will become more prevalent as the series develops.
Author Dave Sim
First is the theme of Cerebus as pawn. Herald that he is, Cerebus is never in charge of his own fate and never desires much beyond gratification of his base desires: booze, war, the occasional woman, and enough gold to keep doing the previous three. He is thrust into positions of power, but only when others plan to use him and manipulate him. To his credit, Cerebus always recognizes the manipulation and usually goes along only to see what he can get from it. While he is the catalyst, a magnifier of events, he is hampered by his own lack of imagination and scope of vision. And we will see, later on when he is no longer useful to those in power or seeking power, then Cerebus accomplishes nothing.  
Second is the theme of the struggle between masculine and feminine ideals, or “form and void” as it is coined. Form being the masculine (symbolized by the phallus) and void as feminine (as envisioned in the vagina). The form is the builder, while void is the destroyer. Masculine is the concrete, real elements, and feminine the perfumed nothing, the illusion of completeness, yet essentially hollow.  Cerebus (SPOILERS, this will not be discovered for a while yet) being a hermaphrodite, embodies both elements but seems to lead closer to the destruction and womanish element.
Cover for issue 17
However, the greatest development here is watching the evolution of the art over issues. Take a look at the first page, then take a gander at the last. You would swear it was not done by the same person. Initially the protagonist sticks out like a sore thumb, drawn in thick bigfoot lines, severely contrasting the realistic style of the rest of the page. Issue by issue, Cerebus become more defined and in step with the rest of the art. More specifically his nose and ears become shorter and shorter, until he is the irascible earth pig we all know today. The greatest jumps occurring between issues 4 and 5 (“Deaths Dark Tread” & “The Idol”), where the author really begins to use shadow to set mood and moral ambiguity; and issues 10 and 11 (“Merchant of Unshib” & “Merchant and the Cockroach”) in which the author pays more attention to background detail, making the cities now feel like real cities, giving a sense of culture and individualism to his world.
    For those who are interested in purchasing this book, I have to recommend the 11th edition above all else, as it is the first one to include the “Silver Spoons” strips. Without the flow of the comic, which until then had a decent pace, takes a jarring jump in action between issues 13 and 14, where Cerebus enters Palnu for the first time and becomes employed by Lord Julius- destined to become a major character and based on Groucho Marx. 
         Again I have had debates with people who state that you can easily skip the first book and dive headlong into the the second. That may be true for some, but this novels sets up many essential characters to the story and for a deep understanding of the material, my opinion is to begin at the beginning.