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Friday, July 14, 2017

Cerebus Vol 3: Church and State I (Graphic Novel)

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.

       For more readings, try my collection of books. 

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