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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.

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