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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Cerebus Vol. 12: Rick's Story

By Dave Sim & Gerhard

Publisher: Aardvark-Vanheim; Reprint edition (March 2002)

Softcover 247 pages

Finished 8/14/2017

Amazon Listing

     Collecting issues 220 to 231 of the Cerebus series’s denouement. Cerebus is still stuck in the bar, waiting for something to happen. Either to get kicked out, for his friends to come back, or to die. In this we are reintroduced to Rick, last seen a hundred issues ago. He is the former husband of Jaka, their marriage having broke up after it is revealed that she had a clandestine abortion.
    Rick is no longer the guileless and shiftless boy, angry at having to get a job. He is now middle aged, or at least in his late 30s. There is no discussion about what had been happening to Rick since then, though it is implied that he has just been drifting from one bar to another for years.
    While at the bar something happens to him. I’m not sure if he is having a genuine religious experience filled with portents and signs following, or if he’s having a stroke and/or nervous breakdown. Whatever it is, he has childishly cast himself as the epic hero and Cerebus is alternately the God or the Devil.
    His inevitable turning on Cerebus speaks much of the fanatic. When one looks elsewhere, in a book or person, for spiritual fulfillment, they will eventually become disappointed and then that fanaticism is turned against the former object of its adoration. Rick is that man, perpetually waiting for someone else to show him the light. And thus will always be disappointed.
There has been a lot of discussion on this book, much more than there should have been, on its importance in the series. I don’t understand why those who accept volume 6 Melmoth, but have problems with this book. The criticisms that the text portions of the book incomprehensible or impenetrable is nonsense.
As Rick begins his religious convergence, he shifts into a religious style of writing, faux biblical. Many archaic and exaggerated spelling are used in the script, which is more reminiscent of American colonial style than reformation-era English. And while they prose can be tedious, it is by no means incomprehensible. For those who find it so, you can easily skip over it, the visuals tell the story in that part just as well as the text.
I will say that the text portions are much less interesting than the rest of the book. Despite what he might want to believe, Sim is a better writing comic dialogue than he is at prose. His style is always thick, slow moving, with an excess of unimportant details. And that contrasts sharply against his amazing artwork and uniquely expressive balloon dialogue.
And perhaps this all becomes tedious to the author as well, as he makes his second appearance in the series in an effort to dislodge his creation from his comfy tavern. Dave explains that Cerebus’s struggle is a reflection of his own reluctance to leave a bar. Which is why Cerebus is having so much difficulty moving on, so to facilitate this he gives the one surefire thing that will get his ass off the barstool, the return of his true love, Jaka. Which is where the next volume picks up.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Cerebus Vol 11: Guys

By Dave Sim & Gerhard

Publisher: Aardvark-Vanheim; 1 edition (October 1997)

Softcover 408 pages

Finished 8/10/2017

Amazon Listing

     Now collecting the issues 201-219 of the series. The main action of the story is over and we enter a decline in the character’s life where he wanders about as all of his dreams and ambitions have become dust. Cerebus, after mulling things over on Pluto, is placed in a bar on the Wall of Tsi (much mentioned, never seen before) where he spends...years apparently screwing around and hanging with his bar buddies.
    The Cirinist takeover is complete and men have been relegated as second class citizens. Government for the most part has been reduced to a series of local districts chiefly concerned with food and hearth maintenance. All work is done by women, leaving men with little to do. That is the interesting thing here, each district supplies a bar for men to frequent and supplies them with free booze and food. Unmarried men are free to stay there as long as they like and married men who stay in such a place for longer than three days automatically have their marriages annulled. They are free to waste their lives and die early from alcohol related illnesses. 

    Cerebus is allowed to live in one of these bars as long as he adheres to the official fiction that Cirin won the battle against the God Tarim and that she and her goddess are the one true religion. Cerebus complies by not speaking on the subject at all. And why should he? He has nothing, so politics do not interest him at all.
If you don’t mind reading Cerebus screwing around in a bar for 400 pages then this is the book for you. For anyone who has spent enough time hanging around in a single bar, long enough to get to know the other patrons, then the dialogue, the characters, the rowdiness, the drunken jokes, and the inebriated conversations all ring true. This feels like a real bar, a male oasis in a sea of cringing feminism. It also demonstrates that band always breaks up due to women. They cannot stay away, either looking for a cheap thrill, some affection from Daddy, or as some pathetic power play, men’s sanctuaries are constantly under assault.
Eventually all the men leave, either driven out by women or suckered into marrying them, thus being forced to remain home. Again for those who had a favorite dive, this is how it goes. One by one all the guys there stop showing up. Maybe they move away, get an early job so they can’t go out at night, or preferred to spend time with their wife and kids, but the party eventually goes dead. And that leaves our anti-hero alone to drink in misery. 

Cerebus begins a purely sexual relationship with a lonely woman, Joanne, who he had seen before in a vision given to him by Dave, the manifestation of the author in the series.  Like all relationships, it starts off fun and casual, but eventually morphs into the woman trying to take over and shape the man into what she thinks she wants, but also someone she will eventually get bored of. But Cerebus sidesteps the trap, by ironically being too self absorbed to fall for her manipulations.
This volume is rife with character cameos from famous (famous from the 90s) independant comic characters. We have two from Eddie Campbell, Bacchus the greek god of wine and debauchery, and Alec, a loud mouthed Scottsman- at least in here it is. This is coupled with a brief appearance of Too Much Coffee Man- here it's Too Much Coffee Liqueur man. Marty, a character based on Marty Feldman’s role in Young Frankenstein. Others are based on members of the Rolling Stones and Norman Mailer.
We also see the reappearance of Bear and Bo-Bah, old mercenary friends of Cerebus, whom he had hired as muscle when he was pope, and the reemergence of Rick, Jaka’s childish husband from a hundred issues previous. Their marked physical differences indicated the amount of time that has gone by, either in the bar during this volume or the Melmoth book. I’d say at least between ten and fifteen years. Cerebus looks the same because Aardvarks age differently. I believe, and I may be wrong, but he lives to around one hundred and fifty years old. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Cerebus Vol 10: Minds

By Dave Sim & Gerhard

Publisher: Aardvark-Vanheim; 2nd Printing edition (June 1996)

Softcover 286 pages

Finished 8/5/2017

Amazon Listing

               “You are the baker and your life is the bread.”
              Collecting issues 186-200 of the series, this volume is the fourth and last in the Mothers and Daughters arc. We are now two thirds of the way through the series and after this the pace will change considerably. The author has stated that this is the falling action of the series and the next 100 issues should be regarded as the denouement of the series.  
             The action takes place on a stroll around the solar system, and I found it interesting how the various celestial spheres (and the Van Allen belt) fit into the mythology  of this world. Most of the plot is absorbed by the entrance of the ultimate celestial being, the author himself, Dave.
             While meta and, some would say, silly, there is a precedent of authors meeting their creations in literature. Kurt Vonnegut meets Kilgore Trout at the end of Breakfast of Champions. Grant Morrison meets Animal Man at the end of his run on the series. Steve Gerber in Howard the Duck. Brian K. Vaughn in Ex Machina. And so on. So while not original, this part is well done. Dave claims to Cerebus that this is a religious experience on par with his own awakening after he was hospitalized for a LSD overdose. It was during this that he conceived the ideas, characters, and plot points which has unfolded over the last two hundred issues. 

If anything this book demonstrates (or re-demonstrates) Cerebus’s ignorance. In his argument with Cirin we see that he doesn’t understand the religion that he became high pontiff of, and claims to believe deeply in, as he constantly mixes it up with various bits and pieces of other religions. In his conversation with Dave all he cares about is claiming Jaka for his own. He gains revelations about Cirin, her movement, and the nature of Aardvarks, but he isn’t interested.  All the mysteries of his world were available and all he cares about was getting Jaka back.
In a sense he can’t be blamed, his dreams of conquest have been demonstrated to be absolutely unworkable and Cerebus finally accepts that. So his mind drifts to Jaka as it always does when his life fall apart. She is his safety net, his comfort animal, but he looks at her as the possession, not a person.  You just can’t take the barbarian out of the man. But it is not to be, no matter how Cerebus shifts the goals and changes parameters, their relationship will be end in disaster and misery. Which is just as well, both characters, Jaka and Cerebus, are equally vapid. There just is not much to either. 

I have to question what is Dave’s motivation in talking to his creation. Apart from wanting to be “meta”, I suspect the reason is the spur his character into a new direction in life. And for Cerebus to change, stubborn beast that he is, extraordinary methods are needed. He must be dragged to the ass end of the solar system, brutally stripped of all illusions, and abandoned in the barren wastes of Pluto for him to admit his faults and realize that he is a terrible person. 

It is an odd ending for the action of a story. The big revelation, the resolution of conflict between two opposite forces boils down to the author himself popping up and putting everything to right. One would expect some great death scene, but it ends with Cirin now completely uninterested in Cerebus and our anti-hero adrift with no direction beyond self-indulgence. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Cerebus Vol. 9: Reads

By Dave Sim & Gerhard

Publisher: Aardvark-Vanheim; Second Printing edition (January 1997)

Softcover 247 pages

Finished 8/2/2017

Amazon Listing

Collecting issues 175-186 of the series, it is the third volume in the Mothers and Daughters arc. This volume breaks down into three sections: the one everyone cares about, the confrontation between Cerebus, Astoria, Cirin, and Po; and the other two which many many people hated. But we're going to cover them anyway.
Of the four characters Po takes the center stage, explaining that his self-exile is due to the “magnifier” ability of the Aardvark mutation. Things happen around an aardvark that it has no control over. It is a celestial force of undirected change. But ultimately this change will come to nothing, as once the magnifier influence is removed, everything falls back into its natural pattern. Essentially the aardvark is a bubble in reality that the universe will eventually smooth out. Po then takes his bows and leaves, stating that the attempting to control another is useless and he would prefer to live quietly until he dies.
Astoria’s exit is done with style and taste. She alone listens to Po’s words and realizes that she cannot achieve the things that she wants and remain happy. Her and Cirin make are faced with the choice and both, representing their philosophies (described in Women)  choose opposite sides- as they do in all things. She chooses happiness and Cirin chooses power.

Before Astoria leaves she does give us the revelation that Cerebus is a hermaphrodite and that Cirin’s greatest fear is that he will impregnate himself and become the progenitor of a whole race of Aardvarks. This scares the feminist more than anything else, as she, the great advocate of motherhood, desires this spot in history. Her need to be the “great mother” overrides all other consideration, leading to her moral and political corruption.
Also making his last appearance is Elrod of Melvinbone, the lost scion of a dead race who talks like Foghorn Leghorn. Easily the most annoying character in the series, I welcomed his departure. As it turns out, he is a illusionary product of the chaos gems from issue two and only held together by a belief in himself. Once it’s revealed to him that he isn’t real, he disappears. Good riddance.
Thus we are left with the massive fight scene between the two unwavering polar opposites of Cerebus series. Cirin, who will not give up her political rhetoric or desires, and Cerebus who fights because that is what he does. He is the warrior and what is important to him is the struggle, not the why of it or how it will end, but the fight itself. He fights because without the struggle he has no definition. Thus a giant battle is inevitable. He had spotted an enemy, even if she is an enemy that he doesn’t understand or care about, therefore she must be destroyed.
The battle, taking most of the last half of the book, is long, extraordinarily bloody, untainted by dialogue, and beautifully illustrated. It is a joy to gaze upon and took me just as long sucking in the visuals and reading the prose. Epic by any definition, it ends spectacularly with another ascension, up to the heavens. But it won’t be the Judge they meet this time, that characters seems to have been merging with the Roach, causing split-personality and forty thousand eyes. It’s why I feel it’s a shame that many believe this volume to be the series’s jumping-the-shark moment (When we all know that distinction goes to volume 13 Going Home).
Author Dave Sim

The section which many claimed was boring is the “reads” story, which this volume is named for. The style used here is double column prose with a single illustration on the corresponding page. In the series, reads are heavily illustrated books, cheaply produced, and lurid in plot, popular among the masses. The protagonist here Victor Reis is a suddenly popular author, now faced with dealing with the politics of a big publisher. His wishes are crushed beneath the weight of the money offered and ultimately he crosses the line between being successful as an author and selling out as an artist.
His dreams of the Ascension reads, where he wants to ascend in his writing is put aside, his ideas of cutting down the illustration in reads- an unsubtle jab at what the author is doing in this section. All the protagonist's desires are shoved aside and he becomes a parody of himself, churning out faded shadows of his past work.
For some reason these sections garnered a lot of vitriol from longtime fans. I’m not sure why, in reality it wasn’t much different from the style he used in Jaka’s Story, only with more text. One fan said to me, “If I wanted to read a book, I’d read a goddamn book. But I wanted a comic book here.” It could be that fans were more interested in the overall plot between the series’s main player, and felt that the Victor Reis story just got in the way. If this is the case then I can understand. The confrontation was certainly much more interesting. I do remember the text elements not being such a problem when reading Jaka’s Story- probably because the two elements were linked more firmly together.
The author, in his introduction, suggests that if the reader has a problem with the text pieces then they should feel free to take a razor blade and cut them out. Personally I have a less damaging suggestion: read the book out of order. Start with the confrontation, skipping ahead to each part. Then read the Victor Reis reads section. Then the editorial section at the end with the paper thin facade of Victor Davis. The books flows better that way and you will find it a much more satisfying read.

The last part mostly is experimental writing by the author. He plays with different methods of expressing himself, interspersed with various vignettes containing famous comic book personalities and other observations. It comes across very distinctly that the author was a mean drunk. The type to make vicious phone calls at night while shitfaced, then forget them in the morning. It’s just as well that he converted to Islam (or a subsidiary thereof) and quit the vino. The writing itself is not great, can be tedious, and really out of place in the book.
The end of this volume contains the infamous issue number 186, Tangent, which went on to become one of the most controversial books in comic history and this, coupled with the other criticisms above, lead to a sharp decline in Cerebus’s readership A lot of people have tried to defend or excuse this portion claiming it to be satire, but it certainly doesn’t read that way. I am of the opinion that he believes what he says, at least at the time of its publication, and must point out that many of his points in regards of feminism and misandry are becoming more and more popular in light of the anti-sjw backlash appearing online. It seems that once again Sims was ahead of the curve. He highlights that in the then media (the 90s) and other talking points feelings trump reason. How one feels about a situation is the most important aspect of the story, not the facts.
His view of male feminists and men in relationships in modern times is, again, now standard. He held back previously from these observations because he was trying to get laid. Now that has given it up, he felt free to express himself without restraint. And as most the male population still wants to have sex, they go along with the feminist dogma.
Using the idea of the female void vs. the male light, he lambastes the idea of patriarchy ruling the government, and the politics of feelings have overrun the necessity to get things done. Virtue signaling through government funds is the most important and visual part of a politician's job.  Though I believe part of that is the introduction of television into the political process, not the feminization of politics themselves.

None of these are new ideas now. They are howled from every corner of Youtube. The skeptic community agrees to all of his points and expands upon them. So why was he vilified in certain quarters? Because he was the first to come out and say it, and the first man who tells the truth is always nailed to a tree. The new Mountain Dew flavor should be “Dave Sim did nothing wrong.”