I think everyone knows about this now, but just in case you missed it…
It’s a mother-effing Scott Pilgrim and The Infinite Sadness preview. Hell yeah! And am I alone rejoicing because of the nod to my favorite Smashing Pumpkins album (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, for those not in the know)? Either way, another reason to look forward to the end of the year (as if Halloween, Local, DMZ, the Demo trade, and a move to Seattle weren’t enough).
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Just thought I’d mention a couple of new (to me) comics blogs that I’ve been loving for the last couple of days:
Gumpop: comic books are totally the new indie rock! An excellent, vibrant blog by Sophie Yanow, who’s background (comics and indie rock, whodathunk?) seems similar to my own.
Comics Fairplay: a comics and pop culture blog by Heidi Meeley that’s been running an excellent series of Favorite Female Comics Character posts, that are in-depth, interesting, and fun. This one covers a lot of comics that I’m not particularly into, but the writing is good enough that it doesn’t matter. And besides, who would want to read blogs that only cover material you’ve already read?
OK, just a little hit and run post. I’m busy re-creating my 80’s pop megamix that I lost n a disastrous hard drive crash a few months ago, and reading the new Acme Novelty book. Cheers!
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If Jaka’s Story was a lull compared to the pace of earlier Cerebus books, the next book, Melmoth, grinds the story to a halt completely. Most of the material in here is completely tangential to anything that has happened in any previous book, and serves as a very large bridge between the last events of Jaka’s Story and the first scenes of Flight. It gets a bad rap from fans of the political intrigue and fast-paced humour of the series, but it has it’s merits, and it’s certainly another leap forward in Dave and Gerhard’s skills with the medium.
The title Melmoth comes from “Sebastien Melmoth,” the alias Oscar Wilde used during his last days, after his release from Reading Gaol, until his death from cerebral meningitis. These last days are re-created here, based on actual letters and historical re-countings, but transplanted from our world to the fictional world of Estarcion. However, confusingly enough, the Oscar Wilde character here is not the same as the Oscar Wilde we met in Jaka’s Story. This is the “real” Oscar Wilde, and the other Wilde, who has just been sentenced to prison for writing without a license, is another fellow who happens to share his name (as is noted early on here). There was already some hint of this in Jaka’s Story, when the younger Oscar mentions that he met the writer of that “poisonous volume about the painting that grows old and hideous….” I’m not sure exactly why this was done, but it does make it easy to move directly into Oscar’s twilight years, without skipping two years of Cerebus’ story while waiting for his release from jail.
Ironically enough, Cerebus’ story for this book consists of him sitting, in a near-catatonic state, overcome with grief at the apparent death of Jaka, on the patio of a bar in Iest, for days on end, clutching her childhood doll, Missy. He does regain some small amount of his awareness and motivation as the book progresses, but not enough to actually get up and go anywhere, or interact with anyone who’s not already there. Which pretty much means the bar-owner, Dino; the waitresses, Janice and Doris; and a handful of passersby. Many characters from early books have cameos as they pass by the bar, but only a few even recognize Cerebus, let alone try to engage him in conversation.
But Oscar’s story dominates this volume, combining Sim’s talent for caricature and pacing, Gerhard’s incredible backgrounds, and slightly adapted letters from those who were present for the real Wilde’s death. It’s a strong piece of work, capturing the see-saw of hope and despair that happens in those final hours, and culminating in the numb, laborious work that accompanies the end of a life. On a purely evocative level, it’s amazingly done. For those interested in the nominal plot of Cerebus, however, it’s basically a speed bump. Some theorize that at this point, Sim was a little burnt out on his central character, and was basically taking a break without breaking his monthly rhythm. His interests outside of Cerebus were too tempting to put off until the end of the series in 2004, so he shoehorned them in. Had his cake, and ate it too. And in fact, future storylines will have even more examples of this sort of divergence, melding real-world biography and examination with his fictional world.
Cerebus can’t stay catatonic forever though. The epilogue to this volume picks up the plot from the end of Jaka’s Story, and segues directly into the next massive undertaking, the 50-issue behemoth that is Mothers & Daughters. Overhearing two Cirinists soldiers outside the bar discussing Jaka’s imprisonment, his anger overcomes him and he quickly and brutally murders both of them. Flashback to his mercenary days with Bear, where he remembers Bear telling him that the Cirinists are all “linked,” like wasps…you hurt one, and every Cirinist soldier for miles will be on top of you in minutes. Remembering this, and the Judge’s prediction of his fate, he contemplates suicide for a moment…but only a moment, before running from the gathering army, deeper into the Lower City.
This concludes the first half. Next up is the first part of Mother & Daughters: Flight. A return to the action and themes of earlier volumes, and also the first step into the true craziness to come.
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Well, I got a slightly anemic haul from my local comics shop on Wednesday, and ended up heading down to Rohnert Park for even more comics. And I still didn’t find a few of the things I wanted!
Still missing in action from both nearby stores: Or Else #3, the new issue of Kevin Huizenga’s amazingly diverse series, and Salamander Dream, Hope Larson’s debut graphic novel. I’ve also discovered that I’m missing one single issue of Cerebus! I’m not sure how I missed this fact, but I apparently never picked up issue 205 when I was buying it monthly. This was right near when I dropped the series all together, so maybe that explains it. Anyways, I’ve got a copy on order, and my Cerebus reading is way ahead of my blogging, so that’ll give me some time to catch up with myself.
But here’s what I did get:
100 Bullets #64 (DC Comics, $2.99)
a standalone story that picks up the trail of Jack Daw, former Minuteman and former drug addict, in his new career as a bare-knuckle boxer. Like a lot of this series lately, this story seems to be laying the groundwork for future events, and adding a little more dimension to the characters as it does. Not a lot to say about this book at the moment, as it’s takig it’s time playing around with it’s own complicated backstory and dropping hints about the larger plotline. There’ve been a few major developments lately, but this issue basically seems like more build-up. When are we going to get some payoff again?
Fell #1 (Image Comics, $1.99)
Now this is refreshing: 16 pages of self-contained story for $1.99. I’ve ever been a big Warren Ellis fan (tried Transmetropolitan and wasn’t that impressed), and I think he tends for the over-the-top darkness vibe because it’s just what he does, not necessarily because it’s what’s called for in a particular title. But the atmosphere of Templesmith’s artwork meshes perfectly with Ellis’ story here, and the short, satisfying chunk of story a nice change of pace from today’s decompressed/writing-for-the-trade aesthetic (and a good contrast to this week’s 100 Bullets, above).
Following Cerebus #5 (Aardvark-Vanaheim/Win-Mill Press, $3.95)
I swear, I’m not THAT obsessed with Cerebus. But this issue of the post-Cerebus “fanzine” looked pretty interesteing, as it consists of a series of interviews with assorted comics creators, on the subject of editorial input on graphic novels. It has it’s origins in a panel discussion between Dave Sim, Will Eisner, and Chester Brown. Inspired by the discussion, Dave conducted interviews with Craig Thompson, Paul Pope, Seth, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Joe Matt, and Andy Runton ont he same topic. It’s an interesting way to get a glimpse into the working methods of some of the most talented artists working in comics at the moment, and a little bit of insight into the process of comics itself.
Hopeless Savages #1-3 (Oni Press, $2.95)
I’ve had my eye on this series for a while, and finally decided to pick up the first few issues (#4 is on it’s way as I type this). There’ve been plenty of creators I really enjoy involved in this one at one point or another, including Bryan Lee O’Malley (he did a cover), Becky Cloonan (who did a few pages in a one-shot issue) and Andi Watson (who did the first 4 covers). So I figured if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for me. So far it’s alright…I wouldn’t say I’m blown away, but it’s a charming story. I’ve only read the first issue so far though, so I reserve final judgement at this point.
Bare Foot Riot: Martin Cendreda Sketchbook Collection (Giant Robot, $11.99)
Maybe a little over-priced for it’s size (roughly quarter the dimensions of a regular comic book, squarebound, and roughly 100 pages), but there’s some nic work in here, and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Mostly standalone sketches, and crowded pages filled with variations on an idea, but there are several short “strip” style sketches as well, and an extensive color section. Probably only for die-hard fans, but worth a flip-through if you happen to see it on the shelf.
Blood Orange #4 (Fantagraphics, $5.95)
Another installment of the always diverse, often baffling fantagraphics anthology. At this point, I have 3 of the 4 published issues, and it’s hard to know what to expect of any given issue. There’s a wide range of experimental, surreal, formalist, and outsider art in this book. Most interesting int his particular issue is the first selection, a several page sequence showing a slowly changing, highly complicated cityscape (for lack of a better word) that looks like something out of Dr. Seuss. There’s a lot happening on each page/panel, and it’s hard to follow all the events from page to page, but it’s a unique experiment with the medium. I’m not sure who did it though, because the credits aren’t very clearly indicated. Other highlights include a bizarre bait-and-switch sotry by Tobias Tak, and a cute sci-fi comedy number by Brian Ralph.
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #195 (DC Comics, $2.50)
The penultimate installment of a decidedly oddball take on the Dark Knight. I really like Fisher’s approach to Batman’s costume. Most artists have pushed it into iconic territory, with blank white eye-holes that seem to line up exactly with the edge of Bruce Wayne’s eyelids, and a beak-like protrusion that shows no trace of the actual nose beneath it. But Fisher draws the costume as a costume, with the small details that implies. The action sequences toward the end are a little confusing, but there’s an energy here that’s hard not to get swept up in. DC was reportedly hoping for a mass-market, all-ages take on Batman with it’s botched All Star Batman & Robin, but maybe they should have used this creative team instead. It’s a much lighter take, both in the writing and the visuals (except that opening splash page int he first issue, with Batman bloodied and beaten int he Batcave).
Mother, Come Home (Dark Horse Books, $14.95)
This book is excellent. Artistically ambitious and emotionally devastating. Paul Hornschemeier’s work has grown in leaps and bounds since his earliest experients in Sequential, and this book, collecting the story from issues 2-4 of his Forlorn Funnies books, is a striking success. It’s the story of a father and son, and how they cope with the death of their wife/mother. It’s told from the point of view of the son, at age 20, looking back on events that took palce when he was 7. There’s an air of avoidance to a lot of the narration, a tiptoeing around the central subject, up until the inevitable and shocking final events, when they can’t be avoided any longer. Hornschemeier walks a tightrope between maintinging a childlike perspective and voice, yet still revealing the grown-up truths to the reader. Highly recommended.
And that’s all for now…looks like there’s a new Acme Novelty book coming out this week though, so I’m sure I’ll have more to talk about soon. Plus, I’ve got some Desolation Jones on it’s way from Mile High, along with that missing Cerebus issue. See you then…
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And now, for something comletely different…
After the massive undertaking of High Society and Church & State, collectively totalling over 1700 pages of comics and 6 years of steady, monthly output; which culminated in the titular character of the series ascending to the Moon (somewhat short of his goal of reaching Vanaheim, or Heaven) and conversing about the history of creation and his own future, only to return to Earth and find his former city-state overrun by a fascist matiarchy; well, we’re treated to a somewhat more sullen, withdrawn, and internalized set of stories from Dave Sim.
Jaka’s Story takes the focus away from political machinations and conflicts which affect entire nations, and focuses on a small set of characters for it’s bulk, in a very limited setting (a total of three or four buildings, two of which are right next to each other), with very little external action. There’s also a lot of development in store for Jaka, as the book bounces back-and-forth between “present-tense” comics passages and “past-tense” (or possibly fictitious) text-block-with-accompanying-image passages relating a story of her early life. In fact, Cerebus is mostly peripheral to the action of this book, and is even completely absent for much of it’s final third.
There are really only about 5 major characters in the “present tense” portion: Jaka, Cerebus, Jaka’s husband Rick, their landlord/employer/grocer Pud Withers, and Oscar, the poet (and also, we learn later, the author of the textual interludes that form “Jaka’s Story”). When last we saw Jaka, she pregnant with Rick’s child, but she has since miscarried. She lives with Rick in a small apartment along the road between the Upper and Lower Cities, adjacent to a tavern owned by Pud, which seemingly has no visitors. Jaka works as a dancer in the tavern in exchange for accomodations, and Rick is perpetually and fruitlessly searching for work, when he’s not distracted by Oscar’s visits.
Cerebus, still somewhat shell-shocked from his visit with the judge and his return to the hotel from Church & State, stumbles across Jaka at the tavern, and after a tearful reunion, agrees to stay with her and Rick. Since no-one else knows that Cerebus has returned to Iest, Jaka and Rick decide to refer to him as Fred.
In the introduction to this book, we get some important background info: First, that Jaka and Rick’s apartment is based on Dave’s apartment with his ex-wife. Second, Dave insists that he “is not Rick,” an assertion that will be repeated years later in the introduction to Rick’s Story. An interesting assertion for sure, given what we’ve been told about the setting. Is this a case of the Lady, so to speak, protesting too much? There’s also a bit of explanation about Oscar, the character based on Oscar Wilde, and the first “homosexulaist” (to use Dave’s term) to appear in Cerebus. Given that he will later write some pretty inflammatory declarations about homosexuality, this character is given, for the most part, a rather sensitive treatment.
Over the course of the comics passages here, inter-character relationships slowly develop and tighten during mundane daily routines. Pud harbors a secret desire for Jaka and is constantly rehearsing an approach to her in his internal monologue. Cerebus is jealous of Rick, and goes on a roller-coaster ride of hope and despair as Jaka and Rick fight and make up constantly (usually over Rick neglecting household duties to hang out with Oscar). Jaka feels increasingly competitive with Oscar for Rick’s attentions (and though Oscar is gay, there are no overt signs of attempted seduction on his part).
The text passages relate the story of Jaka’s youth, spent in the House of Tavers as Lord Julius’ neice, and her relationship with her only early authority figure, the overprotective and disciplinarian nurse. The story follows her subservient early years as a small child, through some time spent infirm after a playground accident, and into her flowering as a young woman of Palnu’s high society. It also provides a glimpse of Astoria’s entrance into the political conciousness of Palnu, as Lord Julius’ wife. Some way towards the end of the book, Oscar is revealed as the “author” of these passages, part of a book he is writing titled “Jaka’s Story,” based on Rick’s accounts of Jaka’s life.
But of course, this is a Cerebus book, and it wouldn’t go 400+ pages without some sort of action. The first section ends with Jaka, Rick, Pud, Oscar, and Pud’s first customer (an older veteran) at the tavern, where Oscar is planning to read from the completed “Jaka’s Story,” when Cirinist troops arrive. Cerebus has left, unannounced and is nowhere to be found. Employing a dancer in a tavern is punishable by death under Cirinist rule, and Pud is summarily executed, along with the veteran (who tries to fight back). Jaka is only spared execution by claiming diplomatic immunity as Julius’ niece. She and Rick are taken away to a prison somewhere in Iest. Oscar is sentenced to 2 years of hard labor for writing without a license (mirroring the real-life Oscar Wilde’s sentence for sodomy).
The final chapters are oddly reminiscent of the re-conditioning scenes in 1984, alternating between Jaka coping with imprisonment and sessions with a Cirinist “counselor”, Mrs. Thatcher, whose job appears to be to get Jaka to profess belief in Cirinist moral values. For example, that dancing (Jaka’s passion) is immoral because it can generate lust in men. Jaka is stubborn, but eventually is deemed fit for release. She is reunited with Rick (who is clean shaven, short-haired, and bow-tied). At this point, Mrs. Thatcher delivers a final, brutal kick int he teeth: she reveals to Rick that Jaka didn’t miscarry, but in fact, terminated her pregnancy with the use of certain herbs. Rick is devestated, especially on learning that the child would have been a boy (his greatest desire, a son). He breaks down completely, screams at and strikes Jaka, and is dragged away by the guards, who break his hand for striking a woman. Jaka is sent back to Palnu, emotionally drained, where she returns to the suite in the Tavers palace that she grew up in. Where she hasn’t been since she ran away as a young girl.
Cerebus finally returns to Pud’s tavern, only to find it vacant, with signs of struggle. As far as he can tell, everyone is dead, including Jaka, and he wanders, again shell-shocked, into Iest.
Jaka’s Story marks a pretty important turning point in Cerebus, with an increasing focus on the characters themselves, rather than the characters as part of a larger plot. This sensibility will be continued in the next book, Melmoth, to an even greater degree. It also marks the beginning of a more explicit examination of real-world figures. While the earlier books are obviously rife with references to real-life institutions and figures, the institutions are used metaphorically, and the people as caricatures, separate and distinct from their real-world counterparts. But with the introduction of Oscar Wilde as a character, and attempts to directly address issues that confronted the real Oscar Wilde, here and in Melmoth, Cerebus is beginning to move beyond it’s own confines. This will continue throughout the series, at times confusing the separation between Cerebus’ world and ours, at times becoming outright auotbiography from Sim. It’s almost as if Dave’s artistic ambitions and interests were feeling confined by his stated dedication to 300 continuous issues of Cerebus, and so rather than give up one or the other, he sandwiched them together, and just piled his other ambitions into the Cerebus project. Sometimes, this is a good fit. Other times, well…maye not so much so.
See y’all back here for Melmoth…and the halfway point!
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Today looks like it could be a really good day for new comics. Hope Larson’s Salamander Dream is finally out, as is the new anthology title You ain’t No Dancer, which has more of her work in it. There’s a new 100 Bullets out as well, which is usually a good read, even if the last few issues weren’t quite up to it’s usual standards of excellence. There’s a new Desolation Jones out, and while I haven’t read the first two issues, I’ve heard enough good things about this series that I’m gonna try to pick up all three tonight.
Now, the question is: how much of this will my local comics shop actually get in?
Yes, I know. I should’ve pre-ordered some of this. I have 100 Bullets on subscription, so that’ll definitely be there. And I’m pretty sure they’ve been getting Desolation Jones regularly. But I have my doubts about Salamander Dream or You Ain’t No Dancer showing up, given their record with small press and independent titles. They make the effort, at least, but sometimes books that one would expect to see just don’t show up. They’ve never stocked Scott Pilgrim for example, and they only had one copy of Mome (and it wasn’t even on display…I had to ask about it). It makes it tough for someone who’s not up on the latest in independent books to even know what’s out there. If I hadn’t been waiting anxiously for Salamander Dream, there’s a good chance I would never know it had been released.
Fortunately, there’s another comic shop in the next town south of me, that has a better stock of these type of books. Sadly, my work schedule only allows me to get there on weekends. So if Salamander Dream and YAND don’t show up here, I’ll be making another trip down there. Especially since there’s no sign of Or Else #3 at my local shop, either.
Ultimately, yeah, I should be pre-ordering this stuff to avoid this happening. But I really don’t keep up with Diamond’s solicitations, and I have no desire to wade through Previews every month. I just wish I had a local shop that was a little more willing to take a chance on smaller titles, so I’d have a better idea of what to expect on ewdnesdays. Basically, I’ve just been spoiled by great stores like Comic Relief and the Comic Book Box, and I’m still adjusting to having to deal with a merely OK shop.
Sidenote, as I browse the Diamond expected shipping lists: does Marvel publish anything worth reading these days? I always find myself skipping their part of the list, just because I’m so used to finding nothing vaguely interesting.
Second sidenote: almost done with the Jaka’s Story post (later tonight?), and just finished reading Reads (ick). I’m through one of the roughest patches! Smooth-ish sailing on the seas of Cerebus, at least for a little while…
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In a stunning display of timeliness, I finally saw what may be the biggest comic-related movie of the year, Sin City.
And you know, I liked it. It was, oddly enough, a fun movie. I think it set out to capture not only the visual style, but also the overblown noir pastiche of the source material and I think it succeeded. Now, keep in mind that nobody ever accused Sin City of being an incisive examination of crime fiction cliches, or an effective set of morality tales. It’s basically just an excuse to revel in the excesses of it’s influences, turned up to a Spinal Tappian level of absurdity. I mean, seriously: we’re talking about a comic book in which there is an entirecity district controlled by ninja prostitutes. If your first thought on reading that is to consider the economic, sociological, and legal implications of this, or what this portrayal says about the ideology of the author or the depiction of women in media, you’re probably not in the right mindset to enjoy it for what it is.
That isn’t to say that those considerations are worthless, or that Sin City shouldn’t be examined on those terms. I just dont’ think that it’s success or failure can be measured solely on intellectual levels. It’s basically a visceral experience that doesn’t ask for or expect engagement on any level other than the visceral.
In short, I liked it for exactly the reasons I liked the comic book (visual style, pure willful debauchery and excess), and disliked it for exactly the reason I disliked and eventually stopped reading, the comic book (has nothing to offer beyond spectacle, makes no attempt to engage or consider the ideologies it puts forth). It’s empty, dumb, violent fun coated with a starkly beautiful black-and-whitewash, and there are surely worse ways to kill a couple of hours.
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Just as a warning, before you get too far into this post (and boy, is this one a monster), for those of you who haven’t read Church & State Volume 2; I am going to spoil the ending. Feel free to read up until the point when I say Spoiler!!! I thought a little bit about this, and I really have to. Sorry. In the introduction the the Church & State epilogue story in Cerebus Number Zero, Dave Sim gives away some of the details of the ending himself, but I’m going all the way. With specifics. Be forewarned.
This monster of a book finishes off the massive Church & State storyline that covers over 1200 pages of comic books, and unfolded over the course of 4 years or so worth of monthly comics. A lot of people will point to this story as the peak achievement of Dave Sim’s career, and I’d be hard pressed to argue. I already mentioned that High Society was my favorite, but there’s not a lot out there that can match the scope, ambition, and audacity of Church & State. The upcoming Mothers & Daughters storyline is probably the next closest contender, in terms of ambition and density, but for a lot of reasons, it falls flat on it’s face in ways that are disappointingly avoidable.
I keep getting ahead of myself here…it’s hard to avoid with a project of this size. Sorry. And there’s a lot of plot recapping to come…sorry for that too.
So Volume 2 picks up with Cerebus seemingly usurped from his position as Pope by a giant stone monstrosity (who we met much earlier, in the first book) named Thrunk. Cerebus is deposed, abandoned by Sophia, rejected by Jaka, thrown from his hotel, quite literally. He’s pretty much at rock-bottom as this volume begins, his most loyal follower having just stabbed himself to death.
And as if things couldn’t get any worse, here comes the Cockroach again.
This time we’re treated to Secret Sacred Wars Roach, clad in a black skintight costume with a white spider emblem across his chest and ribs. The McGrew Brothers are in on his delusion this time as well, forced by physical violence and sheer force of insanity into roles as his white costumed henchmen, reciting the overwrought narration that is a hallmark of any Roach encounter. I think this is the most impenetrable Roach-persona so far. All the comic book superheroes he’s lampooned so far have worked well on their own, with no knowledge of the specific character required to enjoy the Roach as a character (of course, familiarty helps with a few of the in-jokes). But Secret Sacred Wars? We’re dipping our toes into obsessive fanboy references here. I’d never read a single page of Moon Knight comics and had no trouble with the Moon Roach, but somehow, Secret Sacred Wars Roach doesn’t work quite as effortlessly. It feels like there are references here that are meangingless without context. His actions work just fine on a plot level, but the asides are a little more obscure…
The majority of the first section of the book is feeding us information, most notably on the Final
Ascension, the potentially disatrous event that everything has been building to. We learn that Adam Weisshaput’s plans are being carried out after his death, and that since he won’t be ascending himself, he wants Cerebus to be the one (for completely selfish reasons, of course). But his post-mortem assistance does help Cerebus regain control of the populace, and re-take his hotel from the false Pope, Thrunk. But only after a fast-paced race up a sheer cliff-face, with Cerebus trailing the Cockroach (and Elrod!) as they scramble towards the Upper City. Astoria is waiting at the top, only to be mysteriously and magically whisked away by an oblivious Cerebus’ command.
And to compliacte matters somewhat, she’s apaprently magically whisked away to the chambers of the Lion of Serrea, the Eastern Pontiff, who she is compelled to assassinate.
With Cerebus the pope of a newly united Church, and Astoria in jail for the murder of a pontiff, we come to the real tour-de-force of Church & State. Several issues are devoted to Cerebus’ interrogation of Astoria, while the clock ticks away to her midnight trial (and assumed execution, sealing Cerebus’ position).
We learn many things, and for the first time in Church & State, we get an actual discussion of opposing religious philosophies. For though Cerebus has the apparent upper hand over Astoria, who has helped him almost as much as she’s used him as a political tool, she still has plenty of power in this situation. For starters, the Church wants Astoria killed not just for the Lion’s murder, but also so that they can be rid of any doubts of her influence, as the leader of an upstart feminist political philosophy called Kevillism, over Cerebus. And a Church with such a high mortality rate among pontiffs is not a Church you want to defy.
But then again, If he does go along with the Church’s wishes, and sentences Astoria to death, he’ll have to contend with Cirin, the leader of the other influential female centered faction in Estarcion. Astoria is a former disciple of Cirin’s, whose desertion of Cirin’s cause is still a sore spot for the matriarch. Cirin wants Astoria’s death on no-one’s hands but her own, and she has the military power to take on the Church if it comes down to it.
While awaiting trial, we learn a bit more about the opposing female-centered ideologies that are in play here. Cirinism is a matriarchal form of fascism, centered on “traditional family values” and the importance of motherhood. Men are considered second-class citizens under a Cirinist rule, and live births are a woman’s highest calling, with Mothers valued above Daughters in the social heirarchy. Kevillism, on the other hand, values individual freedom above all, allowing for women to prevent or abort pregnancies, among other things. It’s not much more charitable towards men, either. Both philosophies are basically rooted in a Goddess-centered religion, cast in opposition to the dominant Church of Tarim that we’ve seen to date. Their religion is essentially a female-centric recasting of Tarim as Terim. There’s much more detail given to both philosophies in the upcoming volumes of Mothers & Daughters, but this is where we get a broader sense of the movements.
One of the more disturbing scenes in Church & State takes place before Astoria’s trial as well: her rape. One of her methods of bartering with Cerebus for her release was to dangle the possiblity of physical intimacy (and remember, Cerebus has been left by his “wife” and recently found out that Jaka is married). Of course, she teases, that’s not something the pope can do outside of marriage. Cerebus’ solution? He re-blindfolds and gags Astoria. He declares his marriage to Sophia dissolved. He declares Astoria his wife. And, in a series of panels consisting of lettering only, he has his way with her in her prison cell. And then declares them divorced.
Now, obviously this is a pretty brutal and shocking sequence, even if it is executed with a minimum of graphic detail. And I don’t think it’s gratuitous, seeing as it’s perfectly in character for Cerebus (I mean, jeez…he threw a cripple off a roof and tossed a baby into a crowd already during his tenure as pope!). Already, we’ve seen our protagonist as everything from thief to murderer to soldier to politician to priest, so why not add rapist? He’s been shown as pretty consistently amoral and self-interested. (And please note, this is not to excuse or condone the actions of the character, but simply it’s presence in the story.)
But to get what’s really odd and creepy about this scene (beyond the fact that we’re actually supposed to sympathize with a rapist for the next 175 issues or so) requires a little outside knowledge: that Astoria is reportedly based on Sim’s now-ex-wife. There are real depths of unease in this scene when it’s approached with this knowledge, and I think it’s a small indicator of things to come. As this story progresses, there’s much more evidence of how deeply Sim’s dealings with women affect his outlook on the world. I’m not suggesting that his divorce is a root cause, but I think it was part of a series of events that pushed a lot of ideas to the forefront of his mind, and a lot of these ideas start showing up first as subtext, before they start to consume the series in a more overt way.
Importantly, I think this scene is one of several that mark a shift of focus, away from power struggles in general (and in which the participants are mostly male) that have characterized the first several books, and begin to focus more on gender-related struggles, notably in Mothers & Daughters’ most infamous passages, and again in Guys. But again, I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ve still got more Church & State to deal with, and 2 other books to go before this becomes the central theme.
Next up, after all this build-up, comes Astoria’s actual trial. Cerebus, despite his stature in the church, enters this situation with a sense of despondency, basically faced with the choice of being the pawn of one of two groups. The progress of the trial does nothing to ease anyone’s mind, with a high concentration of tension and a bit of apparently mystical interference. The tall, narrow panels that served to so well in the chase sequence earlier return, giving a choppy, intercut feeling to a scene that basically devolves into the various involved figures yelling, shouting, fighting and trying their best to force their will on the goings-on. Cerebus has a vision, apparently shared with Astoria, in which their genders and species are reversed, apparently an echo of earlier, pre-Ascension trial involving Suentues Po (the illusionist that Cerebus has had some form of psychic contact with). As the trial progresses, Cirinist infiltrators of the church are busy sending word of the outcome to Cirin, who is revealed to be the second of three aardvarks supposedly at large in Estarcion.
With the trial devolving into an increasingly obscene affair, Weisshaupt’s final post-mortem assistance arrives: a solid-gold sphere tucked behind the throne of the chamber; the final ingredient of the Ascension. Cerebus sheds his robes and runs for the black tower in the Upper City, which is rumoured to be the vehicle for ascending to Vanaheim.
And this is where things get REALLY crazy.
Short version: Cerebus ascends, in the hollow of the black tower that splits from the mountain and rises into the sky. But of course, its’ not that easy. On his way, he is distracted by surreal figures (including a guest appearance by 80’s indie comics hero Flaming Carrot!) who try to turn him back. But he makes it to the peak of the tower, and defeats the three-headed apocalypse beast from earlier (who arrived with his/her/it’s own gold sphere), only to arrive…
On the Moon? Not exactly Vanaheim, and the black-clad figure he meets is not the expected deity Tarim, but instead an entity known as the Judge. But he does have quite a bit of information to impart to Cerebus.
And yes, here comes the SPOILER!!!!!
No, seriously. I’m spoiling the end of the book. Don’t look.
Ok. The Judge gives Cerebus a bit of a history lesson as a preamble…including the history of Suentues Po in his various past lives, the fate of various ascensions (and the fact that he was hoping it would be Weisshaupt who finally managed to pull it off), the eventual fate of the world (someone pushes a button and blows up the sun), and Cerebus’ fate.
Cerebus never conquers the known world. He never amasses all the gold in Estarcion. He lives only a short time longer, and dies. Alone, unmourned and unloved. And as an afterthought, the Judge tells Cerebus that if he ever feels this is undeserved, he should remember his second marriage (to Astoria).
Cheery stuff, huh?
Interesting that 1200 pages of comics, or actually, the entirety of the series thus far, however many pages that may be, culminates with the denunciation and condemnation of the title character. Who will continue to serve as the protagonist for the next 175 or so issues. Not that I’m really complaining. Along the way, there’s a lot of boundary-pushing, unique, and amazing work. Of course, there’s a lot of frustratingly awful material as well….but that doesn’t really start for a while still.
The final piece of Church & State is the double-issue epilogue story that appears in Cerebus Number Zero, titled “Square One”. Cerebus finds himself back in Iest, at his commanderred hotel. The tower has destroyed much of the lower city (again), and the Cirinists seized the moment to invade, easily taking control of Iest. Cerebus contemplates suicide after a brief trip through the hotel, still filled with reminders of his failings (and, of course, looted of his amassed gold). There’s no clear indication of how long he was gone, but it’s long enough for things to have settled into a dreary, totalitarian routine. Dazed and discouraged, he wanders off into the city.
And on that note of introspection, we come to the most introspective, withdrawn volume so far: Jaka’s Story. Y’all come back now, y’hear?
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Yes, I finally made it back to my local comics shop, after a few weeks where I jsut didn’t feel sufficiently inspired to go and pick up new comics. And you know what? I ended up with three books. And only one of them was new. And the one book that I was really excited about, Or Else #3? Nowhere to be found. Fucking hell! Sometimes I wonder why I bother. I could probably just sign up for one of those mail-order comics services and be done with it, but I do love browsing, and stumbling upon odds and ends I never would’ve thought to order. What is a boy to do?
Anyways, here’s what I got…
Little Star #4 (of 6) (Oni Press, $2.99)
Ah yes, Andi Watson. Always reliable for a good read. This is the newest installment of his latest mini-series, the introspective and down-to-earth Little Star, a tale of subtle relationship tension, parenthood, and minor job-related woes. What it lacks in melodrama it certainly makes up for in quiet intimacy. A rather sudden change of pace, coming after his oddball series Love Fights, which featured superheroes and superhero comic artists co-existing with each other, in between saving the world and becoming fodder for gossip magazines. But this issue, like the three previous, passes with nary a scene of histrionics (except from two-year old Cassie!), physical jeopardy, or overt conflict. It’s a rare talent that can pull off a story that draws you in like this, without relying on soap-opera emoting. Even his previous stories of domestic turbulence raised the crisis-meter several notches above what we have here. And while we’re two issues away from the series’ end, we could almost end it here comfortably. Almost! The ending here is a minor twist that’s going to do something a little paradoxical; change the story’s status quo by keeping it’s characters’ stuck in theirs.
Dang! Comics and Stories (Top Shelf, $3.50)
I recognize Martin Cendreda’s work from an anthology or two, and this has been sitting in my local comics shop’s “Art-comix” ghetto shelf (near the floor, behind you as you face the new releases, almost as well hidden as the pitiful manga section), and I figured I’d try it out. While enjoyable and clever, it feels a little slight at $3.50 for an undersized book. I think this story, and the handful of back-up features, would’ve felt more at home in a larger collection of material, just due to the fact that it’s a breezy read that relies on simple drawings and minimal text. Very good work, but probably not presented in the ideal format.
Drawn & Quarterly Showcase, Book Two (Drawn & Quarterly, $14.95)
Since it was a slow week, I figured I’d use the opportunity to complete my set of D&Q Showcase books. I like each book in this series a lot, as it usually contains at least one artist I’m familiar with (in this case, Jeffrey Brown) and at least one I’ve never seen or heard of before. It’s a great way to introduce an artists work; package an “established” author with one whose had little owrk availabel in the US. And the production is always top notch on these books, with well-executed spot color printing. Jeffrey Brown works a little out of his usual element here, with a story that could almost be a True Crime story, if it weren’t so offhand and open ended. Pentti Otsamo has a story that connects the inhabitants of an apartment bulding in a circle of small coinidences, and Erik de Graaf ends the volume with a short loss-of-innocence tale drawn in a crisp, graphic style that betrays his training as a designer before becoming a comic artist. It’s a shame this book is an annual, as I’d love to see something of this quality coming out quarterly. But I guess that’s what Mome is here for…
Cerebus blogging resumes soon. The C&S 2 entry is a bit more complicated than I’d anticipated. I’m done reading the entire first half of the series, but I’m going to have to take a small break so I don’t get too far ahead of my posting. Stay tuned…
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