Thursday, 1 May 2014

Cerebus Book 3: Church And State I (#52-80)

"If you could have any amount of much would you want?" - Michelle

   "All Of it" - Cerebus

The eagle eyed amongst you may have spotted a missing issue number between this and High Society.  That's because the issue in question is an "inbetween" story, that I will cover with the rest when I review Cerebus Zero after Jaka's Story.  This huge volume is the first part of the massive Church and State saga, where it's time for organised religion to get some parodic treatment, as well as kicking off the Ascension plotline which will continue right up to issue 200, making these books hard to come to just on their own. Unlike the previous two you really need to know the backstory and characters now or you'll be completely bewildered as to what's happening. Characters making a return are Weisshaupt and Red Sophia from Book 1, while we get a handful of new ones - Archishop Powers, the weedy Archbishop Posey, the independently wealthy Countess Michelle and the fantastic Mrs. Henrot-Gutch, mother of Red Sophia.

The story begins with Cerebus writing his memoirs on governing Iest.  After receiving and accepting an invitation to come and write it at the house of the Countess, both The Roach and Weisshaupt appear.  The Roach is now a parody of Wolverine - the Wolveroach - and Michalle has looked after him in the past.  She
Beware The Wolveroach
fills in some of his backstory, he's just a mentally ill, but very strong and fit man whose had his identity rewritten several times by both Weisshaupt and Astoria.  Quite sad really.  When Weisshaupt appears he offers Cerebus the Prime Ministership of Iest again.  He's managed to unite the states round it into one ecomonic block that he is President of and Cerebus suits his needs as far as running Iest is concerned.  Cerebus tells him he won't do it in no unertain terms.  But as his boorish behaviour upsets and alienates Michelle he leaves her and we next find him waking up after a drunken night out, only to find Weisshaupt arranged for him to be drugged then got him married to Red Sophia.  And dissolving a marriage is now a capital offence without the Presidents approval.  Thus a furious Cerebus is blackmailed into becoming Prime Minister again.

Weisshaupt also wants Cerebus to start writing what are called "Reads" which are pulp novels with pictures in them.  The problem (for him) in the region now is the spread of the political movement "Cirinism" which is a parody of the type of extreme feminist seperatist branches of feminism that arose from mainstream feminism in our world in the 70's and 80's.  Cirinism has it's powerbase in a nearby country called Upper Felda, it's ruled by Cirin and is a pure matriarchy where men are second class citizens and a womans worth is only to be found in bearing children.  Later we'll find out more about it's opposing view "Kevillism" which Astoria is the prime mover behind, which is based on the more political and egalitarian feminist principles (there are some that might be crying "misogyny" at just the mention of a feminism in a parodic context, I am not one of them, everything is fair game for satire I believe and at this point unlike later I don't think Dave Sim had any malicious intent).  This war between the differing ideologies will become the main focus in the next major arc, for now they are bubbling along in the background.  Weisshaupt wants Cerebus' Reads to help combat this female conciousness raising leading to this amusing exchange:

Weisshaupt: Cirin.. Or as I call her "The Cow that walks like a man"... has ruthlessly exploited the new literacy among women.  The poor things are so confused, they're starting to see political overtones in doing laundry. So I've been issuing these tracts to get them back to good, basic, traditional female values.  The stories are all the same.  Independant woman meets man.  Either she gives up everything for him and lives happily or she stays independant and goes blind... or dies of consumption... or cuts her throat with a cheese slicer.

Red Sophia: I read that one.  I rilly identified with her. 'specially when she uses the dozen roses he sent her to flog her self.

And so with no other option left to him Cerebus travels back to Iest.  Oh and gets to meet Red Sophia's mother, Mrs. Henrot Gutch.  A hilariously violent woman who fights with Cerebus  all the time, and is based on (and drawn identically to) Grandma from the UK Express newspaper cartoon "Giles".  Which is a pretty obscure reference now even for us Brits let alone Canadian and North American readers.  Furious and miserable, trapped in a job he doesn't want and married to a woman he doesn't love, it seems like there is no escape for him.  Then he is granted and audience with the Pope (the main religion in the region worships Tarim the equivalent of our Christian God and who Cerebus himself follows.  It's also split into two branches, East and West) who starts telling him the Cirinists are right, which gets him executed for heresy on the spot leaving a gap at the head of the Eastern church....

Meet the Mother-In-Law

The business of government continues.  We finally get filled in as to why Cirin and the Cirinists hate Astoria by Teresa (who had a small part in book 1).  Cirin was grooming Astoria for power and arranged for her to marry her son.  before the assigned wedding date they married in secret and Astoria became pregnant.  Before the baby was due she disappeared and when she returned she was no longer pregnant but the baby was nowhere to be seen.  She refused to confirm if she was a mother, so Cirin could not have her executed as the killing of a mother is unforgivable to the Cirinists.  Astoria then laid out her new philosophy.

Teresa: "Her beliefs were such that she felt each individual should advocate all of their own attitudes rather than the beliefs of the society or governing structure in which they find themselves.  It was the Shen Devotional beliefs - 'The Kevil' - typically Astoria had taken a system of meditation and made it into a political movement."

Which is certainly true of feminism as I came to study and be a part of in the 90's when many women such as myself rejected the seperatist, monolithic, judgemental feminism of prior decades.  Really by then you could pick and mix a feminist philosophy that matched your political beliefs easily.  I'm a postmodern feminist myself.

After a chaotic meeting with Lord Julius and Duke Leonardi, Weisshaupt is informed that Cerebus has been nominated as Eastern Pontiff, this was mainly done by Powers to spite Weisshaupt.  When Weisshaupt asks Archbishop Powers why he says Cerebus performed a miracle, Powers says that according to Weisshaupts write up of the end Cerebus' Prime Minstership he repelled the invading Hsifans single handedly "because Tarim was with him."  Powers is also quite open about the fact he believes Cerebus will be open to the Western Church doctrine.  Weisshaupt threatens to ruin the church "down to it's last half crown" if provoked.  Powers merely observes that maybe Weisshaupt's grip on power isn't as strong as he wants people to believe.

The new Pope Cerebus is assigned the nervy, trembling Archbishop Posey and immediately starts referring to himself as Most Holy and treating everyone around him like crap, well like even more crap I should say.  Much to Power's horror, Cerebus refuses to meet with him and moves himself into a hotel on the East Wall and hires mercenaries to guard him, while the crowds gather round outside to hear him speak.  He forces Posey to take a letter, basically telling Powers and the Western Church to go fuck themselves.  Making Powers yet another in a long line of people who underestimated him.  He then gives a speech demanding the assembled crowd give him all their gold as "Tarim's Mercy doesn't come cheap."  Of course the first sin Cerebus as Pope would commit would be simony.

Your money or your eternal soul
And the Chekov's Guns are in place..
The amount of gold being taken out of the economy starts a panic in the banking system and they lean on Weisshaupt to sort it out.  He moves his cannons to the roof opposite and yells his demand for the gold.  He get's so angry after Cerebus uses his "Most Holy" status to promise hellish punishments to anyone who opposes him on the soldiers he has with him that he collapses from a stroke.  Which makes the assembled crowds even more impressed and fearful of Cerebus.  After a warning from a fake Regency elf he starts to worry what will happen if his predicted end of the world doesn't happen, because he hasn't managed to get all the gold.  So he gives the crowds a second chance, they have to invade and conquer the nearby Red Marches in his name, which they do.  Things aren't so rosy in his personal life, Red Sophia walks out on him, so he asks his mercenary friend Bear to go and fetch Jaka. Which he does.  Once again, I am going to concentrate on this issue a bit as I think Jaka tends to bring the best out of Dave Sim at this point in time.

Much to Cerebus' horror, she is now married.  He angrily says that she said she would wait for him forever.

Jaka: I said I'd wait forever for you to remember. Well you DID remember.  AND YOU NEVER CAME BACK!

Then she sits sadly on the floor and thinks back to when they first met.

Jaka: I listened to your stories for hours. Your wonderful adventures.  And I thought, he wants to share his life, all the people and places. Places I'd only dreamt about.  He wants to share them.  And it's me he wants to share them with.

Cerebus: Cerebus still wants you to share his life.

She refuses, telling him that power changes people, like the people she grew up with in Palnu as Lord Julius' neice.  Even though Cerebus rips off his Papal Robe and puts his barbarian gear back on she still won't go with him.  Confessing that she has a husband she loves and that she is pregnant with his child. Sobbing, she says she worries she'll look ugly after the birth and won't be able to dance anymore. "You'll never be ugly Jaka. Never" says Cerebus and they embrace.  Then refusing the gold he tries to give her, she leaves him lonely and sad.  The most powerful person in Iest and he still can't get what he's always wanted, someone he really loves.  And yeah, Cerebus right now is a complete prick and will only be getting worse, so it's something of a triumph of heartfelt writing that you feel the yearning between them and want them to get together despite it all.

Cerebus, sunk in self pity is called to see the dying President Weisshaupt.  He drops the bombshell that there are two other aardvarks in Estarcion (the continent Iest and the neighbouring countries are in), but refuses to
Stay classy, Cerebus
tell Cerebus who they are.  He then tells him that with his death, history will judge that a wrong turn was taken.

Weisshaupt: "You represent the triumph of the mudane over the sublime.  A triumph which is extraordinary because it is so irrevocably and so intensely tragic."

Soon he falls dying on the floor and with his final breaths, asks Cerebus to absolve him of his sins, which elicit a predictable response.

Back in the hotel, Cerebus has strange and symbolic dreams of things to come and things that have been.  When he wakes up there is quite a bit of comedy slapstick with Lord Julius, Duke Leonardi and Red Sophia all taking it in turns to lecture Cerebus who has managed to get stuck in a wall.  Lord Storm'send also shows up more seriously to warn Cerebus that he's set things in motion he has no control over and that it has something to do with the mountain Iest is built on.  When Cerebus gets free of the wall, he goes to an upper floor window and comes face to face with Thrunk, a golem who looks a bit like The Thing from the Fantastic Four (and who is possessed by a discorporeal wizard called Necross which happened during an chapter in Book One).  He is wearing a Papal Robe and claims he is Tarim Himself and He wants His gold.  He smashes through the window to grab at Cerebus who retreats to find Bran MacMuffin who just mumbles something about a "huge mistake" and stabs himself through the heart.  Thrunk then grabs Cerebus and hurls him over the East Wall and down into the Lower City.  And on that cliffhanger, the first half of Church and State is over.

Thrunk attacks

And today's lesson is...
The book is the second longest of all the Cerebus books, and in condensing twenty-eight issues down I've missed out on much of the running comedy gags and minutia of the politicking and only highlighted the stuff that is relevant to the overall arc of the storyline, you might think I've perhaps gone into too much detail, but because the groundwork of so much of the next hundred odd issue is laid here that I felt it neccessary to do so to make the following reviews easier to understand.  It's a tremendously enjoyable book, Cerebus maybe the main character, but in no way is he the hero.  Yet events pivot round him constantly and the sheer variety and personalities of characters surrounding him make the books a lot of fun to read at this point in time.  While writing this book, I believe Dave Sim was self described as a secular humanist, so his view of organised religion as a snakepit of competing, yet similar ideologies and the sheeplike acceptance of even the most despicable behaviour on the part of the pontiff is a somewhat biased one.  The collision of ideologies, Tarim worship, Cirinism, Kevillism and the worship of the Goddess Terim carry on right through the next one hundred or so chapters, far beyond the end of the Church and State arc.  As it is, the first half of the arc is an often riotously funny, clever, jam-packed romp.  I haven't said much about the artwork, because it's still very much in the vein of High Society - packed pages and sparse backgrounds.  The next step up will be covered in Church and State II when Gerhard starts working on the backgrounds. Stay tuned!


  1. It's a rollicking adventure of Prime Ministers and Popes!