Friday, 30 May 2014

Cerebus Book 10: Minds (#187-200)

"Cerebus will be a lot better this time.  Cerebus is no saint, but you'll see Cerebus can be very nice when he wants to be." - Cerebus

After the mess that was Reads, I felt a little deflated and wasn't really looking forward to reading onwards, afraid that everything would be tainted now by Dave Sim's weird politics.  But thankfully Minds is a superb book.  In fact, atlthough critical consensus says Jaka's Story is the best of the series, I would rate Minds as my joint second favourite.  Mainly because it deals with something I have always found fascinating - that being how fictional characters can take on a life of their own with their creators often surprised as to where they end up going.  I've read this so many times, from so many creators, and it's with Minds that Dave Sim explores his relationship with his creation.  Instead of hectoring and yowling in text pages seperate from the comic itself, he writes himself into the story as "Dave The Creator", an unseen presence who talks with Cerebus as he hurtles through the solar system.

On the subject of characters taking on a life of their own, Grant Morrison says it better than I in Supergods (and indeed Grant Morrison had himself a few years before Minds, travelled into the fiction of the Animal Man stories he was writing to converse with the lead character about what he had done to him):

Grant Morrison:  "Everybody's heard writers talk about a moment in the process of writing a novel or a story, when 'it was if the characters took over'...When a character becomes sufficiently fleshed out and complex, he or she can often cause the writer to abandon original well laid plans in favor of new plotlines based on a better understanding of the characters motivations."

Minds is all about how Dave Sim reached this point with Cerebus, and how, once he wrapped up the threads of storyline dating right back to when he started the Cerebus project and addressed Cerebus with the words: "Your turn" he began rowing into uncharted waters storywise as he says in the intro.

Dave Sim: "I had no idea what Cerebus's dialogue would be from that point on. For close to ten years, I wouldn't even let myself speculate on it as I lived with the little grey bastard... day in, day out. I had to trust that such an extended period of living with the title character of this large and strange experiment would make the improvisation go well, but I had no way of knowing."

Cirin, Cerebus and the Throne carry on through space.  Their wounds heal as they pass Mars, although Cerebus' missing ear is not restored.  Both of them bellow about Tarim versus Terim, then the throne is shattered and the block they are standing on gets split in two and they both head off in different directions.  We get a flashback of young Cerebus, who has taken a knife from his home and gone to confront a bully, who takes it from him and causes a grevious wound to Cerebus's groin.  Then, still alone with his thoughts, Cerebus starts cursing and praying in Tarim's name alternately until finally "Dave" an unseen presence starts to chat with him.

Cerebus: "Tarim?"

Dave: "I know you must get tired of hearing this, but no - I am not Tarim. I am your creator, but given that no creator where his ideas come from, even that's a shaky premise."
Cerebus and Dave Chatting
 He then goes on to reassure Cerebus that he is not just hearing voices in his head, nor is he a demon and that he can manipulate Cerebus's memories or step outside of his head.  He talks about a revelatory moment he had gone through near the start of Cerebus's story:

Dave: "It happened shortly after you met the Bug for the first time.  I knew very little about you at that time.  But I did know you were a hermaphrodite and I did know that your female plumbing was irrevocably damaged in the kitchen knife incident.  But suddenly - I found I had a lot more to say.  I knew that the story, your story had to be large.. really large... really, really large.  I knew the situations I wanted you to face and I was eager to see how you'd react.  And I knew that someday (many years later) we'd have this chat"

He goes on to take Cerebus through his experiences as Prime Minister and Pope and how neither of them had made him happy because he was pinning his happiness onto things he couldn't control; "If you don't understand that you are the baker and your life is the bread - that you are the only one who can make yourself happy or unhappy - then you don't understand anything."  This book is basically a cold, hard lesson for Cerebus from "Dave" and the hardest lesson he needs to learn is about Jaka - his "panacea".  Dave decides to show him what Jaka was thinking when she made her "I love my husband speech" during Jaka's Story.  The image below contains her thoughts (click to enlarge).

Don't Worry Cerebus/Jaka Shippers, This Gets Retconned Away Later..

Dave: "I didn't kill Jaka, Cerebus.  Jaka is alive.  Her marriage is over.  She's back in Palnu with her Uncle Julius.  And everywhere she turns she feels herself devoured by the eyes of men hungry for wealth, hungry for power.  And when she sees that look of transparent avarice - that arrogant, sick need to possess her - to own her, to control her.  She thinks of you."

Ouch.  Cerebus looks crushed and miserable by this revelation as well he should.  But he still insists that he loves her, even when Dave proves he knows little about her except that he loves her.  Which isn't good enough.  Moving on from Jaka, Dave says he wanted to talk to Cerebus and Cirin together, but as Cirin comes into view she is drowning out Dave's attempts to talk with her with ragefull telepathic screaming about blasphemy,  So they move on again, and Dave says he wants to tell her story to Cerebus.

The story starts with two robed women in a library called Cirin and Serna, drafting what will become the Cirinist manifesto.  The occupying forces of their country will be leaving soon, executing all men between the ages of five and forty. The manifesto states that their needs to be "communal safety, the sharing of resources, hard labour from sunrise to sunset, quarterly festivals of excess and debauchery and asceticism in all areas of existence."  An interesting, and in some ways very communistic manifesto. Robes are introduced so women can be free of the tyranny of vanity  and relate as equals, men are allowed to drink and spend their free time how they wish.  Any man who who hurts a woman is later found with his throat cut courtesy of Serna's community safety officers, who begin to demand more and more of the communal resources as Cirinism spreads across the whole country.

The Birth Of A Movement

Cirin becomes concerned by the increased militancy of Serna's Safety Officers and begins excluding them from the "quilting circles" that make up the loose government of the country. Then one day Cirin and Serna confront each other, and it turns out the aardvark leader of the Cirinist movement we've been seeing in action over the past few books is actually Serna.  Cirin is the mysterious old woman Cerebus met and chatted with in Women.  Serna takes Cirin's place as leader of the movement after sewing Cirin's mouth shut and leaving her under armed guard.

Dave: "She inherited Cirin's meticulously crafted movement so throughly in tune with human nature and human ideals.  And grafted onto it a war machine which had absolute tolerance for  the free expression of ideas and a brutal intolerance of any action taken outside its clearly defined parameters....Cirin wanted to help and she did help.  She replaced competativeness, greed and violence, with cooperativeness, selflessness and peace.  She lived exactly as she thought others should live, she did her fair share of the work.  And equally shared in the rewards.  No more. No less."

It may be an allegory, but it's fascinating how Dave Sim has hit on the real life problems the feminist movement was suffering during the late 70's and 80's when a movement based on the idea of equality between men and women and raising womens expectations resulted in extremist parts of the movement allying with the repressive elements in society to enforce a single feminist ideal that attacked women who dared to have opinions on matters of things like sexual expression that fell outside of this type of feminism fascistic standards.  And back with Cirin and Serna, if Cirinism has proto-communistic elements then Serna is definitely it's Stalin.  Purging her opposition and rewriting history to suit herself.  And despite all the Void/Light bibble from the previous book, Dave seems to appreciate the ideals of the early Cirnist/feminist movement and is saddened that it became so corrupted.  Dave then shows Cirin that when Cerebus was stabbed in the groin as a child, it damaged his female parts so he cannot give birth.  Now he is of no interest to her anymore, and although we hear about her in later books, "Cirin" never appears again. Now it's Cerebus's turn to ask questions of Dave.

So of course the first thing he demands is a chair to sit in, some ale and food.  Which Dave provides.  After waking from his nap, he does have a question, about the three medallions he wears. "what are these damn things anyway?".  Dave replied that long ago a vision of Cerebus was seen by a Pigt Shaman-King, which started up the worship of Cerebus.  But as doubt about it spread, the Shaman-King forged the three medallions, helmet and short sword.  "These will be his" he proclaims before commiting suicide by driving the sword into his chest.  Kicking off centures of civil war between the Pigts over them and his remains.  The three items were lost, only to be found by Cerebus on his travels, if he had kept them all, when he first met the Pigts they would have turned to gold and Cerebus would have fulfilled his dreams of conquest.

Instead he hocked the helmet for some ink, so he could paint a merchant symbol on his medallions and blend into the city he was in.  Losing the helmet had chaotic repercussions, first literally in the shape of the Chaos Gem.

Dave: "The crawler, mishapen and ravenous - a manisfestation of the aimless, plodding future before you. The last ruler of a dying race - a bumbling, yet arrogant fool.  A manisfestation of your self-deception, incompetance and bluster... Elrod and the Roach become inescapable manisfestations of your inadequacies and failed nature.  With the helmet and the sword gone, the last residue of magic is fading from your life.  You influence events and people but in a chaotic fashion that you cannot control.  You journey into the Seventh Sphere a pawn in a larger game.  Elrods spirit possessing the Hsifian assassin, the apocalypse beasts, Professor Charles X Claremont.  The Regency Elf.  Going.. going.. going...gone."

Put like this is actually makes the seemingly random events of the early books make all kinds of symbolic sense as well as the reasons for gradually phasing them out, which shows how much Dave Sim must have planned in advance.  Or it could be just a very clever retcon tying those adventures and characters together in a way that works in retrospect.  Either way, well played Dave.  He goes on to talk a little about Cerebus's time as Prime Minster and Pope, but Cerebus gets bored.  And interrupts that Dave could make Jaka love Cerebus.  And when Dave tries to tell him more about his background, Cerebus goes into a sulk.  So Dave shows Cerebus several examples of what would happen if he forced Jaka to love Cerebus.

First we see her miserable, lying in bed, dreading the time she'll have to have sex with Cerebus.  Cerebus who shouts at her, and threatens to hit her, and makes her cry.  And how she is already planning her escape from him.

Dave: "I can make her love you - but I can't make her love stronger than her need to be happy. Or her instinct for self preservation."

Cerebus isn't listening and tells Dave to make Jaka happy with him no matter what, leading to this unpleasant vision.
Even Imaginary Cerebus Is A Dick
Cerebus then tells Dave to make Jaka happy and make it so he will never hit her.  So Dave shows him what would happen then.  In an extended vision Cerebus is shown meeting an attractive new neighbour called Joanne (who will turn up again in a later book for real).  He ends up sleeping with Joanne and Jaka commits suicide when she finds out.  The vision ends with Cerebus crushed and distressed, sitting on a planet he calls "Juno".  Dave says that Cerebus is Pluto and wants Jaka to be his Charon, "to derive her pleasure and her happiness from sharing your desolation."  He says he changed everything about her to please Cerebus and it still wasn't enough.  Cerebus tells him to "shut up".  Dave punches him in the face.

Dave: "No, my obnoxious grey creation.  YOU shut up and YOU fucking listen.  For ONCE in your FUCKING life.  You wounded Jaka, wounded her so mortally that she felt she had no recourse but to take her own life.  You wounded Joanne the same way.  And who do YOU think is to blame?  I know who YOu think is to blame.  YOU blame Jaka for your infidelity and Joanne for Jaka's suicide."

It's again interesting that Mr. Female Void/Male Light again is portraying women as decent and sympathetic and the injured parties in all this.  Punishing Cerebus for his horrible  behaviour towards them.  He seems genuinely frustrated by Cerebus refusing to "get it" and decides it's time to get nasty.  The punch has left Cerebus with a swollen eye, and Dave in the most post-modern move yet refers to a "quirk in the history of the medium within which you exist.  The 'injury to the eye' motif".

This was a trope identified as a recurring part of comics by the German academic Frederic Wertham in his notorious book The "Seduction Of The Innocent", a 50's book which inspired a media panic about comics and they only survived by adopting a voluntary Comics Code that neutered the industry's output for many years.  Dave holds Cerebus still and with novocane and a scalpel, drains the swelling under Cerebus's eye while Cerebus is trapped and frozen in extreme terror. Finally with the ordeal over Cerebus has another question.

Cerebus: "Why did you create Cerebus?"

Dave: "To make myself rich and famous.  It sort of worked.  I became sort of rich and sort of famous.  is that the question you wanted answered?  or would you rather know why I keep telling your story?

Cerebus: [shrugs wordlessly]

Dave: "uh.. basic curiousity... I always want to know what choice you're going to make...what you're going to do next. As you get older it becomes more interesting.  Will you improve as you go along? get worse? Stay the same?"

Cerebus gets up and starts to walk towards an image of Jaka setting a table for a romantic dinner.  Dave tries to tell him no, hasn't he had enough?  Jaka then embraces a boyfriend causing Ceerbus to collapse to the ground.  Finally he admits to Dave "you win".  He then tells Dave to go away and leave him alone.  Dave bids him farewell and "no hard feelings" leaving Cerebus sad and broken, face down on the planet's barren, rocky surface.

We then get an epilogue with a Cerebus who is crazed with loneliness, stranded as he has been for weeks without company.  He keeps calling for Dave, wishing that all he wants is to be at the tavern by the Wall Of Tsi he went to with Bear to many years ago.  Finally Dave answers his pleas and Cerebus shows he's had a breakthrough.

Cerebus: "Cerebus has wasted years - years - waiting for someone who doesn't love him - Who probably never did love him - to come back. 'Alone, unmourned and unloved'. That's what the Judge meant isn't it? If Cerebus keeps just waiting for Jaka to come back, Cerebus is always going to be alone.  If Cerebus never makes friends with anyone, how can Cerebus expect to be anything other than unmourned.  If Cerebus never tries to love anyone but Jaka, who's going to love Cerebus back? Right?"

He apologises to Dave for calling him evil, and Dave accepts his apology and tells him he can transport him to the tavern he wanted to go to if Cerebus just jumps.  Which Cerebus does, falling happily onto the page Dave Sim is currently drawing, which is of himself drawing the page, of himself drawing the page and oh I've gone crosseyed.  With a final page leading into Guys, the next book in the series.

Post-Modernity Ahoy!
It's hard to explain why I enjoy this book so much, when it's mainly a conversation between two characters, one of whom you can't even see.  But it's enjoyable seeing the trailing plot threads tied up, seeming random events from as far back as book one given extra meaning and the way Cerebus is forced over and over to drag himself out of his obssession with Jaka which has been holding back his emotional development since he first met her.  Although crucially, while this may seem like a male light freeing himself from the baleful effect of a female void, the key breakthrough is that stopping being obssesed with Jaka will leave him free to love other people, not no one at all and that he is the one clinging to the relationship not her.  The lessons Cerebus learns in this book, will be put into practice as the series continues into it's final third.  His close relationships will shape the narrative now the grand backdrop of politics and ideology has been dealt with, things are to become more intimate.  This book genuinely sees Cerebus change, and although the lessons are harsh, they are believable.  Whether that change is for the better will be explored in the books to come.  For now, Minds is a fantastic book, a much better meditation on the creative process than Reads was, and a fine capstone on both to the "Mothers and Daughters arc and  the first two hundred issues of the story overall.


  1. That does sound like a good read - an oasis of calm amid the insanity. Sure, it's the calm of the freezing airless interstellar void, but it's still calm. (Interstellar has become one of my favourite words recently). Its tone is meditative; contemplative; inward-looking. This is an important moment in the story of any hero: the moment of self-analysis following victories and (more often) defeats, before the search for a higher truth. In other words, Cerebus is having his mid-life crisis. It's not surprising that he's re-evaluating his sexuality. If this book was a tarot card, it would be the Hanged Man. The outward journey between the planets is, of course, an inward one, with the planets representing different aspects of the human/aardvark personality (as shown in Promethea). So he ends up on a planet called 'Juno', named after the Queen of the Greek gods and champion of wives and mothers. Cherchez la femme: it's all about the female, about getting in touch with your inner feminine side and learning how to live with it, instead of letting your masculinity (i.e. Mars) dominate your personality and drive you to seek solace in female externals (i.e. Jaka) who are abused when they can't provide you with what you need.

    When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane his disciple cut off the ear of one of the bad guys, and Jesus restored it. By refusing to restore Cerebus' ear Dave Sim is showing that he is not Jesus, i.e. a man whose masculine and feminine attributes (force and compassion) are perfectly balanced. This is a frank acknowledgement from the creator that he is not the Creator - not God, even in the universe he himself has created. He is, in fact, helpless in the face of his creation and cannot give him what he wants. He is constrained by the laws of the universe he has created and the autonomy of his creations (above all Jaka). So what happens after this brutally frank self-examination? The wheels come off, because the vehicle has been pushed beyond the speed limit. There is no post-post-modernism: the story has gone as far as it can go, so anything extra is merely a deflationary coda, the dimming tail of a blazing comet, the hum of strings still vibrating at the end of a symphony, the story of an experience rather than the experience itself in all its vivid immediacy.

    But the comic book medium demands that creators go on creating, issue after issue. Ironically, Dave Sim is a casualty of the medium he excels in, a situation which gives him the pathos of a drowning dolphin or a spider trapped by its own web - the element which sustains him, the strands he weaves so deftly, conspiring to destroy him.

  2. Wow Lucy, that stuff about Juno and the ear cutting, I didn't know about that and it makes perfect sense! Especially with the meta knowledge that Dave Sim was starting to add more and more Christianity to the book as time wore on, the ear cutting was most likely a deliberate reference. You've given me a lot to ponder with what Juno symbolises, I will definitely pop a reference to it in the relevant review, with proper attribution of course :)

    And your right after this, the wheels do start to come off. Very slowly at first, but I almost wish the book had ended with #200 as it would end on a real high note. That said I would miss elements of what are to come, the next book - Guys - is charming and Dave and Gerhards art reach new heights in the final third too. But I miss the wonderful characters, like The Roach and Astoria etc who made the Cerebusverse so much fun to read about.

  3. Glad you found my thoughts useful. I can only comment on things from a Judeo-Christian perspective, with some superficial knowledge of the classics, but I guess that's good if it dovetails nicely with your Eastern knowledge.

  4. Well, as I have said, the Christian elements do end up taking over the book completely by the end. I'll try to deal with them sensitively, if it seems like I am having a go, its only Dave Sim's interpretation of the bible (which is bizarre beyond belief) and not Christianity as a whole. I'll try and make sure my sarcasm pencil pokes the correct target :D