Sunday, 4 May 2014

Cerebus Book 4: Church and State II (#81-111)

"Cerebus is Cerebus! Cerebus is Most Holy - Cerebus is the Great Cerebus" - Cerebus

Although this book has the most issues collected in it of the whole Cerebus saga, the story slows down somewhat and finds room to breathe.  After the frenetic cross cutting between various P.O.V's in the first part the scenes get longer and a little more leisurely paced.  With Gerhard coming aboard to do backgrounds there are now fewer pages crammed with panels of characters on plain white and black backgrounds.  The level of detail to the faces is upped and the level of charicature starts to be gradually phased out.  The pairing of the two artists does result in some superb and atmospherically detailed enviroments and there is more of a sense of place as well.

Cerebus bumps into The Roach straight away, now the Secret Sacred Wars Roach (a parody of Spiderman).  He takes hims to a house where the MacGrew Brothers (his sidekicks now) and Michelle from book one are waiting.  Michelle tells Cerebus about her relationship between herself and the now deceased Weisshaupt.  How he financed her through his University and afterwards, until Lord Julius gave her 200,000 Palnu Crowns so she could live independently of him and how angry it made him.  Nevertheless she misses him greatly, though she doesn't envy the life he lived or that she'll be party to anymore of his plans after she gives Cerebus an envelope containing what he'll need to regain the Papacy.  As for why Weisshaupt would help Cerebus?

Michelle: He said if someone else would be declared to be Tarim on Earth.... He would want it to be someone like you.  Someone.. mundane.  So he would still be remembered for his political reforms.

She then tells Cerebus that despite Weisshaupt's plans, she will NOT be there when Cerebus completes the mysterious Final Ascension.  She orders Cerebus to leave and that's the last we see of Michelle.  And it's a nice exit for the character, after having her whole life manipulated by men, she final stands up for herself and there is no doubt in my mind she'll go on to live a happy independent life now, whatever Dave Sim intended.

The Three Idiots

While this is going on we cut back to some amusing back and forth between Lord Julius and Astoria, where for the first time we get a clear statement of her manifesto.

Astoria: I have nothing to say to you Lord Julius.

Lord Julius:  I know.  Isn't it grand?  It's almost like being married again. Ah, Astoria.  Blossom of my sordid youth. Why did we ever part?

Astoria:  Because I believe in state-owned prostitution, pharamceutically assissted miscarriages, ownership of men, guaranteed minimum income for women over the age of fifteen and the inalienable right of self-determination within those parameters.  And you don't.

Ownership of men?  Call me a "Kevillist" but that's a type of feminism I can get behind (though seriously, remove the "ownership of men" part and you have views that pretty much chime with my own type of feminism).

Back with Cerebus, after opening the letter from Weisshaupt (containing a picture of a cannon and the word "BOOM") that Michelle gave him as a last favour to a dying man, a somewhat saddened  Cerebus starts making his way to the Upper City.  On the way he stops and has a drug fuelled conversation with Prince Mick, who is travelling with Prince Keith (the pair of them quite obvious charicatures of Mich Jagger and Keith Richards), then first Elrod turns up in a giant spider costume, then Secret Sacred Wars Roach who starts climbing the sheer wall to the Upper City, closely followed by Cerebus.

On the way, Roach's pounding on the fourth wall gets harder as he slips into Frank Miller like narration:

Spider-Roach In Action.

Well, it amused me.  If I have a criticism of the story so far, it's that it hasn't made it very clear what the Final Ascension involves.  Something to do with the gold and a tower growing very tall is all that's really been said about it.  Anyway at the top The Roach doesn't do what the waiting Astoria wants and goes to confront Thrunk/Necross.  He gets punched miles away.  Cerebus makes it to the top as well, and yells at Astoria to go away which she does.  Literally.  She fades away to nothingness, an event that will be explained later on.  Using the cannons on the roof opposite the hotel that Weisshaupt put there in part one, Cerebus blows off Thrunk/Necross' head and kills him utterly.  The crowds part for him in awe and he returns to the hotel and goes to bed.

After more strange dreams Cerebus goes to the room full of gold, and the strange ball of light that has been pestering him since he became Pope takes possession of his head.  In some kind of dreamspace the Ball of Light and Cerebus chat about The Final Ascension.  Apparently the Ascension involves carrying a ball of gold to the top of a tower.

Cerebus:  You still haven't told Cerebus what the Final Ascension is.

Ball Of Light:  When you get to the top of the tower with the gold sphere it rises faster and faster and - BOOM - suddenly you're on the moon.

Cerebus: Heaven?

Ball Of Light:  Vanaheim, Valhalla, The Pearly Gates, the Final reward, Angel Headquarters - whatever you want to call it.

Cerebus: Really?

Ball Of Light: Yup.

The Ball Of Light doesn't seem sure of what happens next, but does assure Cerebus that anyone can do it if they have a ball of gold.  Cerebus says he'll do it as he doesn't want any old person to be his redeemer and he reurns mentally to the hotel.  there Archbishop Powers gives him the news that the leader of the Western Church has been assassinated.  The Churches are united under Cerebus and also that the assassin was... Astoria.

Pope Seduction.

Cerebus goes to visit Astoria who is chained up in a cell.  They have a long conversation so I'm only concentrating on the most important bits here.  She says that Cerebus owes her for placing him in the position where he could become Pope.  Then she begins to act seductively saying that he can't do anything to her outside marriage.  But Cerebus is the Pope and he speedily divorces himself from Red Sophia and marries Astoria.  Then he gags and rapes her.

He rapes Astoria.  And that my friends is the point I believe Cerebus Syndrome sets in for good.  Sure there are comic bits and jokes later on, but to suddenly throw something as serious as rape in changes the atmosphere of the storytelling and our relationship with Cerebus for good.  It's funny that we can accept and even laugh off things like casual murder and baby throwing, but rape is too real, too shocking to shrug off.  And it cements Cerebus firmly as a non-hero protagonist.  He's practically a villian by now.  But the impetus is to keep reading, because after this depth is plumbed by cerebus he isn't let off, he's punished, over and over.  Maybe Dave Sim didn't mean it like that, but I see what happens to Cerebus after this as nothing less than drawn out retribution for his appalling acts while holding the office of Pope.
Hey About That Rape You Just Did...

Afterwards an angry Astoria argues with him about the nature of the Final Ascension, and that it's the Goddess Terim who keeps knocking down the tower the previous times it's been attempted because it's been males doing it.  She then tells him that if he orders her execution, the Cirinists will invade as Cirin has wanted to kill Astoria herself.  But if he doesn't the armies of the Western Church will attack Iest.

Cerebus: You did it again.  Cerebus feels like the sky is falling! Cerebus can't kill you.  Cerebus can't hold you.  Cerebus can't let you go!

Later on, dressed in full Papal gear he presides over her trial.  She admits to the murder, that when she disappeared earlier she was transported to the chambers of the Western Pontiff and in a dreamlike state stabbed him to death.  As the trial moves along things become peculiar.

CerebusEchoes.  That's all it is..some kind of...

Astoria:  You and I.. We're the echoes...

Then Astoria transforms into an elderly aardvark, and starts to tell Cerebus how things end.  With flames and death.  Then things snap back to reality and a shaken Cerebus and Astoria.  This weirdness along with Astoria mysterious journey to the Western Pontiff gets sort of explained in a later volume as the work of the Illusionists and Suentus Po, the person Cerebus mentally talked to in the first two Mind Games and who is appearing to him now as an old aardvark.

Cerebus tries to wash his hands of the trial but Powers tells him if he doesn't order the execution the Western Church are poised to attack.  Meanwhile a messenger bird has been sent to Cirin who decides to get things started.  It's also revealed she is one of the other two aardvarks out in the world.  Back at the trial, Cerebus has frozen up, but then he spots a box at the foot of his throne.  He opens it to find a solid gold sphere and a note saying "Good Luck. W".  He divests himself of his robes completely and jumps out of the window to start the Final Ascension.

Helping You See In The Dark
Cerebus manages to grab hold of the bottom of the tower as it hovers above Iest.  Finding he can stand horizontally and walk up the tower, he gets stuck.  Then Flaming Carrot appears.  A spoof superhero from a comic by the same publisher, most notable for giving the world the Mystery Men.  Flaming Carrot leads Cerebus in the right direction until Sponge Boy shows up, and they leave togther.  But Cerebus is at the top now and is confronted by the combined creature of The Artist, Sump Thing and Woman Thing from Book One.  He is also holding a gold sphere and tells Cerebus he combined a male and female creature, hedging his bets in case there really was a Goddess instead.  He tries to kill Cerebus after knocking away his sphere, but then the tower grows very quickly and breaks off, flinging the combined creature into space and Cerebus falls onto the Moon.

There he meets a man called The Judge, who is not Tarim, nor is the moon, heaven.  Cerebus can't speak so the rest of the book is a monologue by him.  He talks of watching civilisations rise and fall, all making the same mistakes of listening to priests.  He tells Cerebus he won't conquer the world when he gets back, though he came close.  He syas that the combined creature was cast into space for combininga female and male potential messiah.  After a digression about the military career of the first Suentus Po, he tells Cerebus that the void is Tarim and the light is Terim.  And that Terim split into many lights creating the heavens and Tarim then tried to crush Her because He's kind of an arsehole.  It's a lovely idea, shame it gets hit so hard by a massive retcon in a later book, but oh well.
Walking On The Moon...
Finally he informs Cerebus:

The Judge:  While you were gone the deadline for the end of the world came and went without incident.  All your followers have deserted you.  Cirin attacked and seized with the mercenary forces Lower Felda and all of Iest, including all the gold you had in the hotel.  You only live a few more years.  You die alone. Unmourned and unloved.  Suffering... suffering you'll have no trouble doing...And if you are ever tempted - ever - to consider your sufering unjustified.  Just remember your second marriage.

You LOSE, Cerebus.
 And with that Cerebus is returned to the hotel, which is in ruins, the crowds gone and just him alone once again with nothing to his name but his barbarian gear.  And it bloody well serves him right! The Church and State arc is an insanely epic one, it suffers a little from having events in it that aren't explained until much later in the storyline, so it's not as self contained as the first two volumes and there are some characters who depart from the narrative without explanation after seemingly having plot arcs planned for them (for example Henrot-Gutch the wizard and Charles X Claremont who is trapped in The Roaches head).  It has a huge cast and Cerebus the storyline won't ever take place on as wide a scale ever again.  It remains a fantastically riveting read though, with some gorgeous artwork as the story progresses.  With the Cirnists in power now the stage is set for another big arc, but before that happens the story takes a more intimate turn and the start of Cerebus' true suffering commences... 


  1. Hmmm... that's kinda depressing.

  2. Well, I guess it is a bit, the storyline does get more downbeat from here onwards. Still it's good in a different way, even if there isn't as much comedy as before.

  3. Maybe the inside of Dave Sim's head is a kinda depressing place.

  4. I don't want to say it's a crazy place... but well it kind of is by the end. I think maybe the pressure got a bit too much. That's the only way I can explain what happens to the story in the last couple of books.