Thursday, 15 May 2014

Cerebus Book 6: Melmoth (#139-150)

"Aye..." - Cerebus

After the emotionally draining events at the climax of Jaka's Story, we get this.. strange little book.  Only twelve issues long, the shortest one so far, it tells two tales that only interact with each other for a couple of frames.  We get Cerebus dealing with what he believes to be the death of Jaka, and the slow decline and death of Oscar Wilde.  Not the Oscar character based on Oscar Wilde of Jaka's Story - he's in a Cirnist prison.  No, it seems after enjoying writing Oscar in that book Dave Sim wanted to do more with him, and so simply put in the "real" Oscar Wilde as a character, but uses excerpts from the letters of Oscar Wilde's friend Robert Ross about Wilde's last days and death, instead of writing new material himself.  Yes a peculiar choice which makes it a little difficult for me to write an awful lot about this volume, because over half of the text is not by Dave Sim.  In later books, F.Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway play major roles, as of course Oscar did in the previous book and are incorporated into the action in ways that make heir usage justifiable.  But here the Wilde portions of the book are far removed from the Cerebus parts, and give no insight into any ongoing characters nor do they even match a general theme.  It's the first worrying sign of self-indulgence on the part of Dave Sim, and while collected in one volume it's a pleasant enough hour's read, this would have taken twelve months to complete reading on a monthly basis and I can't imagine how annoying that must have been for the comic's audience back then.

After a short prologue showing The Roach in his disguise as normalroach spitting obscenities under his breath at the burqa clad Cirinist soldiers patrolling Iest (the full body robes, revealing only the eyes seem a strange thing for a "feminist" organisation to wear, maybe not so much in the very early 90's, but certainly odd to see now they are equated by some as symbols of female oppression.  They do get an explanation later on in another book though), we meet "Sebastian Melmoth" (the name Wilde gave himself after he got out of prison and moved to Paris) talking with "Robbie" about the Cirinist occupation and some of the strange ironies of their rule.

Melmoth: "One of the happiest of Cirin's many 'happy accidents' is complete freedom of expression.  In a society where dissenting viewpoints are suppressed those viewpoints are potent and dangerous. Where dissent is tolerated, it rapidly becomes quaint and is viewed as unsophisticated.  People merely amuse themselves with the expression of contrary opinion... Conformity then supplants awareness as the cornerstone of wisdom."
Melmoth and Robbie
 Which is a fascinating observation as to how an oppressive, authoritarian government can best deal with subversion, and makes me wish Dave Sim was writing all the Sebastian Melmoth stuff. As it is then, but for one or two scenes later on, the rest of Sebastian Melmoth's story is told via the real life words of Robert Ross, like Jaka's Story it's laid out as typewritten text on pages with one or two pictures, but with far, far fewer words per page, and unfortunately this time I have to criticise the pacing here.  It's just too slow and too uneventful especially with the lack of action going on in the Cerebus part of the storyline as well. The slower pacing of Jaka's Story was off-set by a detailed and beautifully written framing device, and frankly, Robert Ross' account of Melmoth's final days just aren't as detailed nor as movingly written and it's about a character we have never met before and who plays no role in the grander narrative, unlike Jaka. So Mr. Melmoth gets sicker and sicker and finally dies, the only time this part of the story meets up with Cerebus' is when his funeral cortege goes past the inn Cerebus is sitting outside.
The Unpleasant End Of Mr. Melmoth
I genuinely am not sure why Dave Sim felt he had to devote an entire years worth of comicbooks to pay tribute to Wilde.  I mean it's a nice idea and quite sweet, but really it should have been told in less than half the amount of issues.  If the aim was to provide some breathing room between the end of Jaka's Story and the next big arc, well again, it could have been done faster and more economically over a few months maybe.  Basically, there is no themetic reason (that I can see) why the death of Oscar Wilde needed to be told in the Cerebus storyline.  If it had been the Oscar of Jaka's Story and Dave Sim was doing all the writing then fair enough.  As it is, it is as I say pure self indulgence and in retrospect a mild warning of far greater indulgences to come...

The Cerebus storyline is even more uneventful.  Cerebus, completely shell-shocked after coming back to Pud Withers burnt out place to find Jaka gone, presumed dead, is shown blankly clutching the smoke blackened doll Missy while paying for room and board in another inn for the rest of his life.  It was
Pictured: Half Of The Book.
mentioned in the previous book, but shown more clearly here, that the net result of Cerebus-the-Pope taking all the gold out of the Iest economy, and that gold being swept up by the Cirinists during their invasion and takeover has therefore rendered the few gold coins left as insanely valuable with single coins being owned by big consortiums.  So he can pay for that lifetime lodging with the one coin he had left after the end of Church and State, and with the money from it, the inn owner Dino is able to refurbish his cafe into something planned to be quite sumptious.  And so work starts up on the improvements and as Melmoth lies dying elsewhere, Cerebus merely sits outside, day-in-day-out, unable to say much more than "Aye" or "Nay", holding Missy close to him with one hand and his sword with the other.  Haunted by strange dreams, totally desolate and lonely, having lost - he believes - his one true love on top of everything else.  I'd almost feel sorry for him if, you know, he hadn't raped Astoria.

Cerebus finally snaps out of it when he hears two Cirinist soldiers boasting of their mistreatment of Jaka while she was in jail.  He cuts them down in a blind rage, then we get a flashback to his mercenary days talking with Bear about how the Cirinists seem telepathically connected:

Bear: "They're women yeah...but they're like giant waddayacall hornets, like if you hurt one of 'em anywhere within miles of the others they all waddayacall feel it and they, you know swarm."
Women, Bees, So Easy To Get Those Two Confused...
Back in the present day and a blood spattered Cerebus  haunted again by the words of The Judge - "die alone unmourned and unloved" - comes perilously close to cutting his own throat.  But the arrival of more Cirnist soldiers snaps him out of it, and he flees.  To Be Continued...

Before we wave goodbye to this, strange, slightly pointless, grotesquely padded, non-adventure it's worth highlighting a couple of things Dave Sim says in the notes at the end of the book.

Dave Sim: "While I am not specifically a church goer, nor affiliated with any denomination or system of belief, I have appropriate respect for the Church of Rome and it's attendent Power and Mystery".
And also:

Dave Sim: "I could find no workable equivalent for 'jew' (sic) and didn't want a deluge of mail questioning the existence of Judaism in ancient Estarcion."

Remember these words, they'll be a test later on.  Next up, the beginning of the "Mothers And Daughters" four book arc, and also the start of Dave Sim's swimming into more contentious waters.  Oh it'll be such fun to talk about. But first, another guest appearence...


  1. It's weird, but your review made me kinda want to read the book, even though it's got so much Oscar Wilde in it.

  2. It's a strange book and no mistake, though I would say that the "Oscar" of Jaka's Story is much more of a tribute to Oscar Wilde's writing than here, where his death is told in another persons words. Still, I must admit, I don't know a lot about Mr.Wilde being the philistine that I am, so in some respects I did learn a lot from this book about his last days, his friends and his sad demise. It's just a strange thing to show up in a book about an anthropomorphised aardvark!

  3. Everything is a strange thing to show up in a book about an anthropomorphised aardvark. Maybe Oscar's ultimate loser status is meant to mirror that of Cerebus?

  4. True about everything being weird I guess heh, and as I said both "Hemmingway" and "F.Scott Fitzgerald" show up later as well. It is true that like Oscar he's lost everything at the moment, but unlike Oscar he does get some of it back in later books before his death. But you could be right about it mirroring his current predicament, I'm not sure it was a concious choice though by Dave Sim. His notes in the book frustratingly don't give us any clue as to why he wanted to devote a years worth of comics to this only that he wanted to because reasons.

  5. To be fair, the poor bloke is a bit mental.

  6. Yes there is that, I think "Melmoth" is probably the first sign of things going awry in the actual text. I'm just writing up the book "Reads" which is three books from now and good lord it gets madder each time I revisit it. But he does manage to pull the series out of the nosedive with the next book which ties with "Jaka's Story" as my joint second fave, so I'm glad I gritted my teeth and soldiered on with the books.

  7. Ooh, I'm looking forward to your review of 'Reads' now!