Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Cerebus Book 7: Flight (#151-162)

"Cerebus is going up" - Cerebus

After the glacial pacing of Melmoth, the "Mothers and Daughters" arc kicks off with a chaotic rush, quick cutting to events and characters dating back to the very earliest issues of the first book in the series all while Cerebus tries to raise an rebellion against the Cirinists chasing him.  Then it evolves into an extended "Mind Game" dialogue between Cerebus and much mentioned, but still mysterious, Suentus Po, who finally explains who's been behind all the strange things that happened in Church and State II.  As Cerebus rises through a dream space called The Eighth Sphere, Po imparts a stupendous amount of information and back-story before Cerebus arrives at a huge chess game, and his role as one of the pieces in the larger chess game of local politics is revealed as is the role  of other pieces both in play and off the board.

What's only noticable in retrospect is how this book is the start of the reordering of the main storyline from one concerned with the satire of politics and ideology to one focused on just the personal life of Cerebus which is how the post "Mother's and Daughters" books play out.  So most characters and locations familair to us thus far are get their last appearences over the next couple of books, and post issue #200, the only main character left will be Jaka although some very minor characters are still about. The first part of the book then shows Cerebus immediately after the end of Melmoth where he cut down two Cirnist soldiers being chased by more whom he also kills before climbing to a balcony and as the men chant his name while the Cirnist's telepathically screem for his death he tries to foment a revolution.

There's something thrillingly rousing about the sight of Cerebus, covered in blood, sword raised high, a doll clutched incongrously in his other hand, calling for a rebellion against the hated Cirinists.  Because while I may be a feminist, I am not misandrist and yes Dave Sim their IS a difference,  I want this dreadful administration to topple, the same way I'd cheer the end of patriarchy when it finally happens.  And yet... there is something kind of awesome about the sheer power being wielded by these muscular, well armed, sinisterly robed women.  The men take up arms and charge them, fired up by Cerebus and they are crushed.  Completely and utterly, the Cirinists don't even break a sweat.  An army of badass women, and as we find out later, led by the baddest ass of them all, is a pretty cool idea, and it's especially refereshing to see larger, more physical imposing women, not ones that are all boobs and butt and clad in just in skimpy, revealing armour.

To Arms!
Shame their ideology is so insanely horrible really.  And that's the curious dichotomy of Dave Sim's writing at this point, he's trying to point out what he sees as essential flaws in feminist thinking and where it could lead if left unchecked.  But his women are strong and powerful, his men weak and pathetic, there is no power fantasy right now about men taking back "what's rightfully theirs".  This of course changes in the penultimate book, but the Cirinists stay in power for a long time mostly unopposed.  And when the men finally crush those silly women, it's in such a head slappingly stupid retcon that it's hard to take seriously.  But, that is yet to come.  For now we get some exhilaring artwork, of which my favourite is Cerebus' speech and his final call to arms.

Down With Wimmin!
Cirin's field commander Normina Swartzkopf ignores a direct order from Cirin to not kill Cerebus (and that might seem odd of her but we will find out why Cirin doesn't want him dead in a couple of books time) but before he can be taken out, he disappears like Astoria did at the start of Church And State II.  Although he is transported not to another physical location, but to a mental one, the Seventh Sphere where he talks with what the real Suentus Po later calls "capricious aspects of my personality" (which covers all the previous "Po" encounters as well).  Cerebus makes a decison, that the only way is up, and he'll keep going up until he reaches the top of wherever he is now.

Cerebus: "Anytime Cerebus decides to do something, someone comes along and gets Cerebus to do something else. The more people Cerebus is in charge of, the more distractions there are and the less Cerebus does what he wants to do and the more Cerebus does what someone else wants to do.  Well Cerebus isn't in charge of anyone anymore, so Cerebus is going to do what Cerebus set out to do."

A Rapist Ascends
While Cerebus' adventures in the Seventh and Eighth Sphere play out there are several cameo appearences from prior characters.  The aardvark worshipping Pigts from Book 1 decide to march on Iest in Cerebus' name but are wiped out by a storm and in-fighting, removing them from the rest of the story.  We see Astoria, still in chains now a prisoner of the Cirinists.  "Death" from issue #4 expires. An assassination attempt on Lord Julius is foiled, and both The Judge and The Regency Elf get into arguments with doppelgangers about who is the real one.  The most important plot strands though, involve The Roach and Cirin.

The Roach has a sudden, overwhelming return of memories and prior identities, before being reborn as Punisher Roach.  He arms himself with a pair of semi-automatic crossbows and goes to joins the men's rebellion.  Alas for him:

Punisher Roach: "Something has gone terribly wrong, the second cousin of all battles has already taken place and it seems the men have come a distant runner-up.   There is no sign of the Pope and judging by the looks on their hoods, the occupying force of Cirinists is not altogether likely to accept that my reference to 'stinking lesbos' was a whimsical and light hearted malpropism!."

But he decides to stand and fight and unleashes the power of his semi-automatic crossbows and does
killquite a few Cirinists.  But while this might look like the standard male revenge fantasy against strong women, Dave Sim uses the absurd hyper machismo of The Punisher archetype to say that a character sublimating that much into violence, basically needs to get laid.  Elrod hooks him up with a prostitute and he is helpless putty in her hands, a woman showing a different kind of strength over yet another rather pathetic male.  It's heavily implied that she is the first woman The Roach has ever slept with and he instantly becomes besotted with her in a plot strand that briefly carries on into the next book.

Meanwhile Cirin is shown not having the iron grip on her troops that you would expect.  Her orders to keep Cerebus alive are ignored.  We find out she is having all the captured gold melted down and built into a huge golden sphere to assist in the "True Final Ascension" and when another Cirnist changes the dimensions of it she completely loses her shit.  Finally when she orders Astoria to be brought before her, Astoria refuses to come, leaving the messenger the uncomfortable task of relaying what she said:

Messenger: " She said 'Tell the old battle axe that if she's uh coming crawling to me, that she must have uh both uh tits uh caught uh caught in the uh wringer."

Ah, never stop being sassy and cool Astoria.  Reluctantly Cirin orders her to be cleaned up and allowed to buy new clothes before they meet, another thread to be continued in the next couple of books.
Under Construction: One Giant Gold Sphere for Use In Nebulous Religous Ceremony

Finally the Cerebus portions of the second half of the book have him reaching the Eighth Sphere and playing a huge game of chess with the celestial presence of Suentus Po.  Po explains why he appeared to them during Cerebus' trial of Astoria.  The trial was an echo of a trial a previous incarnation of his had endured, before being burned as a heretic.  Po gives us some insight into Cerebus' history as well as his own.  He tells us about the times Cerebus felt pure joy in his life; as a child after eating a stolen pie, beheading his first enemy, standing on the Great Wall of Tsi and the first time he met Jaka:

Suentus Po: "The first night you spent with Jaka, when she agreed without question to accompany you, to be your lifes companion.  You had dozed briefly, drained by the excitment of that most enchanted days events.  And then you awoke to find her looking at you.  Without a word she had taken you in her arms...For the first time in your concious memory; for the first time in fact since you were a baby; a single tear, full and warm rolled down your cheek and you fell into a very deep and dreamless sleep."

Finally Po talks about his life as someone who tried to influence events as a great man of history.  And how disenchanted he grew with seeing the same events "echo" through his various lives.  Now he lives a simple life in Iest, his only luxury a hand carved chess set.  And he makes an observation about the nature of power that will prove important to another characters story arc resolution.

Suentus Po: "My experience taught me, there is no benefit and little wisdom in attempting to influence the minds and wills of massess of people.  In both my lives I described to you I sought that kind of influence and effect. I was a Reformer. I have seen the long range effects that profound change always brings about.  Each great movement is sown with the seeds of its own destruction, it's corruption and decay as inevitable as Death itself."

Which is really the very cynical, key quote that can be applied to the series as a whole's treatment of power and it's effects on the people involved in wielding it or desiring it.  The pursuit of power for it's own sake is, in the end a futile business as both inside and outside forces conspire to bring down those currently in power everytime, before being brought down in turn.  By refusing power willingly, Po, unlike Cerebus who had his power forcibly taken, he has achieved a kind of enlightment while Cerebus is still a tortured soul.  Their chess game over, and Po having said everything he needs to for now, Cerebus is transported back to the physical plain.  And the book ends. 

Comic Chess
After the somewhat pointless Melmoth, this is a real return to form.  It's great seeing so many old faces even if for some of them it's a last or nearly last hurrah.  The pieces are set in place for a three-way conflict between Cirin, Astoria and Cerebus, and the book has plenty of lively humour in the Roach and Elrod portions too. It doesn't stand alone, none of the books will now, such is the weight of character continuity, but it kicks off the "Mothers and Daughters" arc in style and leaves you keen to find out what happens next.


  1. I think that Dave Sim needs to get in touch with his inner, feminine side instead of trying to crush it. Despite the pen/pencil being a potent phallic symbol, creativity is an essentially feminine pursuit that utilises the female parts of our personalities. To try to destroy it leads to a fiction composed of black-and-white forces with no subtlety or characterisation - in short, bad fiction. Perhaps in choosing to relate his stories in monochrome pictures Mr Sim was unconsciously denying an essentially feminine part of his personality. He needs to realise that he is one of the pieces in the chess game being played.

    Also, I wish my church had a giant golden sphere. That'd be cool. (Reference to the Israelites worshipping a golden calf in the desert, showing that Cirinism is a tainted religion? Yet again femininity is linked with idolatry, the frivolous, the exterior as opposed to the interior, etc.)

    The Roach clearly cannot handle being in love, like Troilus in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. This parodic example of an unreconciled ego produces pathos as well as humour.

  2. You make some excellent points there! I'm afraid Mr. Sim's denial of his feminine side gets even worse as the series progressess, I don't want to get ahead of myself, but in Reads he defines creativity as a male trait, that women strangle and suppress.

    The Golden Sphere as a reference to the Israelites is a good one, you can tell I don't know much about religion, I'd never have made that connection. Nice one.

    The Roach doesn't handle love very well it's true, rejection in the next book, Women turns him into an emo-goth-Sandman parody, I miss his fourth wall breaking antics when he finally departs the series.

  3. You know lots about religion - just not Judaism or Christianity. Perhaps if Mr Sim were more in touch with eastern religions and philosophies he'd be more chilled out and compassionate. Having said that, there are good bits in Judaism and Christianity too. Religion is like feminism - the extremist bits are well dodgy but that doesn't make it uniformly bad.

    Creativity has traditionally been viewed as a male attribute, but that was only 'cos patriarchy spent millennia not letting women anywhere near the paintbrushes (perhaps from fear of being outclassed... although who knows what gender the painters of buffaloes on the walls of caves were?)

    Cirin = siren = beguilingly sexy female monster that lures men to destruction with its overpowering sexiness. Ancient Greek myths, comics about anthropomorphic aardvarks... nothing really changes, eh?

  4. Again, you make fine points. I think you'll be faceplaming a lot when you hear more direct from the pen of Mr.Sim, unfiltered through the storyline as it is here. It's unfortunate that when he does come down with religion he only picks the bits that support his nasty worldview.

    I like the idea that Cirin might be derived from Siren. She and her philosophy wouldn't be what I'd call sexy, but Sim seems to depict his men as powerless to resist it (at least for now). It's a strange, strange combination.... and yet his female characters are varied, fully rounded and interesting more so than ones we get today from more "enlightened" authors. It's noticable that as his female characters exit the storyline, the books get worse. Bewildering.

  5. Oh, everyone creates God in their own image, even the atheists. Compassionate and loving people think that God must be compassionate and loving. Puritans think that God must be puritanical. Violent people, like those nutters who killed Lee Rigby, think that God totally wants them to get out there and slaughter the infidels. And so on.

    To be honest, sirens don't really lure men with their sexiness but with their voices, i.e. the spoken/sung word, which is the external expression of an internal philosophy. So it still kind of works. I think. If the female characters leaving makes the books worse, Alan Moore would say that Mr Sim needs to get in touch with his inner Promethea and use himself as a conduit for her divine creative fire, unifying the forces of will, compassion, intellect and... uh... whatever pentacles/coins are supposed to be. Earthly stuff. And then he'd write cool books again, with the help of his caduceus.

  6. I think everyone needs to be in touch with their inner Promethea. Interestingly Alan Moore and Dave Sim were friends, I'm not sure if they stayed friends, especially after all the misogyny and homophobic nonsense that overtakes the books. But in the late 80's-early 90's they were definitely bro's. And Moore even shows up in a cameo in a later book too!

  7. Cool, looking forward to that.