Friday, 23 May 2014

Cerebus Book 8: Women (#163-174)

"Cerebus' coming has been foretold for centuries! Cerebus doesn't need you! Cerebus doesn't need anybody!" - Cerebus

This book is called Women, but more accurately it could be called "Dreams" because after the brisk forwards and upwards momentum of the preceeeding book Flight, this book has a fractured quality to it as it investigates the dreams of the various protagonists, held together by the most unlikely of people - The Roach.  Punisher Roach is spurned by the prostitute he fell in love with in the last book and so falls deep into emodom and we get to see his final incarnation (not including his off-panel cameo in the bok Guys) as a parody of Neil Gaimens Sandman character Dream - Swoon.  He also anoints Elrod as his "sister" Snuff which sees him dress up as Death also from Sandman.  Like previous Roach incarnations, he gains the powers of his parody target unexplainably and is able to travel into a dream realm, visiting the characters unconcious minds in some very odd and symbolic dreams.

Throughout the book we get exerpts from Cirin and Astoria's manifesto's.  Cirin's is very interesting because, in the same way that extreme right and left wing positions can become very similar, she takes the concept of
Dirty Boy!
a matriarchy as far as it can go and it overlaps quite considerably with patriarchy's view of women.  Basically she writes that women's only worth is having children, then instead of seeking careers they should dedicate themselves to looking after those children leaving the wielding of power in the hands of a select few (though unlike a patriarchy the ones in power are women and men are tolerated as a neccessary evil for getting women pregnant).  In the real world, Feminism especially in the 60's and 70's made efforts to decouple the idea of women only having value as simply baby makers whose desires for a career should take second place to being a good mother and housewife and placed emphasis on women having the same life opportunities as men.

Astoria - Kevillist Origins: "Most of the Matriarchy's rhetoric centres on the family (or rather: The Family) they are obssessive regarding children's needs for caring and nurturing and they hold the greatest contempt for those who hold any viewpoint contrary to this.  The bond between mother and child is their most scared totem and their universal rallying cry."

Cirin - The New Matriarchy: "In those situtations where.. career comes before childbirth: it is interesting to note that few daughters ever return to that career.  In those situations where career comes after childbirth, career is kept in its proper place as an ancillary interest to the fuller and more important task of child rearing."

What's interesting about Dave Sim's treatment of feminism here is that he has managed to stumble across the notion that there are many different types of feminism with Astoria's Kevillism providing a more modern, liberal approach to women and men having equal rights to careers and an investment in politics and power.  Later on he lumps all feminism together as one amorphous blob of anti-male propaganda that all women (and later all men but him) subscribe to.  But here he at least registers there are some nuances.  Though his naming Cirin's generals after famous feminists - Greer, Stienem, Dworkin - is quite quaint, considering the most those have in common is they are all women who describe themselves as feminists, but have quite different ideologies under that banner.  Cirin and Astoria do agree on one thing, something called "The Alchohol Sanction", where men who have been divorced forcibly for being neglectful are condemned to live in an Inn where they can drink as much free booze as they like and live on a subsistence diet until they die of malnutrition.  Although Astoria's manifesto calls for alchohol and the ability to visit bars to be extended to women, in defiance of the Cirinist prohibition on female drinking.  This concept is fully explored in the later book, Guys.
Roach-Swoon and Elrod-Snuff

Cerebus falls back to earth after being dumped out of the Eighth Sphere at the end of the previous book and crashes through the ceiling of an old woman being kept prisoner by the Cirinsts.  She tells Cerebus that the spreading power of the Cirinists is an "abomination" that she had a hand in starting, then she tells Cerebus to leave and hide out in a nearby tavern.  Which he does, getting drunk on buckets of scotch and having strange dreams.  In a dreamlike state he walks to the window and raises his arm, which causes the mountain on the top of Iest to rise again, then he drops the sword and the mountain falls, badly damaging the Regency Hotel and injuring Cirin.  Who then has strange dreams while she sleeps and recovers, meeting both Swoon and confronting Astoria on a giant chessboard.  Astoria is also dreaming after being injured in an escape from the Cirnists and is being protected in another hotel by her Kevillist followers, she also dreams of meeting Cirin on the chessboard as well.

We also get this satisfying moment when Astoria punches Cirin.
That was fun, lets see her do it again.

I enjoyed that.  Let's move on.  There are several cameos from other characters.  Jaka gets a brief dream that tells her Cerebus is still alive, done in the style of "Daughter Of Palnu".  It's farewell to Red Sophia and Mrs. Henrot-Gutch. Goodbye to the MacGrew Brothers. We get the final appearance of Lord Julius, still scheming away in a surreal style.  And it's also goodbye to The Regency Elf as she and Cerebus have a long conversation in another dream.  She tells him she was the fake Regency Elf all the time, created after Cerebus visited the Seventh Sphere back in High Society.

Regency Elf:  "See you were in the Ambassador Suite the first time you went to the Suentus Po place and you were zooming and zipping and swooping and veering and zigging and zagging and swooshing and swishing..."

Cerebus: "Cerebus gets the idea."

Regency Elf: " And with all that zooming and zipping and... and all that stuff and the REAL Regency Elf being right there, see. That made me. See?"

This reality bending ability of Cerebus results in a surprising pay-off regarding another character in the next book.  For now though, Cerebus just keeps getting drunk and gets badgered by visions of himself from the past and possible future.
Also There Was That Rape You Done
The endgame of the book starts when Astoria wakes up, now sporting an arm in a sling (as is Cirin when she awakes as well) and realises all her followers have panicked and rushed to her side presenting an easy target for being totally wiped out by the Cirnists.  The sudden futility of what she has achieved overwhelms her:

Astoria: "I spent years constructing a cell system in this city.  Penetrating all of the crucial departments of the church and the government.  I'm bought unconcious to this hotel... and what do you do?  You converge here, a flock of sitting ducks.. sitting and wringing your hands.. fretting.. worrying.. waiting for me to come up with some miraculous military plan that will allow a bunch of secretaries and stenographers to defeat several legions of trained mercenaries."

While Cirin orders Astoria to be arrested and bought to the church where Cirin will be attempting the True Ascension, Astoria suddenly realises she must leave and come to the church of her own free will and Cerebus, leaping his way from rooftop to rooftop has also had the overwhelming urge to go there too.  Everyone watching seems to freeze up as Astoria walks unmolested through the streets, followed closely by a mysterious figure in a hooded black robe.  When a Cirinist tries to kill her she whispers "go away" and the would-be-assassin vanishes.  The people in the street start chanting her name, the Cirinists outside bow to her, inside the church Cirin fends off a couple of assassination attempts but is told the golden sphere she ordered made has partially collapsed and the Ascension cannot take place.

Outside the church Cerebus arrives and makes to attack Astoria.  Before he can, the hooded figure reveals himself as Suentus Po.

Suentus Po:  "Come.  Let us not keep our hostess waiting".

And the three of them enter the church to confront Cirin, the three aardvarks together at last... 
Po Revealed
Women is an interesting book, it's genuinely laugh out loud funny in parts, mainly those bits that deal with "Swoon" and the general parodying of the Sandman tropes.  It perhaps relies a little to heavily on text captions over single image pages, instead of imparting the information via speech bubbles and sequential panels.  Though the use of different layouts and fonts to differentiate between characters is well done, and I appreciate he had a lot of information to impart in this book.  I'll say it again, I'm a feminist and at this point whether he meant it to be a good thing or not (and he probably didn't) Astoria's type of feminism is attractive to me even if it proves ineffective against the sheer brute force imposition of Cirinism, which while it is a misandrist philosophy no doubt, it's reductive and repressive nature against both men AND women show it more inline with various fascist ideologies than any feminist ones that I recognise.

That said, feminism in the real world is apparently what we have to thank for the Cerebus series as a whole, thus spake Dave Sim in the intro:

Dave Sim: " I wish I could look back on my life post-1970, and say something more optimistic than 'if feminism hadn't come along I never would have become this isolated, this distanced from human society and I would have felt no need to do three hundred issues of Cerebus.' That isolation has been so central to who I am and has been so critical to whatever progress I have made as an artist, writer and publisher, I can't even conceive of where another path might have led me.  For me, the trade off has been more than sufficient.  The one dollar lottery ticket that won the jackpot."

So, um.. go feminism?  Incidentally, during the production of the issues that made up Book 1 and High Society, he was actually married for five years to a woman who acted as his editor.  Considering what is to come, my mind boggles at what she must have had to put up with and how unpleasant the parting must have been.  Either that or Mr. Sim is rewriting his history, which frankly I'm more inclined to believe. 

Anyway, Women is a good book too.  Has some fantastic art in the dream sequences and builds to a great climax - maybe the best climax the series has - into the next book, Reads.  The most notable thing about the book when viewed as part of the overall story is how much of the cast is cut-down, both in this book and the next one as Dave Sim clears the decks of the overtly comedic characters quite ruthlessly, with the post-issue #200 books concentrating more seriously on Cerebus' personal relationships.  So lets leave the last word about that to Swoon...

Take That Fourth Wall!


  1. I find that Sandman parody quite funny even though I really like Sandman. I wonder what Neil Gaiman made of it?

    So Mr Sim is one of those people who are like, "Wah, modern life is absolutely ghastly and it has forced me to retreat from the sheer unalleviated horror of it all and write stories!" Oh well. I suppose I'm just as annoying to the people who know me.

    I must say, for a misogynist he draws some very attractive, non-cheesecakey, strong-looking women. Maybe he has something wrong with his brain that makes him unhappy. Also, maybe this book is called 'Women' because he associates women with dream-like airy-fairy whimsicalness. Like, women are the moon and men are the sun, kind of thing.

  2. Heh, yes I like the Sandman parody too, in the next book Dave Sim recounts a chat with Neil Gaimen at a comic convention, though he doesn't say if Neil approved of Snuff and Swoon...

    And yes, as I said on my other comment, his actual female characters are varied and interesting and drawn with decency and respect. It's actually quite refreshing compared to the tiresome Escher Girls of modern comics. The big gap between his weird ideas about women and his female characters coolness is something I simply haven't been able to figure out no matter how many times I reread the comics.

    There's definitely an Apollo-like notion he's beginning to run with as regards men, and there was some Goddess-as-Moon aspects that I had to cut from my previous discussion of the last book which I probably shouldn't have. I mainly cut it because it gets retconned away within two books. Women don't even get the moon by the time "Reads" is finished...

    Don't worry, you're not annoying! And you're certainly not the crazy hermit Dave Sim ends up as by the end of the series either. :)

  3. I suppose whether or not Mr Gaiman approved depends on whether he sees parody as a form of light-hearted flattery, or as rubbishing characters he's worked hard to create and imbue with gravitas and stuff. However, even Mr Gaiman couldn't deny that Morpheus is a total emo. I reckon he's partly based on Mr Gaiman himself, even though Mr Gaiman ISN'T an emo. It's the hair. And the whole 'Prince of Stories' thing.

    Poor Mr Sim seems to be in two minds about women. 50% of him acknowledges our inherent awesomeness (it's okay, men are awesome too!) and 50% of him is like, "Get back in the kitchen you vicious domineering harpies!" I guess the comics are the battlefield on which the two halves of his brain battle it out for supremacy, like the black and the white in his drawings. Someone should show them to his psychiatrist.

    If men get to be Apollo women should totally get to be Artemis. It's only fair. I want to be the moon! Women aren't just deficient, inferior versions of men like the Jewish/Christian creation myth says (women were created from Adam's rib to be Adam's companion and do the washing up). Okay, so the Virgin Mary is pretty powerful and respected, but she doesn't get to kick ass and fight crime like Jesus does. She just hangs around in the background while her Son performs miracles. Not that I'm comparing Cerebus to Jesus. Jesus' status as the Son of God has been disputed, but I'm fairly certain he wasn't an aardvark. One of the evangelists would have mentioned it.

    It's kind of you to say that I'm not annoying, but I reckon everybody is, at least slightly, to the people who know them. But I'm glad I'm not a crazy hermit :) Poor Mr Sim... he must be lonely. Everybody needs somebody.

  4. Jesus as an aardvark, hee hee! The last four books in the series contain extensive appendices which are rather... trying to wade through. But also quite sad as well as Sim gradually alienates everyone around him until even his family and co-artist can't bear to be around him. I'm not going to cover those in any detail, I'm focused on the monthly comics, but I will quote from them when I think they are relevant to the narrative.

  5. I'm glad you read the appendices so I didn't have to.