Monday, 26 May 2014

Cerebus Book 9: Reads (#175-186)

"Cerebus could kill you all in a few seconds!!" - Cerebus

And so we come to Reads, the book I was simultaneously looking forward to writing about, but dreading at the same time.  Because this book shows so very clearly the best of Dave Sim's writing and his absolute, self indulgent worst as well.  Each chapter/issue is split into two halves.  The first half carries on the plot of the comic, with Astoria, Suentus Po, Cirin and Cerebus gathered in the church for the True Ascension.  This is the good part, in fact it's fantastic.  The other half of each chapter is full pages of text first with one small drawing on the facing page then with no drawings whatsoever, telling the story first of Viktor Davies, Iestian based writer of Reads, before turning into Dave Sim addressing the reader directly with various rambling anecdotes about his life and his frankly insane opinions about the ghastliness of all women.  Because both parts have no relationship to each other, I shall tackle them seperately starting with the best.

These good parts are the illustrated, comic strip half of each issue that cover the main storyline. The four of them regard each other, Cirin and Cerebus especially suspiciously,  when Cirin demands to know what Po's game is, he says he is there for "balance".

Po: "I prevented or perhaps delayed Astoria's execution, I have brought the three of you together."

Astoria: "Why?"

Po: "To break the cycle Astoria.  Captor and captured.  Accuser and accused.  Executioner and Executed."

Astoria:  [sees the throne in flames and hears the word "Echoes"]

Po: "Echoes Astoria, they can't hurt you."

Po tells them that both God AND Goddess exists all around them if they cared to look and then entreats them to give up on the Acension and walk away from the church.

Po: "This place has stood as a monument to institionalised oppression and violence in the name of transitory and and temporal power since time immemorial."

The Confrontation Begins...
Po tells Astoria that the moment she left the hotel without bodyguards or followers, she was truly free. That she should have lost herself in the crowd and not come to this place, instead she has gone from a political prisoner to a would be messiah.  But she has seen the truth and now no longer desires the thing that would give her a throne, followers and obedience.  Astoria doesn't verbally agree, but her bowed head shows she knows the truth in what he says.

Cirin sneers at Po's advice to live a simple life over one of power.  He responds that "one persons trifle is another persons reason for living."  He then reveals the truth that Astoria has a genuine miscarriage and is not a mother.  Cirin has know this but has kept Astoria alive for political reasons, to relentlessly persecute as an example to her followers.  He then tells Cirin again to avoid further suffering and again, to walk away from the throne.

Three Aardvarks Together At Last
Po then turns to Cerebus and tells him how aardvarks have some mysterious powers, including the ability to shape events and even reality around them.  He then pleads with Cerebus to also walk away from the Ascension and that successfully performing it will only bring him misery.  He then apologises for attacking their beliefs, and humbly takes his leave of the three of them.  Both from the church and from the plot overall.  We don't see or hear from Po again, mores the pity, as he spoke a lot of sense.

Cerebus :" Right.  Who wants to die first?"

He says they can either shut up and die or shut up and leave as he has had enough of talking.  Astoria says she will leave but has a couple of things first, sending Cerebus into a tantrum, which she successfully halts with the following words:

"You're a hermaphrodite... You have both male and female genitalia. Even more interesting you have both male and female reproductive organs."

I Love Cerebus's Expression Here.

Ok, that's certainly something I would never have predicted.  Astoria goes on to say that the reason Cirin didn't have him killed was she was sure he could impregnate himself (Um Dave Sim, biology does not work that way!) and so could potentially be a "mother".

Astoria: "As long as I am laying all my cards on the table.  I was at my most fertile when I provoked you into 'raping' me, and I didn't get pr-"

Wait, WHAT?!  No.  No, no. no, no, no, nonononono, no, no, no, no, no, no. no, no, no, nonononono, no, no, no, no, no,no. no, no, no, nonononono, no, no, no, no, no,no. no, no, no, nonononono, no, no, no, no, no,no. no, no, no, nonononono, no, no, no, no, no, NO.

That is a complete retcon, she may have behaved provocatively towards Cerebus in that scene, but she obviously DIDN'T plan on being raped.  And how do we know this?  Because Dave Sim let us into what was going through Astoria's mind as she was blindfolded, gagged and assaulted.  Come with me back to that scene in Church and State II.

Astoria: "Ack Stop it!  How dare you! You little grey bastard I'll....kill you.  I've never been so humiliated in my life. Finally.  That it? All done? Then GET OFF ME!"

Clearly NOT consensual sex.  And even if it was on Astoria's side, it certainly wasn't as far as Cerebus was aware.  It's like Dave Sim realised that the taint of being a rapist hung too heavily over Cerebus, that it wasn't something even the black comedy antics of his could excuse and hastily devised this way to undo it as it were.  Even though it doesn't in any respect actually fit or work.  Still, I shall stop beating the poor dead, raped horse about it.  The issues leading up to #200 are about clearing the decks for a fresh start for Cerebus, so I'll let him off this one time.

Astoria tells them that she is leaving and Cerebus asks her what she will do now.  She mentions that she remembered a daydream she used to have as a little girl:

Astoria: "I wanted to build my own church, open to the skies.  Like a courtyard, aviary and animal preserve and garden all in one.  Just the thought of it made me feel as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders.  And then I realsied it didn't have to stay a daydream.  I could have it and a small house built by spring.  Exactly the way I always pictured them... Of course it won't be a church.  It will be a home.  My home.  Who knows?  I might even teach myself to play chess."

Just, that's just beautiful.  Astoria of the three of them realises the same thing Po realised lifetimes ago, that a simple life lived for yourself is worth more than all the power you can grasp.  It's a fantastic ending to her character arc, but she wouldn't be Astoria if she couldn't get in one last snark.  She smiles to herself, then tells Cirin and Cerebus they could go about seeing if Cirin could get Cerebus pregnant the "old fashioned" way, much to their extreme horror.  Then she is gone from the narrative for good.  One of comicbooks best written female characters and thankfully not one to be tainted by what happens to the depiction of women in the series in the last few books.

 Cirin and Cerebus start a brutal fight that will last the rest of the book, we also bid farewell to two more mainstays of the series, The Roach (still as Swoon) and Elrod (still as Snuff).  Swoon is reading from a mystic book, as a character called "Kay-Sarah-Sarah", he finds the part about Elrod and skips right to the end:

Swoon: "Elrod was an illusion created from Cerebus' proximity to the Chaos Gem.  And kept alive only by his belief in his own existence. 'Lalala' said the non-existant albino, with his fingers in his ears. 'Lalala can't hear a...' [Elrod pops out of existence] but unfortunately he could.  'Bummer' though Kay-Sarah-Sarah, for Elrod had been her third favourite Cerebus character after Jaka and Lord Julius."

I must say as a way of removing a character that's pretty amusing, Elrod did appear in the same issue as the Chaos Gem back in issue #4, I doubt his exit was planned that way, but it's a clever way of using continuity.  It's goodbye Roach as well, his fourth wall breaking antics will have no place in the even more serious run of post issue #200 books.  He gets a blink and you miss it off panel cameo in Guys, but otherwise that's it for The Roach as well, which makes me sad as I love the character so very much.  Then we return to Cerebus and Cirin in a gory fight that takes place over around half the rest of the book.  It's bloody and exhausting with Cerebus coming close to losing, Cirin manages to wrest his sword away from him and cuts off one of his ears.  And despite how awful she is, it's hard not to be impressed that Cirin fights Cerebus to a standstill with a broken arm.  But before the final blow can be struck on either side, there is a huge cracking sound and the throne they are fighting over rips itself out of the church and with them either side of it, starts travelling through space. End of book.

Who Will Ascend?
And why does one fight scene take several months worth of comicbooks to tell?  Because of the padding of the text pieces which take up at least half of each issue.  The text starts out telling the story of Viktor Davies, Iest based writer of popular Reads, who gets hired by a company called "Vertigo Horse" (a combination of real life companies Dark Horse and the DC Vertigo imprint) under a female editor based rather obviously on Karen Berger, who ran the Vertigo imprint during the early 90's.  He is supposed to be writing a magnum opus about the Ascension, but squanders his time and money until the pressure from the editor forces him to start churning out guaranteed popular sellers, rather than anything more complex and difficult.  It's all pretty tedious stuff, retreading the same topic his Spawn comic was about, that doing your own thing is amazing and big publishers compromise art. Blah, blah, blah, NEXT!

Viktor Davies story doesn't even get any sense of closure as Dave Sim seems to get bored of writing an allegory and just inserts himself into the narrative.  Moving back and forth from a third person narrative to a first person perspective, he still calls himself Viktor Davies, but the rest of the text parts are all about Dave Sim and his amazing theories about men and women as he talks with a reader who is stuck in a sort of Mind Game dream enviroment forced to listen to the bizarre meanderings of someone with the political sense of a pub drunk.  And it's also the place where if I was lending the Cerebus books to a friend I'd mumble embarrassedly, shuffle my feet and tell them to skip the non-comic bits because really, as a female or even a normal, decent hearted male it's hard to justify what comes next from the pen of Mr. Sim as anything other than the bletherings of at best some kind of "masculinist" conspiracy theorist and at worst, utter raving, misogyny.  There's a lot here to take to task, but I will try to be as brief as possible without whitewashing out the worst bits.
Cirin Versus Cerebus
We get a series of rambling anecdotes about him hanging out with Neil Gaimen, Rick Veitch and Eddie Campbell.  Going out for a meal with Alan Moore and his wife and girlfriend and insulting both of them.  His thoughts on Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Onassis, Charles Manson and The Beatles etc.  All wrapped around by his big theory about male and female relationships.  In a 180 degree turn from the end of Church and State II, men are now the Light, The Form, The Creative Urge and women are Void, Lack, Emptiness.  And so women are always trying to trap men in relationships and feed off them like leeches, crushing mens ability to create art and other things.  Which for many reasons is completely insane, not least because he happens to be friends with Alan Moore, who was married and also had a girlfriend and two daughters during the eighties and that didn't stop him from creating work that redefined comics.  Mr. Sim even takes aim and fires at his readers, both male and female:

Viktor Davies/Dave Sim: "The Cerebus readership was there, composed in some (small? large?) measure of females and their male housepets. He squinted, endeavouring to see if any male was chaffing at the invisible conduits and metaphorical tubing which drained his life, his essence, his energy as sure and as effectively as any fictional vampire."

Wow, it's like he got annoyed that his depictions of women in the storyline weren't pissing his female readers off enough, so he levelled up, went Super Saiyan and fired a huge misogynistic Spirit Bomb at us. He doesn't seem to have anything to say about the fact that as feminism has taken hold more women choose to live singly than have ever done so before, and of course gay and lesbian couples would interfere with his Void/Light bollocks and so don't get a look in.  He even states that women were rightly denied the vote for so long so civilisation could reach the levels it has done without being retarded in the fashion it now is in our "feminist age".

Viktor Davies/Dave Sim: "More Female Void than Male Light, More Emotion than Reason.  It was the perfect snapshot of our Female Void Age.  Emotion was pre-eminent, ruling virtually without opposition in our Life Out Of Balance world of the last decade of the twentieth century."

"Oh Boo Hoo Hoo.  I'm a wealthy male white westerner and I'm being victimised by the slow fall of absolute patriarchy and the even slower move towards female and male equality.  Waaah my life is so hard now!"  I think most women would roll their eyes at the idea that women even in the west have even equal amounts of power to men, let alone more.

He goes on to tell us all he lives alone, that living in a couple only makes you able to express yourself in the context of their neuroses, inadequacies and failings and interfere with your "art".  Which is a statement rather undermined by, oh I don't know, all the thousands and thousands of creative types living happily and productively in coupledom, and the fact that Dave Sim wrote two of his best books when he was a) married (High Society) and b) in love (Jaka's Story).  But it seems as we reach the end of Reads we must conclude he is a holder of opinions unencumbered by facts:

Viktor Davies/Dave Sim: "Cerebus is a very weird little commodity in the context of the Female emotional Void Age.  It's too small to pay attention to and too big to ignore. It wouldn't be a stretch to categorise Reads as hate literature towards women.  All it would take would be one woman to be disturbed enough by Reads to file a lawsuit, or a womens group to file a class action suit, in this fascistic Feminist and that would be the ball game wouldn't it?  They could ban the book, seize the house and all of the inventory, all of the artwork and burn it."
Yes, too much talk, shut up Dave Sim.

Yes, because targeting a small print run, black and white indie comic with some peculiar opinions is top of the feminist agenda, beating the campaigns for equal pay, equal representation in the corridors of business and power, the low prosecution of rapists, the still too high prevalance of domestic abuse, the plight of women under repessive regimes around the world and other such trivial concerns.  Idiot.

I bet the letters pages in the comics during this run were hilarious.

Reading all this balls is mentally exhausting so here is my TL:DR version of what the Vicktor Davies/Dave Sim parts of Reads are saying:


And there we go.  For FUCK'S SAKE Dave Sim, it what sense of the words did you think we'd find these dribblings of your skull egg interesting or entertaining?  Why alienate at least half your potential readership and make most of the rest feel uncomfortable with your ignorant, filibuster pronouncements on women. The one crumb of comfort I take from all this is at least it is still separate from the storyline, and even in the following books this male Light, female Void rubbish doesn't really end up meaning very much to how things play out.  This book, has one of the greatest exits of one of the best female characters in comicbook history in it, yet also has some of the most reductive, paranoid, sexist claptrap I have ever had the misfortune to read.  In the following books Dave Sim the artist is back in control, but the spectre of Dave Sim the loony commentator lurks off-stage waiting for a chance to strike again.  And strike he does, but that's a story for another day...

But let us end on a slightly more cheerful note.  Comics Alliance did an article which showed what you might get mixing comic book characters with 8 bit videogames. Behold, The Legend Of Zelda Cerebus!
Made me laugh anyway.


  1. I reckon that Dave Sim sees the feminine as a void because when he tries to get in touch with his own female side that's all he encounters, because he's been alienated from it. Nevertheless, it must still be there because he can write good female characters.

    I'm glad that Astoria got a happy ending, but the retcon of the rape should never have happened. Sadly, this is something that happens in real life too. Some men think that it's impossible not to enjoy sex, because they always enjoy it, so there's no such thing as rape. They would probably changed their mind were they to be forcibly sodomised by a six-foot-tall bearded lumberjack, but that's something that shouldn't happen to anybody.

    Needless to say, Mr Sim's assessment of the twentieth century is completely ridiculous. Equal rights have, in general, made life better for everybody (although maternity leave can be a bit of a pain for businesses to cope with — but maybe it's the least bad option, as it wouldn't be fair for pregnant women to be sacked). I mean, look at the late Baroness Thatcher. Whatever you think of her, she certainly puts paid to the notion that women are all touch-feely shrinking violets ruled by emotions, neediness and a love of soft furnishings. She was more masculine than some men.

    I think that Mr Sim is trying to make himself feel better about the fact that no woman (or man) can put up with him enough to live with him. Loads of highly successful artists are married, among them Neil Gaiman and Sir Terry Pratchett. Hasn't done Neil Gaiman much harm, has it? Even Alan Moore's in a relationship, and he's as mad as a box of frogs. I think life's better when you have somebody else to share it with, whether that's a parent, a partner, a child or a close friend. Such people add to your life, and therefore the art which is its fruit, rather than subtracting from it. And who's to say it'd be the non-artist half of the equation who'd have the neuroses? Take the beam out of your own eye, Mr Sim!

    If reason was an exclusively male attribute there wouldn't be so many female scientists and mathematicians, and Mr Sim wouldn't be getting so emotional. Paranoia is an emotion, right? He thinks that there's an army of evil feminists out there who want to seize and burn all his books, which reminds me of all those "political correctness gone mad" right-wing commentators who think that 21st century Britain is literally the same as living in Stalinist Russia (spoiler: it isn't). Of course, seeing yourself as the lone brave truth-seeker producing unauthorised samizdat masterpieces in a world of lies is a tremendous boost to the ego, and quells the nagging suggestion that people are avoiding your stuff not because they are brainwashed pro-establishment zombies but because it isn't very good.

    Not that that applies to Mr Sim, of course. Cerebus is good. So it's a shame that the author's views on gender are not just heterodox but downright barmy. I wonder if he got the men = light, women = void thing from the Bible? God is described as being male and as creating the whole universe where before there was only void, and the first thing he makes is light. God is an artist too, of course, because he creates by saying words. The world is like a song or poem that he's reciting.

    I look forward to seeing how the 'Cerebus as hermaphrodite' conceit pans out in future books. And I don't see any reason why he couldn't impregnate himself. He's an anthropomorphic aardvark — ain't no-one gonna tell him what to do!

  2. The original hermaphrodite was Hermaphroditus, the handsome son of the gods Hermes (communication, dexterity, thieves and travellers) and Aphrodite (sex). He was bathing in a pool when a nymph called Salmacis, who was besotted with him, jumped on him and wrapped him in her arms. As he struggled to escape, probably shouting something like "Gerroff me, you daft bint!", Salmacis pleaded to the gods that they should never be parted. They granted her wish by merging her body with that of Hermaphroditus and creating the first hermaphrodite. Take this as evidence, if you will, of needy, neurotical women ruining men's lives... but I reckon being a hermaphrodite is kinda cool, although I'm amazed Cerebus never noticed he was one before. Remarkably unobservant, aardvarks.

  3. Lucy, as ever you speak much sense. I had to condense the text portions of the book down massively, but it was so rambling and repetative I think I represented him fairly. It's interesting that you note he might have got his Light/Void from the bible, mainly due to the fact he does introduce real Christianity into the Cerebus universe in the last couple of books. As I say though, thankfully most of this Form/Light rubbish is confined to Mr. Sim's out of comic opinions, in fact the next book Minds has a remarkably postive spin on the origins of Cirinism. He seems to be holding two contrary opinions, one that likes and admires women and creates kickass female characters and one that sees them as awful and clingy etc and makes him rant at the reader.

    The rape retcon did annoy me and shows that for all his planning he was changing stuff as he went along I think the hermaphrodite thing came out of the same changes. That said, not much comes of it, except occasionally Cerebus gets thrown into "homosexual" panic over it thinking he might be gay because of it. So it's somewhat a wasted concept. I didn;t know that about the first hermaphrodite, see I love this, I have learned something new today :)

    Funny you should also emntion about people thinking we live in Stalinist Russia, that actually comes up in a point I mention about the next book, you mind reader you!

    I do start to occasionally feel sorry for Sim as I read the appendices of the last four books, but only he has the power to change himself to be more likeable. He managed to be married for five years, and reading the actual comics I have from that period, the editorials by his wife show her to be a pretty nice woman. Ah well. Thanks for the comments and the information, as ever, greatly receieved. The next book is excellent though, so the post Reads stuff still has plenty to recoomend it.

  4. Oh yes, and this point you make: "Of course, seeing yourself as the lone brave truth-seeker producing unauthorised samizdat masterpieces in a world of lies is a tremendous boost to the ego, and quells the nagging suggestion that people are avoiding your stuff not because they are brainwashed pro-establishment zombies but because it isn't very good." is a perfect summing up. Espcially as during the las book he gets tremendously petulant about how nobody cares about the fact he's finished his grand project. By this point though feminist in his mind covers EVERYBODY, male and female who isn't him. That's when I think he's gone from jokingly mad, to actually mad though. The last two books are just crazy..

  5. I read a lot of Cerebus when I was in my teens. It had a huge influence on my art style. It sucks that Sim ended up becoming the kind of person his comic so eloquently satired when it was at its best. Cerebus was never all that likable since he of course was supposed to be a horrible creature yet I feel a strange sort of affection for him. Maybe it's because he looks more like a kangaroo than an aardvark.

    At any rate it's sad because as much as I love some of the stories in that comic it's not the sort of thing I feel good about recommending to friends. Not without a warning first. Tragic, really. It could have been so much more. Thanks for the write up.

  6. Cerebus was a big influence on my art style too! It is difficult to recommend Cerebus as a whole to people without adding a mass of caveats as you say. My general advice to people is that reading as far as the end of Jaka's story is "safe" and after that you have to be a bit more picky. Which is a shame because for my money "Minds" is a brilliant piece of work, but you have to wade through the Cirinist arc to reach it which people would find very off-putting now.