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."
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...|
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|
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:
Astoria: "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?|
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|
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
Made me laugh anyway.