This is a tough one to write about. It's absolutely masterful from an art point of view with some amazing splash pages made up of broken frames and highly charged, symbolic imagery. If you want an example of Dave Sim's art at it's absolute best, this is the book to check out. Unfortunately married to it is a somewhat leaden framing device of the book Rick (Jaka's ex-husband) is writing which is made up of cod-biblical prose and done in a font that's hard to read. The rest of the book is made up almost solely of Rick, Cerebus and Joanne's interactions with each other and how this gets incorporated into Rick's book. In the intro, Dave Sim says the book was an attempt to explore what would happen to Rick - the type of person who mates for life - after his marriage broke up. The answer appears to be that he had a major psychotic break, went mad and started his own religion out of whole cloth. Which does actually pay off three books down the line.
The book starts with Rick bitching about Jaka and his relationship with her. This includes an encounter with a misogynistic guy called Viktor (most likely Viktor Davies from the first half of Reads) who prompted Jaka to throw a drink over him. When Rick found Viktor the next day he actually gives him relevant advice about her.
Viktor: "She's basically an unhappy person - with the unhappy ones you've got to be happy for two. You're a naturally happy person and as long as you stay that way you'll be fine."
Interestingly this is advice Cerebus will take to heart in the next two books. Rick then talks about the book he is writing called "Rick's Story" and how he will only put in true stuff so the Cirinists can't object. As Rick gets drunker he starts having visions, including partial frames of Cerebus as a flaming devil. For unknown reasons he tries to bait Cerebus into beating him up then passes out.
Rick has more demonic visions but says they won't distract him from writing his book. He sees his old style self as a shining angel, seeing off the demons. He also thinks Tarim has replaced Pope Cerebus with him as the Chosen One. Thatcher arrives and delivers the potato's, Rick sees her as a grotesque demon. Cerebus chastises him for being afraid of her and says that to women like that he should say "G'wan, beat it, SCRAM". Rick then sees his angelic self surrounded by the same words.
Later Joanne enters the bar and when it becomes apparent she's not asking to get back together with Cerebus he furiously serves her. Joanne and Rick flirt and Cerebus is not pleased, thinking to himself:
Cerebus: "That, that BASTARD. Movin' in on Cerebus's...on Cerebus's what? SHUT! UP! And that, that SLUT. Sitting there staring at Cerebus as if..hh.. "As if" Cerebus was standing here staring at her? Twitching? And grinding his teeth?"
He angrily throws himself into cleaning the bar. Rick sees Joanne as an angel, while Cerebus silently rages at them. Then Joanne leaves inviting Rick to the local bonfire as she goes. Cerebus, his masculinity under threat, tries to think of ways he can show Joanne what a loser "girly-boy" is. His possessiveness taking over, even though he and Joanne split up at the end of the previous book. While he's been plotting Rick had gone to the bonfire to meet Joanne there, but he returns with a severe headwound (that never gets explained) and says that Joanne wasn't there.
|Rick's Screwed Up Perceptions.|
Cerebus: "Rick if you let her get away with that, next time it'll be 'My grandmother had ringworm' then 'My uncle had gout'. And pretty soon her whole family will have one foot in the grave - and she'll NEVER SHOW UP!"
A confused Rick doesn't know what to think and Joanne leaves upset. Rick gets drunk and has angelic visions of Cerebus. Next morning Rick's Story has changed from a dull account of his life post-Jaka to something more biblical. Here's a sample of the prose, which is written in an olde worlde font and style:
Rick's Story: "1. After that Cerebvs had given Vnto mee the morninge cuppe of the full measure, Cerebvs placed it before mee then rose Vp within the sanctvarie and moued a little apart from me. 2. In seeing what Cerebvs had done, so too did I rise Vp within the sanctvarie (from the third stoole vpon his left hande) and made myself follow Cerebvs".
|The Framing Device In Action|
This continues in the same vein across several pages, with admittedly gorgeous artwork. Joanne comes back in, with Rick seeing her as monstrous. She says she wants to try again with Rick, and Cerebus, now desperate to be rid of Rick by any means, prays they get together. She kisses Rick and leaves, then Rick says "Most Holy must forgive him for being tempted". Told via Rick's Story, Cerebus says he should go out with her as his only other option would be "to lie with men." After this Rick goes out into the dark for a walk. Here in the forest he hears a voice which tells him to keep writing his book about Cerebus and Joanne but (and this assumes great importance in the final two books) he must:
Voice: "From this day forward thou shalt no longer use the word Tarim, for Tarim is a heathen and pagan name, and the name of deuills and vipers and scorpions and of the first Angel who is cast out and who has in his dwelling place within and in the midst of these. Henceforth thous shall speak the name of God only, for God is the name of me whom all men seek in wisdom and truth. There is one God, indivisible having one Name and one Apsect which is God."
After this revelation Rick returns to the bar. The next day, shaved and bright and cheerful he goes to his date with Joanne. He returns, still cheerful saying Joanne was there with another man and they had a drink together then he left. Joanne arrives, angry and she and Rick have an arguement, while Cerebus gets very, very drunk and passes out. When he awaks in the night he hears the sound of Rick and Joanne having sex and is relieved thinking Rick will now go and Cerebus himself can leave.
|Joanne As Monster|
Rick: "Lies wound the truth. Truth will bind lies. The truth said but once. The lie thrice denies."
Rick then says that Cerebus told Joanne that Cerebus was married to Jaka. Shamefaced Cerebus tries to explain, but Rick continues the spell. He finishes and makes to leave. Cerebus tries to wish him well.
Rick: "I'm going to tell you exactly what I told Joanne. Go to hell."
Then he departs the storyline in person, (Joanne has gone as well) but both of them will have a strong influence over events in the final two books of the series.
|Put A Spell On You.|
Dave: "You might be surprised at who you're driving crazy. Staying this long in one place."
|Meet Dave Sim|
|The Long Awaited Reunion|
Cerebus: "Hey Bear"
Cerebus: "You whatatayacall take care of yourself alright?"
Bear: "Hahaha, yeah and you too and uh... Good fuckin' luck pal"
He leaves the bar and catches up with Jaka, taking her hand they practically dance away together in an total unambigous happy end.
|Happily Ever After? No Of Course Not.|
The other big event of the book is of course the return of Jaka, and the religion plot goes on hold for the next two books, which will explore the Cerebus and Jaka relationship and test it to destruction. The appearance of "Dave" returning Missy and therefore Jaka to Cerebus feels like Dave Sim giving his creation another chance, to put into practice the lessons he learned in Minds and tried to live by in Guys and Rick's Story. Whether he can do this or not, is explored in some depth. For now though, if you were the type of person who wants Cerebus to have a good ending to his story, now would be the time to stop reading.