Friday, 20 June 2014

Cerebus Book 14: Form And Void (#251-265)

"Please... tell Cerebus where his Mum and Dad are buried" - Cerebus

When I saw the title of this volume, my heart did sink a little as I thought it would be a rehashing of all the male light/female void stuff from Reads.  Actually though, despite the dribblingly insane appendices, this turned out to be quite an exciting page turner of a book with some stunning artwork and page layouts that ends on something of a series high note.  It's also another book which contains Sim's take on a famous author, this time it's Ernest Hemmingway and his wife.  Now Mr. Sim is no fan of Hemmingway and I'll cover why in a small section on the appendices at the end of the review of the actual comic pages.  Luckily there is no pastiche of Hemmingway's writing in the book, so my lack of knowledge of yet another classic author's work won't cramp my style.  The non-Dave Sim writings included in this book are from Mary Hemmigway's How It Was, an account of her and Ernest's time in Afria. The layout of this book takes us back to the masses of panels found in the early books, with pages regularly divided into twenty-five panel or more grids.  This slows the pace of the book down, but unlike the sparse Melmoth, there is a lot of text  being slowly doled out that you are gradually being walked through as events gather pace and momentum, building to a real heart breaker of a conclusion and where for me, the whole Cerebus saga reaches a natural end.  Shame there are two books after then really.

Right from the start we are introduced to writer Ham Earnestway and his wife Mary.  Cerebus and Jaka end up staying at the same hunting lodge as they do, and Cerebus is starstruck upon meeting Ham who is one of his heroes being as he is a paragon of masculinity to Cerebus.  Ham in return is tactiturn and depressed.  His wife does most of the talking and she and Jaka bond, while Mary tells Jaka about the best and the worst times during a marriage now Jaka has resigned herself to that as her future.  They are accompanied by two black African guides one of whom is Muslim, a worrying incursion of real world religion into the book and  also I was left uncomfortable that these are effectively the first black characters we have seen in the saga, and they are tribespeople.  Although they are portrayed as sympathetic, kind and intelligent it still made me realise just how whitebread Dave Sim's portrayal of Estarcion actually is.
Mary and "Ham"
Staying together in a winter home, Ham writes while Mary gives Jaka some advice about married life.

Mary: "None of my business, but you can't just give in all the time.  You've got to give as good as you get.  Comes time when you have to put you foot down.  No law says a woman can't build a house as good as a man."

Jaka: "I.....? I never thought of that".

Mary: "None of my business of course, but a good marriage is like a good partnership"

Once again Dave Sim puts reasonable arguments in favour of gender equality in a character he considers doomineering and pathetic in his appendices, yet in the text she comes over a strong woman, dealing with a profoundly depressed and useless man.  Cognitive dissonace ahoy!

Cerebus gets drunk and thinks of all the manly adventures he has had in the past and wants to tell Ham all about them, although he is badly starstruck by being in close proximity to Ham who is a big hero of his.

Cerebus: "Cerebus has a nervous breakdown because he is having dinner with THE Ham Ernestway"

Pissed again
Later Ham talks to another visitor and confides that he "can't finish the book.  This wonderful book and I can't finish it".  He then decides they will leave the winter home and go on a camping trip even though it is snowy and cold.  While Mary tells Jaka that Ham has been treated for depression in a Cirinist clinic, Cerebus comes outside and blurts out a tale of one of his adventures to a blank faced, unresponsive Ham.

They then all set off, with Jaka and Cerebus still heading for Sand Hill Creek to see his parents.  They are accompanied with Ham and Mary's black tribesmen guides.  Jaka becomes scared that they'll get stuck in the mountain pass over winter, but Cerebus is confident Ham won't steer them wrong.

During a fireside chat Ham asks Jaka if her can call her "daughter", but she demurs.  Mary tries to reassure her, explaning that's just his way and Ham yells at her to shut up and throws a drink in her face which she takes in her smiling stride.  Mary continues to advise Jaka about married life, while Cerebus tries to tell Ham some stories of his life, eliciting only a terse "shut up" in response.  Undeterred, later that night Jaka cuts Cerebus's hair to look like Ham's
Hair cu-ut, Hair cut-ut...
Next day Cerebus is introduced to a rifle, having never used firearms before he is completely delighted by it.

Mary:  "Must have led a sheltered life up there in Sand Hills Creek".

Cerebus: "Actually ma'am Cerebus hasn't been to Sand Hills Creek for a long time.  Cerebus spent the last few years running a tavern and before that Cerebus was...travelling.. alot."
Pew Pew Pew
When they return to camp, Mary shows the padlocks on the box where they keep the firearms to prevent Ham getting at them unsupervised as he is a suicide risk.  Cerebus then finds out Jaka slapped Ham because he grabbed at her.  This lead Cerebus to ask frostily:

Cerebus: "Would you ever slap Cerebus?"

Jaka: "If you gave me a good reason to certainly".

Dinner is held in silence after Ham tells them to "stop chewing so fucking loud".  Cerebus and Jaka make up in their tent afterwards.  Soon they arrive at a hunting lodge, but unmarried couples can't stay there.  Jaka says that if they both say they are lesbians, they can stay.  She is just about to reveal Cerebus's hermaphrodite status when Cerebus bellows at her to "Shut UP!" and throws a drink over her.
Don't Over Share Jaka!
Later they talk about it.

Jaka: "I don't see a vagina as something to be ashamed of, or being a lesbian for that matter...I thought you'd laugh.  I thought you'd treat it as a silly joke 'Cerebus and Jaka. The hunting lodge lesbians'.  Instead I feel as if I don't know you anymore."

Preach it sister, go us lesbians!  Funny how Dave Sim can put tolerant and reasonable dialogue in the mouths of his most sympathetic characters, yet can't seem to find it in his heart to think that way for real.  Hey ho.  Mary interjects at this point to tell them about her and Ham's trip to a continent in the shape of Africa.  It's here that Dave Sim bases his her reminisences on Mary Hemmingways own book.
I Hear The Rains Down In Africa
She talks about the animal hunts they went on in Africa (the first named actual real world place I can think of in a Cerebus book).  There are some gorgeous drawings of animals and the black Africans are rendered respectfully and without charicature.  Mary has dreams about the lion they are tracking.  Next day they find it and kill it, at first Mary thinks she did it, but later realises this wasn't so and gets upset, though not so upset that she doesn't eat her lion steak.
Beautiful Artwork.
She talks of an interview with Ham (who she creepily refers to as Papa) that a reporter did on them while they were on safari, and Ham says some eye opening things.

Mary: "Reporter 'What are your favourite sports sir?'
            Papa: 'Shooting, fishing, reading and sodomy.'
            'Does Mrs. Earnestway particpate in all these sports?'
            'She particpates in all of them.'"

This, along with Ham's confession that he likes to be the girl to Mary's boy freaks Cerebus out completely.  Mary continues her tale, about how happy they were on safari.  They hunt more animals.  Board an airship that crashes, get rescued by boat, get caught in another airship crash which leaves them both injured.  A doctor advises Ham to stop drinking and rest up but he continues partying.  He starts behaving strangely and violently.  He becomes abusive towards Mary which she smiles through.

Mary: "I refreshed myself by remembering the loving, friendly phrases Ham had been making throughout Africa, before the crashes and the fire."

They returned to an active social life in Iest.  A writer called Scott is digusted when he hears they ate lion, and after and argument with Mary, challenegs Ham to a duel.  Which Ham turns down as Scott is not a worthy opponent.  Mary's story concludes and she and Ham retire to their tent, leaving a rather shocked and bewildered Cerebus.  Again, in the appendices Dave Sim makes out that Mary is kinda lame and pathetic, but she comes over in the text as a woman with the patience of a saint, dealing with a big baby of a man-child.

Anyway, later that night Cerebus hears a gunshot and comes out to find Ham dead from a bullet to the brain and Mary standing sadly over him.  Cerebus looks at the key in the padlock and shivers out the words:

Mary: "I think no wife.. has the right.. to deprive her husband.. of his possessions".
Boom! Headshot!
A shocked Cerebus starts walking back to his tent as the clouds roll in and it starts to snow heavily.  The final section of the book finds Cerebus and Jaka alone and lost with only a box of biscuits between them to eat.  They are in dire straits and Cerebus is convinced they will die.  That night Cerebus has a dream in which Rick appears and shows them the way they should go.  He also shows Cerebus his stigmata and and tells him the following:

Dream Rick: "Someone will come to you with a book.  He will identify himself to you by the phrase you tried to remember earlier.  The book will tell you everything. Mungu. Mungu Mkona. God in the hand of..."
The Rick Mystery Continues....
Then a loud noise wakes both him and Jaka up.  Inspired by the dream, Cerebus hurries Jaka out of the tent with the bribe of allowing her to eat all the biscuits.  They make it over the nearby ridge and find a pathway.  Jaka eats all the biscuits.  They find an inn to stay in and Cerebus ponders Jaka's selfishness over the biscuits and his worries about how Jaka - a city person - will adapt to life in a village like Sand Hill's Creek.

Jaka: "If I can master twenty-five ways to say 'hello' based on rank and seniority, I should be able to get the hang of gender distictions in a northern logging and fishing community."

Cerebus and Jaka slip past the local Cirinists and find some underground tunnels to continue travelling through.  Next day they bicker constantly as they make the final leg of the journey.  Cerebus tells Jaka they must pretend they are married as the village is Orthodox Tarimite.  They crest the hill with the village in sight and happily Cerebus runs down to it, his joy turning to fear as he realises how empty the place is, with even the tavern all shut up.  They find one old man who speaks angrily to Cerebus, who with mounting horror asks where his parents are buried.  Jaka tries to talk to him and he turns on her.

Cerebus: "Go on.  Beat it. SCRAM!"

And he turns his back on her and walks sadly away.  A Cirnist shows up in a coach and hands her Missy which they had left behind in the tent.  Our last image of Jaka is her weeping in the back of the coach, clutching Missy to her chest.

Incoherent with rage and grief, Cerebus rends his clothes and rubs dirt into his face before howling in frustration and sadness across the very last panels of the book.  It's a fantastic, emotive ending and for me overall it's where Cerebus ends properly for me.  What's that you say?  Two more books, with none of the cast of characters we've come to know and love?  And full of Dave Sim's insane take on the bible and Christianity? And you want me to review them too?  You heartless demons.

Form And Void, is the Cerebus saga's final gasp of glory.  Full of beautiful art and perfect pacing and characterisation.  Why did Cerebus get rid of Jaka?  I can think of a couple of reasons.  He's just lost his idol and his parents, we know how emotional fragile he is and I think he just snapped.  Plus having spent so much time with her, she was no longer on the pedstal he had placed her on, and getting to know her properly meant finding fault with her, her perfection was tarnished by reality.  She isn't a bad person by any manner of means, she puts up with a lot of shit from him, but she is flawed and in the end, I think those flaws added up and with the  bombshell of finding his parents had died he just wants to be left alone.  He no longer fears Juno it seems.  Anyway, excellent book, but what about those appendices.

Well, let me sum up.  Dave Sim doesn't like Hemmingway's writing (he keeps calling it "typing" a "hilarious" joke).  He doesn't like it that a flawed and suicidal man like Hemmingway was held up as a paragon of masculinity.  The people to blame for this are feminists, who deliberately praised and held him up as an ideal of manhood to be aspired to, so when he fell from grace all men would feel bad about themselves like the feminists planned all along.  I think there is a step involving underpants in there as well.  Completely ludicrous as you can see.  So if you ever decide to buy the books that have appendices in them, don't read them, they rarely shed any non biased light on what he's been writing about, just more murping on about bloody women. Rubbish. And it gets so much worse in the final two books....


  1. Yes, Hemingway must've been an... interesting... person for a woman to put up with. He wrote strong, manly prose without any wussy feminine adornments like adjectives, and he shot loads of animals. I think that as a paragon of masculinity feminists would prefer a man who helps with the childcare and occasionally does the washing up.

    Cerebus the Aardvark is getting more and more dreamlike and fantastical. Reality is stretching, melting and warping like toffee in the sun. What happened to Cerebus' parents is just the dream turning into a nightmare (not that he showed much sign of caring about them before, but maybe Jaka brought out his affectionate side).

    Cerebus and Jaka would have been okay if they'd lived in suburban Hartlepool and spent their time doing a nine to five and going to a pub in the evenings.

  2. I think you're right that in a normal situation Cerebus and Jaka might have stood a chance. Also, lets not forget "Dave" and the fact he's starting to meddle in Cerebus's life again. Honestly after the ending of this book, for me Cerebus pretty much ceases to exist as a character and continues on only as Dave's puppet. Which explains why the last two books fall so flat for me.