Sunday, 29 June 2014

Cerebus Book 15: Latter Days (#266-288)

 "So.  This is the book that's going to tell Cerebus everything" - Cerebus

Oh, very dear.  Having shed the final (apart from Cerebus) ongoing character from the series with the departure of Jaka we get this book,  where real Christianity and Judaism are introduced into the worlds of Estarcion as Dave Sim sacrifices all story integrity so he can lecture and badger the reader with his weird views made up of a strange brew of his interpretation of Christianity and anti-psychiatry ramblings.  Now I want to make one thing clear.  I was raised an atheist.  I still am mostly an atheist, with some of the teachings of Daoism and Buddhism incorporated into my own personal life philisophy.  I however have known and still know some wonderfully kind and tolerant Christians who I am proud to call friends of mine and whose faith in no way impedes my view of or makes me think less of them.  I will getting somewhat terse with Mr. Sim's rantings in this book, and I want to make it clear it's only with his twisted version of Christianity and not Christians in general.  If I overstep the mark and say things that could be construed as offensive to Christians in general I apologise in advance.  Also, although I said ignore the appendices in the previous two books, the odd, disjointed, supposedly allusive quality of the narrative in this book forces me to seek further enlightenment in the pages at the back of the book.  It's not pretty.  So, here we go with Latter Days, the very worst book in the whole series by some considerable margin.
It's supposed to be symbolic but I don't care by this point.
 The first part is uneventful.  Cerebus first spends years as a shepard, then more years as a Five Bar Gate player who always gets to the finals but throws them so he can rake in the cash from a bet, which he spends collecting a comic called "Rabbi" a parody of Garth Ennis's Preacher comic.  We get an idea of just how long lived Cerebus is going to be, when his long time opponent in the Five Bar Gate finals dies of old age.  Then Cerebus having lost all hope for his life, decides to travel to the heart of Cirinist territory and behave in as boorish a way possible, so they will kill him.  But as he carouses away he is discovered by three men  based on The Three Stooges.  I am unsure Dave Sim he did this, as they don't really act the way the Stooges did.  When Dave Sim introduced characters based on Groucho and Chico Marx he used it as a basis for lots of verbal humour and kept the characters loosely tied to their inspirations as well as giving them a character of their own.  Here we have a trio known mainly for slapstick which doesn't translate very well onto the page and they aren't really filled out as characters outside of any baggage the people they are based on had in real life.  Anyway they kidnap Cerebus, tie him up and begin the task of brainwashing him with the Book of Rick, Jaka's ex-husband's newish religion which unlike the broad strokes Christian parody of Tarimism is based very closely on real life Christianity and meant far more sincerely thanks to Dave Sim's own conversion to the faith.
The Three Wise Fellows
After reading the Book Of Rick over and over, to cleanse Cerebus of his sin.  Cerebus finally manages to give them an answer to one of the questions they had for him and they let him go.  He then decides to put into plan his idea for getting rid of the Cirinists.  For some inexplicable reason the Cirnists had allowed men to go shooting at hunting lodges and Cerebus's plan is to have all the local lodges join up and kill the local Cirnists.  Which they do under the command of a character based on Spawn writer and artist Todd MacFarlane, whom I talked more about in my review of the Spawn issue Dave Sim wrote.  Then Cerebus contructs a demon costume and thus disguised and calling himself "Spore" leads the men to victory over all the Cirnists, with Cerebus writing his own religious tract - "The Book Of Cerebus" which is about the war and it's aftermath
"Spore" In Action
And this just makes me tear my hair out.  Dave Sim it seems had a problem, that being he'd introduced the Cirnists as a powerful, conquering army that put down rebellions with ruthless efficiency, even if they'd been stupid enough to allow the men to arm themselves with guns, surely they would have armed themselves in return and be able to easily crush another rebellion.  So we get probably the lamest, weakest excuse for the mens victory as possible:

Cerebus: "Since even the best women shooter is barely going to be as good as a below average man, there is no way the Cirinists can get within range where they can hit us without first getting shot themselves."
Cerebus's Army
And so in a few pages and mostly off stage, a powerful ruling army who have held onto power for decades is wiped out by a bunch of men too stupid to have thought to use their guns before Cerebus told them too.  When pushed onto the back foot the Cirinists take off their robes and hide amongst the other women.  So Cerebus instigates a purge of any woman even slightly suspected of being a Cirinist or having Cirinist sympathies.  Mass murder basically.  Dave Sim says in the appendices that he meant it like "A Modest Proposal", but the difference here is that Swift's book was a coruscating satire aimed at shocking the ruling classes into giving a shit about the plight of the poor, and Dave Sim seems to be writing about how to solve the problem of um.. women, by killing any with even slight feminist leanings and it comes over more as wish fulfillment that satire.  Also one of the women killed is based on a real woman who was somewhat critical of him.  Classy, Sim, real classy.  She's also the last woman to get a speaking role in the rest of the series.  From now on women fade into the background as Dave Sim's engagement with Christianity takes centre stage.

With the rule of law placed in the hands of the mob, after they kill all the lawyers, a bucolic, facist "utopia" is established, which mostly seems to involve men building "little houses", while unruly women are confined to special camps.  There doesn't seem to be much in the way of art or culture produced and free speech is ruthlessly dealt with.  Making life under the "Cerebites" seem much less enticing than under the Cirinists even for men.  And with nothing to kick against, and no women left in his life, Cerebus becomes aimless in his existence.  Back when I covered Minds, he ended up trapped on the lonely planet Juno, and esteemed commenter Lucy McGough pointed out that Juno was the Goddess of wives and mothers.  So it was a warning in my opinion that a life without women, without love in fact would be a lonely one.  And for several books the prospect of being alone would have Cerebus see the rocky landscape of Juno in his minds eye.  So it's ironic that with women removed from his life entirely he's given up and idly embraced being stuck on the metaphorical Juno and crucially he doesn't seem happy about this or the society he has built but can't be bothered anymore to change his situation, taking solace in the beliefs that were brainwashed into him.
The main problem I have with what happens here is Dave Sim falling into the trap of telling and not showing.  I'm not interested in Cerebus raising sheep or playing Five Bar Gate for years, I want to see how Rick's religion spread, how Tarim worship became so easily deposed, I want to see the Cirinists catching, trying and crucifying Rick in the name of his religion not hear about it second hand.  Once again there is a tonne of talk and very little action and when it comes to something as important as explaining just how Cerebus was able to implant and nuture Rick's "Christian" religion so easily in the minds of the men he sends off to war, well I want to know see how come.  It's frustrating that's what it is.  There is a better, more interesting story going on here that we are only hearing about.  Something with the same scope as the "Mothers and Daughters" arc, but the extreme focus on Cerebus alone hurts the narrative and the wider plot has to be conveyed in a tonne of speech bubbles and captions rather than flowing via the use of  sequential art, you know, like a comic would.

After the last of The Three Wise Fellow's dies, Cerebus comes to a sad realisation about the lack of friendship in his life and how the last time he really remembered anyone's name was when he was back in the tavern shown in Guys.

Narration: "It's not that people didn't like Cerebus most of the time.  When Cerebus went to watch a house being built someone would come over and strike up a conversation.  And when they left they'd say "it was nice talking with you" in a way that Cerebus could tell they really meant it.  But the thing was:  Cerebus was never the one to strike up the conversation.. and for the life of him, Cerebus heh heh could never figure out exactly what had been so darned "nice" about talking with him.
Pictured: A Comics Fan, Apparently
So Cerebus tries to fill the void, first with going back to sheparding and when that fails he decides to go back to collecting the comic "Rabbi" and get a full mint set.  Thus follows some rather unpleasant implications about comic book collectors, not helped by the fact that Cerebus is rather fat by this time.  Indeed in the appendices Dave Sim calls the completionist urge a kind of psychosis, which is a rather nasty thing to say about people reading your comic especially ones who have followed you this far.  Then Cerebus finds a old comic book journal with an interview with the writer of Rabbi called "Garth Innocent" (Garth Ennis was the writer of the comic Preacher, which takes a somewhat jaundiced look at organised religion and it's not hard to see newly religious Dave Sim taking swipes at him even if he claims that he himself is meant to be Garth, tormenting Cerebus his own creation).  Anyway the jist of the interview is that "Garth" wanted to turn people off religion, his book was a gorefest designed for thirteen year old boys and that Cerebus was stupid and needy for becoming so attached to it and he hoped this interview would send Cerebus into a nervous breakdown.  Which it does.
The Young Konigsberg
Luckily Woody Allen comes to the rescue as the character Konigsberg who is from the obscure sect called the Jews (which back in Melmoth Dave Sim said they didn't exist in Estarcion but whatever) and he brings The Torah which he wants Cerebus to help him understand.  And so we get to the most infamous part of the whole Cerebus series, a third of the fucking book spent on Cerebus's annotations to the first five books of the Bible.  Interspersed with the memoirs of Konigsberg done in sixties psychoanalytic speak of which Woody Allen was famous for putting in his films and early stand-up.  The main jist of the annotations are that YHWH is a different deity from God whom Cerebus calls "Yoohwooh" and is also female because well, lets hear from Dave why:

Dave Sim: "Read Deuteronomy yourself.  It's just one YHWH blabfest pretty much from start to finish. Hysterical, grudging, paranoid, defeatist, threatening, dictatorial, beseeching, self-aggrandising, illogical, convoluted, cajoling and wheedling."
*sigh*
To be honest, I didn't read much of this portion of the book, because if I pluck a section at random you'll see just how deathly it is.

Torah:  "This twentie yeeres I with thee, thy ewes and thy she goates haue not cast their younge and the rammes of thy flocke haue I not eaten."

Cerebus: "A little reminder of Yoohwhoo's she-goat and he-ram covenant with Abraham [laughs] probably convinced Yoohwhoo that no, she didn't feel well enough to get and go look for her asprin".

Torah:  "That which was torne, I brought not vnto thee: I bare the losse of it"

Cerebus: "'That isn't really what I sound like?' Yoohwhoo wonders."

Torah: "of my hand didst thou require it, whether stollen by day, or stollen by night."

Cerebus: "[laughs] Cerebus pictures a tiny little "angel" of God appearing in front of Yoohwhoo with a copy of verse five, chapter nine."

And so on.  Bleedin' hilarious I don't think.  If you want Biblical comedy that is actually funny, try the LoLCat's Bible instead, always makes me laugh. Praise be to Ceiling Cat!  Ah, "But Varalys" you say.  "Dave Sim is being comedic about the Bible, how does that fit with his Christian conversion, eh?"  And I say "Good question, come with me to the appendices".  Now Dave Sim says a lot about reading and rereading the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) over and over, and reading a lot of Biblical scholarship and how so little of it agrees with each other, so why not do his own interpretation?

Dave Sim: "...My biggest concern was: what would God think of this?  Just how seriously was I putting my soul in jeopardy by deciding to go public with the fact that I thought I was right about what the Bible said and that everyone else was wrong?....what if I was right in what I was reading?  What if this had been planned by God all along? What of he had known exactly what I was going to write before I was born?  Omniscience is a much easier word to say than it is to even imagine."

O...Ok, back away slowly folks and when you are clear, run like the wind. Anyway, there we go.  A third of the book devoted to single page drawings and masses of tiny, tightly spaced unfunny text. Konigsberg grows old and dies as Cerebus secludes himself working on his notes to the Torah (quite what the random TRACED images from European cinema have to do with either the Bible or Psychoanalysis, even the appendices aren't very helpful in this case, but they sure do look purdy - if you like TRACED artwork that is).  Finally Cerebus comes out of seclusion and gets married.  The woman is considered so unimportant that we don't even see her real face, just Jaka's imposed over it.  Le sigh and end book.
Jaka's Actually Been Dead About 150 Years By This Point
In every conceivable way this book fails.  It fails at being funny.  It fails at being satirical.  It fails at being thought-provoking.  It fails at being profound.  It fails at being entertaining.  It fails at providing interesting characterisation. Dave. Sim. You. FAIL.

The bible commentary and psychoanalytical bibble went on for nearly a year if you were following the comics monthly.  And I imagine this was where the series shed it's most readers if they hadn't already pissed off after the mean spirited attack on them earlier in the arc.  I've probably made the book sound more eventful than it is, but it's an incredibly ennervating read, hence why it took me so long to write it up.  There are no characters to root for, Cerebus's character has been irrevocably changed, the whole book doesn't feel like it has any links to the previous fourteen and comes across more like a sequel series than something that stands as part of the run as a whole.  The whole book, including the appendices feels like being cornered at a party by a slightly peculiar evangelical Christian who wants to tell you all about how his interpretation of the bible is the correct and only one.  Latter Days is an actively bad book.  Monumental events happen which are barely covered or alluded too, the bible commentary is a shocking piece of padding that no amount of pretty artwork can render acceptable.  Everything that made the Cerebus story good and worthwile is flushed down the toilet or twisted to fit Dave Sim's "spiritual awakening". It's flat and worst of all it's boring. It sucks basically.  Only one book left then.  Dave Sim tells us not to expect a happy ending in it, but he misunderstands what's left of his readership if he thinks any of them think Cerebus deserves a happy ending, especially after this book.  Will the final book manage to make up for the mess that is Latter Days and end the series on a high note?  Find out soon folks (I promise it won't take as long this time).

[You know what was doubly insulting about this book?  There are far fewer copies in circulation than any other and it appears to be out of print too.  So I had to spend the best part for fifty quid for my secondhand copy.  Fifty quid!  That's as many as five tens.  And that's terrible].

2 comments:

  1. You definitely didn't offend any religious people with this post so don't worry. Cerebus should have just married Jaka and stayed with her, because that makes a better story than a very long-lived being watching everybody else dying of old age and never really connecting with anybody. That's very rare. Most people have at least a few relationships in their life, and most of us have dozens. Simultaneously, I mean — everyone from the person/people you love most in the world to the person who delivers your daily paper. Cerebus could have fathered a dynasty (which would have been appropriately Biblical) and been their guiding light, their cynosure, for generations. He could've been a stately wise elder they came to for advice. Maybe there's an alternate universe in which that actually happened.

    Dave Sim's attacks on the Old Testament God are not funny. Professor Dawkins is much funnier even though he's a pillock. I think what Mr Sim was writing made sense in his own head, just not in anybody else's. It's a shame the book is thematically all over the place, 'cos the guy can still draw.

    When Dave Sim criticises comic fans I think maybe he's actually criticising himself. How svelte and athletic can he be? He spends all his days inside drawing!

    Commenting further on this book would just depress me, so I'll stop now.

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  2. Glad I didn't offend anyone by accident. I must say trying to make sense of Dave Sim's theology is very hard for an atheist like myself. If I was a Christian then I probably would have got pretty pissed off. As it was I had to massively summarise and hopefully let the quotes speak for themselves. And their is nothing more painful to read or see than failed comedy. Would I have given more of a pass rather than lambast it for shameless padding if it had been funny? I don't know. I know that I might have learned something if it had been. That's why I like the LOLCats Bible, it's funny but I've actually learned quite a lot about the Bible reading it as well!

    I must say Dave Sim isn't the first comic book writer to attack his fanbase, I've seen it happen even with otherwise cool people like Grant Morrison. Yes, some comic book fans can be spoilt brats with an over-inflated sense of entitlement, but man, don't tar us all with that brush guys.

    Cerebus does actually have a son in between this book and the next, but I'll tell you now, it's not a happy story. Even though Cerebus is a now a devout aardvark of God, Dave Sim is still merciless towards him. You'd think he'd relent and allow him a happy ending as a reward for his devotion...

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