So, well, what do we have here? I admit by the end of the travesty that was Latter Days, I actively resented having to stump up anymore cash for the series, but the urge to see the end and finish the set got the better of me. And lawks a lordy, this actually has a lot to recommend it. I won't go as far as saying it totally redeems the decision to make Cerebus the leader of a religion based on the real Christian faith but there is a desperation and melancholy about Cerebus's lonely plight here that feels really heartfelt and of course it (lolspoilers) finishes with Cerebus's demise, which despite how horrible he is and the atrocities carried out in his name, you can't help finding a little sad along with the more general sadness that accompanies the end of any long running work. Of course the final chapter manages to piss away most of the goodwill the rest of the book has so skillfully built with a completely asinine plot twist but well that's the Cerebus project in a nutshell.
It doesn't get off to a promising start, first the intro gets somewhat petulant about the lack of interest in the wider media about the end of the Cerebus series. Possibly no one was interested after the best part of a year was spent padding out the comic with the bible and drawings of Woody Allen. Just a thought Dave. We also get Dave telling us that he's found the solution to Einsteins Grand Unification Theory in the Bible and that God gave this to him, but his amazing theory presented here wasn't spread around because of feminists (the whole intro is very odd, he seems obssessed with the fact that feminists want him to kill himself, which seems.. unlikely of them, but whatev's). Then the first chapter starts with some amazing artwork of the sun and OH SON OF A WHORE, The Book of Genesis and lots of teeny, tiny footnotes, which I am afraid I simply skimmed because fuck that shit. A more detailed writer about Cerebus than I, Tim O'Neil of the excellent blog The Hurting has written about and presented talks on Cerebus and even he has some difficulty with late period Cerebus, this excerpt from his blog presents one interpretation of what's going on in the "Sun" chapter of The Last Day.
Tim O'Neil of The Hurting: "I will say, for anyone who may have read the stretch from around 270-300 more recently than I, I have a little trouble keeping straight whether or not any of Sim's theological ideas are ideas he actually entertains and which are presented within the context of satire - I think I recall, for instance, that he genuinely believes that microscopic demons live in the sun and are responsible for perturbations in the quantum foam, or whatever the hell. He takes shit like demons seriously, after all, and was genuinely disappointed when, following the release of Cerebus #289-290, he wasn't immediately acclaimed as a visionary for having permanently reconciled the differences between science and religion."
I think he means them quite genuinely Tim, quite genuinely indeed. If there were no appendices then it might be possible to pass it off as weird satire, but those appendices make all the difference in cementing Dave Sim's somewhat..interesting take on the Bible and cluelessness about science. But how could he be proclaimed a visionary? He's not a feminist, duh! Ugh. Anyway, it's actually a dream Cerebus is having, now a very old aardvark indeed having been alive for a couple of centuries. He wakes and writes his dream down and hides it for future generations and we finally get to the good bit of the book, Cerebus and his mortality.
Cerebus: "Ow Cerebus's back spasms. Ow Cerebus's side spasms. Ow Cerebus's front spasms."
The narrative plays out as a monologue by Cerebus, with an off-stage voice providing further converstation and a final character being introduced very close to the end. Cerebus is completely alone now, the focus of the books since the end of Minds have been tightening and tightening around Cerebus until he is all that is left. It's hard not to see this as maybe a reflection of Dave Sim's disengagement with the world, as in the appendices, he, after declaring everyone in the world a feminist finds himself completely alone. He has walked out on his family (who are feminists) and even his co-artist Gerhard was no longer able to work in the same room as Dave Sim (being a feminist and all). Gerhard even tried to drop out of drawing this final arc, so unpleasant was he finding the experience now. Anyway, whether or not that is a reason, Cerebus is alone, with just his thoughts, failing memory and his aching, decrepid old body to deal with.
[You know, because I am a fully paid up member of the aetheist-feminist-homosexualist axis, I've been giving Dave Sim a lot of crap for his writing, but his and Gerhard's artwork is still amazingly good even at this stage when they could have easily half-arsed it and not dropped readers. The above full page image in its content and composition conveys Cerebus's loneliness and isolation in such an achingly sad way that words almost seem unecessary. It bought me close to tears when I first looked at it and that's something only great art can do.]
Cerebus finds he has been locked in, because of emergency procedures. Some kind of battle is taking place outside and it seems that by now Estarcion has reached 20th Century Earth's level of technological and social advances, to judge by the weapons being used and the punky kids lounging around outside Cerebus's sanctuary. Apparently one section of the church, the Joannists are attacking ( and yes that is after Joanne from Guys and Rick's Story, she got included into the Book Of Rick and now has splinters from the main "Cerebite" Church named after her) and Cerebus has to be locked in for his own safety.
Cerebus starts talking to the guard about his son Shep-Shep who hasn't been seen in over ten years, Cerebus reminices about his (human) son growing up, and sends the guard off to see if their are any messages from him. While the guard is away, Cerebus begs God to help him remember why Shep-Shep left him (the reason isn't entirely clear, but it seems Cerebus ruined a music festival thrown by his son, with a violent crackdown on pro-abortionists. After some deaths he was forced to sanction abortion and Shep Shep and Cerebus's wife left).
Later the guard returns with good news. Shep-Shep is actually at the sanctuary and wants to see Cerebus. One problem, lifting the lockdown to allow this requires a vote by all the churches and when this goes ahead, one branch of the church santuaries permanent members vetoes the visit - the "Le Sanctuarie Upper Felda des Rick et Joanne et Joanne Lesbiennes" (those damn lesbians! *shakes fist*). The reason given is ridiculous - that Cerebus might want to have sex with his son - but this is a ploy to manuvre Cerebus into making the concessions they want. As Cerebus rages about the lack of authority he wields in his own church he is given the piece of paper to sign with the recognition that part of the Church wants.
Ultimatum: "The representative further welcomes the Great Cerebus's implicit agreement that the androgyne, the tribade, the sexual invert, the transgendered, the dual-gendered and the multi-gendered is of central and paramount importance in and to our faith. In and to our society. In and to our sanctuaries. In and to the seat of truth. In the name of the Blessed Mother, her Blessed Daughter and The Scary Tampon."
After a long moment, Cerebus signs the agreement and retreats to bed to wait for Shep-Shep.
Cerebus's church institution has fractured into a myriad different ideologies, that he himself has no control over any more. Perhaps now is time to revisit Suentus Po's words on Power in Flight:
Suentus Po: "My experience taught me, there is no benefit and little wisdom in attempting to influence the minds and wills of massess of people. In both my lives I described to you I sought that kind of influence and effect. I was a Reformer. I have seen the long range effects that profound change always brings about. Each great movement is sown with the seeds of its own destruction, it's corruption and decay as inevitable as Death itself."
And so it goes. Cerebus is blackmailed into giving up pretty much all that's left of his power, his influence now negligable, his effect neutered, his reforms working against him, his church at war with itself.
There is a little mild homophobia that is threaded through Cerebus's messages and to-and-fro from the wilder reaches of his religion, the fact that he is being held hostage and refused to be able to see his son by the lesbian and gay off-shoots of his church makes for uncomfortable reading, that you could just about dismiss as some warped sense of humour except for the fact that in the appendices Sim goes off on a tangent about "homosexualists" being paedophiles and also oppressing him by the mere fact they have the temerity to ask to be treated as more than objects of scorn and pity. And I think "how sad", that a man who gave us such a sympathetic portrayal of Oscar Wilde, dedicating a years worth of comics to his final days and who back in the late 80's was bezzie mates with Alan Moore and contributed to his anti-government homophobia comic, dedicating his part to Moore's wife and their mutual girlfriend (yeah, Alan Moore was in a polyamorous relationship with two women in the 80's, the lucky so-and-so). And now he's a homophobe. That probably disappoints me more than all the misogyny in the series combined. Oh well.
Shep-shep: "...look father, see. It's a lion's cub, with a baby's head. Isn't that amazing?"
I think I would have preferred it if Gwyneth Paltrow's head was in the box. Ok, lets run through this quickly. Cirin has been doing gene splicing experiments using slices from Shep's brain to clone this hybrid from. Once they get the giganticism gene sorted, they'll make a huge one of these baby/lion hybrids and then they'll all go to Egypt where he'll be worshipped as a God. Well done Cerebus, your son is fucking nuts. Of course Cerebus is horrified by this, and seemingly hurt by this response Shep goes to leave, but not before leaving Cerebus with this warning:
Shep-shep: "I hope... the scattered remnants of your followers enjoy the limited time that remains to you. Because there's a surprise on the way father. A very, very big surprise. Tens of thousands of surprises in point of fact! A new group of believers father called Muslims! And from what I understand? They've taken a decidedly dim view of what you've done with their God. Good bye father."
And with that ominous threat, he departs. A rage filled Cerebus finds his dagger under his pillow and jumps from the bed, with murder in his heart.
But he misses his footing and slowly topples to the ground, where he breaks his neck (although he gets his fart in before he dies).
As the life ebbs away from him, his life flashes before his eyes. Before his spirit finally leaves his body.
There he sees a bright light and every character of significance who appeared in the series is waiting, with the trinity of Ham, Bear and Jaka holding her arms out in welcome.
He turns into his old comic book idol "Rabbi" and starts to run towards them, but there is a sting in this final couple of pages. He suddenly takes fright and tries to turn away, imploring God to save him.
Cerebus: "Help God! The Light! The Light! Help God! The Light has got Cerebus! GOD! HEEELLPPP!"
And nothing is left but white. And so ends Cerebus the Aardvark. Dying as The Judge predicted, "alone, unmourned and unloved". Oh sure as the nominal head of the Church there might be some official mourning if it survives the war that's going on outside. But in the end, even his son didn't care about him and his old enemy Cirin outlived him, while his Church fell into schismatic ruin.
A downer huh? Well we were warned. Actually I did wonder if Dave Sim would have the balls to go with the "alone, unmourned and unloved" prediction and I am glad he did, because Cerebus didn't really deserve a happy ending. I thought maybe having Cerebus becoming a genuine leader of his faith, rather than one in it solely for the gold and power might have been a set up for a happier ending than what had been foretold for him. Caveats aside, especially the whole Shep sequence with the spinx baby (and I am almost willing to say, "screw what Dave Sim says, I think it was a nightmare Cerebus was having") and some of the homophobic subtext, this is a pretty good capstone to the series. It evokes sympathy for a protagonist who doesn't really deserve it in a very skillful way and is almost heart rending in places showing that Dave Sims ability to write evocative prose hadn't totally left him. I still think the swerve into making Cerebus the leader of a real Christian religion wasn't really my cup of tea, and I wonder if this ending was planned all along or if another ending to the series had been plotted out before Sim's real life faith impacted onto the text. I guess we'll never know what could have been.
In Summary Then....
It's been just over ten years now since the main Cerebus series ended. Despite the way it finished up, it's still a monumental achievement by both Dave Sim and Gerhard. What I find rather saddening is how forgotten the series has become when it was one of the biggest indie successes of the 80's and early 90's. When I started up buying the trades again, I wandered into my nearest comic specialist shop, Forbidden Planet in Manchester (UK), and when I couldn't find them on the shelves asked the man on the counter if they had any in stock. He had never heard of the series, which really took me aback. Whatever you think about the mess it ended up becoming, there was way, way more that is good about Cerebus than is bad, and it deserves a place on the shop shelves next to Elfquest, Spawn and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, all big indie hits themselves. Maybe Dave Sim's lack of interest in exploiting the property at the time beyond pioneering the trade paperback collected edition has told against it, but the series lack of presence in comic book stores now make it unlikely that any new readers will come across a copy while idly browsing and take a chance on a densely packed storyline starring a talking aardvark and a host of parodies and pastiches that chart the pop culture and personalities of the time in a generally amusing way.
|I'm concluding the images with my favourite set of panels from my favourite issue "The Deciding Vote" which was part of High Society. I love these three panels which I couldn't include in the High Society review as I didn't have a scanner then.|
What's noticable about the saga as a whole is you don't have to read to the bitter end to get a satisfying story if you don't fancy braving the last couple of books. The series comes with several jumping off points for those less committed to completionism than me. Just here for the satire and comedy? Leave after Church and State II. Only interested in Cerebus versus Cirin versus Astoria? Drop out after Minds. Want Cerebus to get a happy ending (for some reason)? Go no further than Rick's Story. Only curious to see what happens to Cerebus and Jaka's relationship? Do not pass the end of Form and Void. Despite the frustrations I felt writing up the last few books, I'm glad I committed to doing the full run, looking at the books in more detail did increase my enjoyment of most of them and I was pretty out of practice with writing, so starting with something obscure let me relearn and polish up my critical skills again without feeling too pressured by the material. If this series of blog posts manages to inspire even one person to check out a Cerebus volume (make it High Society if you do, very funny and little baggage from the preceeding arc at that point), I'd be pretty pleased. But I probably won't be committing to such a long series of books again until I decide to look at Garth Ennis's twelve volume series The Boys, although I'll be writing about some series with up to around seven volumes in them prior to that. So stick around please as I tackle more traditional comic books and maybe cover something you've actually heard of.