2: High Society
3: Church & State Volume I
4: Church & State Volume II
5: Jaka's Story
1: Cerebus is an anthromorphic aardvark Conan the Barbarian
2: Cerebus gets into politics
3 & 4: Cerebus becomes pope
5: Cerebus hangs out with Jaka
6: Cerebus is in a state of shock, the death of Oscar Wilde
7: Cerebus, Cirin, and Suenteus Po all work toward the Final Ascenscion
8: " "
9: Suentues Po and Astoria bow out; Cirin and Cerebus Ascend
The good news is, we're over the hump. This is the final book of the Mothers & Daughters storyline, and book 10 out of a 16 book series. The end is not quite in sight, but you know there is an end. Unfortunately, the bad news is that this book represents the end of the plot that Dave Sim had written out back in the '77, when he was writing Church & State
. You could be well forgiven if you got to the end of this book and decided that you had read the complete series, at least as far as Dave Sim's original plan - but the problem is, there are six more books after this, and you have to go into them now knowing that Sim was cooking up new
shit, or as he put it "improvising." And Dave Sim, by this point, was going off his fucking rocker. You've already seen some of the stuff he got up to in the series already, what with Melmoth
and the last days of Oscar Wilde and whatnot, and understand this: that was Dave Sim holding back, because he had to stick to his plan.
Now, he's off the plot rails and off his meds. So when I say that this, the super-fucking-weird conclusion to what has already been a very long and confusing and complicated storyline, is really just the kid gloves coming off...and maybe you'll understand why Cerebus is a legend, Dave Sim is respected (some say feared) and hated, and why so very few people who have read the first 4,000 pages of Cerebus get to the final phonebook. It's a lot to ask.
So when we left the last book, Cerebus and Cirin were clinging to a stone throne and had ascended into space. This was...well, not what anybody was expecting. Not like last time, anyway. No tower, no gold sphere, not even the Judge. Beautiful starscapes, though. Have you ever really just looked at the stars?
But, this isn't Cosmos. The first thing Cirin does is use her telepathy to mind-rape Cerebus for everything he learned the last
time he ascended. She claims that the Judge was actually "Belinus Two-Tongues," a male deity masquerading as Tarim. Cerebus, being a hermaphrodite, has access to telepathy too, and gets in his own shot at Cirin, which basically starts a telepathic screaming match interspliced with more details of religions in the setting. Which is rather underscored by the fact that the two of them are hurtling through the solar system at a tremendous rate, and completely misinterpreting the planets and asteroids and whatnot with regards to their various mythologies and dogma.
Eventually, the two are separated. We get a flashback-in-panel (neat trick, that) of when Cerebus was a young kid, and was stabbed in the gut - hence (implicitly) the reason he can't
get pregnant - and later on, when Cerebus is apprenticed to a wizard. Cerebus' dad was a carpenter, and apparently Cerebus declared he was the son of Tarim at one point...yeah, the Jesus parallels are being heightened already. I'm kind of curious at this point if Sim ever read about the myths that Jesus went to Egypt during his lost years to study with the Egyptian magicians; dunno. But, no matter. This is what it is: Cerebus is alone, drifting through space, reflecting on his relationship with Tarim with a guilty conscience (I think we're going through the seven steps here, although perhaps not in quite the right order), comprehending little...the Great Red Spot rendered in black and white is a thing of gorgeous beauty, by the way.
If you want to wax analytic on this type of thing, it's pretty easy: after all, in real life, a lot of what people think is talking to God is them talking to themselves and trying to convince themselves that what they hear back aren't the echoes in their own head. That the voices in their head are real, and not just symptoms of a diseased mind.
Then, of course, Cerebus hears a voice in his head. Indistinguishable from his own. Except...it's Dave Sim. I mean, explicitly Dave Sim. Cerebus is literally having a conversation with his creator.
I believe in God--or Tarim or someone or something along those lines...but, suppose I'm in the same situation that you are. Whoever 'created' me can affect everything about me, change my world, my memories, everything big and small. But--I would walk past my creator on the street without giving him (or her) a second look. And so on up the ladder: his creator has a creator and his creator's creator has acreator. all of them curious about the ultimate creator (of course). I introduce a situation into your life, you react to it. I neither approve nor disapprove of your reaction. I don't punish or reward you. I note your reaction and...provide the consequences -- in the form of the next situation. Your reaction...implies the next situation, and your reaction to that situation implies the next situation. And so on.
It's closer to an epiphany or a satisfying answer than we ever got in the end of Church and State
. It's dangerously close to making me wonder how much of this stuff is Sim being deep and meaningful and clever and how much he has actually come to believe. But as an introspective look at both Cerebus - the whole series and the character - and Sim's relationship with his creation, it comes close to unique.
There's a lengthy aside on Jaka, and the relationship with Cerebus. I won't say it poisons
the whole of Jaka's Story
, but...yeah, kinda. Like I said, Jaka's Story
was sort of about Jaka, but not from her perspective. So all the little romantic moments and stuff...when you read the thought bubbles here
that were omitted there
. Well, fuck. But it is, as Dave says to Cerebus, the first step to go beyond what's come so far.
Then we come in on Cirin again - and remember, this is still Dave Sim-as-Dave Sim trying to talk to his characters in-character...and, well, Cirin didn't really get past the fact that her creator was male. He created a fanatic so well he can't even talk to her. Bizarre, but perhaps fitting. But then we get the rise of Cirin (the in-character origin, that is, not how Sim came up with her). It's a lot of backstory, but the long story short is: Cirin is not Cirin. Cirin is actually Serna
, who was Cirin's left hand of darkness when the mothers came to power in a quiet revolution after an invading army killed ever man between 5 and 55, leading the way for a communal and mostly bloodless reorganization. Then Serna militarized a group, took on Cirin's identity (using telepathy to convince everyone), and took over; the old woman that sent Cerebus to a tavern waaay back in Women
was the actual Cirin, under permanent house arrest, nonviolent to the end. Of course, it probably helps that the new Cirin had the old Cirin's head shaved, mouth sewn up, and set in stocks for a while. And the thing is - whether or not you agree with the plausibility of the political movement presented or the psychology - there is a lot of insight into human nature here. It may not be entirely plausible, some some parts of it are horrifically familiar to us.
While the quilting circles flourish with cooperativeness, selflessness and peace as their foundation, Serna feels herself crushed by the knoweldge that her communal safety officers -- although loyal and dutiful -- are thoroughly unhappy. They have the highest suicide rate of any group in Estarcion. They are the most apt to abuse or kill their children. Daughters who are victims of abuse are, most often, the ones who choose to become communal safety officers.
How many parallels between the militant Cirinists and our own police and military?
This is all a long way of breaking Cerebus down to build him up again, by showing him that everything he desired - Jaka, military conquest - are beyond his reach. Jaka doesn't love him, and he doesn't love her, really. Whatever army he could assemble, even within Cirin/Serna, the Cirinist movement would undermine and destroy it in time.
He also finally explains Cerebus' helmet, sword, and amulet - the ones based on the original Conan getup...
...which, if had them when he met the Pigts, would have transmuted to gold and animated the Pigts' stone idol of an aardvark into a giant golem with death-beam eyes that would have conquered the world for him. But, he sold the helmet. So, that didn't happen. Really, at this point after all the set-up for Cerebus as the barbarian quasi-Christian messiah, Sim takes as much or more of this book showing how that destiny was completely thwarted - a perfect hermaphrodite that can't give birth, a planned fate completely mothballed - and continues on in that vein to explain Elrod, the Roach, Professor Charles X. Clarment, Thrunk, etc.
Cerebus asks if Dave could make Jaka love him. Which gives us a snapshot of them as a married couple, where Cerebus is horrible and Jaka is miserable. I won't go into the details, but trust me: Cerebus is a dick. And this gets into some Twilight Zone shit for Dave to show Cerebus he's a dick, and that Cerebus as he is can't make Jaka happy. The future scenarios include one where Cerebus cheats on her with a busty neighbor known as Joanne, one where he beats Jaka, one where Jaka has to masturbate because if she isn't sufficiently lubricated before he mounts
her he accuses her of being frigid...look, Dave Sim pulls no punches.
At this point, we're at Pluto. Bleak, frozen, strangely beautiful. And Dave Sim gets nasty.
This is one of the comics which inspired the Comics Code. There's something about the eye as uniquely vulnerable. So we get a couple pages of...well, I won't say eye torture porn
, but you could forgive Cerebus for thinking of it that way, because Dave is taking great glee in playing around with that. And Cerebus wakes up with a bandage on his eye. It's all part of Sim breaking Cerebus down, because as Cerebus himself admits, he's a terrible person.
Cerebus: Why did you create Cerebus.
Dave: Originally, to make myself rich and famous. It sort
The Epilogue has Cerebus still stuck on Pluto, with Dave not talking to him any more. He's going a little nuts. So would you, provided you survived that long. Eventually, Dave checks in, and Cerebus is ready to make a change with his life. It's a nice, hopeful change of character, and Sim ends the storyline with a picture of him at the drawing board, chewing a carrot, exactly aping the end of "Duck Amuck."
Which says it all, really. This is Sim at his most meta. This is Sim having gone through his whole barbarian messiah thing and out the other side. After this...the rules change. Cerebus, hopefully, will change. It's not the ending of the series, but it is an
ending, and arguably a good place to step away from the series. Because, and I know I've said this so many times, after this things get weird. But I mean that in a different way; things don't get surreal
, it's just that all the things that made your favorite storylines...they're gone now, or going to be. There's still humor, but this is about it in terms of action, and big politics, and fantasy religion (at least for a few books); it's the end of an era in the Cerebus storyline...but the comic goes on.