2: High Society
3: Church & State Volume I
4: Church & State Volume II
5: Jaka's Story
12: Rick'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
10: Cerebus meets Dave
11: Cerebus falls in love with a bar
12: The gospel according to Rick
This is the first color cover for a Cerebus volume, and the thickest Cerebus book since...uh...Jaka's Story
. I don't want to say it's a weird story; I end up saying that a lot in these reviews, and I think that's a misstep, because lately I've been reading some truly surreal comics like It Shines and Shakes and Laughs
and Cochlea & Eustachia
, so "weird" doesn't seem to quite cover it, even in its most technical definition - and unlike some of the previous volumes, it really doesn't go in heavily for any surrealistic imagery, at least not in anything like the same frequency. It is, in a lot of ways, the most straightforward story that Sim has written since the conclusion of "Mothers & Daughters," and this is really only the first half
of the storyline, so Dave is back to taking his time, which I don't think he could have done if he had an editor breathing down his neck.
OKay, so the plot: Jaka and Cerebus are a couple again, doing that lovey-dovey sort of thing that exes do when they get back together again. It's kinda brilliant, in a way. It's like Peter Parker dating Mary-Jane post deal-with-the-devil bullshit. I mean, it's more than the fact that Sim's art has improved massive in the decade or so since Jaka's Story
, so that older Cerebus and older Jaka both look like they've put on a few years but still look amazing - it's the playfulness of it, the falling back into habits. In Jaka's Story
they were both so guarded, every time they'd met before and during that book there was all this space between them, and now they're just...happy. They're happy in each other's company. They're on the road, no responsibilities, and it's like your grandparents on vacation in some little Italian town and you turn a corner and they're just necking. It's the kind of thing. Very hand-in-glove. There's one point where Cerebus tickles her until she pees her panties (okay, he just threatens to, but it's that level of cutesy couple stuff).
Alright, I'm off-topic, back to the plot. So Cerebus and Jaka are traveling (at least nominally heading north to visit Cerebus' home, hence the title of the book); the Cirinists are...facilitating this journey, so Jaka and Cerebus are staying at various inns along the way. It's not clear if this is because of Cirin's orders regarding Cerebus, or Jaka's status as Princess of Palnu (do in part to the immense popularity of the read "Jaka's Story," it is hinted), or some combination thereof. Because scratch the surface of this fun little travelogue, and you still catch glimpses of some sort of political/societal struggle underneath, and the focus seems to be on Jaka. There's a lot of little fun moments, like when they get accosted by a Lord Julius impersonator.
Three things add tension to the journey.
First, Cerebus is going a little stir-crazy in that guy sort of way about their progress; he wants to be up north before the blizzards set in (given our own weather lately, I can't blame him), and gets upset when Jaka wants to stop and ask directions. Fair enow.
Second, it turns out that Jaka has a psychological hangup regarding clothes. Specifically, she has to wear a brand new outfit every single day. Not just...a different outfit, or a clean one, or a different combination, just...completely new clothes. I don't even know how to respond to that. I would have accepted bulimia or some other eating disorder, but a need
for new outfits is...I can see how that might be a thing, I just can't see why
. It is kinda telling though, so I'm going to do an aside here for Sim's other project:
rolled up, Dave Sim created a new indie series called Glamourpuss
, which is a very odd combination. Nominally, it's a comedic series about an empty-headed fashion model called Glamourpuss who is sort of like Paris Hilton squared - the ultimate vapid, entitled, ultra-femme walking stereotype of the viciously all-surface-no-substance woman with more money than sense, who says stupid shit about drugs and cosmetic surgery and abortions and...well, she doesn't help Sim's accusations of being a misogynist. And I think he knows it; she's such
an airhead it's obvious satire, just...unfortunately difficult to tell Sim's satire apart from his serious socio-political commentary at points. But the series isn't even about that, the endless pages where Sim seems to be redrawing fashion magazine ads - which are all absolutely gorgeous, by the way; his technical chops are amazing. The real purpose of Glamourpuss
is to look at the story of comic stripper Alex Raymond - younger generations will be shaking their heads, but back before all comics on the newspaper pages were "funnies" there were strips devoted to science fiction and realistic (?) social drama and stuff, where the characters were less exaggerated caricatures and much more realistic - any kind can trace Beetle Bailey or Dennis the Menace, but these guys were pros with some serious drafting skills. We bitch today about people like Greg Land doing lifts from porn 'zines using photoshop and whatnot, but these guys were cranking out some really serious artwork, and when they did a lift it would be the fine draftwork from newspaper ads and stuff. It is, in an artistic sense, very close to the kind of thing that Sim was getting at near the end of his Cerebus run, and the whole point of Glamourpuss
is in part a history and examination of this almost lost style of comic artwork.
This is an Alex Raymond panel.
So, to bring it back in, at this point in Cerebus we're beginning to see a focus on fashion - with Jaka's different outfits as well as the storyline - which Sim would later revisit in much, much greater detail. As well, Sim does something in both this book and Glamourpuss
that he did back in Melmoth
- bring in a fictionalized version of real-world characters, both present day (there is a hilarious sequence with a reefer-smoking thinly-veiled caricature of Alan Moore) and past, which in this case is the main focus of the last half of this book: F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Cerebus, perhaps in a way to show he's grown and willing to make sacrifices, decides they'll go south to keep Jaka and her clothes-fetish happy. It turns out there's a revolution ready and waiting to support Jaka as...uh...queen bee or whatever of the Cirinists; as princess of Palnu she's incredibly popular among all the civilians. I get kind of a Princess Di feel to the whole cult of personality thing, but I might be off on that one. Anyway, eventually they get on a boat, and meet F. Scott Fitzgerald. (Okay, Sim calls him "F. Stop Kennedy," but seriously, not even trying for subtlety there.)
I don't really want to get into Fitzgerald, because I don't like him. I had to read The Great Gatsby
in highschool, and I hold a grudge. It was a womanizing, racist, alcoholic at a time when alcohol was illegal, flappers abounded, and the United States was an exceedingly racist place to be. He lived hard and embodied the great and terrible America of the Jazz Age, at least if you were rich enough to have a good time and not be sober for any more of it than absolutely necessary, and he died relatively young at the age of 44 looking like the human wreckage that he was. Hell, give me Dorothy Parker or H. P. Lovecraft any day over F. Scott Fitzgerald.
But he was a great American writer, and he was a great character
, and we get entire pages of this book that are just Fitzgerald-ish script, a loose fictionalization of "real" events that happen onboard, and a good chunk of the rest of this book is...sort of a character study of FSF, on his own and interacting with Jaka and Cerebus. In that way, it's perhaps a bit more like Oscar Wilde in Jaka's Story
than in Melmoth
, but in introducing Fitzgerald the chronological scene changes - we're not looking at the ageless interior of a tavern anymore, or the Victorian era, or even the quasi-medieval period, it's much more 1920s aesthetic, right down to the furniture, right down to the fashions of suit and dress and hair styles.
It's not necessarily a nice or sympathetic portrayal of Fitzgerald, either. He's obviously trying to make a play for Jaka, trying to be cultured and urbane and witty while Cerebus is an ignorant northern barbarian. It doesn't really work. There's some really brutally good imagery here - Jaka on her period, sitting out on the deck with a hot water bottle on her stomach; Cerebus fixing a worm to a hook to go fishing could have gone into any horror comic for sheer anatomical accuracy; some wildlife studies. We find out Jaka can do the telepath thing, at least a bit; and Cerebus gets visions of Rick doing a kind of John the Baptist routine. But mostly it's back to "all the things said and unsaid" - Jaka and Cerebus and this drunken old philanderer, talking (and not talking) in circles around the forces pulling them together and apart.
The ending...and I kinda like this...the Cirinists are all set to make a move on Cerebus. Not Cirin herself (we never see her), but the thing is, the only thing keeping the Cirinists from moving in on Cerebus with a phalanx of female warriors is that he's Jaka's companion. And she seems much more aware of this than he is. It's an interesting role reversal, in a lot of ways, because the last scene of the book has her saving Cerebus just by...being with him. Try as she might, Jaka can't get away from being the "Princess of Palnu" - and now she's the one that has the power. Kinda funny in a way.
There's an epilogue where F. Scott Fitzgerald is blitzed and happy to be alive, and a beautiful one-page where the Cirinists are all schnookered on "Uncle Julius' Ring Around the Bathtub Gin," and then it goes on to some text pages of Dave Sim ruminating on F. Scott Fitzgerald, roll credits.