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CEREBUSWriter: Dave Sim
Artists: Dave Sim and Gerhard
Synopsis: Summarize Cerebus in a few sentences? Uh...OK...there's this talking Aardvark who lives in a world not unlike our own, except that it's a fantasy world...and he struggles with ancient prophecies and albinos and people dressed as cockroaches, and becomes pope, and keeps falling into weird other dimensions where he's forced to play chess...nope, can't do it.
How Is It?: Begun as a highly amusing parody of Conan the Barbarian in the 70s, Sim's scope became more and more ambitious until Cerebus evolved into quite possibly the most epic comic book ever. Sim announced relatively early on that it would tell a complete story over 300 issues; the series is scheduled to end in 2006. Because of this vast breadth, there are issues (or whole arcs) where very little happens, and sometimes what DOES happen can be extremely odd and metaphysical. However, Sim also has a sharp wit and unbelievable comic timing, which can make this book an absolute scream at times. And then there's the art: gorgeous, lush, and often consisting of slow "zooms" or "pans" over unbelivably detailed settings, Sim (with help from background artist Gerhard) creates vistas in black and white that are beyond the reach of most colour artists.
CerebusSynopsis: Cerebus, the Earth-pig born, a mighty warrior, travels the northern lands in search of adventure and money. He meets characters such as the sex-crazed Red Sophia, the albino Elrod (who talks like Foghorn Leghorn), Lord Julius of Palnu, the crime-fighting Cockroach, and the future love of his life Jaka. And he's not particularly fond of any of them.
How Is It?: A lot of people find this, the first 25 issues of Cerebus, to be extraneous; the series starts going in a radically new direction in "High Society", and leaves behind this simpler, parodical style (it's basically a goof on Conan-style fantasy comics). It must also be said that the art, especially in the early issues, leaves a lot to be desired, though it's fun to watch Sim's crisp black-and-white artwork evolve before your eyes. I personally love this collection, both taken for what it is (which is very, very funny) and even as part of the overarcing story of Cerebus--to me, starting the story within the idiom of fantasy lends an interesting spin to everything that comes afterward, even if that aspect gets played down to the point of nonexistance later on. And this is the ideal way to draw people into the world of Cerebus--immensely readable and entertaining, you'll be ready and eager for the denser and more challenging stuff that comes later.
High SocietySynopsis: Winding up his travels by checking into the massive Regent Hotel in the city-state of Iest, Cerebus soon finds himself caught up in the political dealings of the city--and before he knows what's happened, he's running for Prime Minister.
How Is It?: With this volume we see Cerebus straddling the line between the humourous satire of earlier issues (given an especially sharp point here) and the more elaborate, sophisticated and complex story that Church and State would become. Here we watch Cerebus go from penniless wanderer to hobnobbing with the elite of Iest. As the stakes rise, he goes on to run for Prime Minister in a stinging satire of Canadian politics (don't let that frighten you foreigners away, though--politics have a certain universality to them.) The comedy here comes from the hilariously crude and single-minded Cerebus (he only cares about money, and his solution to the average problem involves hitting it with something sharp) getting mixed up in the elaborate schemes of everyone from the powermongering General Weishaupt to Lord Palnu, whose Groucho Marx impression and seeming disinterest in anything but cracking wise hides a maniplative ruling mind. Background artist Gerhard makes his first appearance here, and no doubt left an indelible mark on the series; for the first time we see the almost Asian sensibility of focusing on the backgrounds for pages at a time. And we don't mind a bit, since the artwork becomes truly transcendent here. The Regent Hotel, Cerebus' temporary home, is an amazingly detailed world that you could get lost in for days.
Church & State, Part 1Synopsis: Cerebus one-ups his Prime Ministerial gig by becoming the "eastern pontiff", and may soon end up as pope. Since Cerebus's only concern is to wring all the cash he can from the simple townsfolk, a lot of people are trying very hard to make sure he doesn't get there...
How Is It?: Thus begins what is probably the series' most impressive achievement to date, the collection (or rather, the two collections) that every Cerebus fan points to as proof of its status of a masterpiece. Cerebus' rise to power continues unabated, bringing him now into the world of religious intrigue (which may be even worse than politics...) The high point is watching Cerebus harangue the multitudes in what is an unfortunately dead-on parody of spiritual tyranny, modelled on the middle ages but containing relevance for today's society. This storyline also introduces the Cirinists, who will become such a major element in the story, and possibly the source of Sim's downfall (see the review for Reads). All that, and a neato cliffhanger ending too!
Church & State, Part 2Synopsis: The prophecy is fulfilled, and the Tower has risen. Except perhaps things haven't gone quite as planned. Cerebus will get closer to Life's Mysteries than he'd imagined when he ascends the tower into space and learns of the most unpleasant destiny awaiting him and the world.
How Is It?: Here the complex cosmology of Cerebus begins to reach new heights, and yet remain ambiguous: has the prophecy been fulfilled? Has something gone horribly wrong? Are the various mystical goings-on ill-timed "cosmic aftershocks" to what was supposed to be a great event, or are they signs that more is to come? Here the series begins a thread of surreal metaphysics that become downright baffling later on, and have led some to declare this a disappointing follow-up to the first half. However, there's quite obviously something going on, and the emotional power brought out in both the artwork and the dialogue reaches several payoffs. The climax alone, with its heavy foreshadowing for the rest of the series and stunning revelations that leave even Cerebus in shock, makes this collection worth buying. Don't expect it to go down easy, though.
Jaka's StorySynopsis: Jaka, Cerebus's tormented lover, has gotten married to a good man named Rick. Together they are trying to start a tavern wherein Jaka can finally profit as a professional dancer, just above the now-Cerinist-controlled Lower City. When Cerebus arrives, though, the stress on their marriage may prove too much.
How Is It?: While I prefer Church & State, many people feel this is the "best" Cerebus collection. It's certainly the heart and soul of the series, as we get to know the tragic character of Jaka from her childhood, and through her ill-fated marriage to Rick, ending in a shocking and tragic conclusion. Cerebus basically becomes a supporting character here, but you won't mind at all. Here is the first really striking realization of Sim's radical "parallel storytelling" technique, as Jaka's childhood is intercut with present-day goings-on, and
MelmothSynopsis: Cerebus, believing Jaka to be dead, spends the entire arc sitting in front of a cafe, clutching Jaka's childhood doll. Meanwhile, we are treated to a seemingly irrelevant parallel plot about the last days of Oscar Wilde.
How Is It?: Here many feel Sim makes his first major misstep. This story is chiefly a retelling of the last days of Oscar Wilde, as faithfully recaptured from letters (with some minor changes to fit it into the world of Estarcion), and it's quite interesting...but what it has to do with Cerebus is questionable. It's not even about the character Sim created to echo Oscar Wilde, but another character introduced just to die in this story. Even at his most obtuse and ambiguous, Sim doesn't usually feel like he's going off on a tangent (the title of a later storyline notwithstanding). Still, relevance aside, this is a neat little stand-alone story.
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How Is It?:
ReadsSynopsis: As Cerebus, Cirin, Artemesia and Suenteus Po have a showdown to decide just who's going to be in charage from now on, Sim intercuts with a highly controversial text-only essay on feminism and modern (Earth) society.
How Is It?: Hoooooo boy. Despite the laurels showered on Church & State and Jaka's Story, this is unquestionably the most famous Cerebus story. Or perhaps infamous would be a better word. The comic story (which is actually a key plot element) takes a back seat to the essay, which is possibly one of the most controversial works ever published in the world of comics. In it, Sim tears apart modern feminism and condemns the female gender as a whole as uncreative, brainless parasites leeching off of male-created society. Yeah...it doesn't read much better, either. Many expressed concern about Sim's mental health after the publication of this book; complicating matters further, however, is the question of whether this is intended as a satire or a complex experiment on Sim's part, which he may not even mean literally (I can't help but notice that the essays reflect Cerebus's own mentality at key points). It certainly makes for gripping reading, though. Read it yourself and decide whether it's an elaborate hoax, a world-shaking manifesto or the product of a sick mind.
MindsSynopsis: Cirin and Cerebus, the last two entrants in the Messiah sweepstakes, meet for one big battle and are rocketed into space to meet their creator. No, not God. Dave Sim.
How Is It?: Here, again, we have either an elaborate attempt to provoke a reaction or an act of misguided narcissism (though it's not as intense as in Reads). Sim inserts himself into his own comic to give Cerebus the dressing-down he so sorely needs. The dialogue between creator and creation makes for some interesting reflections: is Sim gauging Cerebus' reactions and judging them by the moment, even as he writes and draws? It's certainly quite cathartic, as we finally get the impression that this direct, sledgehammer-like message from "God" may be enough to finally change Cerebus into a decent person. On the other hand, putting yourself in your own comic may be the height of egotistical navel-gazing. As always, Sim raises questions about himself as much as his work, but the story will probably keep you reading--in this 200th issue, as with the 100th, Cerebus faces an epiphany while out in space.
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