Saturday, August 25, 2007

Religion in Cerebus - Mothers and Daughters - Part Five

Last time, we stopped where Po was instructing Cerebus on the lesson Bishop Posey represents for him. After that, Po goes on to describe his second life, and this is the one with the analogy to Christ's passion and the echo of the Trial we saw in "Church & State" (all quotes below are from pp. 194-196 of "Flight," and I'm quoting the entire text):

At a very early age, I evinced interest in the primitive gold-smithing tools in my father's small workshop. Ours was a small and impoverished village and there was little gold to practice on except the gold coins which served, as they do to this day, as the foundation of each family income in Iest; whether entrusted to a patriarch in the Lower City or to a matriarch in the Upper City.

There are several curious things about this passage. First, Po had introduced this section with a sort of cliffhanger at the end of his description of the lives of his earlier incarnation, Suenteus Po the First, and his son, Suenteus Po the Second: "In my subsequent incarnation, I was born to a gold miner and his wife in Rivershire Province, twenty years after Alfred's death." If there's anyone who would have access to gold, even in an impoverished village, one would think it would be a gold miner. Perhaps this was an attempt by Dave (or Po?) to make sure we thought of his father as a poor worker, and not a skilled craftsman as Po himself later became. But the two things seem to contradict each other.

Another is the whole set up of gold coins entrusted to a patriarch or matriarch as the "foundation of each family income." I never really understood the economic system of Iest, and this passage makes me wonder if Dave understood money and exchange and how investment works and such. If so, I wish he had given us more detail about the system he worked out, because in the few isolated passages like this one where he touches on it, it just doesn't seem to make any sense. Each family had gold coins to invest? For most of human history, the foundation of the income of 99% of all humanity has been labor, and an economy where almost everyone had not only some investment income but enough investments for that to be the foundation of the family income would be so radically different from anything that we've known that most of the analogies Dave consistently made between Estarcion, particularly Iest, and the modern world would just fall by the wayside. Actually, if there were that much gold that evenly distributed, gold would almost certainly cease to be of value as a unit for monetary trade and something would have had to replace it.

And finally, we touch on the time element again. I suppose it's just meant to show Po reminding us that when he lived, the patriarchs (under Suenteus Po III) ruled the Lower City while the Matriarchs (under the Great Andrena, apparently from the Trial echo Astoria in an earlier incarnation) ruled the Upper City, but the whole thing is confused by the "to this day." This is probably just meant to apply to gold coins still being the foundation of family income, but in any case seems to be wrong. If we take the whole sentence literally, he's saying that matriarchs rule the Upper City and patriarchs the lower "to this day" -- well matriarchs are currently running the Upper City, but it's a very new proposition, not a continuation from hundreds of years ago, and patriarchs certainly do not rule the Lower City. Even if you give Po the benefit of the doubt of an awkward construction and take the phrase to refer only to the coins, it's *still* wrong -- gold coins *aren't* the foundation of family income anymore. Cerebus gathered them all up and Cirin has them all.

Po continues:

One side of the coin is struck with the emblem of the local governor at the time it is issued. The other side is blank and is traditionally carved with a symbol of the family who possesses it. I grew adept at carving these symbols, each more elaborate than the last and soon families were coming from neighbouring villages to have my design added to their coins. I learned to scrape traces of gold from the coins to melt and use as inlay. I invented new tools for engraving finer lines and patterns. A devout Tarimite, I carved His Name in ancient Pigtish rune letters on each coin brought to me.

OK, we don't have the actual tenets and the equivalent of Commandments and such for the Tarimite faith, but it's pretty obviously meant to be an analog of Christianity (or, historically speaking, Judaism in this particular scene), and besides there are certain constants in pretty much every major religion that has ever existed, so I think it's safe to say that there's a disconnect here when Po professes to be a "devout Tarimite" in the next breath after describing how he stole gold from his customers. "Oh, well, it's was only trace amounts, they never noticed." So? It's wrong to steal dollars but OK to steal pennies? He's a thief. A devout Tarimite thief, but a thief nonetheless.

The sin of Pride, almost unavoidable for an Artist. Dave said in Reads that the Artist's work must be more important than "the wife and kiddies," or rather that it should be, but many would-be Artists get sidetracked by the latter. Here, he presents a Pure Artist to whom fairly fundamental morality must fall by the wayside so that he can practice his Art. He's not doing it out of Greed. He doesn't want the gold to spend. He needs it to make Art.

Healers and apothecaries began using the coins in their treatment of family ailments. Miracles were spoken of in hushed whispers and soon more people came from the larger villages and then from the City itself; nobles, lawyers and merchants. As whispers became words and words became legend, the coins seemed imbued with the belief of the people made manifest. Priests of the Eastern Church grew jealous of this faith; felt their influence and control of the population waning with each passing day in Rivershire Province and elsewhere. They took their case to Suenteus Po III, informing him that I was building a kingdom within Iest and that I had declared my family carvings as more worthy of loyalty than the governors' emblems on the obverse.

He doesn't say, exactly, that they are lying about him. He implies it, certainly. I've read that passage several times over the years and I've always assumed that he never said what they said he said, that they were slandering him (Bearing False Witness) because of their jealousy. But it doesn't actually say that. Jealous people can tell the truth, too -- Deep Throat turned out to be an FBI guy passed over for the top spot who was jealous and hurt and had an axe to grind, but everything he said about the Nixon White House turned out to be true. Just because someone's motives for going to the authorities are less than pure, just because the accuser is vindictive and spiteful, doesn't make the accusations wrong.

Did Po say these things? Was he "building a kingdom within Iest?" On the whole, I'd say probably not, but I'm struck by the wording, the very careful wording, I'd say, both on the part of Po and also on Dave's part, not to let us know for sure, either way, just as Jesus, at his trial, refused to answer his accusers.

When they came to arrest me, I knew this had all transpired before many times; as if I was an actor in a play. I remembered my life as Suenteus Po I. As they read the indictment I had a curious sensation that I was imprisoning myself.

As they led me away, there was a flurry of resistance and some blood was spilt. I told my defenders to stand back; not to make it any worse than it already was. They complied and I could see from their expressions that they, too, now felt like actors in a play.

Many of them wept openly.

More Christ analogies. The servant of the priest who lost his ear at the Garden of Gethsemane, and Jesus telling his followers to put away their swords.

I was brought before Suenteus Po III, a bloated caricature of his father, my son, Alfred. He was amused by my threadbare appearance, my regional dialect. The mages and charlatans who held posts in his Illusionist court were amused as well; they felt that the priests of Tarim had finally lost their minds, seeing a threat in this misshapen peasant. Their questions had a comic turn to them. I answered each question as simply and as honestly as I could. I felt I was part of the joke and that soon they would tire of me as an amusement and I would be set free; though what my fate would have been, then, I have no idea.

But, Po III was seized with the thought of enlarging the jest. He asked if I carved only coins that were minted in the Lower City. No, I said, a number of them had been brought to me by representatives of the Great Ladies of the Upper City. He asked if I felt no qualms as a good Tarimite in crafting coins with the Goddess on them. I admitted that it had troubled me, but I felt that the Word of Tarim should be given freely everywhere and paid witness to. He turned then to his senior advisors and asked what they thought Great Andrena, leader of the Council of the Goddess in the Upper City might think of my heresy. There was much levity at the very prospect.

The play had resumed its course.

Like and yet unlike. Here, Suentus Po III plays Pilate -- except that Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, who then sent him back for judgment. Note that Po III seems to tacitly acknowledge that the goldsmith Po is no threat. There is no reason to do him harm. He is being sent to Andrena -- and surely Po knows what is likely to happen to him -- for amusement.

He asked if I had any further words for the illustrious body before me. I said nothing. He informed me that arrangements would be made to transfer me to the custody of the Guardians of the Upper City. With a theatrical gesture, he drew forth a small bowl of scented water and dipped his fingers lightly into it.

I wash my hands of you, he said, and I was led away.

The washing of the hands seems to be an essential part of the proceedings, at least as Dave sees it, or saw it. He made it an unmistakable part of the Trial in Church & State.

That night I was led before Great Andrena. There is no need for me to relate our conversation; the course of the Trial. You experienced it yourself when you tried Astoria as Pope.

You didn't sentence her to death. Events intervened and you ascended instead.

That gives us small cause for hope, does it not?

I was taken to a courtyard in a small prison attached to the Council Building. The charges against me were read again and then the fagots were lighted and I was burned as a heretic.

Obviously, there are differences. History does not exactly repeat itself, but themes repeat themselves, and echoes. Of course, it's denigrating the New Testament Jesus to be just one more echo of that endless list of faces we will see on p. 25 of "Reads." Dave probably doesn't quite believe that anymore, but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't consider it blasphemous, either, and more of a "slightly wrong guess" than a serious mistake.

I wonder, given Dave's use of the "homosexualist" (as he calls him) Oscar Wilde in Jaka's Story and Melmoth and his later commentary, whether he is deliberately toying with the audience by using "faggots" (the misspelling is in the original) in its original context, knowing surely that all current North American readers, at least, will inevitably have the other meaning brought to mind. I'm positive he's aware of it. I'm just not certain whether it's a deliberate choice of something he decided he can live with because it's precisely the right word there.

Suenteus Po tells us of his life as a would-be conqueror who really, truly, he assures us, was just trying to preserve "Vanaheim on earth" before it corrupted into something mundane by forcibly installing it in another place. Then he tells us of his life as a Christ analogy, complete with the washing of hands and the martyrdom.

And what lesson are we supposed to learn from this? What lesson has Po himself learned?

My experience taught me that there is no benefit and little wisdom in attempting to influence the minds and the wills of the mass of people. In both my lives I have described to you, I sought that kind of influence and effect; I was a Reformer. In my succeeding lives, 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; its corruption and decay as inevitable as Death itself. In each succeeding life I've led, after leaving my parents' house, I have sought a simple and uneventful existence. My quarters are always mean and rudimentary; a bed where I might sleep, a table where I might eat and a chair for sitting on. At this moment, I live in a one room apartment in Iest's Lower City. I have no friends and no contact with any of my relatives. My one luxury is a crude chessboard, made from a discarded packing crate; the pieces carved by hand from scraps of firewood.

Queen's bishop to King's Bishop Four.

I'm sure the first thing that will strike most of my readers is the "one room apartment" with "no friends and no contact with any of my relatives" and how much this sounds like the life Dave Sim has chosen for himself, and indeed, the fact that this is both Po's ideal and the lifestyle he himself practices is one reason why I find myself inescapably drawn to conclude that his viewpoint here is essentially Dave's own, that this lesson is meant to be taken to heart, that Dave believes these words to be essentially true.

Certainly it cannot be denied that every Great Movement -- at least every political and social movement -- "is sown with the seeds of its own destruction. Any student of history can tell you that. Religious movements are a bit trickier, but one can certainly argue that the Christianity that so upset the Roman Empire early in its existence was in fact destroyed by becoming co-opted to the Establishment, and that the overall message is indeed true of all great movements of any kind.

Notice that Po almost openly admits that he has not been telling us the whole truth. When he presented his life as a simple goldsmith, he was doing what he did purely for the glory of Tarim and as an Artist, and only jealous priests charged that he was creating a movement. Yet now he admits that he was "attempting to influence the minds and the wills of the mass of people."

Again, I think Dave is deliberately undercutting Po's trustworthiness here precisely because he feels such an affinity to him, and because back in these days the relativity of truth and inability of anyone to be sure of anything was one of his chief messages. In interviews in those days, he often said things like, "the reader's guess is as good as mine." I think he wants to make sure we don't just see Po as Dave's mouthpiece and automatically trust what he says.

And of course, to underscore the point even more, the passage ends with Po's next chess move -- and it's one that is impossible. It can't be made.

The correct next move in the "fool's mate" Po is luring Cerebus into is "King's Bishop to Queen's Bishop Four." What Po says is "Queen's Bishop to King's Bishop Four." But White's Queen's Bishop is still trapped behind two pawns, and can't possibly move.

When this came out in the original comics, I immediately wrote Dave a letter. I had a chess set out, you see, and was doing each new move when the issue came out, so I knew right away it was impossible. I thought he had made a mistake. I didn't hear back from him and he didn't print the letter, and in fact about the time it would have made print if he did Po realized his mistake and it became part of the book.

To this day I can't say I'm 100% sure whether it was deliberate or Dave "fixed" it by inserting it into the story as Po's mistake on the basis of my letter and/or similar letters from other readers, but I'm quite confidant it was deliberate. It fits so perfectly, the pompous, pontificating I'm-so-smart-I'm-going-to-lure-you-into-the-
fastest-checkmate-possible Suenteus Po misspeaking and screwing up, with potentially disastrous consequences (when you play Cosmic Chess, you have to expect Cosmic Consequences).

The one niggling thing that hints it may have been a retcon is the apparent lack of such disastrous consequences. Despite having eschewn interfering in affairs, Suenteus Po is trying to arrange the meeting that ends up taking place in Reads, and, well, the meeting does in fact end up taking place. His plan works, as far as I can tell. So the mistaken chess move doesn't seem to have mattered.

Except to make him look like a doofus.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Religion in Cerebus - Mothers and Daughters - Part Four

OK, where was I? Oh, yeah: Po.

Po tells Cerebus that as Suenteus Po the First he was a reformer, and accuses the Judge of lying about him. He also mentions that "Suenteus Po the First" had taken that name in honor of a great historian from several hundred years before.

When did all this happen, by the way? Alexx thinks it was long, long, LOOOONG ago (he puts it before year zero in his timeline). But this is directly contradicted by the second life Suenteus Po tells us about in detail, the one we saw and heard echoes of during the trial. Since he was making coins and worshipping Tarim, he couldn't possibly have lived before the human Tarim who invented coins came along. I'm guessing it was just a few hundred years ago, but in any case I suspect Dave is either carelessly or deliberately playing fast and loose with the chronology (probably the latter), and you'll never be able to pin it down.

Anyway, Suenteus Po, for all the cultured sophistication and belief in "the greatest freedom for the greatest number," did build his army in exactly the brutal and ruthless way the Judge described, by his own admission. "His description of the raising and training of my army is accurate in every detail." Po objects only to the claim that he pointed them toward Iest and said "Kill!" What he really said, he claims, was "Freedom."

He uses this occasion to mock and scorn the judge, saying that "it is the nature of the judgemental to see only Death in Freedom and to see them as interchangeable." This is the reason the Judge got it wrong: "He saw me as saying 'You are free to kill and cause wide-spread destruction. Do as thou wilt.' What I was saying was 'What we have in this place is dying, atrophying, becoming corrupt. We must go elsewhere and begin anew.'"

Well, this is all very fine and high-sounding, but let's recall the raising and training of that army, which the Judge accurately described "in every detail":

Suenteus Po the First -- thank God he's not alive today -- began his military career recruiting young boys barely out of adolescence into the harshest imaginable training program twenty miles within the disputed boundaries of the Red Marches . . . directly above the extensive network of underground cities which were constructed and have been occupied by the Pigt races for several thousand years since the sudden and relatively untimely demise of the Black Tower Empire . . . about which little is document, less is suspected and almost nothing is known for sure.

Three thousand-one hundred and fifteen boys walked into the disputed area, armed only with short swords and a change of underwear -- having been instructed to forage for food, built shelters for themselves, and for four days defend the area at all costs in the name of the Sepran Empire. At the time little more than a loosely knit collection of hamlets, ports, cities and provinces, strewn across the Northwestern lands of Estarcion.

On the third day, driving nearly insane by black flies, a lack of fresh water and a shortage of food, they were set upon by a large band of Pigt soldiers, who were tied of six thousand-two hundred and twenty-nine feet -- one of the boys was an amputee -- knocking small clumps of earth off their secret underground ceiling into the secret underground soup bowls . . . by dinner-time half of the boys had been killed . . . by midnight when the Pigts retreated, there were only four hundred and eight of the original expedition.

Through the spring, and summer, and into the fall, Suenteus Po continued the process . . . each time sending exactly three thousand one hundred and fifteen boys into the wilds of the Red Marches . . . each time demanding the defend the area with their lives for four days and each time ending up with a few hundred and some-odd survivors who returned to the Sepran lands scarred, weary but alive -- and with a definite enthusiasm for bloodshed . . . until at last he had a force of four thousand six hundred and twelve dedicated and practised killers . . . four thousand six hundred and four of whom could have shaved with an abrasive wash-cloth.

Finally . . . that harvest season . . . just after the grain had been stored and the apple cider was starting to turn . . . he led the four thousand six hundred and twelve survivors out onto the salt flats north of Serrea -- formed in part by the detonation of the sodium chloride bomb by the smart punk Redwoods -- and THERE showed them -- row upon row -- gleaming in the brilliant sunshine -- three thousand one hundred and fifteen full suits of armour -- short swords, long swords, long bows, cross bows, shields, chain mail . . . and assorted dirks, daggers and helmets . . . they got the idea.

The battle raged for most of two days. Into the valleys of the surrounding hills, back onto the flats . . . great clouds of dust raised by the conflict, visible from a distance of twenty-two miles UNTIL . . . by sunset of the second day . . . with the dust beginning to settle . . . there stood two thousand nine hundred and ninety-six survivors armed and armoured from head to toe . . . . . . and one hundred and nineteen leftover sets of equipment -- the boys' enthusiasm having gotten the better of them towards the end there.

Now, does this sound to you like someone trying to preserve a Golden Age, a "Vanaheim on Earth" someone who sees a free society becoming corrupt and wants to institute it elsewhere? More to the point, with an army raised and trained in such a way, is there really a difference between pointing to Iest and saying "Freedom" and pointing to Iest and saying "Kill!"?

It is perhaps instructive just what innovation in governance made the Sepran Empire fall, in Po's eyes, from a system dedicated to "the greatest freedom for the greatest number" to a corrupt system that must be abandoned: the introduction of taxation.

Despite his high words and current austere lifestyle, I mistrust Suenteus Po when he speaks of Suenteus Po the First, and it colors everything else he says. And yet, to the extent that Dave has a viewpoint character in the book other than himself, to the extent any character might be said to be speaking for Dave himself (up until the Cerebexegesis, anyway), it seems clear that it would be Po.

I'm reminded of Jerry Rubin. When he told kids at the National Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968, "Don't trust anybody over 30" (a phrase he never claimed was original and seems to have been coined by Berkeley activist Jack Weinberg), he added "-- or under 30, for that matter." More to the point, he had had his own 30th birthday a few weeks before.

Don't trust anyone, kids. Including me.

Once upon a time, that was a major part of Dave Sim's message, so it's not that surprising that he places a seed of doubt in setting up the character who may be his mouthpiece in Flight.

Suenteus Po the First's son, Alfred, took the name Suenteus Po the Second. It is he that conquers Iest (by the simple expedient of ignoring the Upper City altogether). And it is he, it turns out, who is the founder of the religion/philosophy/political movement known as Illusionism.

Driven nearly mad by his precipitous fall from grace, realization came late to Alfred that the Great Forces which he had believed himself to Contain, he had merely Held. Further, that what he had Held was now slipping, like sand, between his fingers. He replaced his governors and his Statesmen with Conjurors and Mages. He declared that all who would follow him were to be called Illusionists. All Life was an Illusion, he said, which explained (to his satisfaction, at least), the mire of failure in which he found himself. He conferred his name on the circle of devotees which surrounded him and empowered them to do the same.

By the time of his death at the age of forty-one, fully one third of the population of the Lower City was named Suenteus Po and believed themselves to function within a single, divine consciousness. Since that day, Illusionism has alternately flourished and declined across the length and breadth of Estarcion, rising and then falling, gaining influence and prominence one day, and being subjected to persecution and purge the next.

Since the Suenteus Po who narrates this entire history at no time expresses either affection nor respect for his son, it seems clear that he is not, in fact, an Illusionist, despite Cirin's misapprehensions in that direction. He seems to be fairly dripping with disdain for Illusionism in this passage, for instance.

I skipped Cerebus' first move in the chess game, but his little visit with Bishop Posey gives Po another opportunity to call Cerebus a Reformer. Again, the word has to be seen in its simplest abstract form -- one who wants to "make a difference" by making his mark on the world, by changing things, by leaving evidence of his passing, not necessarily one who has the desire to help his fellow human beings live fuller and richer lives.

"The hardest lesson for the Reformer to learn," says Po, is that he chooses not whom he inspires, no does he choose the form and substance of that inspiration."

Of course, Dave, who wants to "reform" us all by way of persuading us that his theory of gender differences is correct, has found this to be all too true, since two of his three biggest fans are a lesbian and a self-described "hippy," as far from the kind of person he was *looking* to inspire as Bishop Posey is from, say, Bear. And it's clear that the form and substance of the inspiration the Yahoo group, the most visible and vocal group of Cerebus readers on the planet, has taken from his work is largely not what he would have wished (though there are exceptions to that).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Book Review: First Among Sequels

Taking a short break from the "Religion in Cerebus" series, I recently read my first Thursday Next book by Jasper Fforde -- who I had never heard of until recently. I wrote a review, but found that the book editor of the Post-Dispatch isn't interested. So I thought I'd post it here.

This is either the fifth, the sixth, or the first book to feature Thursday Next, depending on how you're counting.

Those who have read the first four will no doubt consider it the fifth, but there's a book they won't be familiar with on the list of previous Thursday Next books in the front, The Samuel Pepys Affair, which has a line through it and a notation that it is no longer available.

Moreover, this book claims to be the first one featuring the *real* Thursday, not the highly fictionalized one suitable for action/adventure yarns more-or-less invented for the previous books. That Thursday is also a character here, along with the Thursday Next from the unavailable fifth book. If that's not enough duplication, there are the Danver clones -- multiple copies of the austere housekeeper from Rebecca.

It's difficult to describe the Thursday Next novels to someone unfamiliar with them. They take place in an alternate universe -- but then, what book doesn't? You can't possibly meet the real Rabbit Angstrom, after all. He doesn't exist. So a world where he *does* exist, however much like our own it may be, must be an alternate universe.

Fforde takes this idea and plays it to the hilt. There is a whole universe of universes, a vast Bookspace in which whole universes made of books float, mingling in groups of related genres. Thursday can go between the "real" world (well, it's real to her) and the book worlds, and does so in her job as an agent for Jurisfiction.

Thursday's real world is obviously not ours -- genetic engineering has brought back the dodo, for instance. But the differences often make hilarious comment on our own real world.

For instance, the book opens with the news of a hotly contested political debate about the stupidity surplus.

"The reason for the crisis was clear: Prime Minister Redmond van de Poste and his ruling Commonsense Party had been discharging their duties with a reckless degree of responsibility that bordered on inspired sagacity. Instead of drifting from one crisis to the next and appeasing the nation with a steady stream of knee-jerk legislation and headline-grabbing but arguably pointless initiatives, they had been resolutely building a raft of considered long-term plans that concentrated on unity, fairness and tolerance."

The problem with this is that sooner or later, the stupidity is going to have to come out. Instead of being a little bit stupid more or less all the time, the government was building up a surplus that could only be expended by something monumentally dumb. "Only a blunder of staggering proportions would remove the surplus, and the nature of this mind-numbing act of idiocy was a matter of considerable speculation."

There's also the ChronoGuard, a sort of time travel police, an organization Thursday's son, Friday, is destined to grow up to be head of, except that it's three years since he was supposed to have joined and he shows no signs of interest in it whatsoever.

Fforde's stories are so full of literary in-jokes that even though I'm fairly well read I'm sure I missed half of them. Witty, charming, funny, exciting, puzzling, imaginative and rollicking good fun, this book is a delight even if you've never read any of the others. I know this because it was my own introduction to the series, and I can't wait to go find the others.

First Among Sequels
By Jasper Fforde
Viking, 366 pages, $24.95

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Religion in Cerebus - Mothers and Daughters - Part Three

I'm going to go through each book in M&D one at a time, but I'm not going to restrict myself to things in that book. I may speak of something Po tells Cerebus, for instance, and then compare it to similar or contradictory bits from the other books, and when I get to Reads and Minds I'll be hearkening back to the first two books. So although I'll be using the structure of M&D itself to some extent, I will very much be discussing M&D as a whole throughout.

While most of what I have to say about Flight revolves around Po's extended chat with Cerebus over their chess game, I would be remiss in ignoring completely the last bit of evidence that Cerebus fulfills some long-ago prophecy as the "redeemer" of Iest. On page 30 of Flight, a character we'll soon learn is named Bryan spots Cerebus killing Cirinists outside and points it out to his wife, who doesn't believe him at first, until she sees Cerebus for herself.

"He's killing all the Cirinists," says Bryan. "He's been resurrected -- that's what! By Tarim! And he's come back to redeem Iest! Just like the prophecies said."

(emphasis in original)

Now, on the one hand it would be hard to find a much more explicit comparison to Christ than to claim a character had been "resurrected" and was sent back by God (whom the Iestians identify as "Tarim" to "redeem" Iest. But the redemption here isn't at all a Christian redemption. Is much more like the kind of "redemption" that the Jews of Jesus' day who believed in the messiah were generally looking for, which Jesus definitely did not provide: someone who would rout the Romans and set up a Kingdom of God with its seat in Jerusalem. To the extent that Cerebus is seen by people as a "redeemer" in Cerebus, this is what they mean. No one is looking for him to redeem their soul, to help the in the afterlife. They are all looking for redemption in the here and now, and it generally means vengeance and glory and a return to power for downtrodden people who remember or imagine better days.

Did Dave not understand the Christian concept of the redeemer? Did he understand it but, like the people of Jesus' day who had something else in mind, reject it? I don't know, but there seems to be no doubt that an explicit Cerebus/Christ analogy is being made here, but with a definition of "redeemer" that is seriously at odds with the Christian one. I think that's important, because to the extent that Cerebus ever fulfills the prophecy, it is definitely this earlier, more violent vision of redemption he embodies.

Of course, Cerebus can't defeat the hordes of Cirinists by himself. He rallies the people to his cause -- or rather the men. And those of them within the sound of his voice obey him, and are slaughtered. Then he disappears.

It takes a while, including a number of encounters with fake Pos -- including, apparently, the one he met during "Mind Games II" -- but eventually, this leads to Cerebus encountering the real Suenteus Po. Or one of them, anyway. The primary Suenteus Po, if you will, though he is neither the first of that name nor, as it turns out, the one whom Cerebus thought of immediately when we first encountered the name back in Mind Games I -- the founder of Illusionism.

This Suenteus Po has had several lives. We hear about two of his earlier ones in some detail. Despite not being the first person -- or even the first notable person in Estarcion's history -- to use the name, the first life we are told about is the person who is apparently known to Estarcion history (and the Judge) as Suenteus Po the First. A bit disconcerting that the man known as the first wasn't really the first, but it's sort of like the English Kings -- no one thinks Richard the Lion-Hearted was the first man named Richard who ever lived in England, but he's still King Richard I.

Po tells us that as Suenteus Po I he was was a "reformer." This is an important word in his vocabulary, one he uses many times in his talk with Cerebus. He says of Cerebus that he has a "reform-minded spirit." Just before Cerebus finally meets Po, he goes through a literal "out-of-body" experience (indeed, the entire encounter with Po takes place between Po and *part* of Cerebus' consciousness that has left the rest of him behind), narrated by Po, who says, almost immediately upon their meeting:

Reform is the centerpiece of the story I told you. Formation and reformation. The fragment detaching from the whole; its disposition and course. All that encompasses human experience is contained therein.

Now, the pages in question (139-146 of "Flight") do not describe anything that remotely resembles what I think comes to most people's minds when they hear the word "reform." Sim -- or at least Po -- has taken the word and deconstructed it to an abstraction that bears little, if any, relationship to its everyday meaning. In the course of those pages, in the brief recap quoted above, Cerebus is "re-formed" in some sense, first growing immensely large, then a fragment of him detaching from the rest. But is the resultant Cerebus "better" or "improved" in any way?

Po, as we shall see, would argue that reform in the ordinary sense is impossible. That while a reformer may seek to make things better, all he can possibly do is just make things different, and that he cannot even predict what kind of changes he will end up making.

For what it's worth, and against the charges of those who claim that Dave Sim became conservative when he converted to monotheism (and for that matter, to Dave Sim's own claims that he is in fact a "real" liberal), this is not only a conservative position, but in fact the heart and soul of true conservatism. Change is something to be deeply suspicious of, because it never works out the way the "reformers" intend, and some of the consequences will always be bad. Even changes that turn out to be "for the best" are really not uniformly good, but merely over time and on balance the good changes outweigh the bad ones.

It's important to keep this abstract view of "reform" in mind throughout Po's talk with Cerebus (I say "with" although it's really a monologue -- Cerebus says nothing throughout the encounter, just as he says nothing in his encounters with the Judge and with "Dave"). It's the only way it makes sense to call Cerebus a "reformer" -- he's a thug, after all, who seldom thinks of anything but his own immediate pleasure. When he said near the end of "High Society" that he thought he could "make a difference," many people thought he was suddenly evincing a desire to save the city from its financial disaster, or make it a better place, but it's clear that what he really had in mind were the daydreams of conquest we see him having during the campaign. That's the kind of "difference" he wants to make -- and only the most radical restructuring of the term can think of that in any way as a "reform."