Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cerebus Reread - Volume 1 (Part 3)

 I had intended originally to do three of these. Part one was going to be first impressions, part two a more thorough in-depth analysis with spoilers, and part three a summary I could use in rewriting my Cerebus page when I redo my website, including finishing out the saga since “Guys” had just come out when I last updated that page (I think I first created it when “Reads” was just out and “Minds” was still coming out in comic book form).

However, I find myself still stuck in analysis mode. And this next piece is already longer than it should be and I’ve only gotten halfway through the book. Which is actually about right, because there is a major thematic change starting with Chapter 13 (“Black Magiking”) that relates directly to Dave Sim having his drug-induced vision in the midst of a “nervous breakdown” that gave him at least an outline of what the story would be. So this piece will only take us through Chapter 12, and we’ll start next time with the second “half” of the book (it’s a “half” because it’s slightly larger than the first half, not only because there are 13 chapters in issues 13-25 and only 12 in chapters 1-12, but the second “half” also includes “Silverspoon”).

To my mind, with chapter 5 we're really into the ongoing story that becomes the 300 issue saga that is "Cerebus." It starts out very much like the previous issues. It's an undetermined amount of time since Cerebus' encounter with Elrod, and he's joined a mercenary force, which we never see because Cerebus has gotten separated from them and the end of this story sees him deciding to leave the area altogether and travel to the city of Iest.

Indeed, it will be some time before Sim throws away the Conan parody altogether, but it's definitely a secondary element from here on, something to trot out to get laughs or to fall back on. He's already moving into deeper waters. In chapters 5-7, we get not one but two hints from wildly different sources about Cerebus' unique (well, at this point we *think* he's unique) importance in his world, plus we get introduced to a love interest that you can tell by the way she's introduced is due to return at some point.

It's very interesting to note, by the way, that up until now Cerebus has been apparently totally immune to the attraction of the female gender, and even with Jaka has to be drugged to be affected by her. It seems that either human females have no attraction and he'd need an aardvark mate to really feel anything (a possibility that, if it occurred to Sim at all, was obviously rejected along the way), he truly has no biological urges toward sex (which, as human as he seems despite his appearance, seems unlikely and also doesn't match his subsequent behavior), or something in his past has caused him to build a Spock-like wall surrounding his emotions. The evidence seems to point to that last possibility, and it's interesting that Dave Sim himself ended up decades later more-or-less advocating that approach, despite by then having allowed Cerebus to thaw his icy heart and let the gentler sex affect him after all. Although, to be sure, the consequences to Cerebus of letting women into his mind and heart were not exactly positive.

Be that as it may, if it wasn't obvious at the end of "The Secret" that we'd be seeing Jaka again, her name at the bottom of a letter to her uncle, Lord Julius, as Cerebus rides away from Iest at the end of "A Night at the Masque" certainly sealed the deal, even though we still wouldn't see her until the middle of the next book.

"The Idol" establishes that Cerebus is not totally unique in his world, and that at some point someone or something that looked just like him was worshipped as a god. That point is reinforced in "Black Sun Rising" - and it's significant that Cerebus has these two experiences within weeks, perhaps even within days of each other, with his first meeting with Jaka (while drugged, which he won't remember for some time) in between.

Then Sim headed off on a tangent. His stay with the Conniptins is obviously not part of any long term storyline (although he did manage to use them again, despite apparently killing them off in "Swords Against Imesh" - (apparently K'Cor didn't do as thorough a job of poisoning the wells around Imesh as he thought).

I'm not sure, but I think at this point Sim had a kind of loose structure in mind, something like "Lone Wolf & Cub" (which he probably wasn't familiar with) or "The X-Files" (which wouldn't premiere for a decade and a half), where you would have some stories that were episodic stand-alone incidents and some that contributed directly toward the development of the overall storyline. If that was his plan, he changed his mind by the time he finished this book, because there really isn't anything like a stand-alone episode from the start of "High Society" to the end of the saga.

The Conniptins, K'Cor and the return of Red Sophia are all fairly episodic, and arguably as separated from each other and from the overall storyline as the first four stories, but there is a significant difference - after slaughtering four men in a hallucinatory frenzy brought on by giant spider venom and fever, Cerebus doesn't really *act* like a barbarian any more. To be sure, he does have a couple of sword fights in Imesh, against Lord Koghem and K'Cor himself, but in the first he uses his wits more than his strength to defeat his opponent, and against K'Cor he is actually overmatched, and K'Cor's abandonment of the fight is one of the biggest flaws, narratively speaking, in the whole saga. The explanation he gives explains nothing - even if it were true (which it apparently is not), it would have been just as true before he agreed to the duel as it was at the point he cut if off, and while Cerebus was perhaps not as easy to defeat as he expected and he had sustained a wound, in his armor against an exhausted Cerebus it was only a matter of time before he would have defeated him.

Personally, I think Sim just wrote himself into a corner here and came up with K'Cor's lame reasoning because the only other outcome possible at that point was to kill off his title character and start a new book, and he'd already decided he wanted to do this book for a long time. He may even have already been thinking about 26 years.

The duel with K'Cor is the penultimate time Cerebus wields a sword in this book (to use a word correctly that Sim misuses in “The Idol”). The next and last time will go even more decisively against Cerebus, and he will barely escape with his life. So by this point he is already no longer the funny-animal-but-still-supremely-competent-Conan-clone he had started out as.

Also, while somewhat episodic, all these incidents are tied together chronologically much more tightly than the early episodes. The transition from chapter 1 to 2 is completely vague, and 2 to 3 is not much better. 3 to 4 are connected by a caption in the beginning of the latter, but 5 is floated out there with only a nebulous "After leaving Serrea, Cerebus drifts west …"

After that, though, we have a connected continuity through most of the rest of the book. Chapter 5 ends with “Iest is a day’s march away,” and on page 3 of Chapter 6, Cerebus says, “Tarim! It never fails -- two hours in any of these accursed cities and some farmer with more muscle than brains comes flying at me …” Even allowing for exaggeration on Cerebus’ part about how long he’s been in Iest, obviously no more than a day or two has passed since he destroyed “The Idol.” 

E’Lass, when planning on his sojourn to the Temple of the Black Sun, muses that he’ll need food for two weeks. I assume from this that the temple is a week away from Iest (I’m assuming he’ll want to eat on the way back, as well).  Plus, when Cerebus shows up there next chapter (“Black Sun Rising,” Chapter 7), the narrator tells us that it would have been easier to follow the lowlands to the south and swing back to the north, “but Cerebus is a follower of the ‘old ways,’ so he has taken the direct route.” Even though the direct route is “through a dozen mountain passes and across treacherous terrain,” one assumes that it is if anything shorter than the more obvious route, so it’s possible that Cerebus has gotten there even more quickly than E’Lass was counting on.  In any case, no more than a week could have passed since the end of “The Secret.”

At the beginning of Chapter 8, Cerebus is still suffering from the after-effects of the sting from the giant spider he sustained at the end of Chapter 7. The amount of time passed is not specified, but surely it can’t be more than a few days.  Indeed, on page 6 of “Merchant of Unshib” (Chapter 10), Cerebus summarizes what has happened to him since that spider blasted his back, including the entire contents of Chapters 8 and 9, as having happened “in the last week.” After acquiring the Black Blossom Lotus, Cerebus presumably goes immediately to Beduin to sell it, where he encounters the merchant who turns out to harbor a secret identity – the Cockroach. Three weeks pass between pages 15 and 16 of Chapter 11 (“The Merchant and the Cockroach”),and  two more between that chapter and the next (“Beduin by Night”), which ends on Cerebus’ 27th birthday.  This is significant, because Chapter 5 first introduced the notion of Cerebus’ age, and that him coming to the Pigts “in his twenty-sixth year” was the fulfillment of a prophecy.

(In fact, one’s “twenty-sixth year” would be the year *before* one’s twenty-sixth birthday, just as one’s first year is before one turns one, so he actually came to the Pigts in his 27th year. Of course, Sim was at the time a high school dropout with limited education who in that same chapter misuses the word “penultimate.” He eventually became one of the most successful autodidacts I’ve ever known, and I’ve known several of them, and I think most people would guess from reading his references to various writers or conversing with him about just about anything that he probably has a college degree, and would certainly be surprised to discover he doesn’t even have a high school diploma. But the 22-year-old Sim still had some major defects in his education.)

There is a temporal problem here. At the beginning of Chapter 5, it would seem from the incessant rain to be spring. From later evidence, Cerebus’ birthday also seems to be in the spring – indeed, the most likely time for it is in mid-to-late June, so I’m guessing it’s June 17 (Dave Sim’s birthday). That would seem to mean that he had essentially just turned 26 recently when Bran Mak Muffin says to him, “You’re 26, aren’t you?” The problem with that is that Chapter 13 (“Black Magiking”) starts with the words “The first breath of summer in Lower Felda …” It is clear not much time has passed since the end of Chapter 12. Cerebus, who was holding a piece of a broken boat as he was washed down the river out of Beduin, has washed up on shore, still in Lower Felda. If Chapters 5-12 represent no more than two months (based on the internal evidence of time passing in and between chapters), how can a year have passed?

Things like this were later to become magnified and even at times deliberate, driving fans like myself and Alexx Kay, the kind of people who create timelines for themselves to keep everything straight, absolutely crazy (Kay’s timeline was much more elaborate and well-documented than mine ever was and is still available on the Web at

Thematically, what we have is a person who thinks of himself as a barbarian and a warrior, but who has some education and is far more sophisticated than most of those around him, moving farther and farther away from the barbarian warrior persona he has chosen for himself and toward the more sophisticated role he is eventually to play. We also see him on occasion being manipulated by those even more sophisticated and learned – first Bran Mac Muffin, who despite his surroundings and companions is obviously a scholar of old Pigtish prophecies, if nothing else, and when we next meet him will fit in with a more-or-less modern city and its political machinations quite well, then the Doctor and the Commander of the Conniptins. Both times, Cerebus recognizes what is going on and rejects it. He destroys the Pigts’ idol and flees, and starts to flee from the Conniptins. But he has second thoughts about the latter, and part of his determination to stay rests on his belief in his ability to turn the tables on his would-be manipulators. “The men had pledged loyalty to Cerebus, not to the commander.” We see that Cerebus himself is quite capable of manipulation in Chapters 11 and 12, as he gets the Cockroach to help him steal the Cockroach’s own gold.

Next time: God and Politics (the first hints of Church and State)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cerebus 10th Anniversary Reread: Cerebus (Volume 1) (Part 2)

This book is usually thought of as a collection of mostly unconnected stories that are parodies of Conan the Barbarian, with a talking aardvark instead of Conan as the main character. On this reread, I discovered for perhaps the first time how wrongheaded that description is of all but the first four chapters here. Those chapters are indeed separate stories instead of proper chapters in an overall book, and the first one in particular is almost completely unconnected from anything else. Starting with "The Idol," though (originally published in issue #5 with no title) we are firmly in the grip of a long story whose roots are being established, even though Sim didn't really know where that story was headed yet.

The first four chapters are indeed almost slavish imitations, through the lens of parody, of the comics produced by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith (before he added the "Windsor") for Marvel's "Conan the Barbarian" comic book in the early 1970s. The first chapter, "The Flame Jewel," has some innovative tricks up its sleeve in presenting the standard "steal a precious jewel from a dangerous sorcerer" trope, and a good joke at the end on the thieves who hire Cerebus. The second chapter,  "Captive in Boreala," opens with an obvious homage to the opening of Conan #16, "The Frost Giant's Daughter," but wanders a bit, seemingly uncertain where to go next, before arriving at the Eye of Terim and the dark, sardonic laughter in the darkness that hints of something important but ends up never being explained in any of the 298 issues to follow. I think of this as the first hint that the young Sim had an ambition to turn this funny-animal parody of Conan into something more, but by the time he realized what it was to be, this story no longer really fit into his plans. He tried to explain this and chapter 4 ("Death's Dark Tread") away in "Flight" many years later.

There does at first seem to be a VERY important piece of foreshadowing in "Captive." The beautiful, glowing, strange white globe that seems to be the gem called "The Eye of Terim" (and perhaps it really is what the legendary Eye of Terim was all along) turns out to actually be a horrible-looking creature called a succubus that has sucked the souls from countless men and seeks to do so with Cerebus.

Now, anyone familiar with the whole Cerebus saga and Dave Sim's later-expressed view of women as soul-sucking voids cannot help but look at this as an example that he was headed in that direction all the way back in early 1978 when issue #2 was first published. Especially given that a "succubus" is, according to Merriam-Webster, "a demon assuming female form to have sexual intercourse with men in their sleep." The thing is, Dave Sim has disclaimed all conscious knowledge of the meaning of the word succubus at the time he wrote this story, and has even said that at the time he did this story he thought of himself as a feminist. He was vaguely aware of the word, knew it was some kind of evil supernatural creature, and he liked the sound of it (the "succu-" seemed to fit with a creature that "sucked" souls), so he put it in there, entirely unaware that this would become the first "soul-sucking void" and that that image would come to be one of the defining points of his life's work.

So synchronicity, perhaps, rather than foreshadowing, might be best description of this appearance of a soul-sucking void so early in the story, and as I say it isn't really a story yet, just a series of unconnected episodes. It is noteworthy, though, that though Cerebus is lusting after the "Eye of Terim" he still at one point swears by "Tarim." In "The Flame Jewel," the sorcerer used "Terim" in one of his incantations and also uttered "Tarim" as an oath on the same page. So even this early Sim does seem to be consciously setting up a world where among the many gods men worship are a "Tarim" and a "Terim," who seem by their names to be obviously related to each other in some manner and yet are also separate and distinct. Whether he already envisioned them as male and female versions of the same deity is doubtful, and it's pretty clear that at this point Tarim is not "God" as modern monotheistic societies think of that term, but just a small-g "god" like Zeus or Thor. (Tarim is, in fact, one of the things borrowed from the Conan comic book, where there were two warring societies whose dispute was centered on which of them deserved to have possession of the living Tarim, a god-man embodied in a descendant of the original through dozens of generations.)

The third story, "Song of Red Sophia," takes even its title from a Conan comic book, the last one Barry Smith did, "The Song of Red Sonja." The story itself has nothing to do with that story, but the character is essentially that character, borrowed from a non-Conan story by Conan creator Robert E. Howard. She was later associated primarily with artist Frank Thorne, who drew a series featuring her. Sim used Thorne as the basis for the character Henrot, who is Sophia's father, and in fact "Henrot" is an anagram of "Thorne." So this issue is a tribute to Thorne as much as Smith, and it even seems that Sophia is intended to be an imitation of Thorne's Sonja rather than Simth's, although Sim's art is not yet good enough to tell the difference. This issue features some serious backsliding with respect to the art - one page where he uses an interesting three-panels-in-one trick to show the quick action of a duel has, in the face of the middle Sophia, the worst art since that deformed horse back on the first page. However, the art as a whole is actually better, and the idea of Cerebus as a cartoon character in a realistic world is beginning to be realized.

The storytelling in "Song of Red Sophia" is a huge step up in sophistication from "Captive in Boreala." Instead of a meandering story that seems to start out with no destination in mind (whether or not that is accurate), we have a story told almost entirely in flashback, giving us a glimpse from just moments before the climax, then going back 3 days to show how we got here, then proceeding to the conclusion and epilogue. While not exactly "experimental," in the usual sense of breaking new ground for writers in general, it's clear that Sim is experimenting for himself with different storytelling techniques.

Red Sophia and Elric, who first appears in the next story, "Death's Dark Tread," both will reappear later and could be taken as evidence that the overall story has already started, as in a sense it had even though its author seems only vaguely aware of it. In fact, they are both part-and-parcel of the aping of "Conan the Barbarian," as both characters appeared in that comic. In fact, Sim has said that at the time he first did issue #4, he had not read Michael Moorcock's "Elric" stories or even seen a book cover. His only exposure to Elric was from Barry Smith's version in Conan #14-15, and he was completely unaware of how dissatisfied Moorcock and many of his fans were with Smith's version, and how unlike Moorcock's description of the character it was.

I regard the continued use of these characters after Sim left the Conan parody behind to be part fan-service and part simply using the tools available, rather than evidence that he was already thinking long-term when he introduced these characters.

Although Elrod (a name I assume is a joke on L. Ron Hubbard, and hence a hint of Sim's interest in religion that will soon come to dominate the series) is based on Smith's version of Elric in terms of physical appearance, in all other ways he is essentially Foghorn Leghorn from the old Warner Brothers cartoons (or, as Sim would have it, Senator Claghorn, the radio character on whom Foghorn Leghorn was based, but since Sim is far too young to have listened to Claghorn on the radio growing up, I'm going to assume the primary influence is the cartoon, and his reference to the radio character simply evidence of the breadth and depth of his self-education). He is one of the funniest supporting characters in the saga, second only to Lord Julius, and his popularity with fans probably had a lot to do with his continual reappearences over the years.

The story itself is a mess, not necessarily in terms of it as a single narrative - it's a bit meandering, not fully cohesive, but it's funny and does all finally fit together. But the appearance of Death as a character, and the way that Death is presented, is so out of touch with the storyline that eventually developed that in "Flight," where Sim was catching up with a lot of old threads and trying to weave them into his story and/or explain them away, he actually felt compelled to bring in another supernatural character who confronts this figure and tells him "You are not Death."

(For much the same reasons, I regard the short story "Demonhorn," which is not collected in the saga but was presented in the "Swords of Cerebus" collections and Sim has even officially placed in the chronology between #5 and #6, to be completely non-canonical, whatever he says.)

Although there are, to be sure, bits and pieces and hints of what is to come, up until now, Conan the Aardvark has been little more than a simple parody of Conan the Barbarian. With chapter 5 of this book, though, that all changes.

Next time, we'l start the saga proper.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Cerebus 10th Anniversary Reread: Cerebus (Volume 1) (Part 1)

My first impression on rereading this book 10 years after the final volume of Cerebus was published, and more than 3 decades after the stories collected here were published, is that the usual dismissal of this book as representing amateurish stories featuring Cerebus as a funny-animal parody of Conan the Barbarian are really accurate only of the first handful of stories. I've always recognized that the quality of Sim's art grew rapidly in these early stories, and that the "amateurish" accusation isn't really fair after the first year or so, and by the time we reach the so-called "Palnu Trilogy" (reprinting #14-16, not given that title in this book), the quality of the art was in fact quite high, and easily comparable to the comics being published by Marvel and DC at the time.

More importantly, though, Cerebus isn't really operating as a "barbarian" through the whole book, even during portions where he seems on the surface to be represented that way. Also, the whole thing is more connected than I remembered. Although it is definitely a collection of "stories" rather than a continuous novel, there is more connective tissue between the episodes that I had remembered, and it's quite clear from very early on that each of these stories is part of a continuous narrative. Long before Sim's announcement that the series would last 26 years and tell a complete story, ending in Cerebus' death, he obviously had some notion of doing something like that. The last completely disconnected story here is actually "Death's Dark Tread," which represents the original issue #4, published barely six months after the first issue on Sim's original bi-monthly schedule, and even #3 and #4 feature the introduction of characters (Red Sophia and Elrod the Albino) who will return and become important parts of the larger story.

After that, there really isn't a single issue that stands completely alone. "Black Magicking" is the closes to it, and it appears only halfway through the book. Issue #5 ("The Idol" - originally untitled) gives us a hint of Cerebus' importance in the world he inhabits and hints at future developments, "The Secret" introduces a character who is obviously set up to return someday (Jaka), and "Black Sun Rising" re-emphasizes that aardvarks are something really special in Estarcion, and from there on you have basically episodes in what is pretty obviously one story.

There is also something interesting going on time-wise here. Although the first story is complexly unconnected in time from the next, we soon get references to the passage of time, and several issues go by in a row where not much time passes. Cerebus is "a day's march" from Iest when he leaves the Pigts and muses that "It never fails -- two hours in any of these accursed cities and some farmer with more muscle than brains comes flying at me …" near the beginning of the next story.

At the beginning of "Merchant of Unshib," originally published in #10 (June 1980), Cerebus says to Sophia "In the last week, Cerebus has had his back blasted, his ribs fractured and his Empire slipped out from under him by a blimp in black armour." The blimp in black armour was last issue, but the back got blasted back in "Black Sun Rising," which was issue #7 (December 1979), and that couldn't have been more than a couple of weeks - and probably only a couple of days - after "The Secret," which in turns seems to take place over a few hours just a day after "The Idol." So from August 1978 to June 1979, almost a year of time for the original readers of the comic book, something less than a month - maybe only a couple of weeks - passed for Cerebus.

This sequence is followed immediately by "The Merchant and the Cockroach" (#11 - August 1980), where three weeks pass from one page to the next, summarized in a caption on the first panel of that page. Later, we'll have an episode of "lost time." Cerebus is drugged at the end of "She-Devil in the Shadows" ( #19) and is drugged through "Mind Games" (#20). In  "The Death of Elrod" (#22), he discovers that instead of having lost a day or two as he thought, "some weeks" have passed. We know that he woke up at the beginning of #21 in Beduin, far removed from Togith, the place he'd been when he was drugged. An "explanation" of "What Happened Between #20 and #21" was published in a "Swords of Cerebus" collection, but it wasn't really very enlightening).

Sim would later stretch and compress time even further later on in the saga, spending years during the original run of the issues that became "Church and State" depicting events that take place over a couple of weeks, and later chronicling decades over the course of a few pages  in "Latter Days." But it's interesting to note that he was doing this kind of thing this early on.

But why do I say Cerebus isn't a barbarian here? He still presents himself that way throughout the book, and while he loses the horned helmet fairly early, he's still wearing the medallions that were part of Barry Smith's version of how Conan looked at the end of this book.

For one thing, Cerebus is far more cerebral than the average barbarian. There's far too much talking for "Cerebus the Barbarian" to be appropriate as a title.

Cerebus shows himself to be smarter than the average barbarian in the very first issue. After defeating a sorcerer, one of his companions says "How did you come to know so much of the ways of these wizards?" and Cerebus replies, "Cerebus has his feet in two wolrds … though I was born to be a warrior, the ways of sorcery are not unknown to me."

Cerebus may think of himself as a "warrior born," but in fact he is not very warlike even in most of this book, much less the rest of the series.

In the first three issues, we see him in various jobs as a sword-for-hire, twice as an individual, once as part of an army of sorts. In the fourth issue, he is posing as a merchant but circumstances cause him to have to fight, first with a monster, then with Elrod, then with the city guards. In the fifth issue, he's said to be a sword-for-hire in an army again, but we first see him separated from his forces, he doesn't do any fighting (unless you count destroying a clay statue with punches) and heads to the city of Iest at the end, apparently deserting his job as a mercenary.

He does do some fighting in #6 and #7, and while drugged in #8 he is sent out to kill some people, which he does while hallucinating they are Elrod and Sophia. This may be the last time Cerebus clearly kills someone in the book, and is definitely the last time he defeats someone in battle with a sword.

In #9, he has the duel with K'Cor, in which he doesn't do all that well and it's not really certain at the end why K'Cor abandons the fight and lets him go. Certainly Cerebus does not clearly win the battle.

In #10, Cerebus mostly uses his brain rather than his brawn or his sword, to trick everyone around him and end up with the Black Lotus, a "Maltese Falcon" like object that is the MacGuffin of this particular story. In #11, after selling it to the Merchant, he observes the Merchant turn into the Cockroach, and even though terms like "Multiple Personality Disorder" are not part of his vocabulary, fairly astutely figures out what's going on. The way Sim depicts his intelligence struggling through his very limited knowledge to arrive at the answer is actually quite well done. There is a fight scene at the end of #12, and it's possible that Cerebus kills three city guards then, but since he's armed with an oar it's more likely he's just knocked them unconscious.

There's a brief fight at the beginning of #13, but Cerebus is soon overpowered by superior numbers. He doesn't fight the rest of the issue. He does fight in "Silverspoon," which reprints a series of one-page strips that ran in the Comics Buyers Guide and take place between #13 and #14,

Then we have the so-called "Palnu Trilogy." The name was given to #14-16 when they were reprinted in "Swords of Cerebus," apparently to call attention to the fact that it was essentially a single story over three issues. Up until then, the perception was, each issue had stood alone, but as we have just seen this was not strictly true. #12 was obviously a continuation of #11, although it was admittedly presented more as a story and its sequel rather than as a continuous story. #7 led directly into #8, because if Cerebus hadn't been injured and drugged by the giant spider he wouldn't have been so easily manipulated in the early pages of #8. #8 leads directly into #9, because Cerebus is leading the Conniptins to Imesh at the beginning of the latter, and the whole reason he goes to that city is to start a campaign of conquest as the new Conniptin leader. #10 leads inexorably to #11, because having stolen the Black Lotus Cerebus needs to find someone to sell it to.

It is arguable that you can see the entire sequence of #5-12 as one continuous story, albeit a somewhat episodic one. And this is *before* Sim announced his plans for a 26-year continuous story. #13 does somewhat stand  alone by itself, but it also sets up a joke whose punchline won't come until #80, several years later. So it's pretty clear that by then Sim was already thinking long term.

But with the Palnu Trilogy the kind of broad sweep that Sim will use in "High Society" and then "Church and State" and then the remainder of the 300 issues begins to be apparent. It is all of a piece, a sort of min-mini-novel within the overall storyline, setting us up for what is to come stylistically and thematically as well as structurally and in terms of the actual plot (Lord Julius and his bureaucracy being crucial to how the next several hundred pages of story will develop).

Cerebus enters Palnu in #14, and is immediately given a job in the Palnan bureaucracy. Granted his job fits with the idea that he is a "warrior" (athough the title is "Kitchen Staff Supervisor" his actual duties are to be in charge of security, chiefly to prevent the assassination of Lord Julius, so he's basically an executive level bodyguard). However, we do not see Cerebus sword-fighting anyone in the entire "Palnu Trilogy" He does briefly use a sword against the giant snake in #16, but quickly realizes it is useless and tosses it aside.

The next actual swordfight Cerebus engages in, in fact isn't until # 19 ("She-Devil in the Dark") against Ghita - and he does very badly against her indeed, barely escaping with his life. For the rest of the book, he does nothing more violent than crashing through a door with a lamppost in #24. In fact, our barbarian hero spends an entire issue comatose, although we in fact are privy to his trip to the astral plane during at least the early part of the period in which he is drugged (see "lost time" above).

When Cerebus teams up with the T'Gitans in #17, it becomes clear just how far removed he is from the barbarians around him, with the possible exception of their leader, Gudre. He can pretend to be one of them, as he does at the end of #18, but he is far more sophisticated.

So really, after #8, there's very little fighting, and Cerebus doesn't always emerge victorious when there is. So much for "Cerebus the Barbarian."

But, as Arlo Guthrie would say, that's not what I came here to talk about.

I came to talk about the draft.

(No, not really, but I'm afraid you'll have to wait until next time to find out what I *really* want to talk about.)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Not so fast …

I doubt if anyone is reading this, but what the heck.

OK, I've put the redo of the website on hold for now. I don't have a definite time frame, but it definitely won't happen for a couple of months at least, and I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up not happening until at least this fall.

In the meantime, I'm going to be doing a reread of Cerebus. This month is the 10th anniversary of the completion of Dave Sim's masterwork, and my old Cerebus page never finished off the saga. So now is a good time to revisit the whole thing and write new reviews for each volume.

If I end up redoing everything before I finish this, these pieces will remain here even if everything else goes away. And eventually they will be incorporated into the website itself. So while some other parts of this blog will eventually go away altogether, these Cerebus reread bits will not.

Thursday, March 06, 2014


This is a test.

I am going to be completely changing things around here one day soon, and most if not all of the old content will be going away forever. If you happen to see this and care about something, save it now.

This is a test.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone