Cerebus Part V: Issue #13
(see also: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV)
Only one issue this time, because I don’t want to break up the celebrated Palnu Trilogy, and there’s no possibility of doing ’em all tonight… but “Black Magiking” is a great story, and quite deserving of the spotlight–so it all works out, right?
Sim left the experimental duo-tone/Gene Colan murk (which Dan Parmenter and I discussed, near the end of this TCJ Messageboard thread, earlier this week) of #12 in the dust and ascended toward a new level of crispness in style and process in this issue (in some ways it offers a foretaste of the art decoish deployment of blacks and whites that characterize what I recall of the mid-High Society issues). And what’s the story about? Why “Necross the hahahaha Mad” of course! (this guy, particularly in Cerebus’ initial encounter with him, makes me think of Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not To Be–“zo they call me ‘concentration camp Ehrhardt’, do they?”…uncomfortable laugh–laugh–cough… it fits too! Necross is a bit of a buffoon–and a charlatan–but he’s no loveable bumbler, a la Wizard of Oz…he’s actually dangerous…and so is Sig Ruman, no matter how ridiculous a figure he cuts in his Nazi uniform! The Lubitsch film is amazing that way–Jack Benny playing his silly-assed self, and yet still confronting legitimate horrors, head-on, while the war raged, in the newsreels that preceded the show? That is masterful cinema! And Carole Lombard is great in it too! Her last performance…)
Unnecessary digression there–sorry! Or perhaps not. There is certainly something to be said for thinking of this issue–and the evolving tone of the series as a whole–in conjunction with a work like TBONTB. We’re really not in parody-land at all anymore… It’s hilarious, no question about that–but the scenes have a kind of menace that seems to coexist in impossible harmony with the word-play and the slapstick, and the protagonist faces real dangers–not so much to his aardvarkian person, but to his mind, or, more precisely, to his attitude. Will he be able to maintain his equanimity–his ability to accept the world at face-value–without descending into paranoid skepticism, or developing delusions of grandeur, whilst cutting his way through a narrative that sets him up for exactly that kind of a fall…and that kind of a rise? We’ll see… but for now–only remember: Cerebus is goddamned funny-and the stakes are high!
This is the issue in which Sim’s lettering skills come to the fore. Take a look at these two pages–
There’s just something so right about those alphabetical effects, don’t you think?
Naturally, this maniac chooses to confide in Cerebus, rather than incinerate him… (of course he plans to destroy the world–although he is honest enough to admit that he has no real understanding of how to go about doing this…) People just love talking to an aardvark–I can understand that… And so our protagonist becomes witness to the ultimate struggle between “Black Magik” and Inquisitorial “holiness”, in the person of an especially bloodthirsty priest of Tarim. Necross is ready to deflect any bolts from the blue that prayer might summon, but he isn’t prepared for the simple arrow that the exasperated Jesuit opts to fire instead–anticipating that “shoot the swordfighter” scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
After all of that build-up, it’s over in one panel…except of course that Necross manages to transmigrate into the body of Thrunk, a golem that looks a lot like Ben Grimm’s rocky persona, only several times larger. In this form, he proceeds to turn the tables upon the overconfident exorcist, who brandishes a mean-lookin’ ankh-type thing, and is promptly stomped to death, off-camera.. Meanwhile, Cerebus slips through the crossfire of these twin-anticlimaxes back out into the marshlands of Lower Felda… The last thing he hears is Necross/Thrunk–grown far too large to fit through any of the doorways of the fortress in which he was built/born–wailing for help, like some satanic Winnie the Pooh overfed upon sorcerous honey… and no earth-piglet to help him, either–because Cerebus doesn’t give a fuck!