Get on the (Cere)Bus!
(Part II: issues #4-7)
So, in my first Cerebus post, I mentioned issue #2’s audacious manifesto of the “serial survivor”. Cerebus is about to be killed by a succubus? Well, that’s fine, except that, y’see, he’s immune to that sort of thing–because this is Cerebus. Of course, this is a given in any ongoing narrative that focuses upon one protagonist, from David Copperfield through The Continental Op to Superman. But I like the way that Sim drives home the fact by refusing to produce an explanation for this bit of ontological melodrama:
Where is its soul?
Again–Cerebus is all soul. All fantasy. And as real as his creator. That is all ye need to know.
Issue #7 builds toward an even more demented instance of this same unlawful law (and manages to anticipate, in some obvious ways, the explosive deus ex machina that brings Joe Vs. The Volcano to a joyous conclusion! Tom & Meg shoulda stopped right there…)
But the way I see it, the real drama of the early issues of Cerebus is in Sim’s effort to generate a troupe of actors hammy enough to compete for the spotlight with his short gray anti-hero. Obviously, he struck paydirt with Elrod–who first appears in #4, and then, a mere three issues later, returns for some of this:
(Cerebus is upset because this scene takes place just outside the lair of the Black Sun death cult…Elrod is looking for a cocktail that goes by the same name)
That entrance! It’s pure Groucho–in “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” mode–and even if we didn’t know that Sim was a mere seven issues away from bringing Julius Marx himself into the narrative, we could have predicted it… Elrod, like Cerebus, is “fit to stand the gaze of millions”–and consequently exempt from the bloody logic of whatever situation he stumbles into (or, as is more usually the case with The Albino, instigates) Is Elrod a parody of Elric? That’s what they always say–but I don’t buy it. He’s a pop-alchemical miracle is what he is.
So what else happens in these issues? Well, Cerebus comes across two separate groups of lunatics (the Pigts–led by Bran Mak Mufin & Fret Mac Mury–and the aforementioned Black Sun) who worship his graven image; he makes some quick illicit cash (although usually not as much as he thinks he’s going to), and he spends it just as quickly.
Oh yeah–and he meets Jaka…
Look at that Charles Schulz grin in panel four! It’s the spitting image of Lucy at the piano, putting the moves on Schroeder. That’s what’s so great about Sim’s work, even at this stage in the game–the juxtapositions. This is supposed to be a Conan parody? No way! That was just a cover story. Barry Smith people don’t grin like that. “Realistic” figures can’t. So much the worse for us realistic types. I’ve felt that grin coming on many times–but I’ve never quite managed to screen it for the world…
So what’s Jaka’s story, anyway?
Well, she’s no Elrod–that’s for sure. She can’t compete with Cerebus on the cartoon plane. But what she can do is force a shift in focalization–an even rarer feat in the context of this particular narrative:
And here’s one explanation for why it happens:
Happy–sniff!–Valentine’s Day Friends!