Month: March 2005

Cerebus Part IX — Issues #21 & #22

Cerebus Part IX — Issues #21 & 22
(see also: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part V
I-and-a-half, Part VII, Part VIII)

You gotta love this:

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Oh he dies alright…how else could he become “Deadalbino”?

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Sim really goes to town with the superhero tropes in these issues! Elrod & the Roach (left to their own moronic devices in Beduin at the end of issue #12) resurface as Captain Cockroach and Bunky… self-proclaimed culture-heroes and stupidity-tax collectors in the employ of an important new player in the saga–“President” Weisshaupt, whose plan is to found a “United Feldwar States” upon a confused public’s eagerness to hate the racially-“other” Hsifans (the Roach’s maxim used to be “Revenge”, now it’s “Beat the Hsiffies”) and willingness to keep the “Oval Hideout” solvent by “buying war bonds” that are actually shares in an indefinitely deferred master-race status (the money will finance the rediscovery of the potion that “made a superman” of the Roach… of course there is no such thing, and there never will be…)

Here’s Captain Cockroach’s “secret origin”, as narrated by Weisshaupt:

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(look at that fifth panel! another mask of anarchy!)

But don’t forget the big boots and the Hisffies, Weisshaupt!

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Is this parody? Sure…whatever… but think about it…the ways in which these characters relate to the superhero tropes says everything about them. The point isn’t to lampoon Marvel & DC… Sim uses these stories because he figures that there’s a good chance his audience will know them, but he’s really talking about narrative itself… Time and again, The Roach will be thrown into some storyline or other and ride that train of thought until someone switches him onto another track. He is “suspension of disbelief” incarnate! Weisshaupt (and, later, Astoria) is just as involved with these tropes, but for a very different reason–he doesn’t ask what he can do for the story, he wants to know what the story can do for him. Sim always claims that he was way ahead of Auster and Morrison in planning to explore serious epistemological & ethical questions through the use of metafiction, and I believe him… After all, characters and their authors are meeting in virtually every issue of the early Cerebus.

Fans of Derrida’s work on the Declaration of Independence should take note of Weisshaupt’s incredible scheme to bring a purely discursive nation into being through word of mouth and sops to the self-interest of “the people”. Who authorizes the signatures on a foundational document? No one, obviously. Every “self”,  every “we”, and every “self-evident truth” is a blatant forgery–and this is Weisshaupt’s stock-in-trade. Where Lord Julius cloaks his power behind a miasma of mischief, Weisshaupt proceeds through naked self-assertion.

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Look at Cerebus’ face! “Power is better than money?” Of course it is! Power makes money. Transforms monopoly bills into legal tender–and vice versa. There’s no such thing as “hard money”–all assets are liquid, and sometimes they go right down the drain… The key–for these masterful author types, I mean–is to catch that reality-making ink in a bottle and make it work for you… Ah, but who manufactures the ink itself? That’s where all inquiry fades to black. You can make meanings, but you can’t make Meaning (aka meaninglessness) That’s just a given. Something out of nothing. This is the great mystery that all art explores, to no effect.  As Emerson would say, there’s always another circle. In this story, Weisshaupt is defeated by a higher authority, which first delivers the godsend of Elrod’s Deadman-like body-possessing abilities (prompting the audacious president to skip a few of his populist steps and jump straight to a top-down coup… why not? if you’ve got a henchman that can become the head councilman of the city!), and then yanks this fictive power out of the little dictator’s hands, at the worst possible moment! Another “cop-out”? Well, go ahead and call it that, if you want to–but, in doing so, you reveal that your understanding of narrative is no more sophisticated than the Roach’s…

Weisshaupt errs in jumping to the conclusion that Elrod/Bunky/Deadalbino’s evolution is a treasure trope that he can recoin at his pleasure. Of course, we know better–because we have the map. We know that Elrod gets that power because the legend declares that he cannot die–no matter how richly he deserves this fate. Weisshaupt gets caught in the middle of Sim’s scheme to get Elrod’s “spirit” back into his body… once this happens, the Deadalbino plot hits the wall–and so, incidently, does Weisshaupt’s bid for mastery:

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Am I the only one that is reminded of The Maltese Falcon here? The master storyteller, at last caught in a prison of his own making? (also, to mix my Bogart-film metaphors–Cerebus’ selfish use of the “letters of transit” marks him as an unrepentant Rick Blaine–and also challenges our assumption that Cerebus is in the “right”–as Sam Spade seems to be, moreso in the film than in the novel–vis-a-vis his erstwhile puppet-master)

And perhaps this is why–unlike Brigid O’Shaughnessy–Weisshaupt will be back!

And so will I–but who knows where or when?

Good night friends!
Dave

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Cerebus Part VIII — Issue #20
(see also: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part V
I-and-a-half, Part VII)

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I can only imagine what a shock this one must’ve been to readers looking for a nice linear development of the “siege on Palnu” storyline… Is “Mind Game” a “cop-out“? Did Sim force his protagonist onto another level of diegesis in some lame attempt to elude the comsequences of his own narrative?

Of course not.

That’s not how storytelling works.

It is a fact of the human condition that we are beholden to the “Lords of Life”–but it is the artist’s privilege to choose which lords s/he will bow down to, at any given moment… Subservience to any particular set of imperatives isn’t art–it’s automatism. In our quotidian experience, the choices are less clear, and for various reasons (most of them having to do with our biological materiality), we are very often powerless to resist the encroachments of “master narratives” that we do not own–but art is not life, and a critic who forgets this places him/herself at a serious disadvantage. This is not an argument in favour of “escapism”, either (i.e. “real art” “captures” lived experience; “pop art” gives us a break from same); no–I am saying that all art runs parallel to life, and comments upon it. Escapism resides in the mind of the reader/viewer/listener–not the work itself.

What does this have to do with Cerebus #20? Well, everything, as far as I’m concerned!

The stage is set for an enormous confrontation between the T’Gitan horde and Lord Julius’ mercenary force (led by a general that intends to use that very same army to engineer a coup, once he has repulsed the invaders). The book invites us to crave an acceleration of this complex intercutting between the battlefield and the backrooms, all leading to a “senses-shattering” climax of some sort or another. But in lieu of this, Sim pulls back and says: “you know, there are some things going on inside Cerebus’ head that are much more important than these shenanigans”… Everybody line up! Field trip! Back to that weird grayscale continuum from issue #8!

The difference this time is that Cerebus (thanks to the intensifying effects of the particular drugs he’s been fed) is now able to enter into the gray, rather than simply leaning upon it, in an existential extremity, as before… and guess what? There’s a party going on in there!

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While his abductors–the Cirinists–threaten and cajole him from without, Cerebus touches base with Suenteus Po–impossibly geriatric bonvivant extraordinaire! Po belongs to the Illusionist cult, and we learn that he and his pals are engaged in an enduring struggle with the disciples of Terim (who aim to establish “The New Matriarchy”)… I’m sure I don’t have to emphasize the loaded gender connotations of this fateful binary. But the thing is–both of these groups take their bearings, to a very large extent, from their relationship to Patriarchy proper. Po’s gang are a bunch of hypostatized fratboys on spring break. Their opponents wish to outlaw this vicious behaviour,  instead of frowning indulgently upon it, as the Father does…but they aren’t threatening to abolish hierarchy–they simply want to set themselves up as the new management. The stakes of the battle are clear–and hilariously banal… As Po asserts–if the Cirinists win, “it’s milk and cookies for all of us!”

This isn’t really “men vs. women”–it’s antinomianism vs. the law itself. And Cerebus, at this point, is blithely indifferent to it all. There’s nothing to choose from between “form” and “void”–they’re just elements of the plot. The idea is to keep the ingredients swirling in the pot. Well…that plus waking up and getting the hell on with your life! But that’s the thing–whenever life threatens to make sense, you’ve gotta  kill the engine, rip the hood open, and fuck something up… That’s what drugs, sleep and poesy are for!

I know that many of you are privileged to know a great more than I do about the ways in which this whole thing plays itself out. Will Cerebus become a pawn in the meta-struggles that structure “reality” in Estarcion? Or will he succeed in metaphorizing them so completely that he achieves the Pyrrhic victory of solipsism? One thing is for sure–Cerebus (the narrative) will last as long as the answer to these questions remains in doubt, and not one moment longer! (certainty=death)

And no storyteller ever gave us a more complex prophecy of his own fate than the riddle posed by this issue’s interlocking-page structure. (thanks to Cerebus Fangirl for that link!–you are wonderful Margaret!)

Good Afternoon Friends!
Dave

p.s. don’t forget to check out Seth’s initial ruminations upon Rushdie and the Dreaming, and the latest round of Mulholland Dr. comment-thread fun!

Now We Are Two!

 Now We Are Two!

The ACAPCWOVCCAOE had better watch out! We MSU Comics Bloggers are moving up on the charts!

Friends–meet Seth Morton! I just met him last week, but I’m sold already.

I could go on, but the man has written his own Declaration of Principles–so who needs my introduction? (although I will add that if you are interested in Sandman-blogging–and I don’t recall seeing any of that during my time in orbit ’round the ‘sphere–Logos is going to be the place to be for the forseeable future!)

back to my paper!

good afternoon!
Dave

You’ve Got Rights. Lots of Rights.

 You’ve Got Rights. Lots of Rights.

1. You have the right to go read (and, hopefully, contribute to!) our class discussion of The Dark Knight Returns. (not to mention Fight Club)

2. You have the right to check out my latest thoughts on Grimace and Gramsci–over on the livejournal I started in order to serve as a repository for all of my non-comic book related meanderings… (I think that, sometime soon, for my own sanity–although probably not for yours!–I will begin collating all of the Mulholland Dr. talk that’s been going on of late–mostly in comments-sections–into a g-mail style “conversation” on the journal.) From now on–this place is all comics all the time (although the posts may not be as frequent…the LJ however, will be updated every day…at least until things get crazy this summer!)

3. You have the right to expect a post on Cerebus #20–but I’m not sure when I’ll get to it! It’s a doozy! (the issue I mean–the post isn’t anything right now…you think I plan these things in advance? or edit them? you have no right to expect that!)

Good Evening Friends!
Dave

The Jolly Corner

 The Jolly Corner:

I’m deeply indebted to folks like Tim O’Neil for giving me opportunities to jump back into discussions of comics that I acquire later than most of my blogopeers, due to financial limitations… (there’s an excellent review of We3 just waiting for you at Tim’s place…)

Tim and I rarely agree, and so it should come as no surprise that I take issue with his approach to this book. As is often the case, it comes down to a difference of opinion concerning authorial intention (or agency, pure and simple). Here’s Tim:

It’s one thing to change the rules as you go (which, as Dave Fiore accurately points out, is pretty much what Dave Sim did for the entirety of Cerebus), another entirely to insert a blatant deus ex machina simply because you have written yourself into a corner.

[…]

…the basic fact is that if the animal’s armor could be taken off with the apparent ease that my dog can slip out of the cone we put around his neck after a visit to the vet (which is essentially what Bandit and Tinker do in the final pages of the third book), there is no conceivable way that the plot hangs together. If the doctor who freed them from the lab knew that the animals could be liberated from their metal armor in just a few moments, and that their cybernetic enhancements were no more involved than something a homeless man with no obvious medical training could harmlessly remove, than even if you accept that the Powers That Be wanted the animals dead (which is a dicey proposition considering the nature of the science involved), if she had been so set on ensuring the animals survived despite her bosses’ wishes, she could simply have absconded with the three of them – sans armor – and taken them home in her car.

He’s right of course. And yet–from where I sit–so wrong!

Please don’t take that the wrong way… Let’s just say that I think it’s a storyteller’s job to write her/himself “into a corner”… Anything less would be false to the human condition… Let’s face it–we’re all cornered. A great story doesn’t place us on the freeway, it studies the alley–and a “laughing philosopher”, like Morrison, will always find a way to throw a block(ed)-party, just before they hit the wall… As I noted, in Tim’s comment-thread, he’s like Capra and Dickens that way. This is what melodrama is all about–it exhibits the “improbably human” in action… This whole series (like Animal Man before it) progresses inexorably toward that shining moment in which an omnipotent–but simultaneously human, and very flawed–deity (Morrison himself in AM; Doctor Trendle in We3), motivated by a newfound respect for the puppets that he’s been manipulating (for his own purposes) throughout the story, allows something ridiculous to happen…  Dr. Berry couldn’t have just slipped the armor off of the animals and gone home, because it wasn’t her decision to make. It’s Trendle’s. That’s why the final moment is so powerful–it’s not the “family tableau” itself–it’s the fact that we know it defies all logic…and we are joyously complicit in the smashing of commandments that the text itself sets in stone! The abrogation of the law. That’s why Jesus came here, remember? What else could goodness be? The only appropriate response to a cul-de-sac is deus ex machina

Good Afternoon Friends!
Dave

Cerebus Part VII — Issues #17 to 19

 Cerebus Part VII — Issues #17 to 19
(see also: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI–not to mention Part V
I-and-a-half)

This is where Sim began thinking seriously about narrative structure–although the first hints of it are undeniably jokey:

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Lord Julius’ last-panel declaration irritated certain parties in the lettercol (including T.M. Maple). The reaction is of a piece with other complaints about the instability of Estarcion–as a fictional construct–that began to surface at this time.  One reader laments the epidemic of anamundisms (i.e. “condominiums for Tarim”) that have overtaken the series–to which Sim replies “my aardvark for a dictionary!” (and goes right on violating every law of “dramatic unity”)… I’m glad he did so, of course–but the growing confusion, on the part of these readers, is also completely understandable. In fact–their bewilderment is a huge part of the story! If Sim hadn’t received those particular letters, he would’ve had to make them up…

Here we are, on the verge of “Mind Game” itself (that’s issue #20 folks!)–and the author of Cerebus was fucking with his audience big time! The early issues of the series made a cartographic pact with fantasy-lovers of the Tolkien persuasion (“want to escape into my head?”–the maps seem to say–“right then! here’s the route”); later on (in issue #20 itself, in fact!), there would be pseudo-scholarly pieces at the back of the books on “The Aardvarkian Age” (written by Deni’s brother Michael). Sim was playing chicken with “world-building”–and it’s no surprise that readers thought they were in for something completely different from what they got. Bruce Baugh (in this piece), gives an excellent account of the disenchantment occasioned by the swerve:

The one that I most noticed at the time was a certain failure of worldbuilding: it’s very difficult to believe that that Iest is really downriver from the stuff seen in Boreala or, for that matter, Iest’s early apparances. It went from generic medieval-ish fantasy to something distinctly more Restoration/early modern. Now, consistency is not the be-all and end-all of an engrossing narrative. But the tone doesn’t quite cohere: there’s the sort of detail and even number-crunching that an essentially serious story about corrupt urban politics would call for, mixed in with ongoing sword-and-sorcery parody, and early appearances of the master story. I thought at the time, and much more so during Church & State, that Sim would have been better served by starting up a separate series with a higher-tech, more culturally developed world for those sorts of stories rather than trying to bolt them onto the Aardvarkian Age.

I couldn’t disagree more strongly, of course (for reasons that I go into here). I have no interest in the aspiration toward ideal lab conditions that world builders strive for. Storytelling is a kind of magic–not a science–and it isn’t magic if it explains everything. So bring on the anamundisms! Would you prefer the mundane? Those eighties cheeseballs had it right–we are the world… Character is destiny–but character is setting too!

All of this is just to say that I love the fact that Sim spends all of this time

1. setting things up for a massive confrontation between the T’Gitan horde and Lord Julius’ armies;

2. creating superfluously brilliant characters like Gudre, Stromm, and Krull ( a figure that offers another commentary upon self-interested narrative–in a world without God, all we’ve got are our stories, and we all try to play God with–and, often, in!–those):

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and, 3. fleshing out the details of Lord Gorce’s intrigue against Julius:

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Only to flush it all down the subjective drain with the knock-out drug that Perce feeds Cerebus at the end of issue #19!

Next–“Mindgame”!

(oh yeah–the art is unbelievably good in these issues too!)

Good afternoon friends!
Dave

Entertainment Tonight?

 Entertainment Tonight?
(or, Dave tries using Picasa2)

If you aren’t on board the Cerebus express yet, consider this:

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But does Leeza Gibbons like it?

Okay, no, I guess that’s not the real John Tesh…or is it? Sure looks like him…

and doesn’t that Cerebus costume look eerily like some of the pigs from the post-Revolutionary phase of Bachelor and Halas’ Animal Farm adaptation?

Well, again, maybe not, but my mind made the association anyway…thanks in large part, no doubt, to this:

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Friends–I would do anything for one of those t-shirts!

I’ll be back later with a post on issues #17 to 19…

Good Afternoon!
Dave