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