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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