Cerebus – Part 4

But more changed than the tempo of the story, much more than a simple slamming up through the gears. The Second Half began with ‘the other big one’, Mothers and Daughters, a fifty issue series that represented the culmination – or was it  perhaps transcription? – of fifteen years of Sim’s thinking, but when the time came for collections, it was no plain Part 1 and Part 2, but four books, each titled after the relevant ‘Book’ of the story: a more commercial, and expensive approach to reprinting,with the formerly plain spines now decorated with Sim and Gerhard’s names, and an intrusive Book number, denoting the volume’s place in the literature.

And Sim was launching himself on a crusade, or maybe just a proselytiser for self-publishing, gathering a coterie of artists and writers eager to take complete control of their creations, and perhaps with an eye to the fact that, as his own publisher, Sim was vastly better off than creators on comics whose circulation exceeded his by 1000%.

As for the story: well, Mothers and Daughters is perhaps the most difficult part of Cerebus to discuss without going into immense detail. It is intense, detailed, kaleidoscopic: it provides backgrounds, culminations and futures to an amazing range of characters from all parts of the story so far. It exists on material and metaphysical plains, treats with individuals and societies. It draws together strands previously unseen that have underpinned the story, and it draws a picture of the world far more comprehensive than the detail actually given.

It’s not going anywhere near too far to suggest that the first half of the story, Flight and Women, represents the peak of Sim’s achievement with Cerebus, a creator at the top of his game, in complete command.

But: that inescapable word.

Whilst Sim advances his saga in an astonishing number of directions, he is also laying the groundwork for ‘reality as he sees it’, the motivating force behind his creative work. The title –  Mothers and Daughters – is revelatory. What Sim is laying out is his response to the entire female sex, to the reshaping of the world since 1970, to the advent of feminism.

In Flight and Women this is done by showing the operation of a Matriarchal society, based upon Cirinism, a mother-oriented philosophy espoused and promoted by Cirin – who, in issue 100, we had been shown was, like Cerebus, an Aardvark. Challenging this, but equally feminist in its application, is the movement Kevillism, a single female (i.e. daughter) -oriented belief system, championed by that master Machiavel, Astoria.

Cirinism has taken control of Iest, Astoria is a prisoner in a dungeon, the female principle rules, and the Ascension – which failed with Cerebus at the end of Church and State – is once more anticipated, and this time a female Ascension, to meet the Goddess. But large forces are moving.

As the first half draws to its climax, a confrontation begins. Cirin occupies the Papal throne room and three figures approach. Cerebus arrives by flight, displaying another of his occasional, inexplicable powers. Astoria dismantles her own defences and walks, simple alone, into the heart of her enemy’s power. And the third is a tall figure in a black cloak concealing his entire body.

This is Suentus Po, leader of the Illusionists, a seemingly powerful force that, despite several mystical interventions by Po into Cerebus’s life, have never yet appeared and indeed, it may now be suggested, are both completely ineffectual but, aptly, an illusion in themselves.

And Po, we learn, is the Third Aardvark.

As the story moves into its third phase, there is a massive dislocation. Fully 15 of the 20 pages of issue 175 are devoted to a previously unknown character, Victor Reid: prose pages alternating with a single, small illustration in centre page. And only five pages to continue the meeting of the four figures, and these at the very back of the issue.

And this was to be the format of Reads. Victor Reid (Sim’s middle name is Victor and the surname is a simple phonetic pun) is a middle list purveyor of ‘Reads’, cheaply produced, cheaply engineered books, popular with the lower classes, Iest’s equivalent of comics. Using thinly disguised names for the Independent comics companies, Sim expounds a story of creativity and control for six months, whilst winding his story into the infamous epigram of Cyril Connolly: There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.

Meanwhile, in the varying number of pages at the back of the book, the four thin out their numbers. Po states his philosophy on avoidance of power, urging the others to accept it. To many people’s surprise, Astoria takes in his words, removing herself, permanently, from the game, but Cirin, in blind refusal to accept anything beyond her beliefs, and Cerebus, in perfect ignorance still of anything but the self-gratification of absolute power, remain.

Astoria drops a final, malicious bombshell as she departs, on Cerebus not less than the readers, after which the final six issues of the book becomes an intense, bloody fight to the death, interrupted by the destruction of the mountain of Iest and the Ascension, of Cirin and Cerebus.

Victor Reid’s story is done by the midpoint of the book, ending ominously as the page becomes a page being drawn, by a figure who will replace him in the prose section of the back half of the book.

This is Viktor Davis (Victor Dave Is), who stands for Sim himself. And Viktor Davis spends six issues demonstrating Sim’s power over his audience, both physical and metaphysical. At an early stage, he claims total control over the audience, who cannot stop reading, and proves it by announcing that, twelve years earlier, he had made the secret decision to end Cerebus after 200, not 300, issues, but not to announce it until issue 183.

I remember the visceral shock of that statement, the sudden realisation that a story I had been following for almost a dozen years already would no longer end in an unimaginable future a decade away, but in an easily foreseeable eighteen months time.

It was a lie, but it was a telling demonstration, and it was a step on the road to issue 186,the last part of Reads, and the moment that Dave Sim, in the guise of Viktor Davis, came out and said what he thought, what he believed, what he said about the world: that the world was at war between Emotion and Intellect, and that the sides were represented by the Male Light and the Female Void.

Technically, it was still stunning. But this was an open revelation as to what Cerebus was about, what Sim had to say, and my first thought, I who had been reading the series for 156 consecutive issues, whose average time between paying for an issue and starting to read it was under sixty seconds, was: do I now want to read issue 187?

Obviously I did, and all that remained, but if this remarkable story was, despite Sim’s denials, the open conclusions of a misogynist, why? In part I would defend myself by saying, as I did to the woman who married me when she challenged me over this issue, that you don’t read in a piece of art only what the creator has put in. But it’s true to admit that I was an addict, under Sim’s control, desperate to find out how it all turns out – what will we do, we had said for years, if Sim walks in front of a bus before issue 300?

But from this point on, I read with reservations, mentally according disbelief to Sim’s more outrageous elements and focussing on the other aspects of the storyline.

So the Male/Female Ascension continued into the final book, Minds. Not to the Moon, as with Cerebus’s Ascension, but beyond it: into and across the Solar System. At first the two Aardvarks argued, vehemently, over the God/Goddess principle, but when words failed and violence was about to resume, the remnant of the throne divided, taking Cerebus and Cirin on different paths. And a new player entered the scene, the ultimate player, a voice in Cerebus’s head. His creator. Dave.

Thus Cerebus became a metafiction. Large stories were unwound: Cerebus’s history, Cirin’s history, the framework of the bigger picture drawn around all the stories that had tangled in Mothers and Daughters. And we, and Cerebus, learned that a simple act, between issues 3 and 4, had cost him his destiny, and that because of this one thing, his life was a failure, and his whole story copnsisted of pointless, doomed attempts to somehow reflect the destiny he had thrown away.

And in that telling, the whole story was over. But not yet. Sim had prepared and planned for fifteen years for this moment, when he would speak directly to his creation, and had equally avoided planning or even thinking of the moment when he would reverse the roles: Your Turn. Now Cerebus was free to ask his creator anything.

And it was so obvious, and yet equally fatal, that the little grey bastard, having resolutely failed to learn anything from any of the lessons his creator had planted in his path, would think only of himself.

Cerebus’s story comes to an end at the furthest edge of the Solar System, amongst the frozen wastes of Pluto. But there are still 100 issues of the series to go. Cerebus’s life had climaxed, but it was not yet over. A creator can do anything for his creation. Would Cerebus yet learn? Anything?

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