Archive for January 16th, 2009

A tempting and rotund target presents itself: Leigh on #3

Cerebus #3
April-May 1978


I gotta say, the legendary vixen Red Sophia looks pretty… mannish on the cover. Something’s off with the anatomy there.

Unusually, #3 opens with a Silver-Age-style in medias res splash page (”Superman! Help!” “Gosh, I’d love to help Jimmy — but how I can I rescue him from that gorilla when I’ve been transformed… into an enormous super-banana!?“), which teases the reader with a glimpse of the story to come. Unlike many of those Silver Age stories, though, I think this scene actually does happen over the course of the story.

And, of course, the first line is Sophia begging for a shag, and Cerebus irritatedly swearing “Tarim’s Blood! Does this wench think of naught else?” Because sex is beneath him. Or something.

While I’m at it, the Terim/Tarim thing bothers me: “Tarim!” has been a swear-word in every issue so far, but issue #2 also featured the “Eye of Terim, the most precious of the five spheres of the gods.” It also mentioned “priests of Terim.” And yet Cerebus swore upon seeing it, “Tarim! What a prize!” So are they two different gods? Cerebus Wiki says: “As I recall, the two different spellings of Terim and Tarim were accidental at first, in the same way that I had trouble bearing in mind that Cerebus was supposed to refer to himself in the third person and would later cover for it by saying that he referred to himself as ‘I’ when he had been around the civilized areas too long. I was covering for not remembering how to spell Tarim by making it the masculine version of the deity’s name.”

That sounds about right. And I haven’t read far enough to know the details, but I know this gender and deity thing is going to be a huge focus of the series later on.

I’m not sure I’m ready to say much about the Cerebus-Sophia relationship. On a certain level, I feel like Dave’s whole approach here is so tired and cliché that I’m not sure what more can be said (an aggressive woman who scorns men but secretly wishes for a Real Man to come along and show her who’s daddy? I’ve gotten enough of those from Frank Miller comics alone to last a lifetime). For the moment, anyway, Dave seems to be thinking of her as just another idiot that Cerebus has to deal with — yet, since she’s the only female character so far, we as readers are almost obligated to extrapolate her to Womankind in general. Especially considering how fervently Dave would later work to emphasize gender as a central concern of his work.

I emphatically don’t want to create the impression that only female critics should be concerned with gender issues, but as I say, I’m not quite ready to wade in yet, and I know Laura has some good insights prepared on Sophia, so I’ll skip ahead to this winner:
issue-03-07-thuggYes, it’s Thugg the Unseemly. I love it. This is what high-fantasy tavern scenes are all about.

Also, he challenges Cerebus in the most perfect way: “I challenge thee, short grey pervert… …SO!” [TWAK as Cerebus is knocked out of his chair] Man, that “so!” is so Stan Lee.

Visually, Dave has his bad days just like anybody. The horribly off-model Sophia of these panels is probably the worst offender:

Drawn at the last minute, I’m guessing.

Obviously, the relationship between Cerebus and Sophia is problematic. Just reading the script aloud is a pretty cringe-inducing exercise. But I have to point this moment out in particular. There’s a point where they pitch a tent and eat dinner, and for the life of me I can’t decide whether this is intentional anatomical humor (it certainly looks like it, out of context):


Cheap shot, maybe, but I couldn’t help but see the uncanny similarity to this controversial 2003 B.C. strip:


Coincidences all around, then.

Elsewhere, Sim is already finding his footing. The comedic timing, physical comedy, and stock characters are crystallizing. As usual for the next 50 issues, Cerebus is a rock of sanity, intelligence, and competence in a world of people who lack these attributes. Cerebus is the Abbott and everyone else in the book plays Costello.


Ineffectual hitting (”wap! wap! wap! wap!”): Always funny. See?


All he has to do is stand there and let the guy’s own inferiority do him in. As David Fiore wrote about the succubus fight in #2, “he merely exists through it, overpowering the monster by virtue of his ontological necessity to the storyline!” Sometimes it’s powerful foes finding their powers mysteriously ineffective against Cerebus, and sometimes it’s lame foes finding their lameness actually becoming self-destructive when turned against Cerebus.

Later Sim will play with this formula and let Cerebus play Costello for a change, but not yet.

Postscript: looking back, I can’t get over how, well, Jewy Dave has made this guy. Cerebus is (like Sophia) disgusted by him ’cause he’s weak and effeminate and asthmatic — both Sophia and Cerebus call him a “fop”– and then he looks like Billy Crystal, or Harvey Keitel in The Last Temptation of Christ:


A little unconscious Judenhass, Dave?

Of course, Jewish or not, he’s part of a long tradition of receding-hairline, probably-gay, old-fashioned-ideas-about-romance nerd laughingstocks that includes Tobias Fünke from Arrested Development. Just because it’s an easy target doesn’t mean it’s not funny.