Shut your wordhole: Laura on Cerebus #4

issue-04-02There are a couple of formally interesting things I’d like to mention before I delve into the plot and its exercises in irritation (COUGHelrodCOUGH), like Sim’s continued experimentation with paneling.  More specifically, dividing full-page images into separate panels where  the gutters signify the passage of time: A ring falls down one thin vertical panel, and bounces up — larger and closer to the reader — in the next. The motion lines don’t draw the eye through the arc of the ring in quite the way I think they intend to, but splitting the larger image into temporal slices is a fun innovation.


Later, when the tentacle monster begins creeping up on Cerebus from behind, Sim uses a series of gutters to stagger the distance into four vertical images, creating a sense of suspense as eye shifts across, first to the tip of the tendrils and then the looming monster itself.

So the ring — which everyone calls a gem — is apparently yet another artifact of enormous power, sought by no less than death himself. Yup, straight up capital d Death makes an appearance, and despite being Death incarnate he apparently needs 1) a thirteenth magical ring to spread misery and… death? 2) a seething Lovecraftian tentacle beast to chase down the ring and 3) a supremely irritating pseudo-wizard he believes will  succeed where the medieval squid could not.  I don’t really know why Death can’t just put down his magical floating hourglass, get out of his gigantic wicker recliner and go get the ring — that he shouldn’t actually need, because he’s DEATH – without the intercession of cephalopods and village idiots?  Truly, the ways of Death are inscrutable.

issue-04-12-death-chairUnlike the other characters thus far in the series, Death speaks on panel through quoted narration, as opposed to captions or speech bubbles. His dialogue feels stripped directly from a book, and gives Death a sense of removal, a crystal ball/birds-eye-view perspective towards the rest of the plot while he orates nefarious Mumm-Ra style soliloquies in a dark, ill-defined antechamber of evil.

Later, when Elrod, Death’s cabin boy (and Sim’s Elric analogue), first elbows his way onto panel calling Cerebus “boy,” I wondered for a moment if we were dipping back into the racism analogies of earlier issues, particularly since he insists on speaking like Foghorn Leghorn, but no.  It’s more than Elrod actually thinks Cerebus is some small, furry boy, and can’t be bothered to shut his wordhole for the 2-3 seconds it would take to analyze the situation in greater detail.

issue-04-08-stand-asideIt is probably to Sim’s credit that I hate Elrod as much as do, but I suspect that it’s not so much his three-dimensional characterization as it is my awareness that there really are people this fantastically excruciating to be around; and I can’t help but feel a shiver of sympathy for Cerebus when he find himself chained up next to a fleshy representation of fingernails on a blackboard, his ears flattening back like an angry cat’s, his pupils spinning into frantic spirals.

It’s kind of like those scenes in the Terminator movies when the machine picks up a would-be human attacker, scans him with infared eyes, deems him “NO THREAT” and drops him like sack of wet spaghetti.  Although Elrod somehow manages to maintain the delusion that he’s the real hero of the story (the running joke of the issue, and his entire character, sadly), in the world where you and I and Cerebus and anyone else with a functioning cerebral cortex lives, he isn’t even important enough to die.

As Leigh has mentioned before, it is Cerebus’ constant plight to be surrounded by morons (when he’s not surrounded by Danger!), and Elrod is just the latest chapter in Cerebus’ Big Book of Stupid People, a man who manages to combine Red Sophia’s self-important rage with her admirer’s impotent foppishness, and wrap it all up in a big pointy hat and a lack of self-awareness that borders on mental illness.

He’s one of the many dimmer lights who appear in the series to emphasize just how exceptional and especially special Cerebus is.  He’s smarter and more calculating than the barbarians, as Sim repeatedly points out, and more ruthless and savvy than soft, self-aggrandizing bourgeiosie.  And sure, a lot of how we define things is by their opposite, and this is all part of establishing the Cerebus mythology early in the series, but I can’t help but hope that more interesting enemies (and irritants) will shortly be on their way.

11 Responses to “Shut your wordhole: Laura on Cerebus #4”

  1. 1 Jeff January 31, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Sim’s visual sense was highly developed from early on, and that’s one of the primary things that drew me to Cerebus around issue 35.

  2. 2 Jeremy February 3, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    These are the early hints of what would become an artist showing us how powerful the medium can be.
    Even with his lettering and word balloons, as you mentioned Laura, he was experimenting and would eventually have these elements enhance the experience for his readers.

    Wow, quiet week here. So I’m curious as you mentioned your desire for more interesting enemies etc. Are you actually reading only one issue per week?

  3. 3 Laura Hudson February 4, 2009 at 11:00 am

    We’re doing AT LEAST one per week, ideally more. Things have been a little nuts leading up to NYCC for me, so I doubt there will be more than one next week. Feel free to prod us for more frequent posts, though! Guilt is a powerful motivator. Plus, we’re finally getting to the more interesting stuff. Jaka’s coming!

  4. 4 Jeremy February 4, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Okay, this is me prodding but actually what I meant is I wonder if you’re inclined to read ahead at all?

  5. 5 Paul DeBenedetto February 5, 2009 at 11:54 am

    ::prod prod prod:: Come on I’m trying to read along with you guys, let’s speed it up.

    See you at Comic Con!

  6. 6 aintmsbtraven February 5, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    I’ve been a terribly sluggish blogger for years, but I don’t mind contributing a little hypocritical prodding!

  7. 7 CF February 5, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    Ridiculously excited about this project; has made me go back to Cerebus after always vaguely intending to proceed past “Jaka’s Story.” I plan to read both ahead and along.

  8. 8 mateo February 6, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    jeez…are you two intending on doing this for 300 or so weeks? I loved cerebus, but this sure seems like a helluva project…wait till the SERIOUSLY small text issues. damn.

  9. 9 Laura Hudson February 9, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    New update very very soon! And Jeremy, I never read more than an issue or two past my updates, mostly because I’d feel guilty for skipping ahead without writing the earlier critiques. And I’m a pretty busy girl, so it’s hard to get toooo far ahead on those.

  10. 10 Laura Hudson February 9, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    Leigh and I both had a long weekend at New York Comic Con, but we’ll back in action with faster posting very soon.

  11. 11 Eric May 20, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Interesting that you point out Sim’s layouts and panel design, which, while they were to achieve highly idiosyncratic heights later on, even at this early stage were showing great intelligence, creativity and originality, the true marks of a great comic artist. Thanks for pointing this out – I tend to overlook the early comics. The first “phonebook” shows perhaps the largest degree of increased talent, maybe because it was still a bi-monthly comic in those days and represent a larger period of time than the later books.

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