There 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.
Unlike 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.
It 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.