A special and unique snowflake: Laura on #5

Sim refers to this as issue as one that “pulls sideways instead of forwards” in his introductory note, or alternately, as “a kind of 22-page shrug.” Which is not to say that it’s bad, but that like many of the preceding issues, it is a familiar mixture of feat and filler as he conducts experiments with varying levels of success. He does add that “after I finished the fifth issue, I embarked on an extremely lengthy period of applying adult sensibilities to each issue of Cerebus,” so we may be getting towards the good stuff at last.

issue-05-01-pretty-rainThe series has had a bit of an Adventure of the Week! feel to it thus far, with little attempt made to sustain or even connect the story from issue to issue. Issue 5 is no exception, opening yet again in completely a different place than Issue 4 ended, with the narrative gap bridged by a single panel of exposition. We are informed that Cerebus is now a mercenary on border patrol in a subtropical clime of some sort, framed by a gorgeously effective image of our aardvark protagonist trudging through the rain.

The intro also gives a window into Sim’s efforts to innovate as he runs down a laundry list of his four or five attempts to draw rain in exactly the right way. And like all experiments, some work and some don’t; the sweeping horizonal lines broken by white space in the opening pages, for example, are far more effective than the pages and pages and pages where the rain drops literally ruler-straight to the ground. Trudging through foul weather can be a laborious experience, but experiencing it through a comic doesn’t have to be.issue-05-06-rain

Also, you have to applaud the boldness of naming one of your characters Bran Mak Muffin, and his followers the Pigts, even in a parody. Like most effective puns, they are so brazenly, terribly bad that they cannot help but be funny. The Pigts, by the by, are a group of would-be conquerers who just happen have an ancient prophesy concerning Cerebus, i.e. that he is a hero/savior destined to lead them to greatness, a plot point that is telegraphed long before the reveal with all the delicate grace of a mallet to the face via dialogue like, “You must come with us… You’re the—” etc etc.

issue-05-03-creatureSim still hasn’t figured out quite how the men and women who populate these stories see Cerebus, as they still seem to oscillate between treating him as both an animal and a man depending on what’s convenient for the plot. The Pigts initially try to hunt and kill Cerebus as an animal, and then immediately switch to speaking and interacting with him like a person. At the very least Cerebus does not regard himself as human, observing that there is “no way to understand how these creatures [humans] think” after watching them beatifically worship a enormous stone idol that looks just like him.

After everyone has left the chamber, Cerebus regards the giant earth-pig statue, asking himself if he really might be the promised Redeemer to lead them into glorious conquering battle, where “there would be more loot than a King could imagine. He had only to acknowledge a kinship to the Pigt god. There would be gold and gems by the ton. Mayhap there is a kinship. Mayhap Cerebus is just one of the Pigt race. Mayhap he is only one of… only a…”

issue-05-21-smashAnd that, dear readers, is when Cerebus loses his shit, propelled by the thought into a seemingly inexplicable fury as he attacks the statue, tearing clumps of the soft stone away with his fists, proclaiming “Cerebus is unique — he is the earth-pig born!”

What is most interesting is the shift we see in Cerebus’ motivations, which in the past were singular: greed. He has shown himself more than willing to kill, torture, and perform all manner of mercenary deeds for money, but here we see something else trump his desire for gold: his desire to be unique. Cerebus’ uniqueness is quickly becoming his defining characteristic, taking precedence over all other traits both in the constant thematic focus on how Different and Special he is, not to mention the fact that he’s a walking, talking battle aardvark, which is weird and inexplicable even in a world where fantastical beings are often the rule.

Cerebus also thought-bubbles as he exits that “he has had enough of religious fanaticism” (an interesting statement, given Sim’s later U-turn into a self-made faith based on Abrahamic belief systems, complete with celibacy, fasting, and prayer clothes). Could this be another contributing impetus behind Cerebus’ anger, the same kind of betrayed, pitying rage that Moses felt when he came down the mountain to find Aaron with a golden calf? Idols betray us, always, because we make them — we exalt earthly things as gods or saviors or deus ex machinas, and then hate them for the ways they cannot measure up. They are by their nature false, and so is any kind of faith that is too soft and fragile to live in the world of ideas, faith that cannot hold up to the battering of our questions and our doubts, that crumbles to dust when we try.

Curiously, Sim says in his forward that the issue ends on a “completely self-indulgent note” and offers a sort of preemptively standoffish retort: “So you didn’t get it? So who said you were supposed to?” I’m not sure where this defensiveness comes from, although it is one of the first times he has done something this sophisticated in terms of the emotional development of the character, which requires stepping out onto a slightly longer limb than simple sword and sorcery parody. No worries — it worked. And I’m looking forward to more of this more than anything else.

9 Responses to “A special and unique snowflake: Laura on #5”

  1. 1 aintmsbtraven February 12, 2009 at 6:55 am

    I quite agree–this is the issue in which Sim consciously embarks upon the task of exploring the narrative function of the protagonist… and in my opinion, his commitment to that project is what makes the entire series worth reading, despite all of the other ways in which its author goes off the rails…

    looking forward to issue #6–that one’s awesome!


  2. 2 Paul DeBenedetto February 12, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    I love that smashing of the idol scene. I saw it more than Cerebus wanting to be unique, but rather that he wanted to be special, which I think is an important distinction. His being unique implies he’s normal, just like any of us. His wanting to be special implies he’s just a proud jerk, above all others. He’s not a god incarnate, he’s better! But maybe that’s me reading into later issues.

    Apropos of your point regarding his motivations, I think the literal fight between his vices is just great. An actual struggle on the page where you can see greed winning, winning, winning, and then BAM; that pride comes in with the knock out punch.

  3. 3 Jeff Tundis February 12, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Good one Laura. I especially like your comments on faith at the end. One of the things that drew me to Cerebus was Dave’s willingness to make fun of political and religious conventions (being a political independent and atheist, myself).

    The Bran Mak Mufin and the Pigts is pretty funny as a word gag, but it’s a little too “easy” to me, based on Bran Mak Morn and the Picts. Bran becomes a much more meaningful character later on during Church & State.

    Another humorous “oops” in this issue is the statement that Bran is the “penultimate swordsman” (an error tat would later be repeated). This would mean that he is the “2nd best swordsman” which was not what Dave intended. He didn’t know the correct definition of penultimate:)


  4. 4 Laura Hudson February 12, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Ha! I’m a bit of a word nerd, so that is hilarious to me, Jeff. I thought perhaps the “ultimate” swordsman would be revealed later down the line. Speaking of semantics, “unique” does have the meaning you attribute to “special,” Paul. It’s actually the ultimate in being special: “existing as the only one or as the sole example; single; solitary in type or characteristics.” It’s superlative, which is why you can’t actually describe something as “more unique.” Adjectives aside, though, I think we’re in total agreement about Cerebus’ motivations.

    I get the sense that the religious themes and the way that (I hear) Cerebus explores ideas of authority are going to be some of my favorite parts of the series moving forward. It’s even more interesting to me than the gender issues, particularly since talking about it is less like throwing a cherry bomb down a toilet. Which is something I never really thought I’d say about discussing religion.

  5. 5 aintmsbtraven February 12, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    oh I almost forgot–my favourite joke-name in this issue is “Fret McMury”

  6. 6 Sean R February 12, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    This is where things start to get good for me personally, although compared to how silent and subtle the character interaction is for me in later volumes, the over written narrative and thought balloons are way over the top.

    I’ve been trying to read along with you guys, but it is hard to restrain myself from moving forward. Please keep it motoring along!


  7. 7 Laura Hudson February 14, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Thanks, Sean. And don’t worry; New York Comic Con slowed us both down a bit, but we’re back now and ready to get moving!

  8. 8 Eric May 20, 2009 at 11:51 am

    Fret McMury is hilarious in a way that Bran McMufin and the Pigts are not. I kept waiting for a Pigt named Mar Tinmull to show up.

  1. 1 Cerebus #8: A liberating effect « Cerebus: A Diablog Trackback on March 19, 2009 at 7:42 pm

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