Cerebus #10: Merchant of Unshib!
June 1979- July 1979
Cerebus begins this issue suddenly lost in the middle a snowstorm; after the loss of his army and position in the previous issue, he decided to head towards Iest despite a week-long blizzard that has killed over 500, and here we are. If yet another abrupt shift into a Totally Different Situation from where we saw him last seems a bit regressive — particularly after multiple issues of connected plots — that’s because it is. Two steps forward, one step back.
We are treated to several pages of trudging as the aardvark’s steely resolve and “piston-like” legs push ever forward after the tracks of delicious animals that might sustain him. Tired, wounded from previous battles, and hungry, Cerebus is skirting the edge of desperation when he finds that the tracks of his prey end suddenly in a smattering of blood…
…because Red Sophia got it first! Cerebus’ least favorite warrior woman shows up looking hale and hearty, and still wearing her trademark chain-mail bikini even in the middle of the blizzard. It’s pretty ridiculous, but then scantily-clad heroines almost always are, though arctic climes tend to exaggerate the effect as artists still refuse to cover them up, even if (in real life) exposure would probably kill them.
There has been debate in the realm of superhero comics, particularly among female fans, about the costumes that heroines wear, and whether they are unnecessarily provocative (yup!) and whether that undermines the characters, which is more debatable. My main objection has always been a more utilitarian one: They look really freaking cold. I have terrible blood circulation and staying warm is a constant issue for me, so when I see a character like Psylocke get dropped into the Siberia in a glorified swimsuit (see: X-Men Vol. 2 #16-18) it is not unlike watching someone get kicked in the crotch.
(For the love of God, wear pants!)
But there the bare-legged, bare-armed, bare-bellied Sophia stands, seemingly impervious to the snow whipping around her while Cerebus teeters on the verge of collapsing. She offers him food and shelter, but since her mere presence still makes Cerebus revert to the emotional age of five, he basically stamps his feet and crosses his arms and refuses everything she offers despite barely being able to stand. He’s essentially reacting the same as he did when she offered him sex in previous issues, which makes me wonder whether he secretly wanted that too, but refused to acknowledge it with anything besides pigtail-pulling and cootie accusations.
Sophia finally manages to get his attention by mentioning a valuable magical doodad called the Black Lotus Blossom that she plans to steal, but first we need to pause because: Is she shoving the rabbit into her loincloth here? Because it really looks like she is. Maybe her hoo-hoo is a pocket dimension and/or functions like the inventory used to in old adventure games like Space Quest where you could pick up a ladder and shove it into your pocket. Either way, seeing those ears disappear into her undies is easily the most disturbing image in the series so far.
Sim then treats us to a quick Wikipedia-esque panel about the backstory of Black Lotus Blossom, which is basically that it once was lost, but has now been found. Red Sophia makes another pass at Cerebus, who acts unbearably put-upon, declaring when Sophia begs for the touch of man that “Cerebus isn’t a man… Cerebus is an aardvark!” We the readers still don’t know quite what that means – and Sim doesn’t seem to either – so it’s hard to blame Sophia for miscategorizing.
There’s some more texty exposition about how the Black Lotus Blossom, which Sophia narrates while hugging and licking Cerebus, but it boils down to the fact that a merchant has it, and they’re going to take it from him. Sophia’s ineffective seduction is interrupted by Meirgen, a jeweller’s son who sold the Lotus without realizing its value and is now giving Sophia intel in return for theoretical sexual favors. He’s yet another run-of-the-mill idiot who is almost totally inconsequential, except that he sets up several jokes and exposes the more calculating side of Red Sophia, who manipulates him very openly with her feminine wiles.
When the three head out to hijack their prize, they find that the merchant holding the Lotus has hired some very formidable Tcapmin border guards to protect him. So formidable, in fact, that when one guard named Throgo stumbles onto the group, even Cerebus thinks it wiser to give him a cut than try to take him down, and so Throgo signs on with the party.
Red Sophia (who thought bubbled “Please! Kill [Cerebus] but let me go! Oh please please!” when her life was in danger) quickly shifts her favor over to Throgo, compelling evidence that her “love” of Cerebus was probably opportunism all along. Her affections seem to belong to whoever the strongest man in the room is, no matter who it is – or whether it’s a man at all.
Cerebus ends up having the last laugh and out-manipulating Sophia and everyone else, something he likes to do to dullards on a regular basis. He borrows Throgo’s furs, rushes into the camp of the other Tcapmin guards shouting that a sorcerers have transformed him (Throgo!) into an animal, and sabotaged the bridge they were about to cross. He sends the mercenaries to attack the rest of his party, takes the Lotus from the now-defenseless merchant and strolls off into the blizzard again.
Because Cerebus is kind of a jerk, and he loves money and valuable magical knick-knacks, and other well-established truisms of this series, because right now we’re just killing time. Like most filler, this issue is vaguely unsatisfying and utterly forgettable, telling us things we already know in unremarkable ways, and leaving us at the end in almost the exact same place where we started.