Archive for April 2nd, 2009

“Put a few kinks in their pseudopods”: Leigh on Cerebus #9

Cerebus #9
“Swords Against Imesh”
April-May 1979


With the first page of this one, we’re seeing exactly the sort of politically-themed humor that will dominate future issues. The lieutenant wants to talk economics, but “Cerebus doesn’t care.” When pressed, he resorts to the classic “Don’t worry about that now[;] Cerebus has an important job for you…” oh gosh, even more important than economics? A real pressing emergency that the boss has specially delegated to me! what an honor! “sir?” “tell the troops to shut up.” We’ll see plenty of this, as Cerebus attempts to flee/ignore his responsibilities — both manipulating others and being manipulated himself. It’s an interesting exchange, because it positions him simultaneously as an idiot (desperate to avoid at all costs the actual hard work of administration, to the long-term detriment of his people and probably himself) and as extremely clever — the short-term “winner” of the conversation at hand. I admit I’m contaminated by future issues, but nevertheless the “witty idiot” character strikes me as very Marxian.

So we’re attacking Imesh, a name I have a hard time taking seriously since it’s also an old P2P client that hosted my first-ever encounter with file-sharing piracy at a friend’s house back in high school. It’s the “port city” Cerebus mentioned in his battle plan last issue — the issue-to-issue continuity continues to grow. It’s also, according to Dave’s Swords notes from 1981, “the city of Cerebus’ adolescent years, the place where he studied magic under Magus Doran and first learned to drink, gamble, and raise hell.”


Considering how ambiguous some of Dave’s letterforms are (D/P and G/S being the most troublesome pairs), it’s unfortunate to have a character named “Sedra” when we’ve already had the “Sepran Empire”… I honestly thought she said “Sepra has the information you seek” for a minute. Also, can we please stop referring to ourselves in the third person?

King K’Cor explains the Clever Evil Racket by which he rules the city of Imesh, and for a moment we’re in an awkward anti-drug allegory. Well, not an allegory, because they really are using drugs. But K’Cor helpfully anticipates the standard way this story would go — the visiting barbarian rouses the slaves into a rebellion — giving Cerebus an opportunity to deflate those expectations and admit he has no interest in recruiting or liberating such lame followers. In response, K’Cor leaps into another cliché: he will allow Cerebus to challenge him, king to king, winner takes all. And he has stacked the deck.

Jumping to conclusions like this, K’Cor is really just a slightly more articulate version of Elrod, blended with a bit of the religious fanaticism of the Pigts. And the recycling doesn’t stop there — I’m actually kind of stunned that Dave is pulling out the Ball of Wite-Out monster again, calling it something different, and acting as though this isn’t identical to the “Eye of Terim” from issue #2. He even has Cerebus recall an encounter with these creatures “in his youth,” pointedly implying that our hero hasn’t seen these things in a while… which is just weird.


Of course, Dave has improved in the year since issue #2. This battle is more visually engaging than the previous one — we get to see some fun “strobing” effects, with Sim going beyond the panellessness of prior fight scenes to literally having multiple Cerebuses in a single spread, captured in several moments like an animator’s model sheet or a Marey chronophotograph. Also, Dave is simply drawing more confidently. Most of the backup characters are still iffy, but he’s drawn Cerebus enough times that he’s starting to get a solid feel for how he looks and moves.

More interesting than Dave’s artistic growth is the narration during this fight, which appears to be self-aware: “Though his coordination is better, though he is faster than he was in those days long gone…” might apply just as much to the creator as to the creation. “He curses the fates for his slow-healing back wound, reopened by the globe… he is past the globes, exhaustion feeding on every fibre of his being! Blinking the sweat from his eyes, he scans the corridor before him…” And with that, a page turn, and we are past the globes. I wonder whether Dave’s back felt sore drawing that sequence, and whether he finished it in exhaustion and turned with sweaty gratitude to the next page. Possibly not, as apparently Deni spotted the blacks on that entire sequence all by herself, which suggests it was actually one of the least labor-intensive scenes for Dave (again from the 1981 Swords intro). Still, it jumped out at me, as reluctant as I am to read everything through the autobiographical lens (he makes it so tempting!).


Onto the Panrovian fight, which is yet another installment of Cerebus has a comically easy time overcoming an overzealous opponent. The Bugs-Bunny-style moment where he pops around behind the guy is pretty funny, and it’s an interesting variation on the fish-out-of-water theme: Cerebus’ supercompetence is, in this case, so absolute that he’s operating by a different set of laws, not only behaviorally but also physically “breaking the rules” of high fantasy. But he ends the fight far more bloodily than Bugs Bunny ever could.

A bit of tonal whiplash, then, as we go from solemn globe fight to goofy Panrovian fight to solemn king fight. Somehow the mix works; I’m never sure whether to expect silly or serious from any given page, but the transitions seem surprisingly natural, and I could accept either at any time.

The 5-page fight with King K’Cor is pretty involving. Sim’s captions are over the top, but he’s built up Cerebus’ exhaustion enough (and drawn the armored K’Cor scary enough) that I accept there’s some serious danger here.


Why are the panels symmetrical in this spread? Why not?

Finally, after a gripping battle narrative, in which Cerebus overcomes adversity and is just about to triumph — K’Cor calls it off and tells Cerebus he doesn’t want to play anymore. “You are no longer of interest to me” — now who’s irrelevant? And to top it off, he’s got an Adrian-Veidt-style announcement that completely takes the wind out of Cerebus’ sails. Just when you thought it was safe to assume Cerebus was moving up in the world… I’m not sure I buy our hero breaking into a “a protracted, piercing cry” — maybe it’s less a “sob” and more an “aargh” — but it’s a neat little ending.