Comic Review: Cerebus, Book 4: Church & State II (Issues #81-111)

Published: December, 1985 – June, 1988
Written by: Dave Sim
Art by: Dave Sim, Gerhard

Aardvark-Vanaheim, 630 Pages

Review:

While I’ve been a fan of Cerebus, thus far, as each book continues to build off of its predecessor, this is the first chapter I’ve come to that feels like it’s taken a bit of a step back.

That’s not to say that I’m not still a fan, I am. It’s just to say that this massive Church & State era of the comic was so large that it had to be broken into two massive books, the first one, which was the high point of Cerebus thus far, and this second book, which kind of falls flat after a few key moments happen that drastically shift the narrative and one’s view of the title character.

This was the book where the big rape scene happened. I’ve heard people talk about it for years but I wanted to read it for myself with full context of the rest of the series behind me and in my memory bank.

So the scene itself is pretty damn off putting and really catches you off guard, even if you are aware that the moment exists somewhere in the Cerebus story. It kind of took me out of the book for a minute even, as it gives this series a real harshness that it didn’t have before. A harshness that feels so heavy it completely wrecks the somewhat jovial tone of what the series has been up to that point.

I can’t exactly say that it is a moment that was necessary, even if it conveys Cerebus being overrun with his own political power and as a reflection of his view of women and other people in general. Sure, he threw a baby, which was also controversial in Church & State I but where one could dismiss that as edgy comedy, this dark turn for his character is on another level completely.

Point being, if you liked the character of Cerebus before this, despite his other faults, it becomes impossible to like him after this moment in the story.

But with that being said, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way for the character to find a way back from this. It’s damn hard and near impossible but it makes you ask yourself that question about whether or not there is a point of no return that someone can cross and not be worthy of redemption at a later point? But I also don’t know if that idea is something Dave Sim has in the cards for the Cerebus character.

I also don’t know how I am going to feel about the series, as a whole, reading beyond this book. It changed everything and nearly every issue after the rape issue just came across in a much darker tone because of the effects of that event.

Ultimately, Cerebus leaves his role as Pope behind and this ends, moving him into a new phase beyond what we’ve become accustomed to with High Society, Church & State I and Church & State II.

No longer is this just a parody of sword and sorcery or anthropomorphic animal comics of the ’70s. It hasn’t been that for awhile but this book really solidified how far this series has evolved from its earliest form.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Cerebus story arcs, especially the earlier stuff.

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