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.

Comic Review: Cerebus, Book 3: Church & State I (Issues #52-80)

Published: July, 1983 – November, 1985
Written by: Dave Sim
Art by: Dave Sim, Gerhard

Aardvark-Vanaheim, 592 Pages

Review:

I can’t exactly peg what it is about Cerebus I love so much, at least up to this point. I think that it comes down to it being so different than any other comic series I’ve ever read, my love of anthropomorphic animal characters, the humorous side of Dave Sim’s writing, as well as the look of the book. And that look is actually greatly enhanced in this giant story arc, as this is where Gerhard was brought in to focus on the art half of the series.

The story picks up after the previous one: High Society. Here, Cerebus starts out on the outside of the high society he was once the focal point of, as prime minister. In this tale, he is appointed to the position of pope and given power once again.

While the story focuses on the abuse of power, which carries over from the themes of High Society, the personal Cerebus stuff is actually what I found to be the most engaging. I’m not big on romance and whatnot but the way Sim writes the subject within the pages of Cerebus is really damn good. Cerebus is a selfish bastard and his own worst enemy.

At this point, it is hard to see Cerebus as a likable character but that’s fine. He’s sort of just the main passenger in a comic book series that explores ideas and themes that are larger than any one character, even the series’ star.

This story is where things start to get more controversial. I was warned about how controversial some of Sim’s ideas and moments within the comic became over time but there was nothing in this tale that I found to be offensive or off putting. I think it’s written with great care and I don’t find any of Sim’s allusions to be in any way preachy. I feel as if his ideas and philosophies on life aren’t yet fully developed.

One thing that people had a problem with was a page where Cerebus, as pope, picks up a screaming baby and throws it. I saw it as more of a comedic moment than anything serious that would imply that Dave Sim condones throwing babies. I think it was just snark and I can’t fault the guy for wanting to throw a baby in an artistic sense. Anyone that’s been on a long flight full of infants and shitty parents has probably felt the same way at least once. I’m a fan of context, unlike most people today. And within the context of the scene, I didn’t find it to be anything too serious. I mean, his a fucking anthropomorphic aardvark playing a pope.

Anyway, up to this point, this is my favorite Cerebus book so far. It’s maturing nicely, it has a lot of layers to it and frankly, it’s hard to explain what this comic book is other than Dave Sim’s cartoonish and comedic vehicle to search for his own answers to life’s mysteries. While no one has to like what the man’s philosophy may become, it doesn’t mean that the ride to discovering it isn’t interesting and entertaining.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: other Cerebus story arcs, especially the earlier stuff.

Book Review: ‘Cerebus the Barbarian Messiah: Essays On the Epic Graphic Satire of Dave Sim and Gerhard’ Edited by Eric Hoffman

As a Cerebus fan, this was a really cool book to pick up.

It’s a collection of essays regarding the character, his world, the various narratives, their evolution, as well as the life and beliefs of writer Dave Sim.

If you like Cerebus, this adds so much context to the stories and the series’ overall progression and multiple transformations that you should probably give it a read.

It’s well organized and certainly well thought out and researched. There wasn’t a dull essay in the lot and while some of them were quite long, they all kept my attention.

I still haven’t read the later, more controversial, stories in the 300 issue run of Cerebus but this kind of prepared me for the tonal and stylistic shifts that are going to happen.

I can’t say that I agree with Sim on everything but having gotten through the first two big phonebooks of material, this book made me excited to continue on.

Cerebus is an interesting and unique comic that changed the self-publishing game for the better. This book just enhances the aura around the series and makes you appreciate the years upon years that Dave Sim and Gerhard put into this world.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the epic 300 issue Cerebus comic book series.

Comic Review: Cerebus, Book 2: High Society (Issues #26-51)

Published: May, 1981 – May, 1983
Written by: Dave Sim
Art by: Dave Sim

Aardvark-Vanaheim, 532 Pages

Review:

The High Society story arc actually ends at issue 50 but I tacked 51 onto this, as it serves as a one-issue bridge between High Society and the first part of Church & State. And it felt more natural to tack it into this big string of issues, as opposed to reading it at the front of Church & State.

Having just come off of reading the first twenty-five issues of Cerebus, I wasn’t sure what to expect from High Society. I’ve read a few issues from this large arc in the past but never have I read it in its entirety or in order, for that matter.

This really takes Cerebus to the next level and I understand that Dave Sim probably grew tired of the series just being a parody of ’70s sword and sorcery comics, as well as Howard the Duck, in some regard, but I personally loved those earlier issues.

But this is more mature, looks at life a bit deeper and Sim starts to ask bigger questions and reveal deeper things about himself.

High Society steps out of the formula of not having a formula. It fine tunes things and thus, gives us a more interesting, more cohesive and more meaningful tale to digest.

I really dug this story, its tone and I’ve got to say, I don’t really disagree with Sim’s commentary on politics and high society. This is a good critique on that stuff and even though it’s done with caricatures and in a somewhat fantastical way, it’s all very real.

The high points of the book for me channel back to the earlier stories though. My favorite bits are where Jaka returns and Cerebus is faced with his love for her while trying to maintain the status he’s achieved since they were last together. Has he changed for the better? Has he changed for the worse? How can his life be different but his love for her is still the same? Has his relationship with Astoria created a love triangle? How does Astoria really see Cerebus? And why the hell can’t Cerebus be nicer to the Elf?

High Society still delves into parody though. The Roach is used pretty heavily in this and we even get to see him take on a new form that is a parody of Marvel Comics’ Moon Knight.

This was a fine followup to Sim’s early Cerebus work and frankly, it’s made me excited to get into the next big epic, Church & State. Plus, Sim’s art really is more detailed and alluring here. This is a fantastic comic to look at and drink in. High Society is a great example of how powerful just black, white and grey can be in the comic book medium.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other Cerebus story arcs, especially the earlier stuff.

Vids I Dig 043: The Attic Dwellers: ‘Cerebus the Aardvark’ (Comic Book Collection)

From The Attic Dwellers’ YouTube description: Cerebus (aka – Cerebus the Aardvark) is a comic book series created by Dave Sim, which ran from December 1977 until March 2004. The title character of the 300-issue series was an anthropomorphic aardvark who takes on a number of roles throughout the series—barbarian, prime minister and Pope among them.

Comic Review: Cerebus, Book 1 (Issues #1-25)

Published: December, 1977 – April, 1981
Written by: Dave Sim
Art by: Dave Sim

Aardvark-Vanaheim, 534 Pages

Review:

Cerebus is the longest running independent comic book of all-time that hasn’t altered its numbering, rebranded or taken any breaks in-between story arcs. It finished in 2004 with its 300th issue but that will be surpassed by Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, later this year. However, Cerebus creator Dave Sim wrote and worked on every single issue of Cerebus where McFarlane often times had other creatives come in to write stories.

Strangely, the first time I read a story with Cerebus in it, was actually in an early issue of Spawn, which was written by Dave Sim. I then remembered that I had an issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that also featured Cerebus and then I gave that one a read.

I loved the character but I learned about him when he was about halfway through his series. But from that time on, I picked up Cerebus comics from time to time and gave them a read. I was always pretty amused by the character and his stories but never got to read any of his full story arcs until now.

I wanted to start at the beginning, even though the first 25 issues aren’t one complete arc like everything else would be from issue 26 onward. But these issues featured several short, roughly three issue arcs. Also, these issues presented Cerebus as a parody of the sword and sorcery comics that were big at the time. This mostly pokes fun at the characters created by Robert E. Howard, most notably Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja.

This was a lot of run to read. Even though this collection of Sim’s early Cerebus work was beefy, I got through it rather quickly, as I found it pretty hard to put down. But I’m also a fan of a lot of the things that Sim was parodying and while I hear some people think that a lot of the material seems dated now, I still laughed out loud as if the content was current. But I still read sword and sorcery and superhero comics from that era.

What’s really impressive is that all of the art in this volume is drawn by Sim. His regular artist Gerhard didn’t come on until issue 65, well after this volume of material, as well as its follow up, the beloved High Society.

I really dig Sim’s art though. You can actually see it evolve and get better over the three and a half year span that he spent on these issues. Even Cerebus, the character, evolves and his look gets more refined and consistent.

Additionally, the quality of the writing improves and I found the humor to be better as the book progressed. Some of the jokes and jabs are subtle and most people reading this today might miss them but Sim is pretty clever and his humor is much smarter than just being simple parody.

Cerebus is deeper than what it appears to be and it’s as if, by the end of this, Sim’s creative flow adjusted and he found ways to put his take on things into the book. It’s always got a lighthearted and amusing tone but by the end of these 25 issues, he is already scratching away at something more beneath the surface and that’s probably why he went into the High Society arc right after this.

But all the real groundwork is done here and this is the foundation of everything that came after it. Without this book and Sim’s evolution over the course of these issues, we wouldn’t have gotten something as compelling and rich as the work that follows.

Had Cerebus not evolved into something more, I don’t think it would have lasted as long as it did. But Sim committed to 300 issues, pretty early on in this comic’s history, and that probably couldn’t have even been a thought if he didn’t use these earlier stories to refine and flesh out what exactly Cerebus was.

I don’t agree with many of the things that Sim tries to hammer home in his work but he also doesn’t wreck the series by always letting it drive his creative output. Granted, I haven’t yet read the much later stuff but I plan on it, as I work my way through this series from the beginning.

While this collection feels like a trial, experimental run for the series, it’s still an entertaining and charming read and I dug the hell out of it.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: later Cerebus story arcs and what it parodies: ’70s Conan, Red Sonja and Kull the Conqueror comics.

Vids I Dig 009: Cartoonist Kayfabe: Palmer’s Picks, Wizard 7, ‘Cerebus’ by Dave Sim

The Cartoonist Kayfabe guys (Ed Piskor & Jim Rugg) discuss the Palmer’s Picks feature from Wizard, Issue 7.

Words and analysis about this specific feature from the man, Tom Palmer Jr., himself.