Cerebus: Volume 8 ("Women")
Volume 8?? Yes, I figured I was familiar enough with the plotline to do it, and I sort of worked. There were some details I couldn't quite infer from the structure, but I suppose that's how it was meant to be.
For those unfamiliar, Cerebus was an independent comic by Dave Sim, featuring the titular humanoid aardvark in a patchwork-of-eras fantasy world populated with original characters and ones based on famous figures real and fictional. It was known first for inventive writing and satire, good artwork, and Sim's stated goal of it being 300 issues long, the longest indepedent series in history (recently concluded in March 2004).
It was known later for Sim's increasing injection of his politics into his work, and his work growing more preachy and more bizarre as a result, including long departures from the main story to make points. His perspective could be described as "radical right", but that would be far too simple. Though I haven't witnessed firsthand much of Sim's work, the exerpts and reputation show a world of misogyny, self-loathing, religion, politics, and philosophy, all mixed together into various combinations.
Women held together fairly well as a story, though certain elements would lead a novice reader to conclude Sim's stance on feminism even if they were unfamiliar with his reptuation or didn't read his prologue--what else do you expect from warring factions of female totalitariansim? It all fits with the multi-volume story arc title, "Mothers and Daughters"; Sim's message seems to be that the world is in danger from smothering, authoritarian mothers (the Cirinist faction) and air-headed, self-indulgent daughters (the Kevillist faction). He also names the Cirinist generals after famous feminists. The notions of women, as dictated by one character to another, appear to come from what I prefer to call "philosophical mysogyny", which explains the danger and inferiority of women in terms of cosmic opposites and the image of female as "devourer". Guano-crazy, if you know what I mean.
To an extent, Sim's feminist caricatures still have "real" personalities and good dialogue, like everyone else in the series does; perhaps this makes his fixations more painful to witness. It's one thing to say that we should ignore the author's politics, but it's another thing when he wears them on his sleeve and makes them part of the main story.
From a more neutral artistic standpoint the frequent text intervetions and important scenes being rendered as text aside a still image felt cheap rather than inventive. I always prefer attempts to integrate information into the story instead of dropping exposition like so many carpet bombs.
It also included a parody of my favourite comic, The Sandman. It was centered around the latest persona of The Roach, Sim's ever-changing and very cheap shot at the superhero genre, who became a Morpheus-like figure called Swoon after being dumped by his girlfriend. He also dragged into it Elrod, a primary character and a parody of Michael Moorcock's Elric, and, being convinced that Elrod was female and his sister, rendered him as "Snuff", the equivalent to Death. Other members of the "The Clueless" are mentioned, and Sleaze, the equivalent to Desire has a rather...bizarre cameo that was kind of sick. I don't know whether the renderinng of Sleaze as female while Desire is androgynous is a mistake or an excuse to show Swoon being swallowed by Sleaze's vagina (yes). The mother of a major character also appears as Sulky, or Despair.
The first appearance of Elrod, from volume
Elrod as Snuff
Gaiman liked it, and I don't want to look like I can't take a joke; likely I'm influenced as much by my opinion of Sim, but some of his humour stylings are grating, like the suggestion that Swoon is using the "trunk" of his helmet as a masturbatory aid, and that he will only "Stand around looking moody...and feeling sorry for myself."--whenever I see a parodic character making a comment like that, I always feel that the writer is condemning the very idea of a character experiencing self-pity, never mind that it's a very real reaction to a crisis.
I'd also bet Elrod is meant to do this as well, even though Elric was intended already as a jibe at Conan. Elrod doesn't do it by mocking angst, but by talking like Foghorn Leghorn and being dumb as a post. Though I'm not interested in the superhero genere, The Roach also annoys me because he's such an obvious cheap shot, a product of smug "I'm so cool and arty" ribbing, that he's thoroughly unlikeable
It's also terribly hypocritcal to mock the pomposity of fictional characters when Sim is just starting to take a rather pompous stance on real-world issues. Secondly, there's always the sense that when a brooding or dysfunctional character is being mocked for being that way,
Oversensitive? Perhaps. With two of my favourite characters under the knife, I think it's reasonable to roll my eyes a little, but honesty I think I'd recieve it better if Sim weren't so...him. I actually find Elrod funny at a few points, almost cute in a dumbass sort of way.
I wasn't sorry to buy this. Unlike Bastard!!, there is at least a sense of quality beyond the offensiveness. The dialogue was good, the humour was funny (Sim doesn't use humour to make his "points" at all), and the artwork was excellent, though I am not eager to collect more just yet. Money is the problem.
To be continued....