Cerebus Re-Read 12: Minds

Cerebus Re-Read 12: Minds
  •   Apparently unable to keep himself from foreshadowing, Dave Sim opens Minds both figuratively and literally with a sort of Dave-as the-anti-Galactus self portrait, creator of worlds as opposed to destroyer of worlds. All star-stuff and empty space, his head appears in outline, but anyone having read Cerebus up to this point must have been able to recognise that shock of hair and unruly forelock.


      After the various revelations and tieing up of loose ends of Reads, it’s quite a bit of fun to watch as Cirin, having read Cerebus’ mind, finally realizes what we readers already know, that Cerebus has only the vaguest knowledge of the faith he professes and the god he worships. In this he is not unlike most adherents to most faiths.


      (Not you, dear reader. I wasn’t talking about you.)  


      Cirin gives voice to her sincere outrage, enjoining Cerebus to repent and save his immortal soul. But I can’t help but imagine her thinking, How? How did this ignorant little upstart ever get this far. How has he thwarted me at every turn? How? How?! I must admit the idea of that amuses me to no end.


      That is one of the nice things about Minds. There is a lot at which to be amused. The entire my-god-can-beat-up-your-god sequence is rife with sidelong glances and pointed looks, as both Cirin and Cerebus bluster and bloviate. Once again, Sim’s lettering serves the story well, telling the reader not just what the characters are saying, but giving the reader a sense of what the characters are likely thinking and feeling as they say it.


       And Cerebus forced to dodge meteorites is a neat little bit of funny business in and of itself.

      Once Cerebus has been separated from Cirin and there is no one around with which to fight it seems to sink into him at last that this is indeed The Ascension. Perhaps stinging somewhat from Cirin’s ridiculing his theology Cerebus begins to ruminate, reliving moments in his life in relationship to Tarim. Which brings us to the kitchen knife incident.


      It is here that I find the greatest difference in my reaction to Minds some fifteen odd years after having first read it. After establishing within Reads that Cerebus is an hermaphrodite, Sim then establishes within Mnds that (due to the kitchen knife incident) Cerebus is unable to bear a child. While the scene is one of many that serves to illustrate Cerebus’ relationship to Tarim, the fact that Cerebus is unable to bear a child skews the Cerebus-as-Merged-Permanence-Battleground in a way that I must shamefully admit I had completely missed previously. This makes Cerebus not a true Merged Permanence in and of himself, but an amalgam of Male Light and Void Subjugated Male. Making Cerebus not an allegory for man vs. woman but for man vs. man or more to the point, man vs. himself.


      This makes sense because in Sim’s view women (or the great majority of them) are incapable of thought and therefor problem solving. If so then they certainly would not be capable of being any sort of competent adversary in a man vs. woman battle. But a man (again in Sim’s view) must be ever vigilant in order to guard his Light against the ubiquitous Void. Dave Sim’s problem is not with women as they simply can not help (once again in Dave Sim’s view) but be slaves to their Void natures, but a man has a choice, and can choose to not allow his Light to be devoured by the Void.


      I wonder how this new interpretation inform my reading of the the latter third of Cerebus? Does anyone out there want to talk me down off of this ledge?


      Anyone?


      Ah, well.

      Continuing to reflect on his relationship with Tarim throughout the years Cerebus, apparently regretting his life choices thus far or perhaps simply preparing a defense, begins to cycle through something akin to the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Interestingly he does not do so linearly, but skips around and repeats them and never really spends much time at all on acceptance. Of course we’ve seen the little gray fellow take a jog around this particular vicious circle before but here Dave Sim mixes the pathos with the humor so deftly that the reader is laughing at Cerebus and empathising with him at the same time. Again Sim’s extraordinary lettering is integral to creating this effect.


      Once Dave reveals himself to Cerebus we’re treated to some more exposition in the vein of Po’s speech from Reads. Dave fills in a few plot holes for Cerebus and the reader and also presents a treatise on the relationship between creator and creation. But unlike Po’s speech and the repetitive ramblings of Victor Davis (also from Reads) we are  rivy to Cerebus’ reactions to Dave’s monologue. Cerebus’ physical reactions never reach the slapstick level of dodging meteorites, but the character’s body language and facial expressions allow us to again empathise with Cerebus as he receives Dave’s words, so we as readers react to Cerebus as opposed to Dave. And since the tit;le of the comic is Cerebus and not What Has Dave Sim Have To Say This Month, that is as it should be and thus the reading experience is an improvement over Reads.


      I find it interesting that Dave also reveals himself to Cirin. That her reaction is rage and denial seems a little out of character and plays a little too easily into her being a representation of Victor Davis’ Void. Cirin, as self-deluded as she is, is in a remarkable situation, but not one for which she was unprepared. She had been actively preparing for an Ascension for some time. After flying through space and taking a tour of the solar system, being presented with a male voice (assuming Dave announced himself as a voice in her head as he did with Cerebus) claiming to be her creator might be disconcerting to the devout Terimite, but even if she thought it was a demon or a false god, I can’t imagine her not taking the time to interact with it and learn something.


      The strangest thing in Minds (and perhaps in all 300 issues) is the Injury To Eye Motif. While Dave Sim often paid homage to comic tropes it is to what end he put this particular trope that is so unusual. Historically it was used to exact an appropriately horrific comeuppance to a deserving character. Just when some dastardly villain seemed about to get away with his crime...SLICE! In this way a supposed balance is restored. An eye for an eye if you will.

      

      But Dave terrified and traumatized Cerebus by lancing the sty that Dave created to teach Cerebus empathy, not to punish him. This act is designed by Cerebus’ creator to make Cerebus understand how much he has hurt Jaka and Joanne, but did Cerebus ever really spurn Joanne’s love and cause Jaka’s suicide? I suppose the argument could be made that anything Dave creates within the comic is “reality” and can stand alongside and concurrent to any other “reality” he chooses to create. However when all is said and done, Jaka is alive, and Joanne and Cerebus have not even met.


      To my mind the responsible party for the “reality” in which Jaka commits suicide and Joanne’s heart is broken is Dave. It is he that altered Jaka so that she would love Cerebus no matter what. It is he that altered Cerebus so that he was neither physically or mentally abusive to Jaka. It is he who created Cerebus’ core nature.


      I know this gets to the heart of what Dave Sim is trying to convey with Dave, that is the complicated nature of the relationship between creator and creation, and the nature of free will. But each time I read this scene I can not help but think of the Robert A. Heinlein penned character, Lazarus Long, who said, “Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream up a God superior to themselves. Most Gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child.”


      Dave almost (but not quite, damn it, I am still pissed) redeems himself with his wry and half-hidden smile at Cerebus “asking nicely” to be left alone. Cerebus here has had enough. He simply could not process any more information. It is all too much.

       

      After a few weeks of being left alone on Pluto, Cerebus calls Aardvark-Vanaheim in his head and this eventually leads to Dave allowing Cerebus to go anywhere he wishes. It is both amusing and interesting that Cerebus thinks and says he has been on Juno, not Pluto, as Juno (among her many other aspects) is the goddess of marriage and childbirth..


      This concluding volume of the four-part Mothers & Daughters storyline is a much more fun read then was the sometimes tortured syntax of Reads and I think Dave Sim gets his points across to the reader much more effectively than he was able to in the previous volume .The character of Dave is a far more effective meta-intrusion of the author into his work thatn was Read’s Victor Davis. We the audience were unable to talk back to Victor Davis, forced to simply listen, while Cerebus was able to interact with Dave, petition him to act, and even get a rise out of him at one point. But it does seem less a conclusion to the the themes expressed in Mothers & Daughters than it does A Very Special Episode With A Very Special Guest Star, no matter how entertaining and how expertly executed.