Monday, August 31, 2009

Swords of Cerebus #5: Champion, Fluroc, She-Devil in the Shadows, Mind Game

The opening page of Champion is classic Cerebus, a close up of the aardvark's extremely annoyed face, dripping wet. Cerebus is cursing Lord Julius as the horse he was given to ride out of Palnu on broke a leg, forcing him to drag 8 bags of gold through some foul weather. The fact is that Cerebus doesn't have to carry the entire 8 bags, he could bury 7 of them somewhere, get to a town, hire a wagon and team and tools, dig them up, and go back in style. Unfortunately the earth pig's mind doesn't work that way, if you have money you hang on to it. Cerebus has made and lost far too many fortunes to leave something like that to chance. He comes across a hovel, offers the penniless inhabitants some of his gold to leave it, and decides to wait out the weather there. While relaxing in the hovel, and planning out his next move there is a knock at the door. Standing outside are 2 T'Gitan mercenaries who claim to be part of an army attacking Palnu.
Cerebus lets them in, and meets Gudre and his son Stromm. Their mortal enemy is Palnu's heroic general Commander Krull, the whacko who recites his own memoirs to a personal assistant at all times. Dave admitted to watching a lot of sitcoms during the writing of this, and said that Krull was a cross between Conan (who he certainly resembles facially) and the insane Colonel Flagg from M*A*S*H. The reason for the T'Gitan's animosity was that Krull ordered Stromm's tongue be torn out. Although it didn't do much for poor Stromm, it benefited his father, given the boy's size and musculature development his lack of being able to vocalise enabled Gudre to pass his son off as Stromm God of Thunder, and son of the one true God Tarim, which meant a large number of T'Gitan mercenaries flocked to his cause. Meeting Cerebus also helps Gudre. Cerebus never passes up an opportunity to make money, and he's amoral enough to turn on a former ally without giving it a second thought. Gudre's target is the Palnan trading city of Fluroc, which is guarded by Krull. Krull may be an egomaniac, but he's also a talented warrior. Cerebus hatches a plot to take Krull out of the picture, and allow the T'Gitan mercenaries to take over an undefended Fluroc.

Fluroc finds Cerebus and the mercenaries holed up in the now deserted town, they having killed most of the inhabitants. The main joke in this issue was how many different ways the T'Gitans could mispronounce Cerebus' name. The T'Gitan accent was germanic, it having come to Dave while watching reruns of Hogans Heroes. My personal favourite was how Graus, the most prominent mercenary said the name, making it sound like 'Zerbutz.' I can remember reading the first page, and a bit with Graus repeating the name thinking 'What the hell is he talking about?' until it finally dawned on me that this was how he said Cerebus. Graus tells Cerebus how the Stromm legend got started, and Cerebus admits to himself grudgingly that Gudre is one smart operator. The T'Gitans are thrown into a panic when a trading caravan arrives at Fluroc. Cerebus tells the traders that the city was overrun by plague, and he is one of the few survivors. He convinces the traders that having entered the city they have now contracted the plague, and can only be saved by taking some of a liquid that he has. He of course is not going to part with his only defence against the deadly disease cheaply. This allows him to take the merchants for nearly everything they have in exchange for a flask of what is most probably water or T'Gitan beer. Speaking with the mercenaries, and seeing how incredibly gullible they are he starts to think that maybe Gudre wasn't all that smart after all.

Cerebus took Graus to Togith where he intended to sell the jewelry he had conned from the merchants to raise an army of pikemen to continue the attack on Palnu. While there, Graus became entranced by a fortune teller called Perce. Cerebus found that if he could obtain another golden owl like the one he had been given by the traders in Fluroc he could raise his army. Contacts told Cerebus that a man named Hortne may be able to assist. Once he arrived at the tavern where Hortne lodged he found it in uproar, largely due to some menace that was in Hortne's apartment. Always the skeptic Cerebus investigated and came face to face with Red Sophia! Although this female warrior looked and dressed like Sophia, Cerebus decided she could not be the wizard's daughter. For one she hardly said a word, and Sophia was rarely ever lost for one of those, and the other thing that she was a better fighter than Cerebus remembered Sophia being. Once past her he discovers that Henrot (Sophia's father) was behind it. The female warrior outside his inner sanctum is a construct he devised to give himself some peace and quiet. As a favour to Cerebus, Henrot gives him a magical twin to the golden owl, which will disappear in 6 months. Graus is still with Perce, who drugs Cerebus, and sends the T'Gitan back to Gudre with a letter supposedly from the aardvark. No reader knew who Perce was or what her game was, but we were about to find out. Perce was the first Cirinist we ever saw.

Dave was becoming rather interested in artistic games when he put out Mind Game. Legendary comic book artist Neal Adams had on more than one occasion hidden a giant drawing of the head of one of the characters in what he was working on amongst the art work. Dave decided that with 19 issues of Cerebus under his belt it was time to stretch himself artistically, and do something similar. If you cut up the pages of Mind Game and reassemble them the right way you get a picture of Cerebus. Having virtually no artistic talent whatsoever I can't even imagine how hard this is to do, and create a coherent story around it at the same time.

I may be a little over effusive with the praise there. Mind Game isn't the most coherent of stories, actually it's downright weird, but it's still incredibly important in the development of the book and the narrative. Mind Game came out about a year after Dave had been hospitalised by his mother and wife following several days of taking LSD, that's where the 300 issue run idea came to him and I wouldn't be at all surprised if Mind Game was also born about then.

The entire story takes place inside Cerebus' mind. The drug that Perce gave him was mind altering, and also put him in a state bordering comatose. He was speaking to Perce and someone she referred to as Mother Wenda. Perce and Wenda were both Cirinists. The Cirinists were a group of ultra feminists who followed a woman calling herself Cirin, and believed that the dominant God figure was actually called Terim and was female. They were in opposition to the male dominated church of Tarim and the hedonistic Illusionists; led by another shadowy character called Suenteus Po. Readers also met Po for the first time in this issue. I have to admit I liked Po, he was infuriating, but very funny. Exactly what it is about Cerebus that piques the interest of the Cirinists is not explained, although it is hinted that it could have something to do with him being an aardvark. Using Po's advice, and his own intelligence Cerebus manages to divert the Cirinist's attention from him and onto a group of helpless Illusionists, although the issue ends on a massive cliffhanger with Cerebus passed out face down in a sea of blackness, without Wenda from the outside, and Po from within being able to elicit any response from him. Gulp.

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