Monday, September 14, 2009

The Night Before

Dave always seemed to pull out all the stops and get everything right with the Jaka issues. The Night Before was no exception.

The opening page is Cerebus and Jaka meeting in a long glass roofed hall, with leafy potted plants lining the walls. Jaka is facing the reader, you can only see Cerebus from behind. Most of the scenes in Cerebus' suite illuminate the characters only, with darkness all around them. This was the exact opposite, the room was light filled and you could see the stars twinkling through the hundreds of glass panes that made up the roof. It was the most impressive pre Gerhard background I could remember.

The reunion does not initially go well. Unaware of Jaka's background Cerebus' attempts to impress the beautiful blonde tavern dancer with stories of his wealth and power. Jaka does not like this new Cerebus who is so far removed from the cute and smitten mercenary she met all that time ago. Cerebus offers to let her live with him. Jaka asks about Astoria. Like the rest of Iest she believes that Cerebus and Astoria are lovers. Cerebus explains that his suite has 7 rooms. Astoria and Jaka can have 2 each and that still leaves Cerebus with 3 for himself. Of course Jaka will have to do something so that Astoria doesn't accuse him of taking in a free loader. She can't dance, though, that would be bad for business, as dancers are held in low regard in the upper city of Iest.

In an attempt to remind him of what they once were to each other Jaka asks Cerebus if he would still kill a yak for her supper or would that too be bad for business? Cerebus tells her that if she really wants a yak he will buy her one. That somehow wouldn't be the same. A poignant and beautifully drawn silence follows. With both of them highlighted separately, backs turned to each other.

To break the silence Jaka asks when Cerebus remembered about her....them. Cerebus said that sometimes when he got drunk he would have dreams and once he saw a tavern dancer in Beduin. Another silence follows and this time Cerebus breaks it with a silly joke that makes Jaka smile and call him crazy affectionately. Cerebus tells her that the Iestan Prime Minister told him the joke and she remarks how he's moving up in the world. This would have been the best time for Cerebus to shut up or accept the comment as a compliment. He doesn't, he says that Astoria had told him people from his past would appear now that he was wealthy and successful. Jaka quite correctly sees this as implying (although there is a joke about the difference between inferring and implying which echoes an earlier criticism Astoria levelled at Cerebus) that she has come looking for a handout. The resulting exchange brings tears to Jaka's eyes.

Jaka said that she didn't come seeking charity Cerebus says that he has been a mercenary, a tax collector and a professional gambler, he may not know much, but he does know when someone is broke. Again Cerebus is correct, but he has no idea why Jaka has no money. She tells him that until recently she had a good amount of money in the Bank of Iest, but she used it buy something from a salvage merchant. Cerebus chides her for her foolishness and tells her about a swindle he once pulled by staining a jug with berry juice and selling it as rare pink-iron.

The meeting not working out at all how Jaka had envisioned and she takes her leave. Cerebus asks here where she will go and what she will do without any money. Jaka says that she's taken care of herself since she was 12, she'll manage. Cerebus offers to give her something to tide her over, she refuses saying that she actually came to give him something. It's package by the wall, he can decide whether or not it was a bad investment.

Cerebus shouts 'Jaka!' at her as she disappears into the night, then goes to inspect the package. As he opens it and displays it's contents I could have cried. It's a sword. Cerebus' sword. The one he lost in Beduin in issue #12 when he tried to transport the Roach's hoarde out. That also explains why it was found with a number of gold coins, some over 30 years old.

It isn't the gift itself that is valuable, although Jaka did use all her savings to purchase it. It's more that Jaka took the trouble to track it down and buy it for Cerebus. The sword is a symbol, unlike other barbarian warriors Cerebus did not place a huge amount of value on his weapons, he didn't develop emotional attachments and name them. They were simply things he needed to survive. The sword is of a common design and not decorated, it's a strong, functional weapon. It is a symbol of what Cerebus once was, and at heart, still is. It's what he was before Astoria got hold of him and tried to make him into something he isn't for her own personal gain.

I found myself comparing the two ladies. They are total opposites, sharing only physical attractiveness and gender. Jaka is fair and free spirited, totally uncomplicated, she has renounced her former life and become a tavern dancer. Astoria is dark and scheming, she comes from money and power and seeks only to gather more. Jaka seems to be everything Dave wants in a woman, the fantasy, whereas Astoria is the reality, at least the way Dave views women.

One thing that was different about Jaka was her failure to talk about herself in 3rd person the way Cerebus always refers to himself. It was not commented on and it stuck out for me. I can only assume that Jaka did it when she first met Cerebus because it made it easier for her to escape her old privileged life and made it harder for them to find her.

I wanted Cerebus to succeed, I really did, but somehow I knew that he'd mess it up. Stupid aardvark.

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