Thursday, September 3, 2009

Swords of Cerebus #6: Captain Cockroach! The Death of Elrod, The Beguiling, Swamp Sounds, This Woman, This Thing

I've always thought this Swords was the best of the 6. It had more stories for a start, and there's not a dud amongst them, this is when the book really started to take shape, and pave the way for High Society.

Cerebus wakes from his drugged state, and realises that he's in Beduin. He has no idea how he got there from Togith, or how long he's been out. Two other clues tell him that he's in Beduin. The Cootie and Elrod are there! Okay, the Cootie is about a foot taller than he was before and he's got muscles on his eyebrows, plus he's wearing some outlandish costume, but it's definitely the Cootie, for some reason people are now referring to him as Captain Cockroach, and lining up to give him money for war bonds, apparently they seem to think they're at war with the Hsifans, who they disparagingly refer to as the Hsiffies. Elrod is the Roach's assistant, he's wearing a mask and he calls himself Bunky, but he's Elrod all right. Curious about what is going on, Cerebus makes his presence known to the two, and demands to be told what's happening. Captain Cockroach, an obvious parody of the WW II version of Captain America and Elrod/Bunky, so named because it sounds so much like Cap's teenage sidekick Bucky Barnes, take Cerebus to their boss; the President of Lower Felda, Weisshaupt. This is news to Cerebus, because he had been under the impression that Lower Felda was ruled by a council, not the one official. Using the Cockroach and the threat of a non existent attack by the Hsifans, Weisshaupt; a political wheeler dealer who resembles George Washington (maybe it's the wig) first built his personal fortune, and then got Lower Felda's economy back on track and made himself the President. Realising that Cerebus could be a hindrance or a help, depending on how he was treated, Weisshaupt drugged the aardvark, and sent him out on patrol with the Roach and Elrod/Bunky. They were attacked by a Hisfan assassin, because of the drug Cerebus had been given by Weisshaupt, he kept slipping in and out of a drugged state, and was unable to adequately protect the Cootie or the albino, and Elrod/Bunky was killed.

The Death of Elrod had echoes of Captain America's teenaged sidekick Bucky being killed in that title many many years ago. Dave wasn't about to get rid of one of his most popular recurring characters this early in what he had decided was going to be a 300 issue run. He used the death of Elrod to lampoon a comic book called Deadman by Neal Adams. The spirit of Elrod left the albino's bodym and took over other peoples bodies, in this case he initially moved into the body of the Hsifan assassin, and took to calling himself Deadalbino (get it!). I didn't know until I read the intro exactly what Dave was making fun of. Although he says he wasn't really a student of comics, someone who can pull something that obscure out to do a parody of couldn't be anything but a student. Once Weisshaupt found out that Elrod could move into any body he wanted at will, he saw a use for that talent. Using Elrod's somewhat unique talent, Weisshaupt could remove any opposition, and make his own political position near impregnable. Where Elrod is concerned, though, things are never that simple. For ease of transport they ordered Elrod back into his own dead body, he got stuck there and brought himself back to life, but it unravelled all of Weisshaupt's grand plans, and left both the President and Cerebus quite literally trying to outrun the authorities. Weisshaupt slipped on the snowy street, and Cerebus left him there. By this time Cerebus had learned that he had been out of it for some time, and in that period his army of T'Gitan mercenaries had attacked Palnu, been routed and destroyed by a combination of the Palnan army and hired mercenaries. So he squeezed out of the bars in a gate into Beduin, and headed off into the snow.

As the title might suggest The Beguiling is Dave's version of the Clint Eastwood film of the same name, starring Cerebus, instead of the gravelly voiced actor. In his flight from Beduin Cerebus had ripped his leg open on a jutting nail, and was dying from the wound. He was slogging through the snow, and fighting to stay conscious, he passed out in sight of a large farm house. The house was actually a private girl's school, with only 3 students, 3 very attractive girls in their late teens. They took Cerebus to their headmistress. She sees that Cerebus is completely helpless and puts him to bed, intending to nurse him back to health. Strangely enough Cerebus becomes quite protective of the girls and their headmistress, and when a mercenary scout forces his way into the house, the aardvark drags himself out of his bed to protect the girls, only to find that one of these sweet innocent young ladies had quite cold bloodedly put a crossbow bolt through the intruder. As the headmistress tends to him, Cerebus apprises her of the political and military situation in the country. The soldier will not be the last one and they will have to take steps to protect themselves if they wish to remain unmolested. Two more soldiers arrive, one who has a long standing grudge against Cerebus, as they are using Cerebus as part of their plan to kill the men and ensure that no more come their way, this is rather inconvenient. The aardvark is incredibly lucky, and the girls and their surprising old headmistress are not without resources. The soldiers end up dead, and Cerebus is allowed to continue his convalescence.

I really enjoyed the early part of Swamp Sounds. It was an amusing scene with Cerebus and the girls conversing. Dave did this sort of thing best, and Cerebus could be remarkably funny and sensitive all at the same time when he was in the mood. He managed to prevent one of the girls from making a mistake, break a crush on him and protect the dreams of one of the others, all at the same time in this touching scene. There's also an amusing take from the girls on how they see others that Cerebus has had dealings with such as Lord Julius and Elrod. Night after night Cerebus hears strange noises coming from the houses basement. Eventually he creeps from his bed to investigate the sounds, and finds that the headmistress is not actually a woman, but an old bald man, the wizard Professor Charles X Claremont. To get the joke behind the name you needed a working knowledge of early 80's comics. The Professor Charles X was obviously the leader and founder of the X-Men, Professor Charles Xavier, or as he was more commonly known, Professor X. The Claremont was the surname of the X-Men's most popular and famous author, British wonder kid Chris Claremont. Claremont and Dave were mutual admirers of each other, and that's where Professor Charles X Claremont came from. Claremont would return the favour by having the X-Men feature a large purple demon who resembled an aardvark and spoke in the 3rd person, he went by the name of S'ym. It wasn't until I started to read Cerebus that I realised where S'ym came from. Professor Claremont perfected a sorcery that can bind people together. What he does is to meld his 3 pupils together, and gets a huge shambling semblance of a female that he calls Woman Thing.

This Woman, This Thing was a parody of Marvel's Man-Thing and DC's Swamp Thing. The reason Dave made the Man-Thing a Woman-Thing was at the time Marvel was on a kick of doing female versions of their most popular male heroes, eg: Spiderwoman, She-Hulk. Besides he couldn't very well call it Man-Thing, could he? Cerebus, the Professor and his creation make their way to a nearby castle, intending to free the local villagers of the terror that inhabits the castle. This 'terror' is a crazy, trendy, incredibly wealthy artist who uses creatures such as the Professor's, as art. He has his own version, he calls it Sump Thing. The Woman-Thing and Sump Thing fight, the Professor gets involved and all 3 tumble into a bottomless pit. The artist finds it inspiring, but then realises that Cerebus' companion has been killed. Cerebus, once he sees the opportunity for some guilt money, plays it for all it's worth, and the artist loads him down with valuables to assuage his own guilty conscience. Maybe things are looking up for the aardvark.

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