Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mystery Achievement

Mystery Achievement; the 3rd chapter of Jaka’s story opens with the heroine in the dungeon. This is not a situation Jaka has ever had to deal with. She is in darkness most of the time, she has two buckets in her cell; one for food and one for bodily waste, she shares the cell with cockroaches and rats, she is scared out of her wits. The prisoner in the cell next to her cautions her to speak only in whispers and never when there is a guard within hearing distance. They’ve been known to slit the tongues of loud talkative prisoners. Like Jaka, the other lady is also from Palnu. As they talk the revelation comes that Jaka’s fellow prisoner was in fact her childhood nurse! Jaka wonders how she could have ended up in the dungeon, wasn’t she a Cirinist? Yes, she was. She’s also a Borealan in possession of forged Palnan citizenship documents. The Cirinists don’t discriminate when it comes to lawbreakers, it’s a one size fits all policy. Break the law, forfeit your life. Jaka’s uncle is the only thing keeping her alive.

After seeing and hearing her old nurse led away to be executed, Jaka is removed from her cell and relocated in a much nicer one. It’s light, sparsely furnished and even has a window! That’s the good news. The bad news is the introduction of one of Dave’s most terrifying characters: Mrs Thatcher. Just as Oscar was Oscar Wilde, Mrs Thatcher is the former British PM Maggie Thatcher. Just like with Oscar Wilde Dave nailed the character. Physical appearance, mannerisms, speech, it was all the Iron Maiden to a tee. It’s somehow even worse when you can hear and see the character in your mind say the lines as they are written. Mrs Thatcher is a hardline Cirinist and if something as innocent as dancing is deemed illegal by Cirin, however flawed her reasoning, then it is wrong. Jaka is forced to sign documents saying that dancing is wrong, whether she believes it or not, she has Pud’s death laid squarely at her feet. My blood boiled when Thatcher did this. Pud was executed, Jaka did not pull the trigger, she did not arbitrarily decide that it was a killing offence for him to admire and lust after a beautiful woman. It was all I could do not to scream at this woman. Her readings from Pud’s journal almost brought tears to my eyes. Eventually, her spirit broken, Jaka is allowed to see Rick.

His hair cut short, and his face clean shaven, Rick looks different. They haven’t hurt him physically, at least if they have there’s no visible evidence of it. He has changed though, the spark, the glint in his eyes is no longer there. Even though she’s made good little citizens of them both and they can be sent to Palnu where they’ll no longer be her responsibility Thatcher isn’t done yet. Under leading questioning Rick admits that his heart’s desire has always been a son. Thatcher then tells him that Jaka used a plant extract to terminate her pregnancy, and that the unborn child was a boy. Jaka’s reason for doing this is not revealed, but I suspect that it was motivated partially by the fact that she knew an unemployed Rick would not be able to support a wife and child and maybe also some personal feelings, she couldn’t dance while pregnant and would men still find her attractive if she were with child? It’s too much for Rick to bear. He lashes out and hits Jaka. The distraught man is given into the custody of his mother, while Jaka is sent to Palnu, where she will become Lord Julius’ responsibility. Although Rick acted out of rage and grief he cannot be permitted to hit a woman and get away with it, so Mrs Thatcher instructs her brutish assistant Clarinda to break his left thumb. Dave drew a single panel with the word crack looking like a finger bone and broken in the middle. There also Rick’s thin scream of anguish.

The two final pages were single drawings. One is of Cerebus returning with the paint to see the aftermath of the Cirinist attack and the other is of the dungeon with the doors to Jaka and her nurses now empty cells open.

In between the breaking of Jaka and her subsequent forced confessions we saw scenes from her final days in Palnu and the humiliation that Lord Julius heaped upon the shy, sheltered 11 year old that forced her to leave. On her twelfth birthday Jaka used some of her jewellery to purchase passage on a ship bound for Iest. All she took with her were the clothes she was wearing, some shirts and Missy.

There was a contrast with the artwork in this chapter. The images of the darkened cells and even Jaka's bright, but spartan room contrasted violently with the sumptuousness of her privileged life in Palnu. The Palnan scenes were where Gerhard's intricate and detailed backgrounds came into their own. The cells in the dungeon were black and oppressive you could feel the fear and misery of that horrible place in the art. I felt Jaka's Story was a highpoint for the series artistically. In my opinion at the time Dave and Gerhard were one of the most talented duos in the industry.

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