Thursday, November 24, 2011
The Last Day
The Last Day, the second part of Latter Days, the final book of the Cerebus graphic novel, comprises the last 11 issues of the comic.
There’s an introduction from Dave Sim, in which he congratulates himself for having finished the book (and deservedly so, 300 issues, 6,000 pages over 26 years is a hell of an achievement, even if the narrative did devolve into largely incomprehensible ranting for most of the last 50 odd issues, the artwork never dropped in quality, nor did the artist’s willingness to continually experiment with the format), and then not killing himself when it was done.
It begins with Dave Sim’s vision of the creation, each panel is accompanied by suitably biblical script with elaborate lettering to match. Dave has also annotated each page. Every page or so there is a small section with a picture of a very elderly Cerebus sleeping. What takes up the bulk of the pages is his dream.
When Cerebus awakes he is convinced that he has just dreamt the greatest book ever, and fuelled with a desire to write his dream down. Getting from the bed to his desk is a Herculean effort. The aardvark is by now extremely old, infirm, frail and partially senile. Although the descriptions of hi aches and pains are mildly amusing (they are a theme that runs through the book), they’re also a little sad for a long time reader. I couldn’t help contrasting the young vital largely indestructible Cerebus with the dessicated shell that he had become.
Cerebus desire throughout most of this book is to see his son; Shep Shep again. He is stymied in most of these endeavours by his officious head of security; Walter O’Reilly. The character, never seen, is obviously based on the M*A*S*H character of the same name. Like the diminutive bespectacled corporal from the sitcom the head of Cerebus’ security seems to be able to at times read his bosses mind. I wondered if O’Reilly wasn’t really Shep Shep and Cerebus had become so senile that he didn’t even recognise this.
Outside shots of Cerebus Sanctuarie show that it is heavily fortified. It’s never really explained if this is to keep Cerebus’ enemies out or keep Cerebus in. Admittedly one very old aardvark couldn’t cause much damage, but Cerebus was hell on wheels in his day and memories of that may have lingered.
Interestingly in Cerebus’ memories of his son Shep Shep does not appear to be an aardvark, he seems to be human in every way. He does resemble his mother a little. Cerebus refers to her as Joanne, I think he now refers to all women as Joanne, the name seems to have replaced that of Cirin in his mind.
Suffering what he believes is a major case of heartburn caused by eating too much cheese Cerebus takes to his bed. It’s the beginning of a heart attack. The reference to Citizen Kane (why do I think I should be saying Rosebud?) as Cerebus gathers the covers around himself is a way of telling the readers that this is it for the aardvark.
Shep Shep comes to Cerebus in his sleep. He talks about the meaning of his real name, lets Cerebus know that he believes in his mother, that Cirin is still alive, and they’ve developed a giant half person, half lioness that will take over the world. Personally I think this is a dream, but there is evidence to suggest otherwise. Cerebus rises up, sword in hand to kill his son, falls from the bed and dies.
As Cerebus lays there alone on the floor, thus fulfilling the Judge’s long ago prophecy that he would die alone, unloved and unmourned, his life flashes before his eyes. We see Cerebus as a child, as a mercenary warrior, as a politician, Prime Minister, Pope, religious leader. A ghost of Cerebus, tellingly dressed in his vest and medallions, looks down on the old creature laying on the floor in a circle of light and figures from his past appear around him. They’re all there: Boobah, Lord Julius, The Elf. The Roach, Elrod, Astoria, Po, Princes Mick and Keef, the Three Wise Fellows, everyone who was important in Cerebus’ life over that 300 issues (the only reason I can think that Cirin didn’t appear is that according to Shep Shep she was still alive, thus reinforcing the possibility that his appearance to Cerebus wasn’t a dream). Cerebus sees Bear, Jaka and Ham, the love of his life, and the two most important male figures in it (I’m not sure exactly how Ham qualifies, but anyway). Jaka reaches out to him, but before he can join her he realises that Rick isn’t there, and turns into his Reads hero Rabbi, he turns from Jaka and runs into the light, calling out for God to help him. It’s kind of hard to know exactly where Cerebus went. The light could have represented Heaven, although Dave Sim always seemed to believe that the light was representative of Hell. Cerebus could have also just ceased to be. In some ways I think Dave tried to give the fans a happy ending. We’d long known Cerebus would die alone, unloved and unmourned, so that was no real shock. We got to visit one last time with him as he was, and we got one last vision of all his friends throughout the journey.
So that’s it. It’s all done. I’ve finally gone through all 300 issues. I think I first started reading Cerebus in the mid 80’s, so it eventually took me about as long to read the whole thing as it did for Dave Sim to write it. Admittedly I took a long break in between.
I’m kind of unsure what to think or how to rate it. I think the first 150 issues are sheer brilliance and a great look at the evolution of something unique in the field of graphic novels. The last 150 not so much. Dave kind of lost focus, and just getting to issue 300 became more important than actually telling a story. At times his interests in writers, artists and celebrities were fascinating and at other times tedious and self indulgent, as I said earlier though, the art and the experimentation were always at the very least interesting and at their height astonishing and revolutionary. If I were going to recommend Cerebus to anyone I’d advise them to read up to Guys and then stop. That’s the first 200 issues. Pick it up again at The Last Day and just read one of the internet précis of Guys, Rick’s Story, Going Home, Form & Void and Latter Days (there are good ones on Wikipedia and Margaret Liss’ Cerebus Fangirl site has the Cerebus wiki, which is the best resource for the graphic novel that I’ve seen, of course you could also read this blog). It’s an achievement and I’m glad I’ve finally read it all the way through. I don’t think there’s another ride like this in comics.
I set the blog up to read Cerebus and share my throughts, that’s why it’s called Travels Through Iest. It’s kind of evolved into a place where I review books and have the occasional muse on one thing or the other. Now I’ve started this whole reread thing I kind of like it. I won’t be changing the name of the blog, but once this review goes up the focus will by necessity alter. I’ll still review what I read, but I have a new interest to reread, and go through as I do.