“Latter Days part 34”
Cerebus’s son Sheshep visits him. Cerebus is on what may be his deathbed, so at first their chat is light and whimsical. Soon, however, Sheshep reveals his ultimate plans with a horrific revelation. In the end, we discover that Cerebus might not be quite as dead as he first seems.
One more to go. Twenty more pages and the book can be closed on Cerebus. And I’m left wondering: if this series wasn’t about to conclude, if my Cerebus collection didn’t include nearly every issue between issue 10 and 299, would I keep buying it? It’s a tough question for me. Certainly the grey earth-pig has been a constant companion for me since I first discovered the series in 1980. I’ve laughed at his antics, felt sorry for his losses and gasped at the constant surprises the book has to offer. And issue 299 is true to the legacy of the series. There’s some laughter, some loss and an astonishing surprise. Not to mention some absolutely gorgeous art and the best lettering in comics – really, if all Sim did was letter, we’d still talk about him with adulation.
So why the lack of a rating? Clearly this is a four-bullet issue of a brilliant comic, so why not give the book a score?
Two reasons. First, if there’s one thing that’s true of this series over the years, it’s that the series can’t be judged one chapter at a time. More than perhaps any other series in comics history, Cerebus demands consideration on the basis of each story arc as a whole rather than on the basis of each individual issue. So much of the power of the stories in Cerebus comes from the dramatic plot twists between each issue. The events of issues 298 and 299 are such a dramatic contrast with each other, and provide such a dramatic turn in the plot, that they must be considered together. Sim doesn’t really seem to consider the individual issues by themselves once they’re released; in his mind the point is the collections. So, to really honor Dave Sim on the eve of his retirement, it’s incumbent on me as a reviewer to respect his wishes.
The second reason for a lack of a rating is the ugly content that appears on the letter’s page in the back of the issue. You may have heard of Sim’s dislike of feminist theology. Well, this issue’s letter’s page consists of a back-and forth between a fan and Sim regarding Sim’s “Sixteen impossible things that feminists insist you must believe before breakfast.” Among the beliefs Sim asserts are “A woman’s doctor has more of a valid claim to participate in the decision to abort a fetus than does the father of that fetus” and “Children must be allowed to raise themselves and determine for themselves what does and does not constitute ethical, responsible behavior.” The writer has an intelligent viewpoint and attempts to politely and succinctly disagree with Sim in a three-page letter. In response Sim authors a 12-page screed of illogic and incoherence that is painful to read. When it comes to sentence structure, Sim is a great artist. Try to make sense of a sentence like this: “What we are discovering – on the cusp if same-sex marriage being legalized in this country – is that there is simply no societal self-abasement and self-degradation to which hand-wringing, pants-wetting white male liberals – in their monomaniacal and obsequious determination to make amends for our gender’s historical “oppression” of the members opposite – will not stoop.” Sim unleashes page after page of his bizarre political theology, and it is frankly painful to parse through the sentences to get some idea of what he’s talking about. Unfortunately, this section of the book is also true to its history – for about the last ten years of the series, Sim has populated the back and sometimes the front of the book with this sort of bizarre rant.
The problem isn’t that Sim has some bizarre beliefs – though he does- the problem is that he is horrible at articulating them.
And that is why I feel some ambivalence as to whether I would have continued with the series if it wasn’t ending. The twenty pages in the front are a wonderful and revelatory as any comics in history. The twelve pages in back are as frustrating and pointless as any comics in history. In the end, does the garbage overwhelm the brilliance, or does the greatness overwhelm the eccentricity?
More than any other comic, Cerebus presents a bizarre and unique dichotomy. On one hand, Sim and Gerhard present amazing comics in the front of the book. On the other, Sim presents bizarre philosophy in the back of the book. Your opinion of Cerebus will depend on how much the good stuff outweighs the bad stuff.