This volume has a particular resonance for me because I was just old enough to jump on the Cerebus train right toward the end of it. I remember flipping through it on the racks and thinking of how cool Cirin looked. Little did I know at the time (I was still getting through the first few phonebooks) that this section was perhaps the most important part of the entire story, and also the de facto conclusion of it. More on that later. There’s a lot to unpack with this volume, so I’m going to try to streamline it.
When we last saw Cerebus and Cirin, they were flying past the moon on a chunk of the Eastern Church (papal throne included). They’ve now begun fighting over whose god is real, Cerebus’ male “Tarim,” or Cirin’s female “Terim.” Cirin continues to accuse Cerebus of being an Illusionist (as if he would have the discipline for that), and they begin to physically fight over the throne. An asteroid sneaks up on them and smashes the throne, leaving only the block it stood on, which shortly breaks in two, sending Cerebus and Cirin in separate directions. Cerebus, now completely alone, begins to remember moments in his life (however, the reader gets the sense that he may be getting “shown” these moments, rather than truly remembering them—why else would he suddenly be reminded?), the events of which seem to him to be proof that Tarim does exist. It’s quite humorous that he would fight Cirin so vehemently over something he wasn’t sure of at the time, but that’s our aardvark. One incident involved young Cerebus praying after a serious injury that if Tarim makes everything ok, young Cerebus will never do another bad thing again. Another incident is pretty interesting in the mythology of the series. Cerebus’ father is speaking to Magus Doran, local magician. Apparently, young Cerebus had been going around town claiming himself to be the chosen one, so his father wanted Doran to instill some discipline in him magically. Doran replies, “And what if your son is correct? What if he is the chosen one?” and takes him on as an apprentice—a part of Cerebus’ life referenced only in passing until now. Cerebus, now sure that Tarim does exist, pledges complete loyalty, promising to conquer lands in his name and so on. A couple of frightening cosmological incidents then take place, paired with memories of times that Cerebus had cursed Tarim’s name (when he thought Jaka was dead) or was afraid of him (as a young aardvark in church), which cause him to beg forgiveness pretty humorously. At this point, a pie is flung into Cerebus’ face, seemingly from nowhere.
A voice begins speaking to Cerebus from inside his head. It uses Cerebus’ perception of reality against him, along with some verbal gymnastics, to make him question his sanity, before finally revealing itself as Dave, Cerebus’ creator. That’s right, Dave Sim enters the comic (well, as a voice in Cerebus’ head) and reveals himself to his creation. He talks a bit about what it means to be a creator (the fact that he can’t really control how Cerebus reacts to situations) before trying to get Cerebus to reflect on his life and take some responsibility for his own happiness (“you’re the baker and your life is the bread”). He points out that Jaka doesn’t actually love him, and that she is held in Cerebus’ mind as some kind of ultimate cure for his unhappiness—he shows Cerebus a bit of her internal life to prove that Cerebus doesn’t really know her, he just places her on a pedestal as some kind of panacea for his misery.
He then brings Cirin close enough to illustrate her reaction to him telling her story, in which it’s revealed that she isn’t actually Cirin at all, but rather, Serna. It turns out Cirin was actually another woman with whom the beginnings of Cirinism were planned, and who was usurped and replaced by Serna the aardvark (who even stole her name). Cirin (the current one) makes it emphatically clear that she views this as a pack of lies. As a way of calming her, Dave “whispers” in Cirin’s ear that Cerebus’ reproductive system was irrevocably damaged in the childhood injury mentioned previously, which relieves Cirin to the point of euphoria. Her only interest in Cerebus was whether he could produce an aardvark offspring, and now that she knows he cannot, he doesn’t really exist to her.
Dave finally allows Cerebus to ask him questions, the first of which is about the true nature of his medallions. Dave reveals that had he had them in his possession along with his sword and helmet at the time he met the Pigts, his life would have magically taken a dramatically different turn (literally). He would have the conquest he had long desired, all powered by three magical objects and a clay aardvark statue. You’d think this would be pretty galling to a guy like Cerebus, but still all he can think about is Jaka. He pushes that Dave could MAKE Jaka love him, and so he convinces Dave to set up a reality (narrated by Dave) in which he has married Jaka and things are going swimmingly. Unfortunately, a new neighbor, Joanne, has moved in and catches Cerebus’ eye. Cerebus lusts after her like crazy as they spend the hot summer days flirting while Jaka and Fred (Joanne’s husband) are at work. Eventually this destroys Cerebus’ marriage in a particularly horrifying way, just as Dave (back in the real world) drops him off on Pluto.
It’s here that Dave really lays into Cerebus, “punching” him and berating him for his staggering selfishness, treatment of others, and refusal to accept responsibility for his lot in life. There’s a short homage to the “injury to eye” motif from old horror comics, as Dave repairs some ocular damage to Cerebus as a result of the punch. We next see Cerebus with an eyepatch, musing on what a terrible person he is. Dave clearly finds this amusing, and offers to drop Cerebus anywhere he’d like to go. Cerebus, perhaps predictably, chooses wherever Jaka is. A door appears, through which (Dave mentions) Jaka is on a date. He’s placed the door too far away from Cerebus for him to get there before the date “ends,” and Cerebus finally collapses, defeated, and requests that Dave leave him alone on Pluto (which he calls “Juno,” an allusion to Alaska, I suppose). The epilogue opens with Cerebus calling out for Dave after an indeterminate amount of time, but the blizzard season has clearly begun. Cerebus has gone a little crazy in the meantime, but finally gets Dave on the horn and explains that he’s determined to change his future (the one in which he dies alone, “unmourned and unloved”) he asks Dave to drop him at the little tavern near the Castle Wallis at the Wall of Tsi, a place that seems to hold good memories for him. Dave replies that all he has to do is walk off the cliff he’s on and he’ll wake up where he desires. Cerebus does so as the camera zooms out, revealing Dave’s art board, with Dave enjoying a carrot while he looks at it. “Whatta maroon.”
This volume has been referred to by Dave as the conclusion of Cerebus’ story, the moment in which it all comes to a head: the Ascension, revelations about where Cerebus’ life could have gone, and also the revelation of his own creator. Dave refers to the final 100 issues as the epilogue of Cerebus’ life, reasoning that since he’s actively trying to tell somebody’s life story, he has to take into account that real people also often have a similar structure to their lives. Many people have a part of their lives that is full of possibilities, and by either happenstance or decision-making (usually a bit of both), life eventually leads to a point in which possibilities for any kind of greatness become either impossibilities, or at least improbabilities. Cerebus is pretty young to hit this point already (mid -late 30s, I believe), but then again, his life has been pretty packed until now. Also, you can’t underplay the mental trauma that Cerebus has gone through in this last volume. He’s basically been told that his life’s ambitions are objectively unreachable, and then left on a frozen dwarf planet to mull it over (and go insane in the process, something that he will carry along with him). I suppose he could be forgiven for losing some motivation.
The revelations themselves are mostly pretty funny, except for the Jaka stuff. I don’t want to give any of it away, but I will say that if you’ve gotten attached to certain characters, you’ll be getting a bit of a kick in the pants here. As this is technically the conclusion of Cerebus’ adventures, the remaining 100 don’t feature very many characters that have historically made his life particularly adventurous. That doesn’t mean, however, that the humor is also being dismissed.
The art in this volume is certainly worthy of wrapping up the Cerebus story. Gerhard’s cosmological scenes are some of the best backgrounds ever seen in comics, or even illustration in general. The covers produce some of the very few times that I’ve wished that the comic was in color. The cover of issue #199 reveals that the surface ice of Pluto is a very pleasingly reflective red, which would look really cool in the interior, especially the scene in which Cerebus suddenly sits and sends shards of ice flying. Jupiter also gets a brilliant look in at #191—a piece I would kill to have framed on my wall. Dave and Ger do a fantastic job of looking Cerebus look absolutely tiny in a few pages in which he’s on “Juno”—and of course, he is. Dave, shines in this volume, with Cerebus’ body language and facial expressions. There’s so much kinetic energy in these pages. I’m sure it takes a lot to make issue after issue interesting with nothing but an aardvark flying through space alone, basically talking to himself, but it’s very well done. Cerebus’ looks of utter confusion, anger, defeat, hope, and more are all expertly rendered and believable that it makes the revelations that much weightier. Since the reader isn’t Cerebus, they’re basically forced by Dave to have some empathy for the little guy, no matter what their general opinion of him and hopes for his future are.
I read this one over and over again when I got it. It’s so funny and dramatic, and well “acted,” that it’s perhaps the most addictive volume of the whole series. As a kid, I also thought it was so cool to reveal to a somebody that they’re a comic book character. The only time I had ever heard of that was in Byrne’s She-Hulk, but that didn’t have quite the weight that this does. Now, if you feel it, you can stop here. If you want more, you can move on to Guys, where the alcohol is free…and there’s no last call.
Cerebus: “Cerebus is a terrible person.”
Dave: “Well, yes, but you SAY it the same way you’d say ‘Cerebus is three feet tall.'”
“C’mon man. Haven’t you had enough yet?”
Cerebus: “HELLO IS THIS THE PLACE THAT DOES CEREBUS?”
Receptionist: “Yes it is.”
Cerebus: “THIS IS CEREBUS CALLING. CEREBUS WOULD LIKE TO SPEAK TO DAVE’S BOSS PLEASE.”
“No more getting a little bit warm and then snowing all over himself for Cerebus…NOsir. Cerebus is going to be warm all the time. See that little gray guy over there (people will say)? He’s very, very warm. Everyone is going to be Cerebus’ friend. EVERYONE.”