I was really pissed off by this book the first time around. Thought the ending of the Mothers and Daughters saga was an incredible cop-out, that Dave had run out of good ideas and the rest of the run would be dull as hell. Having already read 60+ issues after this book, I can see it a bit differently now. It seems necessary for the being behind the whole Ascention to be… but that would be telling. It makes sense. Kind of takes some of the fun out of the presumed naivete of the series, but it had to be done. I think I had a problem with the whole thing at the time too because the Cerebus story was such a distant second (or even third) to whatever else was going on in the book. Every issue in this arc opened up with a 2-6 page rant about the state of independent comics or the latest convention of small press folks. Granted, there weren’t very many of them back then, but the announcements shouldn’t have been coming before the story. Follow that up with a letters page that was more interesting than the story (not to slight to story, but this was right after the infamous #186 and the letters were pouring in about the whole mess. A lot of people were trying to figure out exactly how much he really meant out of all the stuff he was saying) and a preview that was always at least interesting, and Cerebus got the short end of the stick. I’m sure this problem has been solved for the ages through the phone book for this one, but it’ll always be a jumbled mess for me.
What does that mean for the state of the book? This one is absolutely crucial, like it or not. Whether or not it’s just an explanation for why nothing happens the rest of the way remains to be seen. Without giving anything away, this one is Cerebus and Cirin flying through space and meeting their maker. The whole Terim/Tarim debate is finally cleared up, you learn a lot of interesting things about Cirin, and the Roach is, to the best of my knowledge, forgotten completely. I was wondering if he would show up at all after Reads and he doesn’t here. Which makes a little sense when you take the ending of the series into context, but it sure feels like Dave forgot about him completely. After the first two books were nonstop action and revelations, Reads slowed everything down quite a bit and Minds threw the whole thing in reverse. Not a satisfying conclusion to the story but, as always, that could change depending on the how the whole series ends. It’s frustrating to have to be even more wishy washy than usual in these reviews, but there’s so much yet to be seen that’ll make a lot of this look like the work of a genius, or just somebody who wanted to fill up 300 issues. I’m confident of the former being true, but there’s always that small element that tells me that he might have gone a little bit nutty and changed his mind at some point in the story. We’ll see. For now, this is probably the most crucial book in the series, so that makes it required reading. Even if I did have a few problems with it…
There’s an immediate dilemma to my reviewing this. Do I review the text parts, the comic parts or both? Because the reviews for the two of them would be quite different. I’ll tell you right now that I’m not going to touch #186 though. Smarter people than me have done it, and that’s not what I’m here for right now. Well, obviously you can’t separate the text from the pictures. Like it or not, this is how Sim chose do to Reads and this is how it is now. One thing that he made abundantly clear in his rambling is that we are only the audience, so we have to accept that. That being said, this is my third time reading this over the years. It was a chore to get through when I was reading it month to month, but I looked forward to it because it helped me kill some of the dead time between classes, what with taking a couple of hours to read per issue (between the Notes From the President, Aardvark Comment, the preview each month and, oh yeah, the actual comic). The second time around I thought the text was intrusive and unnecessary and, quite honestly, I skipped over chunks of it. This time, I actually liked the first part of the text. It didn’t fit in the story, granted, but it was a needed shift in momentum from all the action going on in the actual comic. But the text bits changed when the fight between Cerebus and Cirin started, and that’s when this whole thing became self-indulgent and meaningless in the extreme.
What’s that you say? You can say anything you want about Sim’s comments throughout this, but “meaningless” isn’t one of them? Sure it is. What did it do for the story? Absolutely nothing. The only reason he put this in the context of the story is so it would be in print for as long as the series was. Honestly, he’s addressed this issue since then, and it’s never been in the storyline since. Why? What makes it less intrusive now than it was then? I don’t know, and I’m among the many who can’t figure this guy out for anything. Even with what he believes in, the guy is still one of my heroes simply for what he’s done in comics and how high he’s raised the bar for anybody else who wants to do a continuing story. This could have easily been the best of the books. How can you go wrong when you start with Cerebus, Cirin, Astoria and Suentes Po all in a room? He could have changed the name of the book to “Revelations”, kept the text out of it (or at least kept it fictional), and he would have had a masterpiece. Instead he’s got a jumbled mess. People, if you’re asking my advice here, skip the text pieces entirely. That’s not what his story is and I have no right to tell you that, but when I read this thing again through the years, I’m not going to read the text again. It would improve the story immeasurably, that’s for sure. All that being said, this is still a crucial piece of the larger story. Much as you’d like to, you can’t skip reading this one. Don’t get me wrong, the comic part is fantastic. The fight scene between Cerebus and Cirin is one of the best I’ve seen, and I’ve been reading comics for a long time. He took a big chance with this one creatively, and I think he blew it. You’re entitled to your opinion, but after the third time through I just can’t see where this text helps the story in any way. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad to read otherwise, but we could have read it in the Aardvark Comment and everything would have been fine. It’s the mark of a great storyteller, though, that I can’t wait to move onto the next book.
OK, I’ve been looking around online for almost an hour now, trying to find an “intellectual” review of #186. I can’t find one. I’ve found a few that call it a “misogynistic rant”, but they’re really short on fact about that comment, and don’t offer much in the way of debate. Anybody out there know of any intelligent reviews of this issue? I know I’ve seen some before. Let me know, I’ll put a link to it up here.
I’m starting to wonder about the wisdom of reviewing every part of this storyline. Granted, this is how it was all published and I’m sure Sim knew what he was doing. And reviewing any of this series is, by nature, sheer guesswork. That’s just the case with reviewing books about ongoing series when the series isn’t actually done yet. This particular book picks up where Flight leaves off, obviously. Cerebus is back from talking to Suentes Po and is confined to a tavern due to a law against Cirinists entering such establishments. Astoria is confined with her followers in a hopeless situation and Cirin is in a coma due to the Upper City being mostly destroyed. Everything is in chaos, basically. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone as their first book in the series by any stretch of the imagination, but if you are buying these one at a time or something, I’d recommend getting all of the Mothers and Daughters books all at once. Every one of them has an ending that is going to bug the hell out of you if you have to wait for it to continue.
There are a few new technical things in this book, I guess. Tracts from Cirin and Astoria about Cirinism and Kevilism, respectively, are spread throughout the book. It gives a fascinating look into just how much time Sim put into these religions that he made up for the sake of this book. Granted, both groups bear more than a passing resemblance to Republicans and Democrats, but these are done completely through the eyes of women, which is a completely different perspective. And I honestly don’t see how somebody who could spend that much time on it and seem to have this much respect for the opinions of women turn out to be a misogynist. Does anybody know if he still claims not to be a misogynist? I know he did after #186, but he recently released another rant that all but confirms that he mostly hates women. Or that he just has no respect at all for their opinions and/or contributions to society compared to that of men. But that’s a conversation for another day entirely. Bottom line for this book: not as much action as the last one, but all kinds of important stuff is going on in the background and there’s no way you can miss this and make any sense of the rest of the storyline. Once again, if you’re already reading this series then you’re convinced of how vital this book is, if you’re not reading it you probably aren’t reading this anyway. In other words, I’m mostly just pissing in the wind here…
Bloodshed! Mayhem! Wanton brutality and murder! All the things you’ve come to expect from Cerebus. Well, not really, which is what makes this book such a departure, especially after a three year span (as far as the comic is concerned) without Cerebus doing much of anything. This one starts off with a bang, with him on the run from basically all the Cirinists and with them all after his head. Those sword fights are pretty realistic (it seems) too. Most movies and other media just show swords killing people without going into detail about how it’s done. This is all shown brutally in this series. And the Roach is back, and Elrod, and Suentes Po, and Cirin, and plenty of people where I don’t want to ruin the surprise. We get a few glimpses into why things are as they are, and plenty of things that seemed completely unimportant at the time are brought back for a brief spell. You’d have a hard time finding any character to ask “whatever happened to them?” after this whole story is over.
How does it stack up? Well, it starts off possibly the best large storyline of the series, at least so far. It’s not easy to pull off constant action for as long as Sim did and have me buy it either. That’s one other thing that I’m getting when I’m re-reading all this. He knew exactly what he needed to do to make this a hit (at least with his diehard fans) when he started this thing. He could have easily spent the rest of the series after this dealing with Cirin and everyone and with the politics of Iest, but instead he chose to take all kinds of chances. Still, that’s a review for another time. This one has anything that any fan of the series could ever want: a starring role for Cerebus, more plot advancement (at least as far as the “main” plot goes) than you could shake a stick at, and the return of almost every character who has meant anything to the story. All this while still going light on the giant blocks of text! This is a real crowd pleaser, and probably the right one to start someone with who isn’t convinced of this series and also has a short attention span. There are better books, sure, but most of what happens in them leads up to the event in the Mothers and Daughters story.