Cerebus Church& State II
December 1985 - June 1988
Church and State concludes with a beginning, an ugly understanding that comes to the main character, the foresight to his death. It hits the earth-pig with the force of the moon.
While the first volume of Church and State opened with Cerebus writing, the second volume opens with a black-costumed Spider-Roach babbling of the Secret Sacred Wars and dragging Cerebus around the lower city. After short visit to the spirit world, some spiritual history, and a return to the prime material plane and lighting of some gunpowder, Cerebus regains his power and position as Pope. He works at constructing a perfect orb, and riding a black tower to the moon where he learns of his the creation and destruction of the world as well as the ending of his own life, where the Earth-pig learns “You will live only a few more years, you die alone. Unmourned. And unloved.”
The act of creation that carried some form of salvation mentioned in the response to Church & State I eluded Cerebus, it continues to do so in this volume. Yet, this confrontation with a celestial power (along with the revelation that he lost his gold, army, and position as pope) stuns the title character. The Man-in-the-Moon slides advice to the aardvark via Dostoyevsky: “To accept suffering and be redeemed by it.”
It seems, if Cerebus won’t gain redemption from writing, from creating, he’ll gain it through suffering.
Cerebus gains power and wealth and then loses it. As readers we’ve been put in the same spot with Cerebus at the end of Cerebus, the end of High Society, and now the end of Church & State—Cerebus is broke and left with nothing. Always a dream of wealth and power through conquest fill his mind, but what the consideration beyond such acquisitions (when the question is asked) never has an answer from Cerebus, the achieving of the dream is its own reward. Which sounds fine, but pity is reserved fro the Man, or aardvark, that achieves a dream and has no other to follow it, or is unable to learn contentment with a static situation. Yet this static situation of the character is masqued by his ever-active deeds, wanderings, and political intricacies of the story. These details of events happening in Church & State II totally elude me. I hoped, in vain, that this reading of the text (with greater reading skills and familiarity with the story and the characters) but no. I’m as clueless as Cerebus about the Kelvinists, Cirinists, Eastern Church, Western Church and the chronicled deeds of Suetonious Po.
And yet, at least with the way the story read, this time, such details seem almost meaningless—broad metaphors for bureaucratic confusion and needless complication that matters little and amounts to nothing in the grand weave of the plot. When the Man in-the-Moon informed Cerebus the gold and empire and position of power he spent the last 1,220 pages assembling vanished in two panels and five word balloons on page 1212. Brushing aside such complexity and political points with such brevity hardly stresses the importance of these details. Here, Sim has this shift of events serve as yet another supporting point to convey to Cerebus the message of the things that matter—if not to him at least to the universe at large in the story.
And the poor earth-pig hasn’t gathered it yet in 4 volumes into his own series.
This repetition too, of an easy truth hard learned (as they so often seem to be…in hindsight if at no other time) need tough obvious lessons again and again until it finally sinks in or until the subject is in the proper frame of mind to notice the lesson and take the learning into consideration and life.
An hypnotic element exists in black and white art—an element that that seems particularly apt for this volume of Cerebus-with the void and the light, the East and the Worst aspect of the Church. The composition assembled by Sim and Gerhard grab attention to focus on matters that are often overlooked—the glass shade of a hurricane lamp (on page 773), or the billows of clouds (page 687) and the way the light plays over shattering glass on page 1024. The lines and crosshatchings and the white space judiciously used bring out, if not an appreciation at least a fascination with these objects depicted, or to notice the grain of the wood that lines the page.
This detail, the fine lines from thin crow nibs ensnare the focus with Lilliputian lines that hold colors and brushed ink can’t manage (although they have their own machinations to ensnare attention and enflame the imagination). A fine set of works manages by floppy pages of a comic about a violent misanthropic aardvark.
So, what to make of this reading of Church & State? Patterns of oppositions exist. The characters in the story obtained awareness of these patterns and will gain redemption or destruction from their cycles. Readers face a similar choice.