October 01, 2003

High Society, by Dave Sim

High Society is the second volume of the saga of Cerebus the Aardvark, comprising issues 26 through 50 of the original comic book. And unlike the first volume, it's essentially one long 500-page story.

The overall plot is remarkably straightforward if you don't examine it too closely. Cerebus stomps into the city of Iest after a long slog through the marshes. He's tired, he's angry, and he's looking for a fight. He seeks out the best hotel in town mostly so he can get into a brawl with the hotel guards over whether he can get a room or not. And instead, everything goes suspiciously smoothly as soon as the desk clerk learns his name.

It turns out that it's all thanks to being the Supervisor of the Staff Kitchen for Lord Julius of Palnu, a post Cerebus held for a time in the previous volume. Lord Julius (who is played fetchingly by Groucho Marx--no, really!) funds his government by selling titles to the highest bidder, and as a result most titles in Palnu don't mean what you'd think they mean. Supervisor of the Staff Kitchen is in fact the title held by the head of Julius' personal bodyguard. As such, then, Cerebus is presumed to have considerable pull with Lord Julius, and has been elected by the people of Iest to be (I think--it's a little fuzzy) Palnu's diplomatic representative in Iest. Hence his popularity and inability to get into a fight.

This is just the first twenty pages, you understand. What follows is a wild tiger ride in which Cerebus is kidnapped, rescued, manipulated, outvoted, elected, and nearly becomes pope. (No, not that pope. A different pope altogether.) It's a tale of economics, politics, religion, interest rates, graft, teamsters, surly farmers, and a couple of whackos who talk like Yosemite Sam. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I suspect I missed about half of what was going on.

In one regard I prefer the earlier Swords of Cerebus collections (four issues per volume) to the new larger format--in the smaller collections, each issue is preceded by an introduction. Not all of them are timeless, but they not only provide interesting background to the story, they also chronicle Sim's growth as a writer and artist. For me, comics illiterate that I am, it was a fascinating glimpse at how comic books are created. I missed all that in the current volume.

Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable interlude, and one I intend to repeat in a few months, just to see what I missed the first time around.

Posted by Will Duquette at October 1, 2003 06:47 PM

Ian said:

I always take it for granted that everyone has my background knowledge, but just in case...

You do know that Groucho's real name was Julius Marx, right?

Will Duquette said:

If I hadn't already, Dave Sim pointed it out in one of the introductions I enjoyed in Swords of Cerebus.

Chico makes a brief appearance in this volume as well.

Will Duquette said:

(Gosh, let a guy make a simple mistake like confusing the Warner Brothers and MGM studios, and suddenly everyone assumes he's shockingly ignorant.)