November 11, 2003

Church and State, by Dave Sim

Church and State is the next volume in Sim's massive saga of Cerebus the Aardvark, and I do mean volume, as in "voluminous". In fact, it's two volumes, together comprising 1200 pages of aardvarkian lunacy.

I read Church and State in two installments, about a month apart, which I don't think hurt the story any.

In the first volume, which I very much liked, Cerebus is named Pope of the Western Church of Tarim. It's a political move, and the result of much pulling of strings by a variety of players; he's a compromise Pope named only because the powers that be think he'll be easily manipulated. After all, Astoria had him performing like a trained seal as Prime Minister of Iest in the previous volume, High Society.

But the fact is, Cerebus (who begins to refer to himself as "Most Holy") is tired of being manipulated. Most Holy is tired of working hard when everyone else gets the credit. Most Holy is tired of being pushed around. Most Holy is tired of not getting to enjoy the spoils of his position.

So he takes his show on the road.

Which is to say, he abandons the Papal Palace in ritzy, upper-class Upper Iest and moves with his bodyguard into a beat-up hotel in sleazy lower-class Lower Iest. After he's harangued the crowd for a while, there's no chance of any of his erstwhile handlers getting near him. And just what does he ask his adoring crowd of peasants to do?

I can't tell you, but it's funny.

And so Volume I continues, with Most Holy having to learn to live with the consequences of his own success. And it ends with a quite shocking turn of events which I nevertheless found hysterical, having read the early parts of the series.

So far, so good; Church and State, Vol. 1 was a good read, and more fun than High Society.

So then I read Church and State, Vol. 2, in which we find out why a lot of this maneuvering has been going on. It turns out that once an age, one person, properly equipped, can actually try to meet the Divine Tarim and become his avatar, the Messiah of the World. If he succeeds, something glorious will happen; if he fails, there will be great devastation, and no one will be able to try again until the next age. On gathers that nobody has actually managed it.

I won't go into details about what happens, except that I found the second volume of Church and State to be a bit of a disappointment. There are pages and pages of beautiful (?) drawing during which very little actually happens--it's much more slowly paced than his earlier work. There are many episodes which make almost no sense, comic or otherwise. And the final payoff was more of a rip-off--bad theology, with heavy-handed irony and ridiculous sneers at the United States' space program. (Yes, really. Why? I have no idea. But apparently the Challenger blew up to show us that we should have known better. Gag.)

But there were some pretty funny bits anyway; I especially liked the scenes with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Will I get the next volume, Jaka's Story? Probably; it's considered to be the zenith of the series, apparently, after which it's all downhill. After that, who can say.

Posted by Will Duquette at November 11, 2003 09:12 PM