March 14, 2004

Jaka's Story, by Dave Sim

Gosh I'm glad I don't live in Dave Sim's head.

I was extremely tempted to let that first line stand as the entire review, but I suppose I should elaborate.

Jaka's Story is the next installment of Sim's epic comic book series, Cerebus the Aardvark; I've previously reviewed Cerebus, High Society, and Church and State.

The first thing to know is that this isn't a story about Cerebus at all. It's primarily about a dancer named Jaka who appears as part of a gag in one of the early episodes. Cerebus has been slipped a love potion by some bad guys; things don't go quite as expected, and he becomes besotted with the dancing girl at a tavern. She returns his love, or so she says, but by the end of the episode the potion has worn off, and Cerebus is gone. Being, after all, an aardvark, he's not likely to fall in love with a human no matter how lovely she is.

Jaka makes a number of short appearances in High Society and Church and State, during which time Cerebus has gotten over his disdain for human women, and they have a number of bittersweet passages. This, however, is the first volume in which she plays a major role. And in fact, she's center stage--Cerebus isn't even present for most of it.

The first two-thirds are quite interesting, despite Sim's penchant for filling whole pages with four or six or eight panes of nearly the same image (I suppose it's supposed to be cinematic, and sometimes it works; there are a number of pages on which one character is having writer's block, where it's quite effective; but mostly it just seems like he's trying to get through an issue with as little writing as possible.)

But as I say, the first two-thirds are quite interesting. The volume contains two narratives side by side. The first tells of Jaka's childhood in the Tavers Family Residence in Palnu from when she was five years old until she left Palnu and began earning a living as a dancer. The second follows on from Church and State, and features Cerebus (briefly) visiting with Jaka and her shiftless husband Richard. The two stories are converging into what's looking to be a really dramatic climax when -- BANG in steps the Cirinist Inquisition. The Cirinists are a matriarchal sect of the Church of Tarim; it seems that dancing has been outlawed. All and sundry (except Cerebus, who stepped out in boredom sometime earlier) are shipped off to the Cirinist dungeons, which is where the last third of the book takes place.

I really don't know what Sim was trying to achieve, but what ever it was, he completely blew it with that last third, in both narratives. I won't say how the story of young Jaka ends--but the horrible, traumatic event that is supposed to send her fleeing her patrician birth to become a dancer in low dives all over Estarcion is too absurd for words. As for the present day narrative, the ending is truly horrific...but the only thing I gather from it is that Sim doesn't much like women and doesn't much like religion. I also gather from his introduction that he has no concept whatsoever what a healthy marriage looks like.

Anyway, I'm disappointed, just as I was with Church and State--the book's got an excellent build-up, and some truly beautiful story-telling, and then the ending fizzles. It's really rather pathetic.

Posted by Will Duquette at March 14, 2004 08:56 PM

Jaquandor said:

Dave Sim hates women, as far as I can tell. Just do a Google search under "Dave Sim women" and you'll turn up all manner of info about his opinions toward them.

Will Duquette said:

What also surprised me was Sim's characterization of Jaka's husband Richard. In the introduction, he describes Richard as a genuinely nice guy, without any harm in him. In fact, Richard is shiftless, lazy, gullible, weak, impractical, dishonest, stupid and treacherous.

And Sim makes him out to be the victim. Go figure.

J.L. said:

If you think the story was bad, you should see Sim's editorials in the individual issues; calling him misogynistic would be polite.