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Church & State, Vol. 2 (Cerebus, Books 4-7) Paperback – July 1, 1988
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Church and State, Volume II, is the second part of a story that exists as a whole and as part three of the Cerebus the Aardvark series. Many consider this volume to be Dave Sim and background artist Gerhard's best visual work to date.
The action picks up right after the cliffhanger at the end of part one of Church and State. Cerebus attempts to regain his lost throne amidst warnings of a larger crisis. Mountain climbing, the introductions of Prince Mick and Prince Keef (exactly who you might think they are), the Super Secret Sacred Wars, and an Ascension to Vanaheim mark this second half of the Church and State opus. The major plot lines, which started 10 years earlier in Cerebus and High Society, are resolved (to some degree). The ending sets the stage for the more restful and introspective volumes--Jaka's Story and Melmoth--that follow.
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Principally, I think, the issue is that Sim's storytelling takes a heavy turn for the confusing in the course of this volume. Long sections of it drag rather noticeably as Sim devotes considerable space to mundane activities or gags. Other parts, such as Cerebus' trial of Astoria, ar ejust confusingly depicted, the significance never explained or illuminated in sufficient detail. And then there is the character of the Moon Roach, Sim's device for parodying whatever was going on in superhero comics at the time, who takes on the extremely annoying incarnation of the 'Sacred Wars' Roach; this is, at present, a one-joke character, albeit with the one joke being swapped out every so often, and he just grates here.
All that said, there remains a great deal to like here. Sim is a witty, intelligent writer, and, by this point, also a very strong artist (as is Gerhard, reliably providing the backgrounds). Characters like Lord Julius (who we don't see nearly enough of here) and Cerebus himself retain their enjoyable characteristics, and Astoria, a regular figure in the comic since "High Society", finally gets some real exploration here (including the infamous rape by Cerebus after she taunts him). And the chase, when Sim eventually cuts to it, is excellent. Cerebus finds himself face to face with a Watcher-esque character, who reveals to him the history of the solar system and Earth, in particular, including in it his knowledge of the ultimate fate of life in our area of the world (the future isn't great), and his judgement of Cerebus himself. Cerebus learns of his ultimate, miserable fate, and is reminded of what he has done to deserve it. In some respects, you know, at the story's end, everything that you need to know about the series.
This black and white comic works at many levels. Visual realism comes and goes, lettering conveys more feeling than whole pages of artwork in some other comics, and page layouts challenge the reader who's only seen the row-of-blocks kind before. Copious nods to popular culture include Lord Julius (a Groucho Marx lookalike), a parody of Mick Jagger, references to mainstream comics, and a startling, surreal cameo by the Flaming Carrot. Many of the original monthly magazines included backup features by other artists, and FC was one of those. Unfortunately, the backup features and brief rants that introduced each issue never made it into this compendium, so the new reader must simply accept that episode as another mystery. Of course, the real attraction comes from Cerebus himself, the scrappy aardvark who somehow finds himself supreme leader of a theocratic nation-state. Intrigue in the pope's court alternates with dream-like sequences, fast action takes turns with dream-like philosophical interludes, and broad humor lightens many moments that could otherwise have dragged.
Cerebus also holds a distinctive place in the indy comics movement. Dave Sim was certainly not the first to step outside the oligopoly of the comics world in the late 1970s or early 1980s. He was (and remains) one of the most successful small publishers, however, and an inspiration to many that followed. That bit of history just adds to the enjoyment, though. If you want something different from the spandexed superheroes, give this a shot. You might find yourself a fan, too.
A few touches of humor relieve this, but by this time the series starts becoming less entertaining and more pretentious, with overwritten text starting to smother everything. Davis Sim is losing his mojo and will never reclaim it again.
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I've only recently gotten into Cerebus, and I can't get them fast enough. I thoroughly enjoyed volume 1.Read more