Sunday, 31 December 2017

Reading Cerebus #4

Hey look kids! It's "READING CEREBUS" time!
Kevin Kimmes:

Welcome back to “Reading Cerebus”, a new weekly column here at A Moment of Cerebus. The goal of this column is to bring a fresh perspective to the 300-issue saga of Cerebus as I read through the series for the first time and give my insights into the longest running independent comic book series of all time. Think of this as part book club, part lit-crit, and part pop culture musing. Oh, and they told me Dave Sim himself may be reading this, so I hope I don’t screw this up. Let’s continue.

Issue #4: “Death’s Dark Tread”
Issue #4: "Death's Dark Tread" 

Since last we left our Earth-Pig Born:

“Using Henrot’s gold, Cerebus bribes his way onto a merchant vessel on the Sofim river. A week later, he is within the Sepran Empire’s boundaries, posing as a trader in textiles! At Serrea, the informal capital of the loosely-knit and militant empire, the Earth-Pig sees his chance for a much-needed vacation! He loses himself amid the bustling crowds and, with the last of his Borealan gold, sets about the serious business of drinking, eating and gambling…”
Image courtesy of Cerebus Downloads, Apricot Brandy courtesy of Henrot's gold...
Thanks, Dave!

In what is a rather simple plot, Cerebus discovers a shiny gem only to suddenly become the object of Death’s attention. See, Death want’s the gem to add to his collection (he has a dozen, but clearly is in search of a baker’s dozen) and will use anything in his power to get it. And by anything, I mean Lovecraftian beasts from the dawn of creation, and a Foghorn Leghorn talking parody of Michael Moorcock’s Elric! What, you say, what? Well good reader, you are in for a treat.

Death’s first attempt at retrieving the gem is to sick a Lovecraftian horror (a Crawler) on Cerebus. This thing is straight up nightmare fodder: all tentacles, mouths and eyeballs! Death explains that the Crawler is, “A creature from the dawn of time, a creature of sorcery…” It is also no match for Cerebus, as he makes quick work of the beast.

Another Pulp Icon: H. P. Lovecraft

Howard Phillips (H. P.) Lovecraft is the second major pulp author that Dave borrows from in Cerebus. Lovecraft, best known for his Cthulhu Mythos, was a contemporary of Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan and Red Sonja (see last week’s column for the twisty tale of Sonja’s genesis). Drawing heavily on gothic horror, Lovecraft created his own version of both terrestrial and cosmic horror, taking influence from author’s such as Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, and Arthur Machen.

Two things stand out in the exchange between Cerebus and the Crawler that play into the over-arching themes of Lovecraft: Death’s description of the creature and the idea of “sanity”.

As mentioned above, Death refers to the crawler as “A creature from the dawn of time, a creature of sorcery…”, making it wholly possible that this is a Lovecraftian hell-beast of some sort. In much of Lovecraft’s work, cultists and those versed in the black arts attempt to awaken the slumbering “Elder Gods” of the universe. With this description, it is not hard to suppose that what we see here is some sort of lesser deity.

Additionally, upon initially besting the beast, Cerebus quips, “And to think that Cerebus came south to seek sanity…!” Sanity is another reoccurring theme in Lovecraft’s work, with many a protagonist losing their minds at the exposure to these creatures from beyond time and space. Not Cerebus though, his mental fortitude is about to be tested in new and wholly tortuous ways by Death’s next trap: Elrod The Albino!

A Third Pulp Icon: Michael Moorcock

Borrowing from the pulp/horror/sword and sorcery pantheon of authors is now clearly a running theme in these early stories as the introduction of Elrod further proves. Based on the albino swordsman, Elric of Melnibone, who first appeared in the 1961 novella, "The Dreaming City", Elrod gets a tweak from another famous pantheon: Loony Tunes, specifically the cartoons featuring Foghorn Leghorn!

To paraphrase Bob Dylan’s “Outlaw Blues”: “Well, I might look like Johnny Winter, but I feel just like a’ Foghorn Leghorn, I say boy, I say!”
Image, I say image courtesy of Cerebus Downloads. Dotcom, that is...
Yes, Elrod has all of the vocal mannerisms of that loveable rooster, including a penchant to never shut up. This, quickly becomes an issue as Elrod bounces from referring to Cerebus as a kid in a “bunny suit”, to mistaking Cerebus’ lack of interest for insult, resulting in a challenge to sword fight (where have we seen this before *wink, wink*).

Elrod’s black sword, Seersucker (a joke five-thousand years in the making and a parody of Elric’s sword, Stormbringer) proves no match for Cerebus as it shatters on impact with Cerebus’ own steel. As Cerebus notes, the black color was a byproduct of an abundant rust buildup, thus making the sword as frail as it’s wielder.

Losing the fight, Elrod continues to follow Cerebus, all the while letting his big mouth run. It’s not long before this again leads to conflict, this time with the city garrison, resulting in both Cerebus and Elrod being thrown in prison, after Elrod’s might in battle is again proven to be, I say be, a bunch of hot air.

Chained to the wall with “Chatty Cathy”, Cerebus turns his full attention to trying to break his bonds despite the protestation of Elrod. Eventually snapping both manacles, Cerebus leaves his fast-talking companion to rot in the dungeon and goes in search of someone capable of removing what remains of his bonds.

But, there is one nagging thing that must be done first: Get rid of that cursed bad luck gem!

Cerebus opts to chuck it down a well (good riddance to bad rubbish), as it has brought him nothing but problems since he found it. In the end, no one wins with Cerebus none-the-richer, and Death still baker’s dozenless on the gem front.
This image is courtesy DC Comics. J/K, it's another Cerebus Downloads one.
Join me back here next week as we look at Issue 5 as Cerebus faces the terror of “Bran Mak Mufin”.

Currently Listening To: Garcia Live Volume 9: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders August 11th, 1974 Keystone Berkeley

Kevin Kimmes is a lifelong comic book reader, sometime comic book artist, and recent Cerebus convert. He can be found slinging comics at the center of the Multiverse, aka House of Heroes in Oshkosh, WI.


Anonymous said...

Just heard about "focal dystonia of the hand" by chance and thought of Dave's hand:

Don't know if anyone has ever suggested this. If so, the remedy could be a matter of wearing a glove.

Oliver said...

Loving your series!! Especially of note in this issue is Cerebus wears his vest for the first time - and his gems have symbols on them. And first time he has no helmet! (And forgive me...SPOILER: we later learn he traded in his Northern barbarian helmet for a merchant vest - and painted Merchant Guild Symbols on his medallions to fit in to boot (as the issue shows the guards don't take kindly to warriors, and "the chaotic manifestation" that is Elrod isn't much help:))...anyway, by not being true to himself he fractures his destiny which propels the rest of the series.

Kevin Kimmes said...


Thank you for the kind words as well as reminding me about the change in Cerebus' look. I had meant to mention that this issue sees the addition of his vest as well as a shortening of his snout, but did not pick up on the other details you mentioned. Again, thank you and Happy New Year!

Tony Dunlop said...

This is really fun to read; thanks, Kevin. It's like re-reading without having to dig out the appropriate longboxes from my basement "comics room."

The rest of you - please remember that this is Kevin's first time through, so ixnay on the oilersspay.

FGL said...

This was my favorite edition for quite some time, especially because of the ending lines. So many memories to see it here now...

Kevin Kimmes said...


Glad you are enjoying the articles. Lots more to come (like 294/296ish more columns). Happy New Year!

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

It's funny that Dave confessed in the Swords introduction that he'd forgotten why he put the designs on the medallions. Good that we was later able to use them!

-- Damian