Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Rabbi Thing

Cerebus #300 (March 2004)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from Andrew Rilstone's Cerebus #300 critique, undated)
...The Rabbi thing is the most recent example of the weird dream logic which has informed Cerebus almost from the beginning. Cerebus' world has always been populated by parodies of characters from other comics and popular fiction who merge in illogical ways. Of course Red Sonja's mum is the old lady from the Giles cartoons; of course Groucho Marx is head of a renaissance city-state. 'Rabbi' represents the collision of 3 ideas:
1. An off-hand remark on the letters-pages that comics fans treat comics as holy texts and the creators as sacred authorities; 'Rabbi Mark's commentary on Rabbi Stan's interpretation of Rabbi Jack's work.' This was a very good joke.

2. A gag about [Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's] Preacher: Cerebus is reading a 'comic' which he knows must be great literature because lots of people get killed in interesting ways. The title of the comic is 'Rabbi'.

3. The observation, which a lot of people seem to have arrived at simultaneously, that all the major founders of the comic-book industry were American (mainly New York) Jews: Stanley Martin Lieber, Jacob Kurtzburg and Joe Simon, Will Eisner, Jerry Siegal and Joseph Schuster. Once you have seen this point, it becomes painfully obvious that superheroes are a metaphor for the Jewish-American experience - the little guy who punches above his weight, the person persecuted because he is different but who is in a funny way 'chosen' or 'set-apart'. The school-kids' shunning of studious, bespectacled Peter Parker is a none-too thinly disguised metaphor for anti-Semitism; Aunt May is a not-at-all disguised version of the stereotyped Jewish Mother. Stan Lee confirmed the point when he said that Spider-Man was the Woody Allen of the superhero world.
Leave these to stew in Dave Sim's brain for a year or two, and you end up with an image of a comic book superhero who, instead of dressing in lycra, dresses as an orthodox rabbi and who has secret rabbi-powers; pastiches of famous old comics festooned with Hebrew lettering, and an imprisoned Cerebus imagining or dreaming that he the super heroic 'Rabbi', just as the mad Roach used to think that he was Wolverine, Sandman, or Batman. So what we have in these final pages is Cerebus spirit self turning into the superhero he imagined himself to be while imprisoned. 

I think. Like most dreams, it's hard to explain, but makes a sort of sense while you are inside it...

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