Friday, February 26, 2021

Gravity's Rainbow: Part XXIX.I

This section begins with a primer on plastics, a brief history leading up to Jamf's Imipolex G. I'm not a chemist so I don't understand the lingo but I've done enough chemistry so I get the gist. That's the fairly standard description of my intelligence! I can't explain anything to anybody in great detail (except maybe why Cerebus can't get pregnant) but I'll definitely understand any amount of detailed explanation of a subject with which you'd like to bore me. Here's an example of me reading this book:

Jamf at the time was working for a Swiss outfit called Psychochemie AG, originally known as the Grossli Chemical Corporation, *Me, yawning, nodding along, eyes glazing over* a spinoff from Sandoz (where, as every schoolchild knows, the legendary Dr. Hoffman made his important discovery). *me, eyes flashing open, grin on my face, nodding enthusiastically. "Yeah, yeah! Every schoolchild! Good old Albert Hoffman! My hero! Genius!"*

The primer also describes the links between all the petrochemical companies of the time. It's probably supposed to show how big business and corporations and the advancement of science (particularly plastics, in this case) had no loyalty to any nation. It was all about profits and advancements and more profits. One of the companies had an address at Schokoladestrasse which made me happy because I knew those words. I'm not bragging! Obviously everybody knows those words! It just made me happy! In the same way somebody in the book could have said "Ziegenstrasse" and I would have come in my pants.

This is all discovered by Slothrop as he researches Jamf and Imipolex G and the German blueprints for rockets and especially this one weird rocket that was built with a section composed of Imipolex G which seems to have been top secret: The "S-Gerät, 11/00000." While doing the research, he also comes up with "Proverbs for Paranoids, 3: If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers." Hmm, that may have been a proverb for paranoids in 1945 and also 1973 but I think it's just standard operating procedure for anybody with any money or power at this point. I don't think saying that makes me paranoid. I think it makes me observant.

During the days of researching, Slothrop discovers Tantivy has died. Or might have died. Basically, They want Slothrop to think he's dead so whether they sent him out to a dangerous mission to get killed or they just planted a story in the paper so Slothrop would read it, it hardly matters. Thinking Tantivy has not just died but was most likely killed by Them to get to Slothrop, Slothrop's path becomes clear. He's no longer content to sit in the Casino and study and sort of ignore that they're manipulating his life. It's time to head into The Zone and figure out what's going on.

He heads to Nice to find the address given to him by Waxwing, the address where he can get a new identity.

Just for the knife-edge, here in the Rue Rossini, there comes to Slothrop the best feeling dusk in a foreign city can bring: just where the sky's light balances the electric lamplight in the street, just before the first star, some promise of events without cause, surprises, a direction at right angles to every direction his life has been able to find up till now.

For Slothrop, that moment must be heaven. A promise of events without cause?! How does one so paranoid as Slothrop ever reach that stage? I guess upon arriving in a new city at dusk before he has a chance to see the strings, the facades, the seeming random coincidences that, upon slight reflection, prove themselves to be manipulations.

Slothrop arrives at the address given to him by Waxwing and winds up among a bunch of bohemian drifters and squatters. In a description of their shoes: . . . saddle-stitching in contrasting colors (such as orange on blue, and the perennial favorite, green on magenta. . . . What is it with magenta and green?! Did Pynchon suffer from some kind of PTSD derived from wearing bowling shoes?!

After a lot of paranoid delusions of conversations with people he thinks he knows but they're just wanderers and drunks, squatters and Johns, he gets his papers. He's now Ian Scuffling, war correspondent, and he's headed to Zurich.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Cerebus #24 (1981)

In this issue, the kids downstairs won't stop laughing loudly while Old Man Cerebus tries to sleep.

Only about thirty issues left containing "A Note from the Publisher" which I'll probably continue to ignore since they don't say anything I care about! This is an assumption based on Sim and Loubert's marriage ending in 1983 (the assumption that the note will only last around two more years and not the assumption that none of them will discuss anything I'm interested in. That's less assumption and more evidence-based research).

I did enjoy this bit from the "A Note from the Publisher" page though.

Dave Sim's Swords of Cerebus essay in this issue is a continuation from the last issue and continues on into the next issue. It ends at a dramatic place in a story he's telling about getting drunk with some dealers at a convention and one of them carrying around a loaded gun, leaving it on the dresser in the hotel room where they've landed at the end of the night to continue drinking. After the part of the story where Dave says, "Take the bullets out," the essay is left hanging to be concluded in the next issue. I suppose, due to the constraints of space, it had to be done. But imagine picking up this issue and having to wait two weeks to find out where the story goes. And then imagine, two weeks later, after you've mostly forgotten about the story, reading the continuation of the story from that point and thinking, "What the hell was happening with Sim and these guys?!"

I suppose all of that could have been avoided by simply buying the Swords of Cerebus volume this essay was in and reading it the way it was supposed to be read. But that's unrealistic! The reason these bi-weekly Cerebus issues exist is because the single issues, by 1989, were too hard to find and the Swords of Cerebus volumes were out of print, replaced by Sim's Cerebus phone books. I think I only have the first three Swords of Cerebus books because I purchased them so late that the phone books were already in print. But I managed to stumble on Swords of Cerebus first and picked them up, always having been curious about that aardvark (aardvard?) on the cover of all those comic books across the aisle from my precious Elfquest books down at Brian's Books in Santa Clara, California.

This issue is called "Swamp Sounds" and I hope that means Cerebus is going to have sex with some of the ladies at Madame Dufort's School for Horny Girls. Except I know that it means a Swamp Thing parody is in the works. Unless it's a Man-Thing parody. Does it matter?

The story begins with Cerebus sitting around playing card games and drinking whisky with the three young ladies at the school.

When I was in my early 20s, this was one of the funniest jokes I'd ever read in a comic book. I'm now 49 and, well, it still is.

Oh wait. I forgot the joke gets funnier.

Ah ha ha ha ha! What a scamp!

Cerebus and the girls have a discussion about heroism. Cerebus says it doesn't exist and prods them for examples of a true hero still living. Theresa tells a story they heard from Katrina's sister about their uncle. The story gives credit to Lord Julius for saving the Festival of Petunias, an act which, of course, was accomplished by Cerebus. But what's more interesting is that Katrina looks almost exactly like Jaka which means the sister who told the story was certainly Jaka. I'm not sure if Jaka brings up Katrina in any later stories, or if she's a character at all in "Jaka's Story." Seeing as how Lord Julius isn't really an "uncle" to any of them, it could be suggested that Katrina isn't really Jaka's sister. But, I mean, she looks just like her.

The second story was about Elrod and features this iconic re-imagining of Cerebus through Elrod's eyes.

Later that night, Cerebus realizes the "swamp sounds" are coming from inside the school. He investigates to find the girls in a trance around some magic table with Madame Dufort watching over them. But Dufort has removed the disguise and reveals himself to be the sorcerer, Charles X. Claremont! For the non-comic book initiated, he's a parody of Charles Xavier with the addition of the great X-men writer Chris Claremont's surname.

Charles decides to explicate the entire plot, revealing his machinations, plans, and goals while Cerebus sits patiently listening. The second most important part of the story is that a book of fables by the legendary Suenteus Po was actually a book of spells. One spell was to summon the Apocalypse Beast which is what Claremont has done (the most important part of the story!). He introduces it to Cerebus as Woman-Thing. Which spontaneously causes me to remember how Charles X. Claremont dies next issue. Ick.

Cerebus #24 Rating: B+. Apparently in my estimation, Dave Sim does better work when he's concentrating on the comic book parodies than when he's concentrating on obscure Clint Eastwood movies. Don't argue with me that The Beguiled which opened the year I was born and doesn't have as many horses and gunfights as you'd expect from an Eastwood movie isn't "obscure" just because you've seen it. Also, I don't want to get into an Internet argument where I might be wrong. So just shut up, okay?! But I bet we can agree that the Charles Xavier, School for Gifted Girls, and the Woman-Thing bits are way better than the whole beguiling thing from last issue, right?! Last issue would have been better if Cerebus had had sex with some human women. I would have been so grossed out by what that would have got started in my pants.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Cerebus #23 (1980)

Uh oh. This issue looks serious.

Just a few issues left before Dave Sim really starts getting serious with his 25 issue story arc, "High Society." He's already hinted a few times that a lot more is happening than just Cerebus bouncing around Estarcion trying to get drunk and rich. Yes, just drunk and rich. He doesn't seem too concerned with getting laid. I think he's probably a virgin and a romantic so he's going to need to be in love before he has sexual relations with some poor sod. Although that theory will be stabbed in the face later when Cerebus becomes Pope and marries himself to Astoria simply so he can rape her while also convincing himself it isn't rape because he married himself to her first. But maybe he loved her and thought he was being romantic? He's an aardvark! How can I judge an aardvark's mental acrobatics! I can't even judge my own.

If I remember correctly, one of these last three issues before "High Society" will be the one with the Man-Thing parody. But this one, I believe, is the one where he's laid up in a house with a bunch of women who want to fuck him but, being Cerebus, he's all, "No, no! I am not interested in that kind of thing! Unless you get me drunk on peach brandy!" I forget what the other plot will be. Maybe the return of Thrunk?

I haven't spoken about Deni's "A Note from the Publisher" lately because there's really nothing to talk about. It's always just "We've been really busy and I don't have anything else to say so just read the book!" I suppose this one was informative because Deni apologized for the price of the comic book going up and I wouldn't have noticed that that. The original Issue #23 has a cover price of $1.50 while the Bi-weekly, which I'm reading because it was cheaper to buy than the real issue, has a cover price of $1.25. See? Cheaper!

I hate agreeing with people when they say something like "I'm not the typical whatever!" But Dave Sim basically invented (and if not actually invented since I know a lot of Internet literalists are going to want to end me for saying it, perfected) self-publishing comics. Ultimately I like Elfquest better for aesthetic and middle school boy reasons (the time I read it. Not because I'm into middle school boys. Anymore, at least) but it just can't compete with what Sim accomplished.

The thing Dave Sim decided made him different was that he wasn't interested in collecting comics or comic related materials. I guess he was too cool for comics. But he still went and made a comic book? Maybe that's why he was so successful. Sure, he was a fan of comic book artists and their works. And he read comic books. So it makes sense he was interested in drawing and writing one. But he wasn't a big dumb nerdy fangender. I probably would have been more like Dave Sim but then Giffen created Lobo and I was like, "I need all the Lobo stuff! He's the perfect representation of the music I'm into! All superficial glam without any finesse or subtlety! Violence unending! Clothing that is more costume than cool but at least signifies to the correct people that maybe I'm into the same rock ballads about love that they're into and thus maybe they might let me put my penis into their vagina! Fucking Lobo! So cool! I need all the merch!"

Yes, I was a Lobo fan but please realize that I also love hyperbole before you completely judge me. Although for my twenty-first birthday, the woman I was sort of seeing at the time bought me a Lobo poster and a Lobo shirt for my birthday which was weird because we hadn't been dating for that long. I opened the presents in the middle of a country bar. I was celebrating my 21st birthday at a country bar because my friend Bob and I had made a pact at twelve years old that we'd ride the mechanical bull at The Saddle Rack as soon as we turned 21. He had turned 21 twenty-three days previously.

If the woman I was dating at the time stumbles upon this and recognizes me by this description of my 21st birthday, please do not contact me. You had sex with me while I was sleeping when I had previously made it known that I wasn't ready to have sex with you. Yes, after I woke up, I was all, "Okay, well, I guess we're doing this," and I was fine with it. But it probably didn't surprise you that I didn't want to see you after that. Not because "I got what I wanted." But because you took what you wanted.

Probably fitting that the woman who gave me Lobo merchandise was also the woman who sexually assaulted me! Lobo is bad news! But then so is Cerebus. I think maybe some of my favorite comic book characters were seriously problematic!

This issue of Cerebus is a parody of the Clint Eastwood movie, The Beguiled (which I've never seen but now really want to watch it. If I can find it, I'll try to watch it before finishing this review to compare it to the comic).

Cerebus, wounded after fleeing Beduin (or was it Iest? I can't remember!), stumbles, nearly unconscious from pain and infection, in sight of a large boarding house. He collapses and is rescued by three young women who are desperate for some dick.

And then I get to "Aardvark Comment" with all the letters. What's that, you say? What about the story? Isn't this a "review" of the comic book's story and not the stupid bullshit writing without pictures which bookend the story? I mean, sure, I guess. But apparently people are finally acting on that trite parental advice that if you have nothing nice to say maybe don't say anything at all. Now every conversation about a terrible piece of art goes like this:

Person A: "That was some truly horrible shit. Ugh. I can't believe I paid for that. I wish the director's mother had died during the sex which impregnated her. So vile. The worst. It actually ruined all of the things I once loved that shared any words in the title of this awful piece of filth."
Person B: "You know a lot of people worked hard on that piece of art. They didn't set out to make a bad piece of art. They put a lot of time and effort into it and we should applaud their strength to go out there and accomplish something that few people ever accomplish."
Person A: "I fucking hate you."

"Person A" actually only thinks that last piece of the conversation.

I know my brand has been to be unspeakably cruel to creators who produce bad comic books, to be overly insulting to the editors that allowed the creator to submit sub par work, to be outright antagonistic to the publishers of comic books edited by lazy assholes and written by people who just don't give a shit about the final product. But I've learned I was wrong to be that way! I should have been applauding Scott Lobdell for not caring about the quality of his work because at least he got the pages done in time! It's okay that Howard Mackie uses fifteen thousand extraneous punctuation marks in his dialogue (half of them used incorrectly) and his editors just waved the script on while they jerked off on piles of money because how many comic books have I written?! I should be sucking the dick of the presidents of DC and Marvel for not charging me ten dollars for poorly written drivel and badly edited crap because at least they were offering me some art that people sort of worked on. And when Dave Sim writes a story that's based on a movie he really enjoys but doesn't really tell much of a story and the only jokes are "people speaking with bad Italian accents," I just have to smile and point out, "This is art! People worked on it!"

So I'm not going to bash Sim for having a boring issue of Cerebus after having quite a few good ones. That would be like me pointing out that, sure, maybe Cullen Bunn writes some decent comic books when he's working with material he loves, like stuff with characters he created, but he obviously doesn't give a shit about DC's intellectual properties or why else would he write a run of Aquaman that is just a discount version of John Carter? How dare I complain that Bunn's Aquaman couldn't be further from what makes Aquaman Aquaman and it's fucking ridiculous that DC wouldn't expect me to demand a refund on that bullshit. "Oh, yes, I get to write Aquaman!" is something Cullen Bunn definitely did not say. I'm sure it was more like, "Oh, fuck. DC is going to pay me a pretty good sum to do an Aquaman run. Let's see what half-assed sci-fi scripts I have lying around that I could do a quick 'find' on the main character's name and 'replace' it with Aquaman!" That's just the kind of thing I refuse to do now.

"The Single Page" has now become "The Double Page." One page was a comic about how Dave Sim picks the comic for The Single Page. The other one was a dystopian look at agriculture and crime in the year 2052 that ends on a pun. It was pretty good. The first one was kind of stupid but I liked the way the artist drew Sim's pug nose.

Cerebus #23 Rating: C-. In the early days, one of Dave Sim's main jokes and/or plot points was that Cerebus was an aardvark and it wasn't weird to others except in two ways: the way he smelled when he was wet and the way he looked. Sure, they all called knew his last name was "the Aardvark" but everybody still commented on how ugly he was for a human. I think that was supposed to be part of the humor of this issue. At least one of the young women of the boarding house wasn't sure if she wanted to bring in the hurt little animal and nurse it back to health or fuck it. Eventually this aspect of the comic book gets more complicated as we learn more about aardvarks in Estarcion and how they're always some kind of nexus for great change and historic upheaval. Also they're magic in some way. I gave this issue a "C-" because I was mostly bored with it right up until it ended abruptly. Maybe it was funnier the first time I read it when I wasn't 300 issues used to Cerebus as an aardvark. I probably chuckled every other page thinking, "Hee hee. Those women want to fuck an aardvark. That's hot."