Well here's where it all starts to fall apart. The momentum and rising action from the previous volume? Gone. There's several plot-lines running here,...moreWell here's where it all starts to fall apart. The momentum and rising action from the previous volume? Gone. There's several plot-lines running here, but they all seem to sputter and the feeling of tension is lost. It doesn't help that at least one of the plots is a comic relief plot. Back in the day Sim was great at mixing the serious and the humorous without detracting from either. Around this time he lost that talent, which might have something to do with the fact that the comic relief bits here aren't even slightly funny.
I think most of the flaws in Sim's style were there from the beginning, but they were so minor at the time that you gave them a pass. It's like buying a house that has a few small cracks in the wall. You think yeah, there are these small little cracks, but the house is so beautiful and they kind of give it character anyway. But then there's an earthquake and suddenly the cracks grow to giant size and oh shit your house just fell on you.(less)
Part 1 of the Mothers & Daughters story (Flight, Women, Reads and Minds make up the whole thing). This was supposed to be the big one that tied up...morePart 1 of the Mothers & Daughters story (Flight, Women, Reads and Minds make up the whole thing). This was supposed to be the big one that tied up all the loose ends and mysteries in the series (spoiler: it doesn't) and paved the way for the final 100 issues.
This particular volume in of itself is quite good, it's just hard re-reading it, knowing that it's all going to crash and burn in the next three volumes. Dave Sim said in an interview that each volume of this story should clear up the mysteries in a corresponding earlier volume (Flight for Cerebus, Women for High Society, Reads for Church & State, Minds for Jaka's Story/Melmoth). It doesn't. It brings up some mysteries from that volume, but doesn't resolve any of them and in fact creates even more. But since it's the first part of a larger story, you kind of write it off and think "oh don't worry, it'll get cleared up soon". You end up disappointed. But when you're just reading this volume, it's involving and exciting and there's such a rising action and the promise of an epic conclusion tying together a huge number of plot threads. Sim is really good at bring in all of these out of left field mind fucks that get you so intrigued, but then never adequately resolves them (this is a big issue in Church & State too). It's one giant tease.
But just for now it all works really well. If you don't think about how let down you're going to be, this is a strong read. Also I love the image of full-on barbarian Cerebus with his sword in one hand and clutching Missy in the other. A low 4.(less)
So this one is a Cerebus volume in name only. I mean, there's a prologue and an epilogue and a minor subplot that (kinda) advance the plot, but the re...moreSo this one is a Cerebus volume in name only. I mean, there's a prologue and an epilogue and a minor subplot that (kinda) advance the plot, but the rest is the illustrated death of Oscar Wilde. Sim uses selected quotes from letters detailing Wilde's final days and draws accompanying panels. It's kind of sad and moving and effective, and it's done well and tastefully. But taken within the context of the series, it's a pretty bizarre left turn that comes out of nowhere and doesn't really fit in at all. For what it is, it's pretty good though.
The prologue and epilogue kind of illustrate the best and worst of Sim's method. The prologue is a full issue (that's 20 pages) of the Roach (in disguise) being annoyed by a rude waitress and a Cirinist officer. It's this really silly sight gag stretched out for a whole issue (and if you were reading this as it came out, that's all you got for a month!). It's barely funny for a page and I can't see what artistic or narrative value it has for 20 pages. I guess it's to show that Cirinism sucks. Whatever. The Epilogue is the polar opposite. Yes it moves in slow motion, but in a way that draws you in and is completely riveting. After reading that sequence, you sure as shit want to go get the next volume in the series ASAP (spoiler: you'll be disappointed).
Also the plotting is a little unclear/sloppy as per usual. The Oscar here is the same one as in the previous volume, right (EDIT: I just realized this is not true. It's a totally different Oscar. Why create an Oscar for your series and then dedicate an entire volume of it to a different Oscar? Baffling.)? But there he gets sentenced to two years hard labor and here he's out. But the Cerebus subplot seems to pick up immediately from the previous volume, so how's that work? Also it's super unclear that the reason Cerebus is so shell-shocked is because he thinks Jaka is dead. I had to read that elsewhere to understand. Why does he think Jaka is dead?(less)
This one is totally unlike the previous volumes of the series. Instead of moving the plot forward, it's a pure character study. Hell, Cerebus barely e...moreThis one is totally unlike the previous volumes of the series. Instead of moving the plot forward, it's a pure character study. Hell, Cerebus barely even appears here. Most of the issues I had with previous volumes don't apply here, this is a totally different beast.
Sim really shines in his characterizations. This kind of slow-moving, domestic drama plays towards the strengths of his art, particularly his talent for facial expressions and body language. The whole thing is beautifully and vividly rendered. Also in terms of his dialogue and story-telling, he just brings everything wonderfully to life. I also love the contrast between the main story in the present and Oscar's prose re-telling of Jaka's past, particularly the parallel twists in each plot towards the end.
However, Sim does kind of falter in the prose. He's clearly studied Wilde very closely, and though he can more or less mimic his style, it's a very hollow mimicry that is lacking in the skill that Wilde had. I also found the story in general to be too straight-forward, like Sim plotted it in a day. He has so much space in these volumes, and yet it's stunning how little use he puts it to (story-wise at least, his art is a different story).
You can also start to see Sim's odious views on women coming to the surface here. And while I don't think that disagreeing with a person's viewpoints is a valid criticism of a work of art, you can't help but roll your eyes a little when they pop up. Still, this is another strong entry in the Cerebus cannon, maybe the last really good one. If you were only interested in the plot of the series, you could easily skip Jaka's Story, but you'd be missing out.
Also, don't under any circumstances read Sim's forward. Just...don't.(less)
I feel like I'm becoming a broken record with my Cerebus reviews (I'm rereading the whole thing and it's been a few years since I last looked at them)...moreI feel like I'm becoming a broken record with my Cerebus reviews (I'm rereading the whole thing and it's been a few years since I last looked at them). Same complaints as with past volumes: too decompressed, lack of needed explanations, plot developments that don't really make a lot of sense (seriously, how did the artist, who was super good-natured and we last saw doing sketches at a convention turn into an evil megalomaniac with his head stitched to man-thing and swamp thing parodies?).
That said, these faults bothered me the least in this volume. It moves faster and is way more absorbing than any other part of the series thus far, so I guess the decompression does serve a purpose. And yeah, it's frustrating that a lot of the mystery never gets explained (either now or in the future), but you have to admit that it's a wonderful mindfuck when (no spoilers) somethings falls, not to mention the whole chapter leading up to that. Flaws and all, this is definitely the best volume in the series. Excellent art, rousing climax (even if the bit following the climax is a bit of a let-down), monster mindfucks, bizarre theology, this one has it all. I realize I've given them all 4 stars so far, and this one isn't quite deserving of 5, but I guess it's a higher 4 than the other volumes.
P.S. Sim misses the mark with a lot of his parodies (the Mick/Keith parody in this book comes to mind), but oh my god is that Dark Knight Returns parody hilariously on-point.(less)
Not as godlike as I remembered, but still good. I think the two principle problems I had with High Society are even more in force here.
The first is de...moreNot as godlike as I remembered, but still good. I think the two principle problems I had with High Society are even more in force here.
The first is decompression. I'm of the type that tends to decry this in modern comics, and a lot of that trend originated here. While it allows the writer to tell more nuanced, layer stories (instead of being limited by how much you can cram into one issue), a lot of it smacks of laziness. You could still tell a story just as nuanced and layered in fewer issues if you didn't rely on decompression. It just seems like an excuse to endlessly spread things out. And despite this volume hitting nearly 600 pages, not a whole lot happens. Too many scenes take whole issues when they really only needed a few pages if he had just made the panels smaller. Entire pages used just to set up a simple sight-gag. And frankly, Cerebus having a cold isn't really funny enough to take up the space allotted to it.
In his defense though, Sim utilizes a huge number of story-telling techniques and artistic experiments to fill that space. It's stunning how many different ways Sim can portray even the most straight-forward of scenes.
The second is that Sim still seems to think he's explaining things better than he is. In the forward, he mentions the hundreds of pages of notes he has on the various religions and politics that play out in these pages. We the readers are not privy to those notes. And while Sim may understand the underlying mechanics of the events that take place in this volume, the reader often doesn't. Since these things are so clear to Sim, maybe he forgets that he hasn't relayed some of the essential facts, or maybe doesn't realize what facts we might need to know? In my first reading of this during college, I really enjoyed being confused, but that's because I was approaching it like a mystery and assumed there would be a full explanation later in the series. In most cases, that explanation never comes.
So those are the down-sides. But as with High Society, they are more than compensated for by the up-sides. It's still a really involving, well told story, with memorable characters and more than a few hilarious moments (the scene with the Pope and the baby is my favorite). Watching everything unfold is a wonder, and it's hard not to admire Sim's ambitiousness.
Of special note is the art. About halfway through, Gerhard steps in with his ultra-detailed background art, leaving Sim doing just the figures (as well as the layouts and lettering). Before that, you could see Sim getting a bit lazier with his art, especially in regards to the backgrounds, and having Gerhard doing those leaves Sim with even more time to spend on the rest. Everything looks better than ever, and it's really amazing how well Gerhard's realist backdrops mix with Sim's cartoonish figures. It seems like it shouldn't work, but it's a fantastic combination.(less)
I've always had somewhat mixed feelings on this one. A lot of people point to this as the high point of the series, but for me Church & State take...moreI've always had somewhat mixed feelings on this one. A lot of people point to this as the high point of the series, but for me Church & State takes the top spot.
Lots of great stuff here. Sim remains an excellent graphic story-teller with a wonderful feel for layouts and facial expression, and always comes up with fresh new ways to illustrate his plot (this is particularly important since a lot of the scenes are mainly just characters talking, but Sim manages to keep it visually interesting). I've always admired how he can tell a serious, complex drama that is still filled with a heavy dose of humor that never detracts from the overall feel of the book. The climax in particular includes a great, intense and viscerally satisfying twist (though it won't make any sense to readers who haven't read the first volume of the series). Love Lord Julius and his goat, the Roach, the Regency Elf...lots of memorable characters and hilarious scenes, and that Jaka issue is heart-breaking.
I still have a number of qualms with it though. A lot of aspects of the plot don't make a ton of sense. Like for example (no spoilers) you-know-whose election to you-know-what (the first election, not the second one). You-know-who was never elected to his cabinet position in the first place; he was appointed. Then he quit. So why is he ranking you-know-what from Palnu when he arrives in Iest? He hasn't had that job in ages. And if Lord Julius didn't want him there holding that position, why didn't he just tell everyone that you-know-who had quit that job? And when he wants him replaced, why is there an election for it? It was never an elected position before. It's that kind of thing that detracts from the whole of the book; there are a lot of plot advancements that are illogical. Sim also re-purposes a number of plot points and characters from the first volume in ways that aren't consistent with their previous appearances. He's weak with explaining characters' motivations and doesn't really explain things as well as he seems to think he has. There are also many dangling plot points and mysteries where it's implied they will be cleared up in the future, but if I recall correctly many of them never are.
Still, the positives far outweigh the negatives. High Society is a very strong read, both in and of itself, and as part of the build-up to the next two (even better) volumes.
P.S. It's interesting to see Sim's progression from the more episodic, complete issues type stories that made up the first volume to the more decompressed ones that would characterize the rest of the series. The early issues here, despite being part of a larger story-line still feel like complete pieces in and of themselves (much like the issues in the first volume), but also advance the larger plot. However, by a few chapters in, individual issues no longer feel as such, rather they feel more like undifferentiated parts of a whole. The downside is you get less substance per page, everything is more spread out. This reads well in the full volume here, but if must have been frustrating for readers of the monthly series.(less)
This is a lot better than I remember it being. That said (and before I get all long-winded), this may not be the ideal starting point for new readers....moreThis is a lot better than I remember it being. That said (and before I get all long-winded), this may not be the ideal starting point for new readers. I personally started here, knowing future volumes were considered much better but that the story makes more sense if you start from the beginning. This plan worked for me. However, I've lent this to two different comic-loving friends, hoping they would also get bit by the Cerebus bug, and they both gave up early on. So if you're a completist like me who finishes every book you start, and if Cerebus sounds like it's right up your alley, start here. If you're more of a casual reader, start with High Society. I personally think you'll get better results starting here (a lot of plot twists in High Society will lose their impact to you if you haven't read this one), but I guess it's better that you're converted by the excellent High Society than start here and just give up.
However, I think this one is a lot of fun. The early issues are kind of a one-note Conan parody, but are good for what they are. And you can see Sim get more ambitious pretty quickly, as the book changes from a parody of an adventure comic to an adventure comic with humorous overtones. Sim has an excellent sense of pacing, able to get a single, satisfying story into one issue (which is a lost art, let's face it). Even when he moves on to multi-part stories here, each part feels like a complete piece in and of itself. His art also progresses by leaps and bounds here, going from a crude Windsor-Smith clone at the beginning to the Sim we know and love by the end. He's a fine story-teller, with excellent layouts and panel compositions and a real eye for body language.
Each issue collected here is better than the last, and by the end it's classic Cerebus. People tend to dismiss this one, but I think it's definitely worth your time.(less)
Maybe more like 3.5 stars. There's lots to love about it, the concept, the gorgeous prose...but the whole execution is kind of sloppy. It seems like W...moreMaybe more like 3.5 stars. There's lots to love about it, the concept, the gorgeous prose...but the whole execution is kind of sloppy. It seems like Wilde made a list of epithets that he wanted to use and created a character (Lord Henry) that mostly exists just to say them (and to help corrupt Dorian too). At first they're funny, but then they get really repetitive (they all have the same format, something like "the best reviews are the worst ones, and good reviews are always bad!") and don't really add anything. Too many scenes of Henry being "funny", that contribute nothing to the book, hurt the mood and fuck up the pacing. Wilde can be really funny especially in his plays, but he really misses the mark here. The James Vane subplot, which apparently was not in the original version, also seems to serve no purpose other than to throw the pacing off.
It's good, but could have been a lot better if Wilde was a little more disciplined and recognized what fits in a book and what doesn't.(less)
I am normally really suspicious when someone tells me that a run on any Marvel comic is better than the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby (or Steve Ditko or whomeve...moreI am normally really suspicious when someone tells me that a run on any Marvel comic is better than the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby (or Steve Ditko or whomever) run (unless we're talking about Avengers, X-Men or Iron Man, which frankly didn't start off so great). I'm kind of a Lee/Kirby/Ditko fanboy, and the implication that their work is something other than perfect and unbeatable is sacrilege as far as I'm concerned. I always kind of chuckle when, for example, people say Bryne's FF is better than the original run. How could someone attempting to do an exact reproduction of the Lee/Kirby run possibly be better? No matter how well you do it, the retread will never top the original. Well, after reading this omnibus, I stand corrected.
I think what makes this the best Thor I've ever read is that Simonson almost completely tosses out the super-hero aspects of the title. This is more or less straight mythology...and these are new myths that can stand with the original Norse ones. And let's be honest, even in the Lee/Kirby days it was always more fun to read about the Destroyer almost taking out Odin on Asgard than it was to read about Thor fighting the Circus of Crime on Earth (ahem, Midgard).
While he's not quite Kirby (no one is), Simonson really nails it with the art too. His actual figures have always seemed a little sloppy-looking to me, but the guy is a master story-teller and his panels explode off the pages. There are only a few comic artists that can bring as much pure excitement as Simonson can.
To conclude, every comic fan should own this monster of a volume. This is in the top tier of the art form. Hell, I would even recommend it to non-comic readers as long as they have an interest in mythology; this could very well be the book that converts them. This omnibus is packed with badass moment after badass moment. Here are some of the badassest: - Beta Ray Bill lifts Mjolnir - The funeral of the last viking - Odin's sacrifice - The Executioner's last laugh - What do you call a 6'6" fighting-mad frog? - Hela's curse - And more!(less)