(see also: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V)
Here’s a tip–anyone who tells you that you ought to start reading Cerebus with High Society isn’t really your friend… Sim laid the foundation for that storyline here, in the Palnu Trilogy, and, more specifically, right here, on this page:
yes, that’s Groucho Marx… and Sim’s got his act down, right from the start… that loping, vaguely insulting strut; the Rorschachian eyebrows and moustache; the torrential downpour of bile that’s so ingratiating it feels like the milk of human kindness…
Here’s Sim, from the Swords of Cerebus intro to #15:
Suffice it to say that, after two years of writing Lord Julius, I am continually amazed at the basic comedic richness of the character Julius Marx developed for the world at large to enjoy. I try to remain as faithful to it as I can, and I look forward to aging him in the book as the world saw him age…the eternal anarchist, caustic, brilliant, insulting, maddening, and hilarious at the same time. I think every situation needs their Julius Marx. Palnu is just fortunate to have theirs running the whole show.
Powered by Sidelines
But are they lucky?
Sim doesn’t exaggerate his wish (and his ability) to capture the Groucho persona–and yet, perhaps even he failed to see, at this stage of the game (those intros were written in the early eighties), how chilling this character (and the world he presides over) becomes, when he is "running the show"… But that’s the genius of Cerebus isn’t it? The breathtakingly original juxtapositions… Let’s draw a beatific Charles Schulz grin on a teddy bear thug melting into the lap of a lovingly rendered woman in a Barry Smith wasteland! Let’s remake Foghorn Leghorn into a drawling albino albatross of stupidity around the Aardvark’s neck! (unlike the Mariner, Cerebus’ problem is that he can’t seem to bring himself to kill this pasty jinx) Let’s turn up the volume on Stan Lee’s self-mocking Hamlet act and send in the melodramatic spandex zombie-clowns to trample the narrative–and little Earth-Pig dreams–every few issues!
Let’s make Groucho Marx the bona fide ruler of a state…
Sure, Groucho often played authority figures–but the joke is always that he never for an instant intends to use the power vested in his office, or profession, or whatever… In every one of the films, he wears his ineffectuality with pride,daring his interlocutors to call him on his imposture… Meanwhile–everyone has a crazy good time–because there’s no one minding the store… But Lord Julius is in power–and he ain’t fooling around. Think about it. Pure, uncut arbitrariness makes a very effective weapon against a sluggish, usage-bound sovereign. Julius knows every trick in the book–because he’s smarter than you and twice as playful–but when the game becomes oppression, what then? The contrarian in jackboots is a terrifying prospect–it’s more Kafkaesque than Kafka! In Schmittian terms–the Exception is the Rule in Palnu…and Sim tells us everything we need to know in half a page:
The movie Groucho never made that face on panel three–it’s the motherfuckin’ Mask of Anarchy ! It’s so brilliant that I used to have nightmares about it–and I probably will again tonight! No wonder the guy on panel five is plotting to kill him (yeah right, like that was ever gonna work!)
(and just as an aside–doesn’t that ranting priest look a lot like Dave Sim? So much of the author’s irreverence reads like self-parody avant la lettre… and of course it just reinforces what we already knew–all parody is a veiled form of worship)
That’s all I’ve got right now… There’s a lot of plot in these issues, of course–but it’s all in the service of establishing another larger than life personality upon the widening stage of Cerebus. Like Sophia, Elrod, and the Roach, Julius earns the author’s protection (a kind of diplomatic immunity) through the sheer rightness of his migration from the pop cultural realm into Dave Sim’s private theatre of the absurd–and he seems to exist primarily to humiliate/vex the protagonist. Unlike the earlier figures, he appears to be smarter than Cerebus, and he poses a different kind of a threat… The figures that the Earth-Pig respects are always more dangerous to him than the fools that trip him up… He can deal with the occasional pratfall, but not with being led down the garden path–which is unfortunate, ’cause he’s got a serious streak of gullibility…
oh–and, lest we forget where the heart of this series lies–issue #16 closes with this cinematic gem of the don’t- meet-cute/he’s-got-amnesia-anyway school! (it’s worthy of Random Harvest–and let me tell ya, that is worthy indeed! Really–no comic book artist has ever offered so much to a lover of classic Hollywood–not even Eisner!):