Sim’s development as a visual storyteller takes center stage in these issues. As the author himself notes in the Swords of Cerebus introduction, issue #8 ("Day of the Earth-Pig"–how many comic book titles did Nathanael West unwittingly give birth to? Once I’m done my dissertation research, I’ll actually be able to give you a pretty good idea–I mean, Amazing Spider-Man alone could fill up an ark with animal "days-of", right?) is practically "Mind Game 0"… Cerebus spends the entire first half of the book weaving back and forth between the subconscious and waking worlds, and it is here that the zipatone phantoms which provide the only scenery–not to mention the only ballast–in his nebulous mental landscape first appear.
I find this sequence fascinating:
On page 3, we find him ensnared by black "cords", indicating, I suppose, that he is struggling, quite literally, to regain his senses (to fight his way out of a solipsistic void)
and then, quite suddenly, the cords "go gray", which suggests that he is now conscious enough to import the "stuff" of reality into a dream he never made… and look at them! Sure, they’re holding him back–but they’re also, it seems to me, propping him up:
Finally, he comes to consciousness, climbing up out of the void using fetters of reality that he appropriates for his own subjective use. And there you have it–a sophisticated philosophical (& psychological) argument in grayscale!
The non-"Mindgame" aspects of this issue–and the following two as well–deal with mindgames of a different sort: the realpolitik-al kind! As a 14-year old, I think it’s pretty safe to say that my favourite things in life were strategy boardgames like Diplomacy, Dashiell Hammett, the memoirs of Bismarck, hyper-convoluted film noir, and Cerebus–studies of manipulation (with varying degrees of emotion-based commentary on this type of behaviour..which is what I tend to respond to now–back then, the manipulation itself was the key…which I suppose was owing to the Machiavellian wasteland that I grew up in!) Cerebus learns some hard lessons in these books– about military coups (when he is "elected"–at swordpoint–to wrest command of the Conniptin army away from the princely cocaine-fiend pictured above), about the "honour of kings" (when K’Cor keeps him busy with knightly challenges while he poisons the army Cerebus intends to sack his city with), and about the sources of sovereignty–and its potential uses: also from K’Cor, who seems like your basic "I just want power" tyrant, until he erupts into this Ozymandian oration…
He may be insane–but he’s good enough to outwit Cerebus, and deprive him of his new army of barbarian "cheerleaders" (the Conniptin motto is: "Might makes right–might for right–might for might–right for might–fight–fight–fight!", and they’d sooner repeat these words–no matter what the situation–than breathe!)
In issue #10, Sophia returns, much improved, although still not exactly a favourable portrayal of a woman… Instead of being just a ferociously aggressive sexual submissive, she is now a greedy, scheming, and ferociously aggressive sexual submissive. When Cerebus meets up with her, she is fresh from killing the husband she had acquired at the end of issue #3 (she still refuses to "give herself" to a man, unless he defeats her in combat, and the guy just wouldn’t learn) and has moved on to planning some caper that involves stealing a jewel from a well-armed merchant caravan, with the help of some dork with inside information that she has taken along for the ride… she’s a femme fatale, basically. She still wants to have sex with Cerebus–because he had previously "earned her respect" with the flat of his sword–but he makes it pretty clear that he is not interested… On the other hand, he is very interested in the Black Lotus jewel, and this time he gets the better of everyone (including an extremely menacing guard/crossbowman that Cerebus decides it would be more prudent to bribe than to fight) by, for once, really thinking ahead. The ending of the issue is (or ought to be) a classic in the annals of antiheroism –talk about cutting your Gordian knots of chicanery! And, despite how things appear, we know that Sophia will be back, because she proves–through the amplification of characteristics that were merely used for parodic effect in issue #3, alloyed with some new extreme traits–in this story that she is fit to share the stage with Cerebus.
Also–it gives me pleasure to note that our very own (oh who am I kiddin’–he belongs to the world!) Fred Hembeck–the friend of obscure but good people everywhere–crosses over (in his inimitably knobby-kneed style!) into the aardvark’s world at the back of issue #8!
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