I was thinking about it after I posted last night and I remembered that I actually have seen the Mind Game issue as a full poster. Back when I was a freshman or sophomore at UF in the mid ’80s I went along with a friend of mine to see a friend of his who happened to live on the bottom floor of my dorm. And this friend of my friend had the Mind Game poster on his ceiling. I can’t really remember what it looked like after nearly twenty-five years (yikes), but I do know that I recognized it at the time.
Well this is different...
Before talking about the story, I guess the first thing I should mention is that the pages of this issue are quite different from those of previous ones. Instead of being divided into a number of panels as is usual with comic books, most of the pages in this issue are divided into apparently random areas of black and gray, with a couple of all-black pages (more on this later.) Throughout the black and gray areas are different figures of Cerebus and his thoughts and conversations with other, unseen, characters. When I first started reading this issue, I was a little worried that I might have trouble following the story in the proper order, but it wasn't any problem at all.
Still drugged from the last issue, Cerebus awakes to find himself in a black and gray world, which we soon find out is the “Seventh Sphere”, some sort of metaphysical plane. Oddly, Cerebus does not appear to be worried about being in this realm, just annoyed: “...drugged. Cerebus has had the experience before,” he explains.
The black and gray parts of the pages appear to represent different areas of the Seventh Sphere. When he is in the black area Cerebus talks to Wenda and Perce, who turn out to be Cirinists, and while in the gray he talks to Suenteus Po, founder of Illusionism. And while Cerebus is able to hear Perce and Wenda when he's in the gray portion of the Seventh Sphere, they can only hear him while he's in the black. And Po, in turn, can only hear the aardvark when he's in the gray. In fact, while he's in the gray area, his spirit self is apparently disconnected from his corporeal body. As Wenda or Perce notes, “Is he supposed to, uh...stop breathing like that?”
Perce had drugged Cerebus to determine his “role in the larger scheme of things” and whether the Cirinists can use him for their own ends. Cerebus must find the proper revelation from “the Divine Mother” within the hour or he will be killed. Suenteus Po — probably just to annoy the Cirinists — offers to help and does find a revelation that satisfies Perce and Wenda. Unfortunately for Cerebus, this means that they will keep him in this drugged state for the rest of his life as an object of worship.
Naturally, Cerebus is not happy with this idea. Once again proving just how adept he is at manipulating people, Cerebus arranges a confrontation between the Illusionists and the Cirinists in the “real” world. Unfortunately, his plan to use this diversion as a chance to escape fails when Wenda gives him a sleeping potion before heading off to face the Illusionists. The issue ends with Cerebus lying unconscious both in the Seventh Sphere and, of course, in the real world.
I'm pretty sure this is the first time that Cirin and the Cirinists are mentioned. It's possible that I missed a passing reference in earlier issues, but I think I would've noted it considering how important to Cerebus they become later on. (If they were mentioned before, it must have been a brief note as part of a larger text.) This is certainly the first time Po is referred to — and I’m pretty sure the first time the Illusionists are mentioned. I wonder if Dave had already planned at this point just how important the Cirinists and Po would become to Cerebus’ story.
The actual plot of this issue is pretty thin. That sounds like I might be criticizing the issue, but I'm not. I'm just saying that the storyline of this particular issue is not as complicated as others have been. This issue does, though, begin to lay the foundations for a storyline that will reverberate through most of the 280 issues that follow. I really can't say just where the plot of Cerebus goes in the issues that were published after I stopped reading it, but I can't imagine that the Cirinists will simply vanish from the story.
I really enjoyed this one. It’s just “talking heads” — or, really, just talking head and disembodied voices — so the fun comes from the interplay between the characters and watching how Cerebus manipulates everyone as he tries to get out of his predicament. And a lot of fun it is.
I think that I already knew “the secret” about this issue — called “Mind Game” — by the time I actually read it for the first time. The random areas of black and gray that I mentioned before will, if you pull the pages apart and rearrange them as one giant sheet, form a giant picture of Cerebus. That’s just cool. I guess you would have to take apart two issues since the pages are, of course, printed back-to-back. Still cool though.
This issue opens with Cerebus and Graus in the city of Togith as they try to dispose of the jewels and other goods Cerebus obtained from the merchant in Fluroc. Well, Cerebus is trying sell them. Graus has grown more interested in the temptations of the big city, particularly that of Perce, a woman offering fortune-telling among other…um…services.
In the meantime, Lord Gorce is busy raising his army by promising alliances and offering tributes that he has no intention of keeping. Though he appeared quite fearful when Lord Julius gave him this mission — and Julius, himself, expected the commander of his new army to be killed — Gorce certainly shows no fear as he goes about raising the army. I guess the lure of power is even greater than the fear of death.
Cerebus is eventually able to meet with the Duke of Agerden and quickly learns that the only thing of real value in the collection is the owl statue that was part of the treasure. Or more precisely, the statue is valuable when it’s paired with it’s twin. The Duke offers Cerebus the mercenaries he seeks to enhance his T’Giptan warriors if he can “acquire” the owl’s twin. Cerebus arrives at the tavern that’s home to the second owl’s owner only to discover that he lives in the basement and that for the past three weeks no one who’s gone down has come back up.
Entering the basement, Cerebus is confronted by a woman who looks like Red Sophia. He quickly realizes his mistake when the woman proves to be far more skilled with a sword than Sophia — skillful enough that Cerebus is barely able to escape her attacks by diving through a door into another part of the basement. Locking the door, he is quite surprised to hear his name called.
As Cerebus is making his escape, Lord Julius is deftly escaping trouble of his own as he’s confronted by a representative of the “Palnu Crisis Board of Impeachment Inquiry.” Not only is Julius able to convince this representative that there is another group out to stop Julius, he convinces the man that this “other group” has infiltrated the Crisis Board and that he needs to thoroughly examine his group for traitors. The representative quickly leaves with much gratitude for the service Lord Julius has done for him.
As surprised as he was upon hearing his name called in the basement, Cerebus is even more surprised to find Red Sophia’s father, the wizard Henrot. Henrot, it turns out, created the woman, Geet-a, as a substitute and improvement on Red Sophia. Turns out she wasn’t such an improvement after all, so he chained her down in the basement. Though he doesn’t mind the privacy this affords him, Henrot informs Cerebus that he’s now trapped in the basement. Cerebus, though, has a plan. But first he needs the owl statue.
Though Henrot had melted the original owl statue for the gold, the wizard is easily able to create a forgery — one that will last six months, which is long enough for Cerebus’ purposes. I only mention this because it occurred to me that this might be important later.
Henrot had created several pet “Gerbies”, magical creatures that feed on violent emotion, and Cerebus uses these to escape. He taunts Geet-a and when she gets mad — it really doesn’t take a whole lot — he sets the Gerbies on her and is easily able to walk out of the basement. I’m surprised that Henrot didn’t think of this first — though he does seem content to live in the basement, so perhaps he simply never wanted to leave.
As he’s preparing to leave town, Cerebus is unable to resist Perce’s offer of a glass of wine and is knocked out after only one sip. While Cerebus lies unconscious, Perce gives Graus a letter, telling him that Cerebus wants him to take it to Gudre. As Graus walks off Perce promises to take good care of Cerebus. “Very good car…”
There certainly was a lot happening in this issue and, to be honest, I felt it was a little disjointed. I know there’s a lot of plot that needs to be taken care of and I don’t really have a suggestion for doing it another way, but that’s how it felt.
There were a lot of little things I liked about this issue, such as the Gerbies. Rather trippy looking, they’re basically flying snake-like creatures with very animated faces. Very amusing.
My favorite part, though, was the sequence with Lord Julius. I really enjoyed the way he maneuvered his way out of the situation with, I’m guessing, no warning at all. I’m just more and more impressed with him every time he appears.
Having captured the outpost of Fluroc, Cerebus begins searching the residents’ libraries for information on Palnu. He and Gudre hope that this will give them information that will aid them in their conquest of the city. While discussing this with Graus, Cerebus also learns how Gudre convinced the T’Gitans that Stromm (Gudre’s extremely strong, but mute son) is a “Thunter Gott”.
Meanwhile, Lord Julius informs Lord Gorce — as only Lord Julius can — that Gorce has been chosen to raise and army. Lord Gorce is not exactly thrilled to hear this. And, of course, Lord Julius has no expectations that Gorce can actually defeat the T’Gitans. Lord Gorce, though, tells his aid that he will raise the army, defeat the T’Gitans, and rally Palnu’s merchants to overthrow Julius.
Back in Fluroc, Cerebus has managed to find “a passage in one book” that may aid them in their attack on Palnu, “if it isn’t out of date.” We don’t find out what the passage says as a merchant caravan arrives at Fluroc’s gates. Cerebus is the only one that speaks their language and he quickly comes up with a plan.
Cerebus convinces the merchants that a plague has swept through the city — a plague which causes terrible puncture wounds to appear in the victims’ vital organs.
A merchant and a few guards do enter the city to bargain for their goods. Cerebus soon tricks the merchant into believing he has the plague and that he, Cerebus, has the only flask of “cure” available. The merchant begs Cerebus for the flask, eventually offering everything he has for the cure. Cerebus “reluctantly” accepts the offer. The issue ends with Cerebus regaling the T’Gitans with tales of his victory.
One thing I like about this issue is that it really shows just how clever Cerebus is.. As the only one in the city to speak the merchant’s language — while none of the merchants spoke the T’Gitan language — Cerebus was able to balance both parties without too much effort. As Gudre was the only one Cerebus told of his plan to fool the merchants, Cerebus had to convince the T’Gitans that his actions were for their benefit. And it was his plan, after all, to convince the merchants that all of the bodies lining the streets were the result of a plague, even though they were clearly the result of battle.
I particularly liked how Cerebus was able to convince the merchant that he was infected. Cerebus blotted a little blood on his finger and then pressed it against the merchant’s neck, asking if he’d cut himself shaving. The merchant’s first thought, not surprisingly, is that it’s the plague. Cerebus assures him that it’s not…unless he’s displaying other symptoms such as an increased heartbeat, shortness of breath, and excessive sweating. Naturally the merchant has all these “symptoms” and as he tries to convince Cerebus to give him the cure, Cerebus refuses until the merchant has offered him everything he has.
When Cerebus describes his victory over the merchant to the T’Gitans, he describes himself as simply threatening the merchant into giving up his wares. As he’s doing so, he begins to doubt the mental capacity of the T’Gitans and wonders if there’s room for another “Gott of Thunter” among them.
This issue opens with Cerebus dragging his eight bags of gold through a rain-soaked night. It seems that the horse Lord Julius gave him didn’t last long at all. Cerebus comes across a “hovel” and offers to buy it (and the acre and a half of vineyards that come with it) from the owner for four pieces of gold. The owner quickly accepts, pushing his wife and injured child out into the rain.
Dave really hasn’t really explored or explained the economic realities of this world yet — other than the fact that the elite in Palnu are the merchant class and Lord Julius is the most powerful merchant of them all. However, gold is obviously quite valuable if it can buy the house and land for just four pieces of it. Cerebus later remarks that in the three weeks since he left Palnu, he’s only spent a total of twenty pieces out of the eight bags.
While it’s not raining here, with temperatures dipping into the teens tonight, I can definitely identify with the panel on page 4 that shows Cerebus wrapped in furs and drowsing by a roaring fire. Mmmmm…warm…
Cerebus does not get to relax for long, though, as two T’Gitan mercenaries pound on his door seeking a headquarters for their plan to invade Palnu. Cerebus’ initial reaction is to reject their offer, but he quickly changes his mind when he realizes what the mercenaries are planning. He listens carefully to their plans and realizes that they may well succeed.
The first part of their plan requires them to take the city of Fluroc, which is ruled by Commander Krull. At the sound of Krull’s name the younger mercenary, Stromm, goes into a rage. The other mercenary, Gudre (who is also Stromm’s father,) calms Stromm enough to send him outside to vent his rage. Though Stromm’s rage causes no property damage, Gudre does apologize for the dent in Cerebus’ cow.
The next morning Cerebus and the two mercenaries go to meet up with other T’Gitans and to scout out the city of Fluroc. They find the city undefended, Lord Julius having ordered most of his troops to the Onliu border. They observe two men leaving the city. The T’Gitans believe them to be priests, but Cerebus realizes that they can’t be, as priests aren’t allowed to travel during the high holy days.
Cerebus follows the men and quickly discovers they are Commander Krull and a subordinate who is transcribing Krull’s running narration of his every move. Cerebus is able to trick the scribe into knocking Krull unconscious and he takes the Commander prisoner. The issue ends with Lord Julius learning of the fall of Fluroc and just how dire the situation is.
Dave has an intriguing contrast of characters here. Commander Krull, the feared champion of Fluroc turns out to be a self-aggrandizing buffoon. But the T’Gitans, with their exaggerated, comedic Germanic accents turn out to be capable tacticians who come up with a plan to take Palnu that Cerebus realizes could work. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next issue.
I’ve read this one a couple of times now and, despite the amusement Lord Julius always provides, I’m just not impressed by this issue.
Julius throws his Festival of the Petunias in the Pits despite Cerebus’ worries about security. The aardvark’s instincts prove right as he soon discerns several armed guests advancing on him and Lord Julius. Quickly realizing that standard tactics will be useless, Cerebus tricks the guests — the foppish, ineffectual sort of aristocrats that will be subject of much lampooning throughout the series— into pelting “the ones carrying the swords” with herring-and-onion dip.
As the assassins are thrown into confusion by this, Cerebus and Julius follow the rebel leader through a secret door and eventually catch up with him. As the rebel leader taunts them, Cerebus realizes just how sick he is of all this nonsense and he tells Lord Julius that he will fight this battle for eight bags of gold and a horse so that he can leave the city. Julius agrees and as the rebel reveals himself — it was one of Julius’ employees — Cerebus is easily able to kill him. The rebel leader that is, not Lord Julius.
Meanwhile, E’lass (from issue #6) is also at the party with the intention of stealing a large diamond from one of the guests. He manages this easily enough — the owner of the diamond having fainted after being insulted by Cerebus — but is immediately gripped by fear. He notices the secret door and manages to slip through it unnoticed by anyone. As Cerebus and Julius pursue the rebel leader, E’lass assumes that they are chasing him and flees further down the passage. He eventually flings the diamond into a deep pit just before Cerebus and Julius reach him and E’lass discovers that they weren’t after him at all. The E'lass subplot, while mildly amusing, does nothing to enhance the plot and, frankly, feels more like filler than anything else.
As Cerebus rides out of town in the last panel, Lord Julius receives a letter apologizing for missing the festival. It also mentions that Julius’ “kitchen staff supervisor” sounds a lot like a friend she met a year ago named Cerebus. It is signed, “your niece, Jaka.” (I had thought that this revelation came later in the series.) Julius calls out to Cerebus, but it is too late.
I don’t really know if it means anything or not, but one commenter on this blog mentioned that Dave Sim doesn’t believe in coincidence so I thought I would mention that Jaka appeared in issue #6 along with E’lass.
The ending is, I think, meant to be ironic or bittersweet, but I’m not sure it succeeds. The problem is that, as far as we know, Cerebus just won’t care. And we really don’t know Jaka well enough yet for her reactions to mean that much to us either. We will, of course, get to know Jaka a lot better over the course of the series and from the point of view of someone who has read a good deal of the series already, I did feel a certain sadness at her letter. But I just don’t think that emotional jolt is really there for someone who has only read the series from the beginning to this issue.
I'll be leaving in a few minutes to head up to Chattacon. If you happen to be going, come say hi.
:: Next >>