Friday, February 3, 2017

Cerebus the Aardvark - Jaka's Story

I received both this phonebook, and Melmoth, for Christmas. Actually, they arrived in separate boxes and out of sequence, so I accidentally ended up reading Melmoth first. But, I just want to record a couple impressions in volume order, so here we are.

Being in Japan, it's not really that easy to read the Cerebus collections, so I wait 6-12 months to make a request from family for one or two books at a time. This means that it's been more than a year since I read Church & State II. One thing that's interesting about comics, compared to books, movies or TV shows, is that if they're drawn well and have highly developed characters, when you pick up the next comic book after an extended period, it's like getting back together with an old friend. You know that they're waiting for you, and when you're finally ready for them, they start the conversation up right where they left off.

If you haven't read it, Jaka's Story is kind of a multi-threaded tapestry that revolves around the title character, Jaka, the dancer that Cerebus fell in love with. After surviving the destruction of the Black Tower in C&SII, Cerebus locates the tavern that Jaka and her husband, Rick, are living at. The main backdrop is the matriarchy that currently controls the country following the destruction of Cerebus' army, and they've imposed martial law and banned most forms of entertainment sans an artistic license. Men are terrified of being punished if they attract the wrath of the Cirinists, and try to avoid any form of silliness. On the one hand, we then have Cerebus moving in with Jaka and Rick under the name "Fred" to keep the Cirinists from suspecting that he is the former Tarimist pope, and he's hoping that Jaka will take him back. Therefore, Rick is jealous of the attention Fred is getting from Jaka. On the other, Jaka is disgusted with both Rick and Cerebus because she's the only one with a job, as a dancer at the inn, and she's still doing all the cooking and housework. But, while she is dancing, there are no customers coming in because of the ban by the Cirinists. The inn owner, Pud, has been giving treats and almost-free rent to Jaka, but he's been getting impure thoughts and is thinking about forcing himself on her.

Mix in with all this, Melmoth. Melmoth is a poet/writer loosely based on Oscar Wilde, and he has his eyes on Rick. Rick, meanwhile, has been telling Melmoth all about Jaka's childhood, which Melmoth is writing up and preparing for publication as a "read." Cerebus ends up heading out of the inn to go down to the city below the tower on a shopping errand, and when he gets back, Pud is dead, and Rick, Jaka and Melmoth are all missing.

The entire story is hilarious and sad in turns, and the ending is a shocker. It's a very fast read, even though it's a couple hundred pages long. There is additional history for Lord Julius and Astoria as well, but we're left hanging regarding Cerebus and Astoria's past lives as mentioned in C&S II. The "Jaka's Story" part of Jaka's Story is Melmoth's take on what Rick tells him about her growing up in Lord Julius' mansion as one of his nieces. It's a great book and highly recommended.

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