Review: The Last Day (Cerebus Vol. 16)

September 13, 2009

From Wikipedia:

Second and concluding part of the story-arc Latter Days and the conclusion of the series. In the first 40 pages Cerebus has a dream or vision in which cosmology is seen as a reflection of Theology, complete with explanatory footnotes by Sim. Upon waking Cerebus — now incredibly aged, decrepit, pain-ridden, and mildly senile — makes the laborious trek to his writing desk to write down his new revelation. He then hides the manuscript, and it is implied that nobody will find it for two thousand years (a possible homage to I, Claudius in which the dying Claudius does the same thing).

Cerebus spends most of the rest of the book trying to persuade his chief of security, Walter O’Reilly (named after Corporal Walter (Radar) O’Reilly from the “M*A*S*H  TV series) to admit his son, Shep-Shep, with whom he remembers sharing an idyllic father-son relationship.  However, the Sanctuary is under lockdown due to opposition from a new and even more rabidly “feminist-homosexualist” group led by Shep-Shep’s mother, whom Cerebus refers to as “New Joanne”, which favors such “rights” as pedophilia, zoophilia, juvenile recreational drug use and lesbian motherhood. As a result, social values have undergone a complete breakdown.

Cerebus finally goes to bed despairing of seeing his son again, but Shep-Shep manages to sneak into Cerebus’ room late that night. Their subsequent conversation shatters Cerebus’ last illusions about his son. Shep-Shep has aligned himself with Cerebus’ mother who has been conducting genetic engineering experiments, partly with knowledge gained from Cirin’s earlier experimentation. Cerebus is disgusted and horrified when Shep-Shep shows him the results of one of the experiments and explains his mother’s plans.

As Shep-Shep leaves Cerebus grabs a knife, intending to kill him, but falls out of bed and breaks his neck, alone, unmourned, and unloved, just as the Judge had predicted. His life flashes before his eyes in a series of flashback panels and his ghost sees many of his old friends and enemies waiting for him in “the Light.” Jaka, Bear, and Ham beckon to him, and he eagerly rushes to join them, thinking they are in Heaven, but then he notices the absence of Rick and realises that the Light may in fact be Hell. He calls out to God for help, but is dragged into the Light nonetheless.

I suppose the finish of any creative work of this size and scope is probably going to be a let down – I mean, the lead-up is so momentous that the finish, with nowhere else to go, just…halts. And when that end to the story involves the main character’s death, well, there isn’t any more story is there? (Setting aside the frequency comic book superheroes get killed and resurrected at regular intervals…)

In this book we get that “cosmology & Theology examination” that, despite Sim’s best effort, well, put me to sleep. I tried my best, but no dice. Differing world views and such.

Moving on, we get (as most of the volumes have had) some funny, some serious, and plenty of gorgeous art.

last day

After finishing this undertaking, I have to ask myself: was the story satisfying?  I’d say, yes it was.  I can almost forgive Sim for his transgressions in page layout, dialog, digressions in the story, inserting himself into the narrative, what have you – just to say I’ve read and finished this novel.  Do I think that parts of the novel would’ve worked better as stand-alones? Certainly. Was the choice of the aardvark as protagonist a misstep? Absolutely.

But he completed the task he set for himself, didn’t he?

And, when Shep-Shep reveals what’s in the box through the narrative- pure Waterford, baby. (For an explanation of “waterford”, read this older review:


Now: skipping over to the notes section at the end of the book (which are very interesting reading to me), Sim relates an anecdote about his relationship with his parents ending, due in part to their atheism and self-destructive behavior.  You’ll have to read his accounting as to how he does so – he even asks a couple of times in the text, “Are you sure you want to stick around and watch this?”, either addressing himself at the time or addressing the reader.

All of us eventually have to make a break from our parents, physically and/or emotionally, but the way Sim did it was chilling to read.

As an aside: Sim often refers to himself as “crazy” or “insane” – maybe he shouldn’t write stuff like this in the notes…

Either coincidentaly or synchronistically, as I was deliberating (questions about his mother’s health) internally,  the SARS breakout in Toronto occurred and people started dropping like flies in Toronto’s “medical churches”.  Again, I wasn’t unduly troubled. The crisis had originated in China and I had assumed that casualties were mostly, if not exclusively, among the faithless. (Emphasis mine – Ed.)

Dave Sim, pg. 247, The Last Day, second printing, June 2004

Note the phraseology – not “the Chinese”, but “the faithless”. In a mostly-secular society, you are going to be called crazy if you ascribe belief in a Supreme Being as being the reason your nationality is being affected by disease.

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