High Society, by Dave Sim

thekarpuk's review

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I had a friend in high school who fancied himself a comic book sophisticant, and he adored the Cerebus series. I always shied away from the bible-thick volumes, because the sheer scope of the series intimidated, and his descriptions of everything contained within made me even less inclined to give it a try.

My instincts would have served me well in this case. The first volume was tolerable, if long-winded, with a few sections that descend into a wall of text, but High Society showed Dave Sim truly getting into his groove.

And I hate his groove.

Comics are a visual medium. I want to nail a copy of that sentence to Dave Sim's door, because this book contained huge chunks where things are written out when a visual display would have served the medium so much better. It also triggered one of my biggest peeves, which is when the writer decides to dispense with plot and character for a while so he can lecture me about politics, society, etc. It's an abuse of comics, and the hubris involved would almost impress if I didn't find it so deeply irritating.

The tonal shifts didn't help either. It's been years, but I still recall hating the character who Sim completely modeled after Groucho. It didn't come off as satirical, so it ended up feeling like a awkward homage that never really fit with the severity of everything else.

To this day I think I only finished this book because I paid full price for the copy. Everything I knew about the series suggested it only got more pedantic and word-heavy from that point forward, so I decided that this dose of Sim was probably enough for a lifetime.

bent's review

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Loved this book. My first Cerebus graphic novel, and by far his best. I found subsequent ones to be of diminishing returns.

quilly14's review

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Barbarian aardvark Cerebus stumbles into politics, eventually becoming Prime Minister.

I found out about Cerebus when I was very young. 11 or 12, I'm guessing.

I was a big reader of Wizard magazine. They didn't do a ton on indie comics, but Cerebus was one they praised a lot.

It was 20 years before I started reading it.

This volume, the second was a lot better than the first. Unfortunately, I got distracted by an extended work schedule when I was in the middle of it. I lost my interest. The rest of the book was torture. I didn't care about finishing it, but I was too invested to abandon it.

That said, High Society is great. There are times when it is as ridiculous as the concept suggests, but there is a lot of incisive political commentary, and even a couple of emotional moments.

Worth a read, but be sure to read Volume 1 first, just for the introductions of key characters and concepts(it isn't worth much else).

jsjammersmith's review

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When one approaches the political drama, it is usually with the expectation that the story will be about a young, idealistic human being with an ambition to make the world a better place, and a drive to resist the corruption that infects those around them. And by the end of the book the hero has overcome incredible odds, and managed to maintain their integrity.

Dave Sim does something wonderful because he does none of this. Instead he tells the story of a vain, greedy, bastard (in this case an aardvark) who only wishes to consolidate power, drink, fight, and ultimately crush his enemies. And yet by the end, even this character manages to find some level of humanity and the reader is sure to find High Society a positively absurd and somehow intimately human work.

I can't say that I believe Cerebus learns a lesson by the end of this book, but I can at least say he discusses a treaty with two of the Marx brothers. And I suppose that should reveal the ultimate weakness of this incredible book. How can you only have two Marx Brothers?

sentient_meat's review

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Cerebus becomes the Prime Minster of Iset. Enough said.

dan_p's review

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I'm rereading Cerebus for the first time in a decade or more. High Society was always lodged in my mind as the first of the really good Cerebus books, but I was concerned about the reliability of memory and the perils of revisiting old favourites. I shouldn't have worried - this is still great stuff. It’s funny, sharp and switched on, an amazing jump from the first collection. I don’t think we see another quantum leap in skill like this in the rest of the series, or indeed in any other artistic endeavours I can think of off the top of my head.*
That said, the beginning is still raw Cerebus. The issue breaks are very obvious and there are far too many narrative captions (they finally drop out maybe a third of the way through the book, and Dave’s storytelling skill has increased so much that you don’t even notice their absence). The kidnapping and the Fleagle brothers are great fun, but it’s when Astoria enters and starts manipulating Cerebus that it kicks up a whole another level. The economic and political detail is still far ahead of anything else I’ve seen in comics (apart from non-fiction works like Darryl Richardson’s Supercrash), but it’s also very funny. Some of my favourite sequences are the campaign trail encounters, where Dave’s gifts for mimicry and revealing character through dialogue shine. It may be a fantasy world, but these sketches are so recognisably from our shared cultural understanding. John Cleese, misanthropic depressed Jewish comedians, That Farmer Guy From The Wuffa Wuffa issue, all so vivid in just a couple of panels. Election night itself is memorably tense, an excellently orchestrated issue. After that, we’re into Cerebus’ premiership, such as it is. Some people have complained that this section is rushed and flies by too quickly. It might well be that they are right and Dave had written himself into a corner after committing to wrapping up HS in 25 issues (if so, not the last time it will happen. This is one of the most interesting aspects of the size of the work – there was no going back and revising what was already in the public domain), but I always thought it was deliberate, and, along with the page design literally knocking Cerebus’ world sideways, supposed to emphasise how overwhelmed he was by events. Maybe, maybe not.

A few other random observations:

The very last page is, considering it was created by a twentysomething, an astonishingly acute take on the tendency of the idealistic young to believe in pointless doomed causes.

On this reread, I was completely floored by a particular stupid comment of Elrod’s. Innocuous in itself, it takes on a whole new meaning once you’ve read Minds, which wouldn’t be published for another twelve years or so. That’s some pretty hefty foreshadowing.

All those words about how it’s much better than the first book and how this is the best starting point notwithstanding, it’s surprising how many elements of what I’d consider to be “Core Cerebus” are still waiting to be introduced at the end of the book. The Cirinists have been an absolutely minimal presence, if they’ve featured at all, the Tarim / Terim dichotomy has barely been mentioned, and any information about the nature and number of aardvarks is missing – at this point, Cerebus is still basically just a funny looking character. Lots to come… I am itching to crack on with Church & State now.

*(FWIW, I reckon Sim’s talent continues to build, albeit at a more incremental level, all the way through to issue 220 or thereabouts. After that, his technical ability soars – the lettering, page composition and character art in the final few books are all tremendous – but his narrative ability pretty much deserts him, until a late flourish with The Last Day).

thebobsphere's review

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The second volume of the Cerebus Aardvark epic is really the only one you must own. It is PERFECT. A mix of politics, humour, madcap scenes. All at breakneck speed. The jokes, puns and homages are spot on.

In essence it's a rags to riches story. Cerebus finds himself employed as a plongeur at the Regency Hotel. After a farcical and complex kidnapping attempt, Cerebus actually has to pay the kidnappers AND he is accused of murder.

At this point Cerebus decides that in order to clear himself and pay money he has to be elected Prime Minister of Lest and competes against Emperor Julius.

What ensues is a lot of epic running back and forth between polling stations and houses. This is when the book really comes into it's own as these scenes just sweep you with the chase. Ultimately Cerebus does manage to win the election and does pay back all his dues.

High Society is a multi-layered comic but Sim cleverly manages to make the plot threads both fun and funny. It is a pity that Sim took complexity too far and turned Cerebus into a graphic novel version of a Pynchon story but at this point do invest in High Society. It's pure comic genius.

gillysingh's review

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This comic book is an excellent satire of the political process in a bourgeois democracy. Caucuses, lobbying, voter fraud and corruption abounds as Cerebus attempts to run a city-state. Dave Sim gains his stride as a storyteller and becomes more confident in what he hopes to achieve, in the long run, with the Cerebis character. Comic books and graphic novels at their finest.