It gets weird later on, but how do you get there from a slightly pointed parody of Conan?  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Cerebus #1 awaits!


Writer: Dave Sim
Penciler: Dave Sim
Inker: Dave Sim
Letterer: Dave Sim
Publisher: Aardvark-Vanaheim Press
Cover Price: $1.00
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $10,5000

Previously in CerebusThough it might be difficult to imagine in the 21st century, the adventures of Conan The Barbarian were a massive hit for Marvel in 1970.  After a few years of his own Comics Code-approved book, Conan gained a second book, the magazine-sized black-and-white ‘Savage Sword of Conan’, with additional titles joining the original over a thirty-year run.  In 1977, a young creator even chose to parody the Barbarian’s comic-book adventures with an unusual protagonist.

Initially just the logo mascot for Sim’s Aardvark-Vanaheim Publishing, Cerebus is one of those characters who sort of snowballed out of control quickly.  The name itself is a misspelling (of “Cerberus”, the legendary hound of Hades from Greek mythology, and the aardvark bit was reputedly a joke suggestion for the publishing company’s name.  This issue opens with a pair of thieves approaching the Earth-Pig in a tavern (after showing him threatening the bartender to get service and hacking off the hand of a man who had the temerity to try and tug his tail), offering him a sum of gold for his help in retrieving a particular magical gem.  Cerebus fights through the shadow-warriors that protect the mystical tower, tramping through the dungeon halls past strange statues and lifeless skeletons…

Well, maybe not *entirely* lifeless.

The aardvark’s skill with a sword (and willingness to throw himself bodily into a chasm to smash the walking bones) avails him well.  That’s when the illusions kick in…

Shaking off the hallucinatory effects of the blossoms by sheer force of will and/or stubbornness, Cerebus continues forward, even as his erstwhile employees beg to just run away.  They swear that no gem could be worth the physical and emotional torture they’re going through, but he will not hear of it.  The amount of emotion that Sim can convey with a cartoon aardvark is quite impressive, and the use of shadows makes up for a number of moments that show the youth of the cartoonist.  Then again, there are powerful moments like this.

The thieves panic and beg the Aardvark to fight on their behalf, but he instead closes his eyes and walks forward, moving past the unnoticing dragon, swinging his sword before him to find his true quarry: The sorcerer who holds the Flame Jewel.  A quick stab renders the ancient magic-man to dust, and Cerebus demands payment before leading them out.  When asked how he knew to ignore the illusions, he simply explains that he’s familiar with illusions and how to fight them, and also there’s something he wants to explain about the powerful Flame Jewel.

It’s just a walnut, without the power of the sorcerer stored inside.  It’s actually a pretty cool ending, and had this been written as a straight-forward Marvel Conan story, I don’t think any of us would have blinked an eye.  This comic quickly proceeded past mere parody into more complex realms and after having the inspiration from a dream/hallucination, decided to do 300 issues of Cerebus adventures.  With Dave Sim returning to comics and spawning controversy once again, Cerebus #1 serves as a reminder of the skill that brought him his initial fame and the reason that this book is as valuable as it has become, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  It’s amazing to think that this simple story launched a full-fledged phenomenon that actually outlasted it’s source material in the public eye, (even as its creator has become more and more controversial.)

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It's easy to see what makes this one of the most sought-after #1's of the late 70s black-and-white boom, even if the series ended up being something else entirely.

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Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.

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