This massive book, over 600 pages, collects issues 81-111 of the original comic series. If you're new to the Cerebus saga, I suggest that you begin at the beginning. The twenty-five year, three thousand page total builds as it goes, and these later chapters make more sense if you know the history and context of each character. Or, you could just jump in and let the complex machinations of plot and personality wash over you.
This black and white comic works at many levels. Visual realism comes and goes, lettering conveys more feeling than whole pages of artwork in some other comics, and page layouts challenge the reader who's only seen the row-of-blocks kind before. Copious nods to popular culture include Lord Julius (a Groucho Marx lookalike), a parody of Mick Jagger, references to mainstream comics, and a startling, surreal cameo by the Flaming Carrot. Many of the original monthly magazines included backup features by other artists, and FC was one of those. Unfortunately, the backup features and brief rants that introduced each issue never made it into this compendium, so the new reader must simply accept that episode as another mystery. Of course, the real attraction comes from Cerebus himself, the scrappy aardvark who somehow finds himself supreme leader of a theocratic nation-state. Intrigue in the pope's court alternates with dream-like sequences, fast action takes turns with dream-like philosophical interludes, and broad humor lightens many moments that could otherwise have dragged.
Cerebus also holds a distinctive place in the indy comics movement. Dave Sim was certainly not the first to step outside the oligopoly of the comics world in the late 1970s or early 1980s. He was (and remains) one of the most successful small publishers, however, and an inspiration to many that followed. That bit of history just adds to the enjoyment, though. If you want something different from the spandexed superheroes, give this a shot. You might find yourself a fan, too.