Weekly Reading Round-Up : 07/29/2018 – 08/04/2018, Elijah Brubaker’s “Reich,” Issues 9-12

It’s been quite a ride so far these past couple of weeks, but it’s not over yet —

In Elijah Brubaker’s Reich #9 , the FDA makes its move against our increasingly-ostracized (partly by choice, partly due to circumstance) protagonist, who’s also getting noticeably more prickly in his dotage (not that he was ever exactly pleasant company), and as it happens it turns out that it was someone very close to him who ended up selling him out to the feds. These intrigues pass by unbeknownst to Willy, though, as he’s far too busy “discovering” the negative counterpart to Orgone, which he calls D.O.R., an acronym for Dark Orgone Energy. The cover for this issue is one of my favorites, the detail is just amazing and I love the lime green — a bold color choice that really draws in the eye. The interior art is solid as ever, and tips its hand more than ever to Jeff Nicholson’s influence — which is by no means a bad thing. One item worthy of note : this issue carries a $5.00 price tag, as opposed to the usual $4.00, but fear not — it goes away as quickly as it showed up, and was probably just due to temporarily tight finances at the offices of publisher Sparkplug Comic Books. In any case, it’s still more than worth it.

We’re back to a watercolor cover for Reich #10, and if you’re of a mind that Brubaker’s mastery of this technique just gets stronger and stronger as he goes along, you’re exactly right. Personal drama takes center stage in this chapter as Reich’s second marriage falls apart — or, more likely, is irreparably shattered thanks to his own actions and increasing paranoia. He’s got bigger things on his mind than domestic strife, though, as this is the point at which he enlists his “Cloudbuster” devices into service in — the war against UFOs? You’ve gotta read it to believe it, and even then you still probably wont. Brubaker’s depictions of flying saucer battles are worth the price of admission alone, and that price is once again (and would remain) just four bucks.

If you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose a favorite cover for this series, it would probably be the one for Reich #11. I mean, just look at that stark imagery that positively reeks of isolation, and the cross-hatching alone must have taken fucking hours. Inside, Wilhelm finds what passes for “love” (or, at the very least, marriage — this time complete with a contract) one more time, makes some absolutely crucial mistakes in his handling of his legal case, shares a genuinely tender moment with his son, and unleashes his violent temper upon now-ex-wife Ilse, in a scene masterfully illustrated partly with full-figure drawings, partly with shadow forms. It’s just plain stunning, as is this installment in general — thick with foreboding and doom, the end is truly nigh.

That end arrives with Reich #12, and I guess I’ll keep details of this one scant just in case some readers aren’t aware of the circumstances surrounding the groundbreaking-but-possibly-bonkers scientist’s ignominious final days. A decidedly understated and quite apropos cover kicks things off, and Brubaker goes back to the traditional six-panel grid for his big finale, which gives the proceedings the feel of a work circling back around to its beginnings even as the curtain drops. You can’t help but feel that, unlikable as he was, Reich deserved better than he ended up getting, and the matter-of-fact, unsentimental manner in which his shuffling off this mortal coil is depicted is, once again, reminiscent of Chester Brown’s last page of Louis Riel — minus the rope. A stark, powerful, frank conclusion to one of the finest works of biography ever undertaken in the comics medium.

And so all good things must come to an end, and this series was a very good thing, indeed. Next week I think we’ll turn our attention back to current offerings hitting the comic shop racks, since I’m at least morbidly curious to check out The Sandman Universe #1, and Howard Chaykin’s got a new series making its debut, so the tentative plan is to check both of those out, plus whatever else (if anything) catches my interest. In the meantime, we’ll wrap up this Reich retrospective by providing the link to order all twelve issues (hopefully you’re convinced at this point that they’re an absolutely essential purchase) one more time :https://wowcool.com/product-category/comics/indie/elijah-brubaker/



Weekly Reading Round-Up : 07/22/2018 – 07/28/2018, Elijah Brubaker’s “Reich,” Issues 5-8

Picking up right where we left off at last week —

Underneath the sleek, art deco cover to Elijah Brubaker’s Reich #5, we find a story that’s actually pretty heavy on intrigue — both of the political and sexual variety. On the sexual front, our guy Wilhelm’s insatiable appetites are finally straining his largely-sham marriage to the breaking point, even as his philosophy of, for wont of a better term, scientific libertine-ism begins to bear fruit in terms of small-scale social changes in Germany. His “success” is not without its detractors, though, one of them being his then-beloved Communist party, who sever ties with him in the face of the right-wing repression sweeping the country. Which brings us, I suppose, to the political intrigue, as this installment sees both Hitler’s rise to power and, subsequently, the totalitarian measures enacted in the wake of the Reichstag fire, necessitate Reich’s flight from Berlin back to Vienna. Throw in his final break with former mentor Freud and this chapter of Brubaker’s saga is one of tremendous import, delineated with ever-increasing confidence and clarity. Hell, he even makes a six-page sequence of a conversation around a barroom table look interesting. Chances are this was the point at which Silver Sprocket knew they were publishing one of the most important comics out there.

Don’t let the lush watercolors on the cover of Reich #6 fool you, what we’re witnessing is a devastating scene, as young Willy observes the deterioration and death of his father — which comes into play in the narrative toward the tail end of this issue via another extended flashback sequence. Most of our time, however, is spent in his adult years, specifically post-1933, which saw him on the move quite a bit —from Vienna to Zurich to the Swiss Alps to Paris to London to Prague to Berlin (to fetch his mistress and make a quick exit) to Oslo, where his extended estrangement from his daughters finally ends and they (and, by extension, us) are given a privileged look into his latest mission, cancer research. The term “bions” is heard for the first time and, while it’s not yet mentioned by name, the “discovery” of orgone energy also takes place in this chapter. Brubaker masterfully plays with shadows and shading like never before this time out, illustrates a scene of the Nazis burning Reich’s books with bone-chilling clarity, and even gives us a microscopic view of the mysterious “energy emissions” that would form the basis of his protagonist’s latter-years obsession. More absolutely stirring stuff for your four-dollar investment. Oh, and did I mention that Freud dies in this one, as well?

Yup, that’s a Warhol-esque image of an old school Duncan yo-yo on the cover of Reich #7, and in the Arizona desert circa 1954 we learn that Reich’s on, Peter, is quite fond of the toy. This is a “flash-forward” issue that sees a radical change in the look of the comic as Brubaker breaks away from the six-panel grid as decisively as Reich himself broke away from the continent of his birth. Things are pretty far along here — the “Cloudbuster” machine is up and running, as Reich attempts to bring rain to a region that doesn’t get much of it, but don’t let his new areas of study fool you; this is still the same old Wilhelm, as his interactions with Peter and the woman waiting their table at a cafe prove. His obsession with unexplored scientific frontiers is eclipsed only with his obsession with himself, and there’s a sense that he’s doing some real psychological damage to his child — though Brubaker, to his credit, doesn’t hit us over the head with that point, rather trusting his deft touch with dialogue and his intricate attention to facial expressions and body language to communicate all we need to know. A far more self-contained installment than any to date, this reads very much like a “stand-alone story” dropped into the the middle a sprawling epic. A gutsy move, to be sure — and a dizzyingly successful one, at that.

An older, but still obviously quite cavalier, version of our “hero” peers from the corners of his ever-inquisitive eyes at — something (or maybe someone) on the cover of Reich #8, and Brubaker uses this issue to bridge the gap between numbers six and seven, bringing us fully up to speed on everything Willy’s been up to since arriving on American shores, from his brief period in Forest Hills to the foundation of his Orgonon research center in Maine. He’s been a busy guy, to say the least, and in these pages we are introduced to his second wife, Ilse, for the first time; get a look at, and an explanation of the workings of, the so-called “orgone box”; learn about Reich’s one and only meeting with Einstein, told from the POV of Albert himself — and even meet the FDA agents (drawn in a style I can only assume Brubaker came upon by way of the great, criminally under-appreciated Jeff Nicholson) who will come to play such a significant role in our title character’s eventual downfall. The now fervently anti-Communist Reich says that he is averse to publicity these days, but could the seeds of his demise be sown by his decision to consent to an interview for The New Republic magazine? Read this comic and find out!

In seven days we’ll wrap things up by looking at the final four chapters of Reich, but in the meantime, should you feel the urge to see for yourself why I’m making such a fuss about this series (and, trust me, you should feel that urge), all twelve issues are available at https://wowcool.com/product-category/comics/indie/elijah-brubaker/



Weekly Reading Round-Up : 07/15/2018 – 07/21/2018, Elijah Brubaker’s “Reich,” Issues 1-4

Every comics fan has “holes” in his or her reading history — books that you know you should have read, books that everyone goes on and on about but that you, for whatever reason(s), simply haven’t gotten around to yet. This past week, I finally got around to addressing one of those.

Seriously, though, who are we kidding? For a guy with both feet in the comics scene and at least one foot (does that give me three?) in the world of parapolitics/parascience/”conspiracy culture,” the fact that I hadn’t read Elijah Brubaker’s celebrated Reich, a 12-part chronicle of the life, times, tribulations, and travails of (in?)famous psychoanalyst/inventor/philosopher/shit-disturber Wilhelm Reich is more than a “hole,” its a yawning chasm, and frankly pretty well inexcusable, yet my excuses were plentiful : my LCS didn’t stock it while it was running (for nearly a decade at that, from 2007-2014), its publisher, Sparkplug Comics Books is (sadly) no longer with us, I could never find the issues all together from one seller online at a reasonable price — the list is endless as it is now, I’m happy to report, irrelevant. That’s because it just so happens that I did finally find them all in one place — and at cover price, no less! This matters because, as far as I know, there are no plans to collect the entire series in a single volume any time soon. I’m four issues into it as of this writing and, honestly, pretty impressed with what Brubaker’s managed to achieve here, so let’s have a look, shall we?

Reich #1 opens with its protagonist/subject availing himself of the “services” of a local prostitute while stationed in Italy during WW I, thus setting the stage, screenplay-style, for the idea that this is a guy who simply can’t get enough sex no matter the circumstances, and from there we fast-forward to his University Of Vienna days, where he first joins, then effectively commandeers, a boundary-pushing student group determined to fill in the gaps their professors and textbooks aren’t addressing through independent exploration and discussion — and we come to see in no time at all that this is a man who is equal parts charismatic, strong-willed, arrogant, and undeniably brilliant. He’s not an easy person to actually like, but that’s not the point — Brubaker’s goal is to establish in readers a perhaps-begrudging sense of respect for Reich, and he achieves that with ease. After all, here’s a guy who, while still a student, had the audacity to knock on the door of Sigmund Freud’s home and essentially invite himself in for a discussion with the man who would, effectively, become his mentor.

This first issue also shows its hand as far as its primary cartooning influences go right off the bat — in terms of format, substance, and structure it owes a heavy (and acknowledged) debt to Chester Crown’s Louis Riel, borrowing its smaller rectangular, cardstock-covered publication design, its end notes at the back (although in fairness Brubaker’s citations, explanations, and references are nowhere near as extensive as Brown’s), and its rigid adherence to the “classic” six-panel grid; in terms of actual cartooning style, though, it’s clear that Brubaker is channeling his inner Richard Sala, complete with the exaggerated, angular facial features, rich and inky shadows, woodcut-style hatching, and Van Gogh-ish swirls. It is, therefore, by no means a unique look, but it’s a highly effective one for an Eastern European-set “period piece” such as this, and the plotting and pacing of the narrative are spot-on, with this debut installment ending with a gripping cliffhanger wherein Reich is confronted with the first of many personal scandals that would plague both his life and career. A very promising start to a series that already bears all the hallmarks of being a memorable one, indeed.

Reich #2 shows “Willy,” as his friends call him, being an even bigger bastard in the context of his romantic dalliances, and growing progressively more arrogant and aloof as his unconventional therapeutic approaches begin to garner something of a reputation for him among the Viennese psychoanalytic “elite.” His leftist political leanings begin to flower, but who knows? He may just be in it for the pussy — which is even sleazier than it sounds because he’s “married with children” by this point. A stirring portrait of a man riddled with more complexities than the goddamn New York Times Sunday crossword begins to emerge, and the issue ends with Reich on the receiving end of a perceived slight from Freud that would set his researches off in bold, controversial new directions. Brubaker is stepping out of Sala’s cartooning shadow slowly but with a fair degree of confidence here, establishing a visual language of his own that pays homage to his primary influence (okay, influences, plural, because Brown’s presence is still felt, as well), without outright “aping” it any longer. This is a cartoonist, and a project, finding its footing in an impressively brief amount of time.

In Reich #3, a frightening near-death (or so it would seem) experience triggers an extended flashback to our guy Wilhelm’s childhood, and to say that his upbringing was “harrowing” is to put it too kindly : domineering and abusive father, manic-depressive mother (not without good reason), barely-sublimated Oedipal urges, willing female household staff members several years his senior, a physically and emotionally fragile younger brother — all topped by a scandalous revelation that may just blow everything apart. Brubaker kicks things into another gear with this superb chapter, and like the story, the art is getting stronger and more confident with each successive installment, as well.

Finally (for now), we come to Reich #4, in which the full-scale depravity of young Willy’s formative years comes fully into view, his enraged father essentially committing a torturous, years-long murder of his mother in full view of everyone — and manipulating his sons into turning their backs on her while he does so. This is gut-wrenching stuff, and — here we go gain, but it’s true — while it makes for the strongest issue yet, this is undoubtedly also the most difficult one to get through. Add in some rapidly-escalating political turmoil  in Vienna once Reich returns from his extended convalescence, and the end result is graphic storytelling replete with tension so thick you gotta cut it with a knife. Superb scenes of burning buildings and angry street riots showcase Brubaker’s deft touch with cinematic-style action — and speaking of cinema, Reich and his wife check out Fritz Lang’s Metropolis at the theater!

Okay, that’ll do it for this week, but we’re going to keep this train rolling until we’re done, so in the next Round-Up column look for issues #s 5-8. We’ll see you back here for that in seven days, then, and in the meantime, if you should feel so moved as to order these comics up for yourself, they’re all available (again, at cover price — fuck eBay!) from Wow Cool via this handy link : https://wowcool.com/product-category/comics/indie/elijah-brubaker/