Friday, July 15, 2011

Blue Cheer: Reich #8

The eighth issue of Elijah Brubaker's series about the life of Wilhelm Reich, Reich, starts to get at the heart of the concepts that Reich was best known for. After throwing out hints about his more unusual methods, theories and devices by way of exploring his childhood and early clinical career in earlier issues, Brubaker fast-forwards to 1946 and introduces us to Reich's orgone box. If the past two issues established Reich in America as a man with a persecution complex who spread that paranoia to his children and assistants, then this issue reveals that sometimes paranoids have real enemies. Once again, Reich is presented as a tragic hero. He's a visionary with any number of enlightened views about sex, gender and repression. At the same time, the lack of affection he received as a child made him cold, reserved and defensive within his own relationships.

Issue eight sets the beginning of the end into motion for Reich, as a hatchet job interview leads the Food & Drug Administration into action to investigate the potential quackery of Reich's orgone box. Essentially, Reich believed he had discovered a visible form of life energy called orgone. He inadvertently built a box that "accumulated and amplified" this energy, which he believed had "healing effects". In conjunction with "the proper psychological outlook", Reich asserted that orgone therapy could heal anything. As always, Brubaker is sympathetic to Reich's position in some respects while still retaining healthy skepticism. A key scene in the book features Albert Einstein, to whom Reich appealed for support. Einstein flatly rejected the science of the orgone box, and anyone with a scientific background can see that while Reich's methodology was sound in terms of the scientific method, his foundational premise was greatly flawed. Reich's stubbornness didn't allow him to reconsider his premises and simply repeatedly ran him into the same set of flawed results.

Brubaker skillfully plays that scientific rigidity of thinking into Reich's emotional rigidity, as one of his daughters scolds him for rebuffing the visit of another daughter on a day he had a toothache. Reich's view of human relationships is so reductionist that he fails to see just how irrational he can be even as he decries others for being neurotic. As the rain begins to fall at the end of the issue, FDA agents show up at Reich's door. They are clearly looking for someone to rake over the coals, and Reich's lack of flexibility as a researcher and human being make him a perfect target. His hubris and arrogance will wind up being his undoing, and this issue is the calm before the storm. As always, Brubaker's moody and angular drawings throw the character's emotions into sharp relief; his use of shadow in particular evokes despondency and uncertainty, while a careful use of cross-hatching and naturalistic drawing in places and objects anchors his pages and gives them weight. Chester Brown continues to be an inspiration for Brubaker in terms of the slightly detached storytelling style, the heavy research into a controversial historical figure, and the extensive use of end notes. Brubaker is more expressive than Brown's tighter style inspired by classic cartoonists, but makes his idiosyncrasies as an artist into his signature as a storyteller.

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