Friday, July 15, 2011

Sequart #162: Reich 3-4

This review originally appeared at in 2007.

The first two issues of Reich focused on the basics of notorious psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich's early adult life, creating a narrative that tried to navigate between the extremes of opinions regarding his life and work. Issues three and four mostly flash back to his childhood and the roots of his obsession with sexuality and difficulty with intimacy. After the flashbacks end, we begin to see how Reich's work intersected with the culture of Germany between the world wars, and the way it essentially broke down to freedom vs. control.

Artist Elijah Brubaker takes a risk by basing most of these two issues on a short autobiography by Reich about his childhood. Brubaker acknowledges this in his essential endnotes, noting that there's no way to prove certain of Reich's claims, like losing his virginity at age eleven with a family cook. What was obvious was that Reich's obsession with sex and sexuality bloomed from a very early age (which, as he notes, is not unusual for a child who grows up on a farm). The reasons for his obsession with exposing sexuality as an open topic of discussion also became clear, given his mother's affair and the brutal nature of his father's jealousy. Of course, that insight came at a steep price: the development and nurturing of his own emotional intimacy.

By focusing on orgasm and sexual health as an essentialist issue, he blinded himself to the emotional complexity of human relationships. His dogged belief in the liberating power of orgasm took an interesting turn with the rise of fascism in Austria, as communists clashed with Mussolini-funded thugs. Reich saw a clear line between the oppression of patriarchy that plays out both on a state level and within marriages with sexual repression; the latter became an instrument by which the former was able to use fear, terror and violence to snuff out human freedom.

This issue felt like the end of the prelude, and that the action in the story's narrative will soon ramp up. Brubaker is taking his time continuing to establish Reich's complexity as a human being and putting his ideas and experiences into historical context. One thing I like about this series is that it takes advantage of its nature as a periodical. Brubaker ends each issue on a cliffhanger of sorts, and each issue feels like a complete story even as it's part of a larger narrative. That's because Brubaker is able to skillfully end each issue at the end of an emotional story beat. For example, at the end of issue #3, the story ends with Reich's father discovering his mother's infidelity and demanding that young Willhelm tell him everything he knows. Brubaker's highly stylized, expressionistic art wouldn't look out of place with the art in Vienna at the time. His use of sharp angles and shading on faces adds a frequently painful depth to the largely sober and restrained narrative voice. It's exciting to see Sparkplug's willingness to publish periodicals in an age when more publishers eschew the traditional comic book format, and one can sense that Sparkplug's Dylan Williams will let Reich take as long as he needs to finish his story.

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