Monday, December 31, 2012

Clenching and Unclenching: Reich #9

Reich #9 is the first issue of Elijah Brubaker's long-running series for Sparkplug published after the death of Dylan Williams, thanks in part to a Kickstarter campaign that provided needed funds to keep the publishing concern going. This issue reminds me of the old saw, "Even paranoids have real enemies." Reich was kooky and saw enemies everywhere, but the fact is that the FDA and FBI both came after him for his theories and devices, not to mention the way he was treated by the medical and psychiatric fields. At worst, Reich was an eccentric who had some interesting ideas and observations, even if his conclusions made some huge leaps in logic. However, in 1950s America, being a sex radical was dangerous business, especially if one's handiwork moved beyond theory and into practice, as with Reich's therapeutic orgone boxes. Brubaker is quick to point out the hypocrisy of 1950s America with regard to sex, as the brutish head inspector sexually harasses his secretary in the most blunt manner possible.

Reich's downfall came in part because he viewed himself as nothing less than a crusader against forces that spread "emotional plague", fortified by the emergence of atomic energy mixing with orgone radiation to create "deadly orgone radiation". It's a quixotic quest at best, in part because even Reich doesn't comprehend the dangers of nuclear energy, as his playing around with radium suggests. It's even more quixotic when one considers just how alone Reich was in his quest and the considerable might and influence of the forces arrayed against him. That's especially true when the government got some of his friends and helpers to betray him; one of them through romantic means. Reich may have been an egomaniac and difficult to get along with on a personal level, but he certainly didn't deserve the storm that came his way. Indeed, even as the rain at the end of the book signaled a triumph for Reich, the rest of the book saw a lot of darker, metaphorical stormclouds building against him.

As always, Brubaker's character design is eccentric and superb, creating people on the page who are somewhere between caricature, naturalism and dynamic naturalism. With furrowed brows, disheveled hair, loutish double chins and blank stares behind glasses, Brubaker quickly gives the reader everything they need to know about a character without them uttering a word. It was also interesting to see Bill Steig make a surprising guest appearance in this issue as a confidante and friend of Reich's; I had no clue that they were connected. I do wish Brubaker was still doing the Chester Brown-style endnotes that were featured in earlier issues, because I would have loved to have learned more about the backstories of several characters introduced in this issue. This issue marks a turning point in the series, and I sense future issues will quickly delve into the fall of Reich and the way he was persecuted. I admire Sparkplug's continuing devotion to the format of the single-issue continuing series, and Brubaker makes sure that each installment is its own unique entity in terms of both content and form.

1 comment:

  1. I need to get this, such a great series. I think when it's finished (and, hopefully, collected!)it'll stand in the accepted canon of great comic biographies.