Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Foxing Reprints #3: Elijah Brubaker

Reich #11, by Elijah Brubaker.  Brubaker is nearing the end of his series about the controversial Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, whose theories about "orgone radiation" led him to make some radical claims. Brubaker's take on Reich is neither hagiography nor a sensationalist expose'. Indeed, Brubaker tries to be as matter-of-fact as possible regarding the increasingly eccentric nature of Reich's claims, including that aliens were infecting earth with negative orgone energy. The story is told through Reich's eyes and experiences, but this also includes his failings as a human. Brubaker hammers home Reich's hypocrisy regarding his jealousy toward a lover that he accused of cheating on him. His free love ideas didn't seem to apply to those whom he viewed possessively. His absolutist and almost cultish demand for belief from his colleagues led him to alienate many former friends and supporters.

In this issue, the reader is introduced to the beginning of the end for Reich. The Food & Drug Administration was coming down hard on him, a process that would eventually see Reich sent to prison and reams of research destroyed. However, it's hard to have much sympathy for Reich at the beginning of the story, as he once again demands that his ex-lover admit to an affair, and she once again denies it before he hits her. For a man whose position with regard to so many issues was feminist in a manner that was way ahead of its time, Brubaker presents this act as the ultimate form of betrayal and hypocrisy. It's portrayed partly in silhouette, with Reich's arm stretched out almost casually. The brutishness of the act is contrasted with just how easy it was for Reich to descend to that level.

One by one, his friends, followers and family start to leave. There's yet another revealing scene where he meets by chance the widow of the man he thought was having an affair with his ex-lover. When she invites him over for a picnic, they each have different things on their mind. For Reich, he anticipates a sexual encounter. For the widow of modest means, it's a chance to ask Reich for money, which he flatly declines. It's yet another example of the almost casual cruelty of which he was capable. 

The issue ends with Reich in Washington, trying to attach himself romantically to a younger woman. The final scene is with his beloved son Peter in a hotel room, as Reich first engages in orgone-related jargon with his son and then confesses that he might have to take his own life if men come "to take me away in chains". For the first time, he completely breaks down as his son tries to comfort him. It's one of the rare scenes where Reich shows vulnerability as a human being rather than attempt to portray himself as being above others.

Brubaker's shadowy, sketchy and angular style is a deft match for the bizarre world of Reich. There's an almost haunting, static quality in each of the panels, even when there is movement involved. Brubaker wants the reader to focus in on each character's body language in each panel as a counter-point to the dialogue. The sketchiness of the line allows the reader to focus on the expressionistic qualities of the character design, and the extensive use of shadow effects contributes to the downbeat mood of the comic. There will likely be a couple of more issues before Brubaker wraps up the series and likely collects it. Reich is one of the more impressive feats of comics biography that I've read and certainly the most interesting since Chester Brown's Lous Riel, which was obviously a huge influence. 

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