“Only you yourself can be your liberator.”
“Science, I’m going to plant a bomb under your ass!!”
What many do not know about the mole people of the subter-land labyrinths of the hollow earth is that they believe in the healing power of orgone, a mysterious energy that radiates throughout the universe. In exchange for the food and Shasta that they bring me, I have agreed to review two issues of Elijah Brubaker’s Reich.
Reich is a serialized biography of Wilhelm Reich, a notable German psychologist who worked alongside Sigmund Freud. Late in life, however, he claimed to discover a mysterious energy that he named “orgone.” This energy, he believed, is the very life force that permeates the universe. He designed and built a chamber that he claimed could focus orgone for the purpose of curing disease. He also built a device called a cloudbuster that he believed used orgone to produce rain in clouds. Not surprisingly, orgone was deemed pseudo-science by the scientific community. Reich found himself the target of ridicule, and felt increasingly persecuted. Indeed, though the idea of orgone had some influential followers (including writer and William Tell enthusiast William S. Burroughs), the FDA would embark upon one of the most infamous crusades of censorship in U.S. history, jailing Reich and burning several tons of his publications.
The tragic figure of Wilhelm Reich is a fascinating subject, and Elijah Brubaker clearly has a great affection for the man. Brubaker paints him as a likable, though stubborn person; flawed and human, but in a way that is noble. Reich truly seems to believe in his work, throwing himself into it at the expense of his family and his professional reputation. Brubaker makes great use of bold design choices; varying the level of detail within his panels to create either intimacy or emotional distance as the story requires.
I was worried that I would be lost stepping into this series with issues Seven and Eight, but that didn’t ended up being a serious problem. Seven is one long vignette, told from the point of view of Reich’s young son Peter. It is a self-contained story and has enough background information to make it more or less readable by itself (though some background information is helpful).
Issue Eight is even more successful at framing the history for the story. It centers on an ill-fated interview in which Reich details his “discovery.” We get a glimpse of the effects Reich’s research has had on his relationship with wives and children family. There are many wonderful moments of quiet melancholy here, moments that in lesser hands could have easily devolved into ridicule. While the theory of orgone is still regarded as having little or no scientific merit, I was pleased with how Brubaker portrayed Reich’s relationship to this field as earnest. Even the moments wherein Reich demonstrates the greatest self-delusion (such as his correspondence with Einstein) were treated as reverence for his (admittedly misplaced) passion. I never felt that Reich was being made to look like a fool.
Reich Seven and Eight are fascinating reads. If Issues One through Six are as strong and as engrossing, then the finished collected book looks extremely promising. Indeed, Reich is well worth following in its current serialized format considering how well each issue stands on its own.
Morgan Pielli’s latest comic, The Worry Tree, can be read on-line at www.MorganPielli.com