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Sparkplug Highlights: Reich #10, by Elijah Brubaker

I don’t know about you, but I love graphic biographies, illustrated journalism, and historical comics. From the highly detailed, moving work of Joe Sacco to Kate Beaton’s hilarious history gags to the recent and highly acclaimed March, learning about the past, the present, and people’s lives seems so much more accessible and vibrant when there is a visual component involved. Emotions are right there on the page for you to see and empathize with; horrors are laid out and impossible to ignore; the abstract is made real and immediate. Since Art Spiegelman set the bar with his Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus, the graphic nonfiction canon has been one of the most consistently high-quality and exciting arenas of comics, and Elijah Brubaker is adding his own outstanding work to it right now.

Reich, the biography of the strange and fascinating Wilhelm Reich, is a thrilling, suspenseful ride — quite the feat for a story that’s over fifty years old. Issue ten, just released this summer, continues the gripping tale. From the intro:

“It has been a long, harrowing journey for Wilhelm Reich, from the excitement and progress of Vienna in the ’20s studying under Sigmund Freud, through the conflagration of Hitler’s Europe and into McCarthy era America. Reich, the ever intrepid scientist, delves deeper into the study of humn sexuality and into the very underpinnings of the cosmos. Reich discovers an energy, and élan vital, which he dubs “Orgone” energy and builds several devices capable of harnessing that energy. Several agencies of the US government suspect Reich of being a dangerous subversive and Reich’s FBI file begins to grow. Later, Reich is approached a his home, Orgonon, by agents from the FDA. The agents question Reich about his devise and begin investigating his ‘patients.’ Around this time Reich begins to document his sighting of lights in the sky and several observations about his potent an seemingly universal Orgone energy…”

This issue is an ominous one, with the authorities closing in on Reich, his family life falling apart, and his associates losing faith in him. Brubaker’s art, which is as textured and stylistically interesting as ever, illustrates this dark spiral well — among his rounded characters and landscapes (that, honestly, are almost cute) are terrifying flashes of Reich’s face in a rage, characters cloaked in darkness, and horribly vast expanses of sky and space. Even if you know what happens in the end, you can’t help but feel a coldness in your gut and an intense desire to read on.