Aleister and Adolph GN – Douglas Rushkoff

1 out of 5

Ugh.  I somehow keep forgetting that I don’t like Rushkoff’s comic book writing.  Truth be told, I’ve only read one of his books thus far (Coercion) and though I enjoyed the “branding is brainwashing” elaborations – note that this comic deals with the same – I’d criticize the book as being structured repetitiously and not really presenting anything mind-blowing for those who’ve given some thought regarding the world around them.  I’d bought that while reading Doug’s first comic foray, Testament, which seemed like it was going somewhere and then very, very much didn’t.  But I sort of chalked it up to first time jitters, and as suggested above, bought a couple more books along the way.  …Which have sat unread.  Not so unusual in and of itself except that those Unreads don’t seem to shuffle too actively into my To Read pile…

Later, misled by the same sensibilities, I read Rushkoff’s second comic, A.D.D., which was pretty dumb and in the review I listed the same “I should have known better” grievances.  Yup.  So to his credit, Doug has pulled the ultimate joke by applying his brainwashing tactics to his own work: I’m mindlessly buying this stuff.  Why?  Grant Morrison.

Grant does the foreword for Aleister.  Grant had a quote on the cover of Testament.  It’s why I bought it, and started this game.  Grant isn’t perfect, but he has produced several definitive and landmark comics (and his Supergods book is bumpy but definitely a valuable read), and his support – especially of a fellow counter-culture dude like Rushkoff – seems valuable.  And to read a summary of Doug’s pitches – which generally trace and extrapolate the influence of advertising / symbology through different historical paths and their imagined futures – its very easy to make the assumption that these two author’s works go hand in hand.

Focusing solely on comics, though, the difference is that Grant’s writing seems to be informed by an appreciation for comics’ entire history.  His work hasn’t been directly about proving any theory so much as working with the existing system to, overall, celebrate it.  That might give way to other agendas, but the starting point has generally been one of love for the medium.  And although I’d think most of us agree that the drugs and chaos magick have permanently affected his issue-to-issue structure – his longer running books always have some wank in them that’s hard to understand – he does approach those same projects holistically; once you get into a Grant-reading rhythm, you can read through his (ahem) nonsense with faith that you’ll wind up where intended.  The short version: He’s a skilled writer, and understands the medium.  There’s a lot of flash surrounding that, but without those core skills, the stories wouldn’t work and wouldn’t last the way they have.

Is the direction of my criticism somewhat taking shape?  Rushkoff, while certainly purveyor of his own thoughts and ideas, wants to operate in the same “its all connected” sphere as Morrison, but he’s simply lacking both of those mentioned skills – an understanding of the medium and competency as a plotter – to pull it off.  Testament at least pretended to have a plot for a while, and that and A.D.D. were in part carried by their art; Aleister just jumps right into its bullshit, and unfortunately I have never understood the appeal of artist Michael Avon Oeming, who – that aside – is especially poorly suited to a script that has zero nuance or sense of pacing.

The GN is presumably an attempt at exploring Aleister Crowley’s influence up through the ages, mainly focusing on his rise and fall of influence during WW II and how that might possibly be traced up through the 90s, and the advent of the internet’s full-on proliferation of iconography.  In practice, the story is a hamboned exposition dump with an inconsequential framing story leading into a flashback which features the emptiest characters known to man and sequences of occultish symbol charging that come across like someone reciting an unedited wiki summary of the same – dry, repetitive, surface level – with additional attempted (and failed) narrational flourish.  Then there’s a “twist,” which is about as impactful as everything that came before it, and a return to the framing story where Rushkoff hammers his point home in a way he clearly thought was revelatory.  (But is, in context, boring.)

Art-wise, Oeming’s included sketches show attempts at capturing characters’ personalities, which he does, but the script just isn’t there to support it beyond those visuals.  And his flat, cartoonish style is not a good match for the presumably noir / ghoulish atmosphere of the tale, and doubly so for the surreal drug-tripped sequences, which needed someone with a better eye for complex layouts.

Is there a worthwhile story here?  Sure, but not the way it’s told.  You can’t just wrap an idea in pictures and hope it floats.

No new ideas from Rushkoff, no newly notable way of expressing those non-new ideas, and not a worthwhile use of your comic time or money.