Anyone who’s waded any distance into the murky waters of legend surrounding British occultist Aleister Crowley has likely heard the stories about his involvement with British intelligence in WWII. He helped interrogate Rudolf Hess after Hess flew a plane from Germany to Scotland to negotiate peace. He worked closely with Ian Fleming (and Fleming’s Blofeld is based on him). He falsified astrology charts to throw off Hitler’s soothsayers. Or, these are the apocryphal stories, anyway.
In Aleister & Adolf, author, media theorist, and now comic book writer, Doug Rushkoff makes clever use of these and other tales about the self-proclaimed Beast 666 to make a deeper point about the profound manipulating powers of “charged” symbols in our modern world. It’s ultimately a book about how the manipulation of symbols and the effective use of propaganda can have deep consciousness-changing effects on a population, and can lead to fascism. Timely, eh?
The book runs with one well-known story from the Crowley apocrypha, that he was responsible for creating the V for victory symbol to be used by Churchill as a counter-sigil (occult symbol) to neutralize the swastika. Rushkoff casts Crowley and Hitler as real-world superhero and supervillain (or maybe, supervillain working for the good guys and straight-up supervillain) in an intense war of symbols and psychic combat. Actually, we don’t see much of Adolf in this book, Aleister & Adolf is mainly about the Crowley side of the magical front lines, as seen through the eyes of a young American army newspaper photographer sent to spy on Crowley and possibly recruit him to work for the U.S. The Crowley story is bookended by a tale set in New York, 1995, of a young web designer for a big corporation who stumbles upon the Aleister and Adolf war story and its ominous relevance to advertising and the burgeoning web.
While the subject-matter is certainly compelling enough, the whole project really becomes something special in the hands of artist Michael Avon Oeming (best known for the Powers comic book with Brian Michael Bendis). Oeming achieves some very intense and charged occult imagery within these pages. Using very vivid, bold, and black-saturated panels, Oeming’s graphic narrative creates a succession of dizzying, dark and shadowy corridors that you feel like you’re stumbling through in some opiated haze. This book feels like a trip through a haunted house. Or at least that’s where the visuals took me. I can’t think of an artist who could have done a better job of rendering Rushkoff’s story than Michael Oeming.
[Perhaps even more magical to me than the art in the book is watching Mike Oeming ink up a panel of it in this YouTube video]
Aleister & Adolf
by Douglas Rushkoff, Michael Avon Oeming (Illustrator)
Dark Horse Originals
2016, 88 pages, 6.3 x 0.5 x 9.3 inches, Hardcover
$16 Buy one on Amazon