"Aleister & Adolf" Graphic Novel Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Written by Douglas Rushkoff
Illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming
2016, 96 Pages
Graphic novel released on November 2nd, 2016
Is there a more interesting setting in history than World War II? I guess given the recent US election results, we could be looking at one. In any case, WWII was a time of great intrigue and fantastic stories from heroic deeds to horrific atrocities and even some supernatural elements. This last bit is where Aleister & Adolf sits. The book follows a mystical conflict between Aleister Crowley and Adolf Hitler delving into the power of symbols and ideas instead of guns and bullets.
Our conduit to the story is Roberts, a US soldier working for Stars & Stripes as a photographer. He's sent undercover to enlist Crowley to defeat Hitler mentally and spiritually, as the Fuhrer has retrieved the Spear of Destiny. The Allied Forces feel that even if Hitler just believes in the supernatural – and super human – qualities this artifact provides, it could be very dangerous. Roberts gets in too deep with Crowley and his occult crew, forgetting why he's there in the first place. Meanwhile, the war rages on throughout Europe and Hitler is looking stronger than ever.
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Although the story has some interesting elements, it takes some time to really ramp up. The emotional climax comes in the last few pages, rushing to provide some sort of overall theme to the book, but by that point it's too late. There's a great idea running through Aleister & Adolf about the strength of iconography and how symbols like the swastika in the 1940s and corporate logos today hold power. This is shown beautifully in a closing two-page spread as we jump to the present day. This doesn't hold as much weight in the bulk of the story, as a nude Crowley struggles to figure out the perfect symbol to counter that of Hitler's. You could replace the Nazis with Coca-Cola or any other big brand and it would be the same as your average advertising creative brainstorming session.
Artist Michael Avon Oeming's artwork is a perfect fit for this period piece. His character designs capture that nostalgic feel for this bygone era. The men are dressed smartly in shirts and ties. The women are drop-dead gorgeous with hair styles of the times.
Sex plays a major part of Aleister & Adolf, as it's part of Crowley's rituals. Oeming walks the line between gratuitous and tasteful with his artwork, just as the story bridges the gap between the sexy and the scary. While you'll have a beautiful nude woman on one side of the page, you have a menacing man with a knife on the other, and a group of hooded individuals surrounding them. These scenes become increasingly elaborate with panels that flow into one another. There's one particularly amazing page where the woman is leaning backwards so her face is upside down to the reader. Her eyes also serve as Crowley's looking down on the next set of images below it. It's a trippy shot that works incredibly well. This is some brilliant art direction.
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While this looks great in black and white, I'd love to see what it would look like with color. Oeming expertly uses shadows to draw your eye through the page and much of the story takes place under the cover of darkness. Flesh and blood would pop off the page with a little color, not to mention the demonic entities that tend to swirl around Crowley.
Aleister & Adolf sounds like it could be a hilarious buddy comedy like the adventures of Ted Bundy and Charles Manson. Instead, it casts a light on the hidden battles of World War II fought on the spiritual plane. It's a one-sided telling of the war, as aside from the cover and one image from a projector, Hitler doesn't even appear in the book. You witness the lengths the Allied Forces were willing to go to stop the Nazis and how close to evil they came themselves as a result.