Weekly Reading Round-Up : 07/15/2018 – 07/21/2018, Elijah Brubaker’s “Reich,” Issues 1-4

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Every comics fan has “holes” in his or her reading history — books that you know you should have read, books that everyone goes on and on about but that you, for whatever reason(s), simply haven’t gotten around to yet. This past week, I finally got around to addressing one of those.

Seriously, though, who are we kidding? For a guy with both feet in the comics scene and at least one foot (does that give me three?) in the world of parapolitics/parascience/”conspiracy culture,” the fact that I hadn’t read Elijah Brubaker’s celebrated Reich, a 12-part chronicle of the life, times, tribulations, and travails of (in?)famous psychoanalyst/inventor/philosopher/shit-disturber Wilhelm Reich is more than a “hole,” its a yawning chasm, and frankly pretty well inexcusable, yet my excuses were plentiful : my LCS didn’t stock it while it was running (for nearly a decade at that, from 2007-2014), its publisher, Sparkplug…

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Film Review: My Friend Dahmer (dir by Marc Meyers)

The 2017 film, My Friend Dahmer, opens in a suburban high school in the 1970s.  It’s a school like any other, with the usual collection of jocks, nerds, geeks, and outcasts.  Jeff (Ross Lynch) is the token weird kid.  Every school has one.  He’s obviously intelligent but there’s something off about him.  He shuffles around the school with his eyes down.  When he speaks, he rarely shows any emotion, leaving you to wonder if he’s just shy or if he’s lost in a world of his own.  There are rumors, of course, about all the strange things that Jeff has done.  Some people say that they’ve seen him collecting dead animals.  Jeff has told people that he has a shack where he uses acid to dissolve carcasses.  Jeff frequently comes to school drunk, reeking of alcohol.  And then there’s his parents!  His father (Dallas Roberts) tries to be strict but usually just comes across as befuddled.  Meanwhile, his mother (Anne Heche) alternates between doting on her oldest son and making paranoid accusations.

His father demands that Jeffrey make some friends.  That’s why Jeff ends up in such unlikely places as both the school band and the school’s tennis team.  Still feeling out-of-place, Jeff starts to act out in school.  Walking through the hallway, he’ll suddenly start shouting and twitching.  Jeff becomes known as the kid who will do anything.  One his classmates, an artist named John “Derf” Backderf (Alex Wolff), even starts to draw pictures based on Jeffrey’s antics.  Derf and his friends describe themselves as being Jeffrey’s fan club.  For the rest of the school year, they encourage Jeff to act stranger and stranger.  It would be incorrect to say that Derf and Jeff are really friends.  In fact, towards the end of the school year, Derf starts to realize that he’s basically been exploiting Jeff for his own amusement.  And yet, Derf and his friends provide perhaps the closest thing to “normal” human interaction that Jeff will ever experience.

As you’ve probably already guessed from the film’s title, Jeff is Jeffrey Dahmer, the infamous Milwaukee-based serial killer and cannibal who is estimated to have killed 17 young men before he was arrested in 1991.  (In 1994, Dahmer was murdered in prison by an inmate who claimed to have been motivated by Dahmer’s lack of remorse.)  Dahmer committed his first murder when he was 18, a fact alluded to towards the end of the film when we see Dahmer picking up a hitchhiker.  (Disturbingly, the only time in the film in which Dahmer smiles and sounds like a “normal” person is when he’s trying to convince that hitchhiker to get in his car.)  With the exception of that one scene, My Friend Dahmer deals with the year before Dahmer started his killing spree, when Dahmer was just the token weird kid.

The fact that we know what Jeffrey Dahmer is ultimately going to becomes add an ominous subtext to every scene in the film.  Throughout, there are signs that something is wrong with Dahmer and yet neither his classmates nor his teachers ever seem to take those signs seriously.  When Dahmer brutally cuts open a fish because he wants to see what’s inside of it, his friends are disgusted but they assume that’s just Dahmer being weird again.  When he shows up drunk for class and his grades start to go downhill, his teachers just ignore him.  No matter what he says (and he does say some truly disturbing things), everyone just shrugs it off.  Their attitude is that Jeff’s the weird kid so, of course, he’s going to say weird things.

To its credit, My Friend Dahmer resists the temptation to sensationalize or make excuses for the monster that Jeffrey Dahmer became.  Ross Lynch plays Dahmer as a hulking, inarticulate time bomb.  It’s not so much that Dahmer can’t control his dark thoughts as he really has no desire to do so.  The film contrasts Dahmer’s darkness with the light-hearted and, quite frankly, dorky guys who briefly became his clique.  (Again, despite the film’s title, it would probably be a bit of a stretch to say that Dahmer had any real friends.)  One practical joke, in which Derf sneaks Dahmer into every club’s yearbook picture, is so likable in its dorkiness that you almost forget that Derf’s scheme centers around a guy who will grow up to murder 17 people.  In the end, both Dahmer’s crimes and his fate feels as inevitable as the fact that Derf will ultimately write and draw graphic novel about their relationship.

By any stretch of the imagination, it’s not a happy or pleasant film.  I watched the film last night and I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.  And yet, it’s an effective film, one that left me wondering what happened to some of the “weird kids” that I went to school with.  Do we ever really know what’s going on inside someone’s head?  Ross Lynch turns Dahmer into a disturbingly familiar monster while Alex Wolff is sympathetic in the role of Derf.  Anne Heche goes a bit overboard as Dahmer’s unstable mother but Dallas Roberts has a few good scenes as the father who can only watch helplessly as his son grows more and more disturbed.  The film is a disturbing trip into the heart of darkness, one that will haunt you after it ends.


Rockin’ in the Film World #17: Frank Zappa’s 200 MOTELS (United Artists 1971)

cracked rear viewer

Frank Zappa is definitely an acquired taste, one I acquired as a young kid listening to albums like “Absolutely Free”, “Weasels Ripped My Flesh”,  and “Apostrophe”, which goes a long way in helping to explain my warped world view. Zappa’s avant garde rock’n’roll, a mélange of jazz, classical, doo-wop, psychedelica, and anything else he could think of, combined with his nonsensical, sexual, and scatological lyrics, skewered convention, the plastic world of suburban America, and hippie culture as well (Zappa was an equal opportunity offender). 200 MOTELS was his first attempt at making a movie, co-directing and co-writing with British documentarian Tony Palmer, and to call it bizarre would be a gross understatement.

Visually, the film is as close to Zappa’s avant garde compositions as you can get. 200 MOTELS was shot on videotape and transferred to 35mm film, using techniques like double and triple exposure, color filters, flash-cut editing, and…

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Music Video of the Day: The Heat Is On by Glenn Frey (1984, dir by ????)

I picked this video for one reason.

Check out my weather forecast for the next few days:

That’s right!  Today and tomorrow, the temperature is supposed to get up to 109 degrees!  Then on Monday, it’ll only get up to 108 and we’ll finally get some relief on Tuesday when the high plunges down to 101!

Indeed, the heat is on.

(It could be worse.  Yesterday, they were saying that the high would hit 110 on Saturday.  We’ve gone down a degree!  Yay!)

Seriously, the heat in Texas is so bad that, on Thursday, I could barely even drive home.  I had to steer with my finger tips because it was literally impossible for me to grip the steering while without burning my hands!  If I have to spend this summer driving with oven mitts on my hands, I’m not going to be in a good mood…

As for the song, it was written for the 1984 film, Beverly Hills Cop.  The video features clips from that film, mixed in with footage of an editor working in the heat and the band bringing the heat.

Anyway, on a serious note, be careful out there everyone.  Keep your pets inside.  It might be a good idea to keep yourself inside too.  Usually I hate the idea of wasting a weekend but, when it’s this hot, you really don’t have much choice but to spend a few days being lethargic.

Enjoy the video!