Aleister & Adolf
by Douglass Rushkoff (story) and Michael Avon Oeming (illustrations)
Dark Horse Comics (88 pgs.)
Based solely on its premise, this book seemed like a can’t miss: there’s been a pop culture fascination with the alleged link between Nazism and the occult at least as far back as Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Aleister Crowley, the supposed ‘wickedest man who ever lived,’ has been an inspiration to metal musicians from Jimmy Page (who went so far as to purchase Boleskine House, where Crowley once lived) to Ozzy Osbourne (the song “Mr. Crowley,” off Blizzard of Ozz) to Celtic Frost (the Therion referenced in their To Mega Therion is a deity in Crowley’s mystical Thelema system). Unfortunately, a cool setup doesn’t always result in a cool final product, and Aleister & Adolf is an interesting but flawed graphic novel.
The main part of the (very loose) plot of the book, which claims to be based on historical events, concerns Crowley developing the ‘V for Victory’ sigil for the British military as a means of counteracting the occult power of the Nazi swastika. This is something that Crowley claimed to actually done, but while there is evidence that he was friendly with a small circle of British intelligence agents (including Ian Fleming, best known as the author of the James Bond novels), there’s nothing to substantiate Crowley’s claim. The other half of the plot (again, very loosely) deals with one character’s attempt to retrieve the Spear of Longinus (which allegedly pierced he side of Christ as he hung on the cross) from Nazi possession. The Spear is thought to contain enough power to make the one who possesses it invincible in battle. This part is based in fact, as the Nazis did remove an artifact called The Spear of Destiny from Austria after they seized control of the country near the beginning of WWII.
That’s a fair amount of plot to cover, but at only 88 pages—too many of which are given over to a silly framing narrative involving a contemporary ad agency—there just isn’t enough space given over to satisfactorily develop any of the characters or either of the stories. From start to finish, the book feels rushed. It does, however, have two saving graces. The first is that the story elements are interesting enough in their own right that as soon as I finished it I ended up spending several hours doing a deep Wiki dive to find out more of the history behind the events, and anything that inspires me to do more reading is certainly a good thing. The second is the art of Michael Avon Oeming, whose work I fell in love with when he was doing a book called The Mice Templar. Even though Aleister & Adolph is in black-and-white, Oeming’s expressive style still does as much (if not more) that Rushkoff’s writing to flesh out many of the characters. There are also numerous two-page spreads filled with arcane and occult symbols that he renders beautifully. The art alone makes this a worthwhile purchase, even though it probably needed to be about twice as long in order to fully tell its story.