I wanted to briefly note the death of fantasy writer Rachel Pollack, who passed away on April 7th aged 77 years old.
Pollack began publishing short fiction in 1971, and her first novel Golden Vanity was released in 1980. Her 1988 novel Unquenchable Fire brought her widespread recognition & acclaim and won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel a year later.
Unquenchable Fire is a very complex, sophisticated story that examines faith, spirituality and feminism. I don’t even know how to begin summarizing the plot to the novel here, so I’ll just quote the New York Times obituary for Pollack, which describes the book’s premise thus:
“the story of a divorced woman in New York State who becomes pregnant with the messiah in a United States where miracles are commonplace”
I definitely feel it’s worth searching out a copy of Unquenchable Fire, as I found it to be a thought-provoking read. It is one one the books I’ve made sure to hold on to throughout the multiple apartment moves I’ve made over the past quarter century.
As with many comic book readers, I first became aware of Pollack’s work when she was hired by editor Tom Peyer to succeed Grant Morrison on the DC Comics / Vertigo series Doom Patrol. Morrison’s incredibly bizarre, surreal revamp of Doom Patrol with artist Richard Case in 1989 had been justifiably acclaimed. As such, when Morrison departed the series at the end of 1992, the general consensus was that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to follow on from him.
Pollack wrote Doom Patrol beginning with issue #64, cover-dated March 1993. Initially working with Richard Case, Pollack was subsequently paired with artists Scot Eaton, Linda Medley and Ted McKeever, with striking cover artwork by Tom Taggart and Kyle Baker.
Among the themes Pollack addressed in her Doom Patrol run was transsexuality, a topic that in the mid-1990s was practically taboo in mainstream entertainment. Pollack herself was a transgender woman, and as such the subject was vitally important to her. She added the character of Kate Godwin aka Coagua, who in a 2103 interview she described as a “transsexual lesbian super-hero with alchemical powers,” to the series’ cast in issue #70.
Pollack remained on Doom Patrol thru issue #87 in early 1995, at which point the series was canceled. Perhaps that might be regarded as an indication that Morrison’s work on the title could not immediately be succeeded after all. Nevertheless, during Pollack’s two years writing Doom Patrol she crafted some incredibly distinctive stories.
Pollack’s work on the series has subsequently been classified by a number of people as underrated. Last year DC Comics finally released a Doom Patrol Omnibus collecting her entire run. Pollack’s issues can also be read digitally on DC Universe Infinite.
I was fortunate enough to meet Pollack in June 1994 when she did a store signing with her friend and fellow writer Elaine Lee. I got the then-current issue of Doom Patrol autographed by Pollack. I found her to be a very interesting individual. At the time I was only 18 years old, and so I had quite a few questions about the mature subjects she had been including in her stories, and she very patiently answered my inquiries. It was at this signing that I found out about Pollack’s work as a novelist, which led me to seek out Unquenchable Fire later that Summer.
Following the cancellation of Doom Patrol, Pollack and Peyer reunited to work on a reboot of Jack Kirby’s New Gods for DC Comics. The two co-wrote the first six issues of New Gods, with Pollack then writing issues #7 to #11 solo.
Although her New Gods was much more of a mainstream project than Doom Patrol, it was still on the unconventional side. It’s a series that I will hopefully have an opportunity to take a more in-depth look at in an upcoming blog post.
Pollack was also a recognized authority on tarot, and wrote extensively on the subject. Neil Gaiman had consulted with Pollack when he utilized the tarot-reading sorceress Madame Xanadu in his own work, the four-issue miniseries The Books of Magic published in 1990. Subsequently Pollack wrote the text for The Vertigo Tarot deck, which featured artwork by Gaiman’s frequent collaborator Dave McKean and an introduction by Gaiman.
Pollack continued writing both fiction and non-fiction in the 21st Century. She was also a longtime, vocal activist for transgender rights.
For further information on Rachel Pollack and her fascinating works I recommend going to her website, which remains online.