[Another thread in our Morrison Reading Project.]


I have to say at the outset that this is one of the Holy Grails of comics for me (as it is for a lot of other people). It has long been reputed to be some of Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely's best work, but a planned trade paperback collection was shelved years ago due to a Charles Atlas lawsuit. Here it is at last, and I must say I didn't quite believe it until I held it in my hands. The hardcover Deluxe Edition opens with "Flex Time," an essay outlining the fictional history of the character Flex Mentallo. A bit of research revealed this to be a reprint of the text material included in issues #2 and #4 (see The Annotated Flex Mentallo for this and much more). The four-issue miniseries is reprinted complete with the full original covers. A sensible approach, given that the trade dress was an integral part of the design.The book is rounded out by 15 pages of Quitely's sketches and pinups.

The series was completely recolored, and radically so. Tom McCraw's original color palette was considerably brighter than the subdued one employed by new colorist Peter Doherty. It's similar to the recoloring done on the earliest issues in The Absolute Sandman. I know the rationale there was to restore the colors to what was originally intended, but have been unable to find an official explanation for the recoloring here. I own only issue #3 of the original issues, but even a cursory look reveals dramatic differences. Here is a gallery of "before and after" images. 

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Much as I enjoyed Flex Mentallo, it left me with the same sort of feeling that I often get when I read Harlan Ellison, that is "This was written for someone more intelligent than I am. The fact is, much as I like to flatter myself that I'm a reasonably bright person, I'm really a fairly superficial thinker. I'm not good at discerning any but the most obvious meaning in a text.  Always was lousy at interpreting poetry, for example.  Reading Morrison I'm always left feeling inadequate, like "This guy is either smarter than I am,  or crazier than I am, and I can't figure out which." So, in the end, I'm just left with getting what I can out of the entertaining weirdness. I suppose that's the difference for me between Flex Mentallo and Final Crisis, the difference between entertaining weirdness and non-entertaining weirdness.  I tell you, one service this board performs for me is to keep my incipient egomania in check - just about every day, I read a post here and think "I could never have written something that well thought-out and insightful."

It's like I have a twin.

There is a reason that the timeline seems messed up in this little story, beyond Morrison trying to be all ‘Vertigo’ and clever.

I’m sure that a certain type of over-literal reader would be put off by the fact that the timeline doesn’t seem to make sense.  At the most basic level, Flex is trying to save the world while his creator is dying in an alleyway.

But then Flex keeps running into younger versions of the main character as if the Man of Muscle Mystery's adventure took place in the past instead of the present.  He even signs an autograph for young Wally at one point.

Morrison is illustrating a truth about how time works differently for our funnybook heroes than for us.  Certainly the relationship isn’t straightforward.



I agree that the jumpy timeline is part of the point. I didn't find it all that confusing (for the most part), though, because I thought it was clear when it was employing the time-honored flashback. There is another layer whenever one of Wally's childhood cartoons intersects with the "present." Then we're in meta-universe territory, and things can hardly be expected to make literal sense. But it helps that the treatment is self-consistent. At least I thought it was. The only thing that really threw me was the lieutenant apparently attending his wife's funeral in the daytime just after speaking to her at night. Maybe Morrison included that to make it clear that the story wasn't linear. As if that wasn't obvious already!


Figserello said:

*Not the Baron, although this post and the following one are dedicated to His Most Bizarre Majesty!  :-)

 

I like you, too, Figs. 

The Baron said:

Figserello said:

*Not the Baron, although this post and the following one are dedicated to His Most Bizarre Majesty!  :-)

 

I like you, too, Figs. 

 

I have nothing but respect for you Baron, and too much affection too, considering that you just might be a very clever internet algorythm, for all I know!

 

I was just using your previous comments as a starting point for a few posts. Better than talking to myself. Photobucket I'm glad you had fun with Flex Mentallo anyway. Maybe next time you read it there'll be a bit more there for you to enjoy.

 

(I'm not utterly against literalism, either. I'm glad the guy who managed the buses on my route this week took a literal, and not a metaphorical or symbolic approach to the timetables, for instance.)

The local bus when I was a kid used to follow a different route on Sundays - freaked me out the first time I rode a bus on a Sunday, and the guy suddenly took off in an unexpected direction!

The bus driver on my morning commute did that three times this week.  It gets less shocking over time ...

Here’s me, joining the discussion late. I re-read the Flex Mentallo mini-series (for the first time in 16 years) over the weekend, plus I’ve just read this entire discussion. I feel I have a thought or two of my own to add to the mix after I offer a few comments on the discussion so far. First of all, I had no idea Flex Mentallo was a “Holy Grail” among collectors, nor was I aware of the Charles Atlas lawsuit. I would have to agree with Bob’s assessment of Morrison’s work, but this time through I’m armed with having read Morrison’s Supergods, which help me out quite a bit. Thanks, too, to Figs for pointing out the significance of Flex encountering Wally at different stages of his life, which hadn’t occurred to me.

I don’t remember why, exactly, I bought Flex Mentallo. I wouldn’t have been a fan of either Grant Morrison or Frank Quitely at the time (and I’m fairly certain this was my first exposure to Quitely’s work), but I did go through a brief “Vertigo” phase in the mid-90s so I guess that explains it. I know for a fact I didn’t know at the time that Flex was a spin-off from the Doom Patrol amd I’m fairly certain I didn’t realize it at the time I first read it (although reading it for a second time I had to ask myself how could I not have known?).

I think Flex Mentallo avoids the mistake made by most superhero movies by not providing an origin. Hollywood seems to think superhero movies must provide “origin stories” not only for the heroes, but for the villains as well. Too many Hollywood superhero movies get so bogged down telling multiple origins (as if anyone, kids or adults, wouldn’t be able to follow the plot otherwise) that doing so detracts from the plot itself. The whole point of Flex Mentallo is that it drills straight to the archetypes: “they come right up from the depths, those things… how can they say that stuff’s stupid?” Brilliant.

Flex Mentallo cuts straight to the bone in that respect, as does Astro City, Mystery Men and (to a lesser extent) 1963. The closest approximation to reading a Morrison/Quitely comic is the comics work of Fletcher Hanks (and I strongly urge anyone interested in Morrison to seek out the two volumes reprinting his entire output). Shifting gears here, slightly, no one since Fawcett comics and C.C. Beck has been able to successfully replicate the “sensawunda” of the original Captain Marvel, but I’ll bet Grant morrison and Frank Quitely would be able to pull it off. At least I’d love to see them try.

Welcome, Jeff! I'm delighted that you enjoyed Flex without being a big fan of Vertigo or Morrison. I think it's fundamentally accessible to anyone who has read superhero comics, if you can get past the non-linear aspects of it. I know at the time the Doom Patrol connection was part of Vertigo's promotion of the miniseries, but as I said above, there's no in-story reference to it (other than a brief mention in the text material). So I'm not surprised it didn't jump out at you.

As to the Holy Grail question: you can check eBay or an online comic store and see that the original individual issues are still going for around $20 apiece. I suspect that won't change much, especially since they recolored the collection so dramatically.

Reading the series now, I can see exactly the satirical swipes and the philosophical points Morrison was making about superhero comics.

 

When I read it the first time, though, Flex Mentallo was really the first time that I began to think about previous generations of comics as anything other than hoaky and unsophisticated.  Wally's point that the Golden Age guys were essentially uber-physical strong men, whereas the Silver Age heroes had to deal with plasticity and metamorphosis and shape-changing is pretty definitive and affected how I viewed the two generations of comics going forward from this.

 

(As I said, I didn't read #3 until this readthrough, so I'd love to know what mid-twenties me would have thought of the Knight-Club and the satire of exactly the kind of Grim and Gritty comics that I'd been accepting as normal up to that point.  Would I have seen the satire pointed exactly at the kind of reader I was then?)

 

It might be a bit lost on us now, but in the mid-90s, a comic where a hip and trendy rising star writer tells us that he loved the old comics on their own terms, and not just as raw materials for a hard-hitting modernised revamp, was a real anomaly.  Like Wally, Morrison was a cutting edge pop(culture) star, but he couldn't let go of the bright optimistic supermen of his childhood.  It wasn't at all cool then to say that you liked the Silver Age Flash or the Justice League.

 

Another thing I have to wonder about, is if a Flex Mentallo comic centred on the wild Silver Age adventures that we only get glimpses of here would be possible, with Flex up against the likes of the Mentallium Man and the Counting Tree without the meta elements of the story.  Perhaps that's a foolish question?

I read Flex Mentallo: Muscle Man of Mystery yesterday. It's not a big trade so I figured I could read through it quickly. Wrong. For being a four issue mini series this is a dense read. I figured in the back of my mind it would be considering this is Grant Morisson we're talking about here.

 

Overall I liked it. It's quite a trippy work and not as straightforward or initially as accessible as All-star Superman or Joe the Barbarian.

 

While I may not have grasped everything in this book, I still found it throughly fun and enjoyable.

 

While Grant's stories go well with every artist he's paired with, I think he's at his best with Quietly.

 

The story is quite interesting with the world that is suffering a coming apocalypse is really part of Wally Sage's troubled mind or more in case his ideas.

 

The characters are all very colorful and interesting. Flex himself is an all around cool guy and interesting character.

 

It'll take a while to digest the whole thing. However, for as trippy as it is it's a very good piece of work.

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