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Flex Mentallo, Man Of Muscle Mystery s/c

Flex Mentallo, Man Of Muscle Mystery s/c back

Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely

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Page 45 Review by Jonathan

“You look lost son. Need any help?”
“I’m looking for a friend. His name was The Fact. He was a crimefighter.”
“What is this place? This used to be the School For Sidekicks until they closed us down.”
“If they closed the school, why are you here, old-timer? I hope you don’t mind my asking, but who exactly are you anyway?”
“Me? I’m the mightiest man in the Universe, son. Got a secret origin too. I saw the old man in the underpass, thought he was ill. People were just passing by but I gave him some money... In return for my kindness, he gave me a crossword puzzle to fill in. Said I should speak aloud the last word I wrote down. He claimed it was the word God said: the word that brought the Universe and consciousness into being. So I tried it. What boy wouldn’t? Didn’t ever see the old man again. Sometimes I think he was my own future self.”
“But why are you here? If you’ve got all those powers you can help me save the world.”
“It’s just people who need saving. The world’s fine as it is.”

Part of the thematic hypersigil trilogy (apparently, according to Grant) along with THE INVISIBLES and THE FILTH, this work was never collected at the time, but I remember picking up the four issues when they came out circa 1996 and enjoying them immensely. Ostensibly it’s the story of Flex Mentallo, Man Of Muscle Mystery and all-round hero of the beach. Those who’ve read DOOM PATROL will be familiar with, and probably fond of, the character already, but here he’s the undoubted star of the show. Or is he? Is he even real in fact? As in what appears to be our real world, a failed pop star Wallace Sage (again, familiar to readers of DOOM PATROL) is in the process of committing suicide by overdosing on alcohol, pills, LSD and ecstasy. Not surprisingly he’s having a trippy time of it as he rambles on to the Samaritans over the phone about his childhood memories of comicbook heroes, including his own comics he used to draw as a kid and a certain leotard-clad strongman. There’s a connection between the two stories and worlds, if you will, which becomes gradually more apparent as the stories progress. For Flex Mentallo, meanwhile, there’s a case to solve, as he investigates where the ultimate superteam, The Legion Of Legions, have disappeared to. Have these creations really abandoned Flex’s world? Or is it just somehow possible that whilst they are of course fictional, they are also somehow real and are going to return and save us all?

The real beauty of this absurdist nonsensical work is it all does make complete perfect sense in the end. I actually remember being profoundly moved by the pay-off when I first read it, probably not least in part due to a certain paradigm shift that had happened inside my own mind just a few months beforehand, and the whole thing certainly hasn’t lost any of its grandeur or impact over time. For me this is a contender for the best ‘metaphysical’ work Morrison has ever done, simply because he stays on theme – albeit of the hypersigilic variety – and doesn’t go over the top. Well, only just past the event horizon by his standards. By sensibly restricting himself to working on a set number of story-telling levels, the overall coherence is sufficiently maintained in a way that unfortunately disappeared at times in THE INVISIBLES. Indeed, I would go so far as to say FLEX MENTALLO is most definitely a work of genius, and should be on everyone’s ‘to read’ list. If you have a friend who says superhero comics are all complete and utter rubbish, this may well be the one book which will prove him right... and change his mind...

Plus, the art is quite simply pure Quitely perfection. Try saying that ten times quickly! He was clearly having an absolute ball bringing to life some of the crazy creations Morrison came up with for this work like Origami The Folding Man, which made me chuckle then, and did so once again this time around. And his rendering of the Charles Atlas pastiche that is Flex instantly evokes the classic adverts from ‘70s DC comics showing how you too could go from a pot-bellied wimp to a dynamite-encrusted bicep-laden Adonis in a mere handful of weeks. If you stopped reading comics and got off your arse for long enough to get down the gym that is...

Finally I’ll leave you where I found you, with the crossword puzzle mentioned above, which I think has to be one of the finest pieces of misdirection ever in comics.

14 Across: A mystic word imparted by God that has the power to transform a small boy into a superhero.
SHA_A_
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