Customer Reviews: Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery
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on March 24, 2005
"Flex Mentallo" was supposed to be released as a trade paperback in 1998 or so, but humorless men in suits who represented the Charles Atlas Company put a stop to that. Why? It's a sad, pathetic story. Flex, a character wholly created by Morrison, made his first appearance in Morrison's joyously avant garde "Doom Patrol" series (I believe it was in issue #35; I'm too lazy to dig out the issue to confirm). When he first appeared, Flex looked more like Alan Moore than a hulking he-man: bearded, grimy, wrapped up in a dirty trench coat. Eventually he realized who he was: "The Man of Muscle Mystery," and regained his normal appearance - basically, he was the spitting image of Charles Atlas, complete with leopard-skin trunks.

Flex's origin is also a hilarious parody of those old Charles Atlas funnybook advertisements. You know: skinny dweeb gets picked on by beach bully, sends away for a muscle-building manual. Only the manual Flex received taught him all sorts of esoteric uses for his muscles; now, each muscle was capable of a different power. For example, flexing his bicep might result in an earthquake, flexing his lats might allow him to see the future. And just to really hammer home the Atlas parody, every time Flex strikes his "hero pose," the words "Hero of the Beach" float above him: the exact same slogan that hovered above the character in the Charles Atlas ads.

The issues of "Doom Patrol" with Flex didn't cause any trouble, and this series, published about 5 years later, didn't either. So what happened? Apparently, an overzealous fan brought the "Flex Mentallo" series to the attention of Charles Atlas Company representatives, more out of a "hey, you guys might think this is funny" attitude than anything else. Unfortunately, Atlas saw no humor in it, and threatened DC/Vertigo (the publishers of "Doom Patrol" and "Flex Mentallo") with a lawsuit. Long story short: DC won the case, but the verdict was that a percentage of the profits of anything published in the future featuring Flex would go to the Charles Atlas company. It is only now, years later, that DC is getting around to publishing the remaining issues of Morrison's "Doom Patrol" in trade paperback form, and DC reps claim that it is only sales of these that will promise a "Flex Mentallo" collection. In other words, DC has spent so much money on this lawsuit, they now will only publish "Flex" if the "Doom Patrol" trades sell exceptionally well.

But what about the comic itself? "Flex Mentallo" could easily be seen as Grant Morrison's masterwork, though I still prefer "The Invisibles." "Flex" is not only a celebration of superheroic myth, but also of comics themselves. Each issue represents a different "era" of comics, and the narrative is post-modern and fractured to a point. It's also one of the more literary comics out there, and will no doubt turn away those looking for mindless action and violence. "Flex" would appeal to only a select few readers; its fame these days is no doubt due to its rarity, but also to the rising fame of Morrison and Quitely (who later worked together on "New X-Men.")

Issue #1 gives tribute to the "Golden Age," those comics from the `30s and `40s with simple good-versus-evil plots, where the hero usually won by knocking the villain out cold. We see that "Flex" seemingly takes place in a different reality than the "Doom Patrol" comics; no mention is made of the Patrol or any other DC heroes. Flex is about to enjoy an egg sandwich in the local diner when a shadowy figure hurls a bomb at a group of people. Flex uses his muscles to scan the bomb, and it turns out to be a fake. The police call Flex in for help in the investigation; turns out these fake bombs are showing up everywhere. Flex suspects that his old partner-in-crimefighting, The Fact, is somehow involved, and resolves to get to the bottom of it. Meanwhile, in another narrative, a young rock star named Wallace Sage, the man who created Flex as a child, has just taken loads of drugs in a bid for suicide, and calls up the Samaritans. All he wants to do is talk about comic books before he dies.

Issue #2 is the "Silver Age," the weird and psychedelic comics of the `50s and `60s. Flex continues his quest to find The Fact. Along the way he reminisces about his past adventures, all of them Silver Age-type goofiness. (The issue also features one of the very best splash pages I've ever seen: a shot of Flex squaring off against his Silver Age nemesis "The Mentallium Man.") First Flex comes across a group of delinquents who are shooting up with a lethal drug that unleashes the hero within. Then he discovers there is a group of superheroes who might be able to help him; apparently they're the last such group of costumed fighters left in the world. They're called "The Legion of Legions," and Flex sets off to find them. Meanwhile, Wallace Sage continues his drug-hazed diatribe with the Samaritans, espousing on his love of comics. He also tries unsuccessfully to free a buried memory, something that happened to him as a child.

Issue #3 is the "Dark Age," those `70s and `80s comics that swayed into nihilism, with heroes just as dangerous as the villains: comics like Frank Miller's "Dark Knight Returns." Journeying into the underground of the nameless city this takes place in, Flex begins to question the bizarre adventures he had back in the Silver Age; very nice commentary by Morrison on the incongruity of continuity-heavy comics. Things get even more unreal as Flex discovers an underground club for "adult superheroes." Here Frank Quitely unleashes every costume he can think of, as we witness at least a hundred different heroes in various, exquisitely-detailed costumes engaging in all manner of "adult" situations. It's a costumed orgy, and Flex warily makes his way through it, trying to find the transporter tube that will take him to the Legion of Legions headquarters. Wallace Sage continues his soul-plumbing, and finally remembers his suppressed memory - as a child, he actually met a group of superheroes. And in a third narrative, the crusty police chief from issue #1 hooks up with supervillain "The Hoaxer," and the two of them set off to find Flex and help him "save the world."

Issue #4 is the "New Age," or what I gather Morrison hopes comics will one day be: positive myths in which readers discover that they themselves are superheroes. But first we witness how actual superheroes invaded our reality, centuries ago, as their reality was destroyed in a "Crisis on Infinite Earths"-type tragedy. Crashing into our reality, they embedded themselves in our imaginations; this is why comic books were invented, Wallace Sage realizes. The heroes in our subconscious are using them to show us WHO we can really be; we're all heroes, ourselves. The crusty chief and The Hoaxer pass through the "adult club" from issue #3, finding everyone there dead. The two of them use the transporter tube to go to the Legion of Legion headquarters, and there they team up with Flex to defeat the "villain" behind everything, a man-on-the-moon faced opponent who turns out to be none other than Wallace Sage. Or Wally, that is - here he is a cynical teenager who confuses "realism with pessimism," as Flex puts it. Flex gets the best line in the series here, when he tells Wally: "Being clever's a fine thing, but sometimes a boy just needs to get out of the house and meet some girls." The series ends with Wallace Sage rejoicing in the hero within, and the formerly-repressed superheroes of our imaginations being set free into our world.

But that's just a recap of the narrative elements of "Flex Mentallo." There's a lot going on in this series. In many ways it's even an autobiography, as a lot of Wallace Sage's memories are no doubt Grant Morrison's own. Even the illustrations are post-modern, referencing other comics in both style and manner. There are also little in-jokes; in issue #2, Flex goes to a coffee shop, and you can easily spot Clark Kent and Ozymandius (from "Watchmen") dining inside. Morrison is on-form throughout, and it's easy to see why he considers this to be one of the best things he's written. (Incidentally, the fact that "Flex" has been blocked from publication as a trade collection sends Morrison into fits of rage.)

Frank Quitely's artwork is a joy to behold. Quitely's style is a mixture of cartoonish and finely-detailed. It doesn't look like anyone else I can think of, and his art here is without question the best I've ever seen in a comic. His work on "Flex Mentallo" is probably his best ever, and even Morrison stated it was "the most beautiful artwork to ever grace one of my scripts." Quitely himself once claimed "Flex Mentallo" was "more important than the Bible for comic fans," returning the compliment.

So, let's hope one day soon you'll be able to press "add to shopping cart" immediately after reading this review. DC has made several positive comments recently about "Flex" being published in trade form, so don't spend an arm and a leg on those back issues. Have faith, because it seems fairly certain that this book will appear someday. The sooner the better - when I'm in the mood for a re-reading, I'm usually too lazy to get the issues out of storage. Pretty lazy, I know. Flex needs to give me a good talkin' to.
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on April 12, 2012
This review will focus on the edition of the book itself rather than the work of Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely, you can find many great reviews about the story itself right here in Amazon. I'll just say that both artists shine so much in this volume that you will suffer of temporarily blindness after reading it, only to then gain a 4th dimensional vision of what Super-Heroes and Ideas are about.

Fortunately, this book is quite a "Deluxe" edition, as DC/Vertigo applied the Fables Deluxe series standard of quality:

- The paper stock is glossy and heavy weight and the printing quality is great.
- The book features a full-color printed hardback under the dustjacket (unlike the rest of DC/Vertigo HCs that have just a shamelessly dark grey presentation. That's right, dark grey, not even true black).
- It's a solid glued binding book. Of course I would have liked a sewn one, but given that this is a slim volume and there's almost no gutter loss, I can totally live with the glued binding.

Other good things to consider:

- The dustjacket features a new illustration by Frank Quitely, really beautiful.
- The original comics were re-coloured for the ocasion. I'm usually against re-colouring, but in this case I'm happy with the results. The original comics were presented in a typical mid-nineties digital colouring fashion that hasn't aged that well. The new colouring is a great enhancement that respects the original intent, but with a much better use of the tools.
- We get a 14-pages section of extras at the end of the book, with sketches and original artwork by Quitely.
- We also get a 4-pages prologue which was previously featured in issues #2 and #4 of the original series as a 2-part article section.
- Finally, the overall design of the book is quite nice and eye-catching.

This is a great opportunity to get this series, it was out of print for legal issues for about 15 years and was nearly impossible to get due to the insane bidding prices. Get this book, OWN IT, because this is the kind of work that you will read once and again and again and again, and then again and again. That's just how multilayered this book is!
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on July 3, 2002
Flex Mentallo, in one sense, was a spin-off of Grant Morrison's work on the Doom Patrol. In another, it was a compression of his entire five-year run on the Invisibles shot through a superhero comic.
People who aren't intimately familiar with comic book mythos might be a bit confused, if not outright lost, by the sheer volume of references that give this book a lot of its kick. However, there is still a damn good tale about madness, death, isolation, love, magick, the people we could have been and the people we were.
The fact that Morrison manages to cram this into four short comic books is a testament not only to his skill as a writer, but also to the power of the medium.
Of course, that's all a moot point, because due to copyright issues, this trade will probably never be published. Still, if you can find the individual issues, they are well worth it.
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VINE VOICEon May 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
To paraphrase (okay, steal) a famous line from Franz Werfel's "The Song of Bernadette" (or, maybe somewhere else): "If you believe in Comic Books, no explanation is necessary; if not, no explanation is possible."

In 1996, Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely created (or, "brought back" if you want to buy into the mythos) "Flex Mentallo, Man of Muscle Mystery".

It ran for four glorious issues.

Then it disappeared.

It was one of the most complex, weird, wacky, dark, light, hard to follow (you REALLY had to read it 2/3 times to get the timelines/worlds straight. And even then you had to go back and forth to make sure that where you thought you were was, in fact, where you were), hard to stop reading, series... well, ever!

It was also a love song.

What Shakespeare felt for his "Dark Lady"

What Abelard felt for Heloise

Morrison & Quitely Felt for comics.

And that was part of the problem.

It was so "inside", the number of people who could get it, let alone those willing to make the effort to try, was, apparently, too limited.

Well... times have changed.

The audience for Comic books has grown so we can even pretend to call them Graphic Novels.

And... Flex Mentallo is back.

Will YOU love it?

See the opening quote.
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on July 1, 2012
this is a hard to understand story that you have to read slowly and 2 to 3 times in order to fully apreciate the master storytelling contained here in. this is what comics are lacking in this day an age. please note, this is absolutelly not for children, it contains mature themes, not that a smart kid could not understand it, it just contains real world stuff that parents try to keep their offspring away from, that being said, if you want to challenge the way you look at comics and celebrate the beauty of what superheroes are all about, this is for you. crafted with the finest ideas these side of the west, seasoned with only the best storytelling directly from London! I'll need to buy a second copy in case this one wears out
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VINE VOICEon April 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Awhile ago I learned an important lesson about stories written by Grant Morrison. I have to read them at least twice before making a judgment. A second reading doesn't always raise my score but in this case it improved my enjoyment immensely. I wrote an entire review of Flex Mentallo giving it a more than decent but less than spectacular four stars. Perhaps what hurt the initial reading most was that it was not at all what I expected. With the satirical covers and a main actor dressing like a character from an ad half a century old I expected humor and the book isn't funny. There are a few humorous parts but Morrison wasn't going for humor. My second issue was that this was yet another attempt (albeit one of his earliest) at transcending into some new level of comic writing rather than just mellowing out and producing a story.

But here's the thing, on a second run through I started to consider the possibility that maybe on this occasion Grant Morrison was successful. Maybe what I was reading was one of the best comics I have ever read; one that might even break into my top 10 list that includes comics like Watchmen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Kingdom Come. I am so reflexively put off by Morrison's endless attempts at creating a mystical reading experience, an experience that often contains more gibberish than enlightenment that I couldn't see clearly. I absolutely love this book. I've seriously enjoyed other books by Morrison (and despised others) but this one perhaps more than any other really struck home.

Flex Mentallo was created by Morrison way back in 1990 appearing first in the Doom Patrol and then in his own four issue mini-series which is collected here. Holding his place as one of the most bizarre DC heroes ever Flex is essentially a comic character brought to life.... in a comic. Literally, he is Mac from the old Charles Atlas ads who followed Atlas's training routine to gain muscle and beat up the bully who kicked sand in his face. His title of `The Man of Muscle Mystery' is an apt name for his ill defined muscle powers which he only uses a couple of times throughout the series. He walks the streets in animal prints with his ultra manliness and when he uses his Muscle Mystery the words `Hero of the Beach' shine above his head in bright lights. But the book isn't about a muscleman in printed briefs. It's about imagination and creativity and dying and living and the place of comic books in our lives. The capper for me was the great ending that really left it up to the reader to decide what happened.

If you're looking for a humorous book filled with superheroes check out Top-10 by Alan Moore but if you're looking for a surreal almost David Lynchesque experience this is the one. Morrison describes it as `ultra-post futuristic'. I would call it a self aware comic deconstruction. Bravo to Morrison and bravo to Frank Quitely for his marvelous visuals. Morrison has produced a book that is thoughtful and truly deep rather than just mumbo jumbo. I have written probably a dozen reviews on Grant Morrison and have lambasted him on some of his serious misfires but this one is a homerun and will hold a prominent place in my collection. I am now changing my stars from four to a highly deserved five. BTW: If you enjoy the comic deconstruction of Flex Mentallo I heartily recommend `The Supreme: Story of the Year' by Alan Moore.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
After too many years of legal limbo, Grant Morrison's joyous ode to the sublime & the sublimely ridiculous power of superheroes & the imagination is finally released in collected form. It's a pleasure to report that it still retains all of its wonderfully bizarre & thought-provoking potency, aided in no small part by the superbly detailed & dynamic art of Frank Quitely.

So what's it all about?

Plotwise, it's easy enough: rock star Wallace Sage takes enough pills to kill himself & spends his final hours talking to a suicide hotline, reliving his childhood, his obsessive love of comics, and his creation of his own superheroes as a boy. His favorite of these, Flex Mentallo, is apparently alive in the "real" world ("real" gets called into serious question early on), and his adventures intertwine with Sage's rambling, increasingly hallucinatory narrative -- so much so that it's practically a super-compressed therapy session. Or is it really a matter of the fate of the world hanging in the balance? Sage's world, certainly ... but also everyone's world?

In addition, the story is also a history of comics, both stylistically & psychologically, revealing how they reflect the hopes & terrors of their creators & readers. (See Joe Kenney's superb Spotlight review for greater detail.) In a deeper sense, it's about the power of art & imagination, both shaped by their times & also shaping those times. And above all, it's about opting for genuine adulthood, one overflowing with wonder & endless possibilities, rather than being trapped in the unearned & shallow cynicism of lonely, self-centered adolescence. In short, it tells us that ugliness does not necessarily equal truth, and that hope is far more mature than self-indulgent despair.

It's a bit paradoxical, but a lot of comics fans won't like this story, because it demands that they examine & question the emotional nature of their fandom. "Too trippy, too clever, too pretentious, too crazy" -- but that's why other readers, both fans of intelligent comics & open-minded non-fans, will relish every page. So many comics today struggle so grimly to be "realistic" when it's clear that the fantastic & the surreal are far better guides, and certainly far more fun. Most highly recommended!
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on May 16, 2012
Grant Morrison is that rare breed of creative genius who not only reminds us here of how good he is at what he does, but who also reminds us why we seek out such things in the first place. Flex Mentallo is yet another such work in his impressive bibliography.

Don't let the man in leopard-print trunks on the cover fool you, this is heady, deep-thinking, transcendent literature about the power of stories and the endurance of ideas and truths in the guise of a muscle-bound, cosmic detective story. Flex reminds us what a hero is, and what heroes are for, while the over-arching narrative reminds us why humans have always looked to and created such figures. This is a book that may well change the way you look at comics and super heroes. Morrison's absolute command of the medium, as laid down in gorgeous, evocative, ink by Frank Quitely, is on full display here.

This is a book about what it means to be human, and what it means to wish for something greater. Oh, and it's funny, too. The introduction to this collected edition sets a perfect tone with its examination of the history of our titular hero and the men who shepherded him from a great idea to a great character and finally into the Hero of the Beach, who comes full circle as a force of myth. This is a comic about comics and super heroes, but more than that it's a cracking good read on the power of the comic book form and why we need heroes.

If you like Flex, you would do well to check out Morrison's run on Doom Patrol, wherein the pages of which our hero made his triumphant debut and introduced the power of Muscle Mystery.
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VINE VOICEon April 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Years I've waited for a definitive reprint of Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol spinoff from the Vertigo glory days, and now here it is: the collected four-comic miniseries about Flex Mentallo, Man of Muscle Mystery. Flex's bizarre origin was recounted towards the latter end of Morrison's classic run on Doom Patrol, which was, with Sandman and Hellblazer, a member of the holy trinity of Vertigo titles that followed early pioneer Swamp Thing and changed the face of comics back in the late Eighties and early Nineties.

All those great Vertigo titles were more or less loving deconstructions of heroic tropes and storylines, but Morrison pulled out all the stops with the Flex Mentallo miniseries, making it so meta it's impossible to know whose hallucination we're in half the time. The main story follows Flex, a simple hero patterned after the Golden Age greats, as he seeks an old crimefighting colleague and finds himself in the midst of an incomprehensible conspiracy. But this story is frequently derailed by, and woven into, the maundering of a suicidal musician who may or may not be living in the same universe or at the same time as the events of Flex's story; a B-story about a philosophical cop whose apocalyptic fears lead him to consult an imprisoned super-villain; a progressive deconstruction of the great eras of comic-book history; and hints of a secret legend about a world of super-heroes who either love us and want to save us or are already dead. That may sound complicated, but believe me, I've simplified it for you. During the read, it's a hazy, narcoleptic, hallucinogenic odyssey that makes a lot of emotional sense without ever actually revealing what story Morrison thinks he's telling.

Flex Mentallo marks the high-water mark of my interest in Morrison's farther-out stuff. I didn't get The Invisibles and I cared. I didn't get Flex Mentallo -- still don't, really -- but I don't care. Here, the emotional payoffs Morrison builds into the work -- despair in the face of Armageddon leavened with glimmers of impossible hope -- worked well enough for me that I found myself willing to accept my incomprehension of the plot, which is usually hard for me. One of the things that kept me grounded was Frank Quitely's extraordinary art, which has the precision of realism even when he is drawing hyperbolic scenes. But mostly I'm a story guy, and my positive reaction and long memory of this miniseries comes from the way the story made me feel.

The Flex Mentallo miniseries, complete in this deluxe edition, is a fascinating, adult-oriented and intricate story (or tapestry of stories), with the fabulous artwork you'd expect from Frank Quitely, and it bears repeated readings very well. For those of us who were growing up during the Vertigo Revolution, it also evokes nostalgia for that great era of comics. Reading it again was like bumping into an old friend I'd lost touch with and hadn't realized how much I missed.
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on April 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm 50-50 on Grant Morrison's work, because while I enjoy the more straightforward stuff like All-Star Superman and the recent Batman and Robin series, I often feel a little over my head with the wide ranging themes he often tackles in much of his other work. I like nuance in comics but I think maybe he's just too brilliant!

With that in mind, I liked this book. It is much like Watchmen in that it seems to be bashing and be a love letter to comics at the same time; mocking the ridiculousness and praising the joy and escapism simultaneously. Morrison was really into breaking the fourth wall during this period, as evidenced by this, the Doom Patrol, Animal Man and others. The dark themes shown here are indeed dark, but there is a great wonderment and innocence present in the characters, particularly Flex, as well. It's hard to describe because there's just so much subtlety here, but it's deep nonetheless. If you're looking for straightforward hero stuff, this isn't it. The best analogy that I can come up with is the prog rock of the 70's. To some it's just confusing noise, but to a small audience, it simply opens eyes to a new world within a genre.

Frank Quitely's work is stellar. I've never seen an artist that does nothing spectacularly flashy yet truly amazes me. His art has the feel of old political cartoons, the tight facial expression drawing of Kevin Maguire, and the gentle humor of a Saturday Evening Post cover. Great stuff. Overall this book is for true comic fans. Recommended.
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