Graphic Novel Review: Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery

(Titan Books)

TO read the four issues of the Vertigo mini-series collected in this over-sized deluxe edition requires not only an understanding of the history of the comics over 70 years, but also an appreciation of the work of scribe Grant Morrison, whose meta-fictional approach to the medium runs throughout his writings.

One of numerous characters who have crossed over from the world of fiction into “reality” who feature in Morrison’s writings, Flex’s origins lie in the long-running advertisements for Charles Atlas’ workout programme, ‘The Insult that made a Man out of Mac’, and he featured in several issues during Morrison’s avant garde run on Doom Patrol.

This self-contained spin-off series focuses on Flex’s search for his former associate The Fact, who is leaving a trail of clues leading to some sort of world-shattering answer, while Wallace Sage, the writer of Mentallo’s comic book adventures, is having a breakdown which appears to have blurred the barriers between his world and the fictional reality of his creations.

Morrison uses these concepts to examine the mythology behind the superhero, and different periods of the genre ranging from the bizarre sci-fi of the 1950s to the grim and gritty eighties, through to his optimistic hope that superheroes will become an inspiration to future readers, having embedded themselves in our collective consciousness after fleeing the destruction of their own reality…

Frequent co-collaborator Frank Quitely, with whom Morrison has worked on the likes of New X-Men and All-Star Superman, provides finely-detailed, intricate artwork which plays up to Morrison’s multi-layered script by offering post-modern Easter eggs and references to assorted other comics titles. Awe-inspiringly beautiful work from a true master of the comics art form.

Possibly one of Morrison’s most tightly-scripted comics, it still manages to inject more radical ideas and far-fetched concepts into just four issues than some long-running titles manage in decades.

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After years caught up in litigation over the Charles Atlas’ comparisions, this is a long-overdue collection of one of the stand-out comics of the past 20 years, and deserves due recognition as one of the most important titles in the industry’s long history.

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