Flex Mentallo by Grant Morrison
I don't know how to begin reviewing this graphic novel mostly because there is too much context that one needs to know if they ever decide to read this blindly, which I did, and it affected how I enjoyed the story a lot. The point is I could not recommend this to someone who is just getting into comics, because this is essentially a compilation inspired from another comics line which was Doom Patrol and which Grant Morrison himself has written for.
From what I can discern when I researched this story, Flex Mentallo as a character came from that series, created by Morrison himself in an issue, and who was then expanded as more than just a side character he originally appeared to be as. Now two years ago I had the distinct pleasure of reading through Morrison's semi-autobiographical book called Supergods, tracing the superhero myth and contextualizing it with his own experiences as a professional writer in the industry. I mentioned this book since it is critical in further explaining the roots for Mentallo.
You see, he is just a part of an long string of 'fictional character who came to life' that Morrison has been doing for the past two decades or so, and also ties in with his other works like The Invisibles which I intend to read soon enough. Mentallo is a part of a roster of other characters written and drawn by a psychic child. According to the wiki, "The characters created in this child's youthful scrawlings, titled "My Greenest Adventure", apparently came to life. Amongst Flex's "Greenest Adventure" siblings were the villainous Waxworker and the heroic Fact."
What you need to know in summary is that Flex Mentallo is also called the 'Man of Muscle Mystery' and he has the ability to affect reality by flexing his muscles. It sounds absurd, but purposefully so. He even has what is called a 'hero halo' above his head when he uses his powers, and it says "Hero of the Beach" which had something to do with his origin story about a swimsuit competition. It was never explained in this graphic novel, and I literally had to read his fictional biography online to understand this. So now that I have established that this GN is not newbie-friendly, let's talk about the content.
Artist Frank Quitely's style has been a personal favorite since Batman and Robin and Batman Incorporated, titles which he also collaborated with Grant Morrison. Visually speaking, Flex Mentallo is gorgeous. The illustrations are well-defined and rendered with great detail. The art is also as eccentric as the narrative, matching its absurdity and rather surreal scope. There is really no way for me to explain sufficiently what this GN is unless you are already familiar with the mythos about Doom Patrol, and Morrison comics in general. I'm going to try my best to comment on the content, however, because it had been an interesting read, albeit also a baffling one. My review isn't going to be helpful to a Morrison fan, I'm afraid, who may be reading this to compare notes with my personal opinion. But I sure want this review to prepare first-time readers who may be inclined to pick this up one day.
Flex Mentallo goes to investigate the whereabouts of his other friends, fictional characters who also came to life and are lost somehow. There's a whodunit element and some comedic action in between, spliced with genuine moments of suspense that lend its story enough levity. What is confusing are the scenes featuring the psychic child who created Mentallo and co. who apparently has become a mentally unstable junkie and a former rock star musician. His sense of self and his telepathic imagination are slowly unraveling as the pages continue, and his part of the narrative is important but also alienating for someone like me who isn't as acquainted with Morrison outside of his Batman works. That being said, the transitions do make sense and are often seamless enough to get the message across that this is a rather psychedelic meta experience that comments on the genre conventions of superhero storytelling. It would take readers like me a while to realize this until halfway through the climactic scenes, but the message becomes clear and substantial enough once finished. Unfortunately, it's also rather jumbled up, filled with references and allegories I am not familiar with.
In a nutshell, Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery is something you read as a true-blue comics aficionado who also knows a lot about Morrison's universe and body of work to fully appreciate what it offers and satirizes. For a new reader with specific taste in comics or only goes for one or two genres, this may not be the comic book you are looking for, at least at this point in time. I might re-read this again too once I'm more acquainted with a few more of Grant Morrison's works. Still, I could tell this a momentous celebration about superheroes. I can't really spoil the ending because it is the message of this story to begin with, but I will say that it has something to do with Morrison's thesis in Supergods.