Friday, February 4, 2011

Morrison and Quitely's "Flex Mentallo" To Be Reprinted At Last

Until recently, I was unaware that lurking amongst my accumulation of old comic books was a genuine, rare, highly prized and much sought after collector's item: the four issues of Flex Mentallo by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.  Since its publication in 1996, the series has never been reprinted, mostly due to legal conflicts with Charles Atlas Ltd., the company responsible for the famous ad "The Insult That Made A Man Out of Mac," which pitched their mail order bodybuilding course and on which Grant Morrison based the origin of Flex Mentallo which appeared in Doom Patrol #42.  When the story was called for to their attention, Atlas sued DC for trademark infringement.  While the case was settled in DC's favor, with a ruling that Flex's origin was parody and thus not an infringement, DC apparently agreed never to use the character again. Of course, to me at least, this doesn't seem to mean that they could not reprint the character's earlier appearances.  In fact, the Doom Patrol story line featuring the character has been collected in trade paperback, but the character's eponymous mini-series has remained in limbo.  In the meantime, as I learned just a few months ago, the series has become somewhat hard to find and the few copies that are available are fetching a "pretty penny" (as my mom might say) on ebay.  I was one of the lucky ones who had the foresight to buy the book when it came out, and I, for one, would never part with my copies. I think that  probably a lot of people who've read this book feel the same way and that may be a big part of why the series has become so difficult to find.
Through repeated re-readings, Flex Mentallo has come to be my favorite comics work by Grant Morrison.  It represents a highpoint in the careers of Morrison and Frank Quitely both individually and as a team.  I'll admit that I don't entirely understand it, but I love it.  (Which I suspect is how my mom feels about me.)
The series tell the story of Flex Mentallo, a formerly fictional super-hero created by a young boy named Wallace Sage and brought into the real world by Sage's psychic power.  Flex discovers that one of his fictional cohorts, the Fact, has apparently also become real. His search for the Fact leads Flex to a mysterious terrorist group called Faculty X and ultimately to the group of archetypical super-heroes known as the Legion of Legions.  Meanwhile, a suicidal young musician named Wallace Sage, who may or may not be the same Wallace Sage who created Flex, has taken an overdose of pills and called a suicide hotline.  He delivers a rambling reminiscence about his childhood and the comic books he read when he was a kid. 
In many ways, Flex Mentallo is the quintessential Grant Morrison comic, encapsulating most of the themes that have run through much of his work before and since, from Zenith to Final Crisis.  Here he explores the nature of reality, the untapped potential of the human race, the power of imagination, the history of comics and his unabashed love for the medium and combines them with elements of autobiography and super-hero adventure.  That sounds like a lot for one four issue story, but Morrison pulls it all together and makes it work somehow.
This series is central to an understanding of Morrison's career. It is the bridge between his work on Doom Patrol, Animal Man, and The Invisibles and his later, more mainstream work on JLA and New X-Men.  As Morrison himself told author Timothy Callahan in an interview for the book Grant Morrison: The Early Years, "So, you can see me re-engaging with super-heroes in the Flex Mentallo series...the last page of that is me preparing for the Justice League, I think."
I haven't said much about the art, but it's beautiful.  This series was the first time I saw Frank Quitely's work, and as far as I'm concerned this is the best thing he's ever done.  Honestly, his work since has been somewhat hit and miss for me.  For example, while I generally like his art, I absolutely hated his issues of The Authority.  Of course, it didn't help matters that Mark Millar's scripts were pretty awful.  Here, though, Quitely's art is near perfect, with just a hint of cartooniness that really serves the story well.
That this series has remained out of print for so long is truly a shame.  Fortunately, that's about to change.  Last month, DC's Vertigo imprint announced that Flex Mentallo will, at last, be reprinted. A hardcover edition of the story aincluding unspecified "bonus material" is slated to be released sometime this fall.
Even though I already have the mini-series, I might just give some serious thought to buying the collection.  In large part, it really depends on just what the "bonus material" turns out to be.  Also, if I do get the book, I'll have a spare copy that I can then loan out to friends to introduce them to this baffling, yet entertaining and thought provoking story.

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