Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Thursday Review #2: Flex Mentallo

First, old business.  The winners from yesterday's trivia contest are:
Grand Prize for answering the question correctly:  Andrew Leon, who knew Deadpool was the "Merc With a Mouth"

And the participation award of $1 to Amazon goes to Tony Laplume, Scouring Monk.

In case you're wondering how I determine the participant award, I counted that besides Andrew and I (both disqualified from winning the $1) there were 7 other commenters.  Tony was #1, as he was the first commenter after Andrew.  That just happened to be the number chose.   In part I'm mentioning this to say that the number of times you comment has no bearing on your chances of winning.  I think it's more fair that way because otherwise someone could comment 100 times to increase their chances.

OK, now on to new business.

It's a little ironic that I wrote a superhero story and yet know almost nothing about comic books.  I didn't grow up reading them, except for the Transformers comic in the 80s-early 90s.  Which is probably just as well because by the 1980s I guess most comics had become too adult for kids.  Most of my knowledge about comics comes from watching the History Channel's documentary "Superheroes Unmasked" from 2003, which is to date the only History Channel show I ever bought on DVD.  That taught me a little about the Golden Age, the post-war Silver Age, the reinvention of comics starting in the 70s, and so forth.

Not mentioned in that special was a 4-part series from the early 90s called Flex Mentallo.  I had never heard of this character until I opened my Amazon Vine newsletter and they had the newly-released hardcover reprint of those comics.  Since it was free and there was nothing else that week I wanted, I decided to get it.  What the hell.

I rarely ever do any homework on something before I read it so I didn't do any research on this until after I'd read it and wrote my review.  I'm just lazy like that.  It was only later I read a couple of more knowledgeable reviews, one of which declared this to be the "Citizen Kane of Comics."

Apparently there's also a sordid little history behind these comics.  The character of Flex Mentallo was created by writer Grant Morrison as a parody of Charles Atlas bodybuilding models from the 1930s, when you could send money in and get a pamphlet or whatever to become a strongman like Charles Atlas.  (I do know this was also parodied in "Watchmen" where Ozymandias had a similar system that he sold among other superhero-related products.)  Flex's "power" is that when he flexes his muscles, different stuff happens like earthquakes and a graphic saying, "Hero of the Beach" appears over him.  He first appeared in The Doom Patrol series and was then spun off for a 4-part series of his own.  The Charles Atlas company was not amused by this and actually sued DC Comics over it.  The case was settled so that while DC wouldn't give Atlas anything for what they'd already printed, they would pay royalties to Atlas on any future uses of the character.  This meant that the Flex Mentallo titles were never reprinted and thus became collector's items.  At least until now.

So that's all the backstory I knew nothing about when I wrote my review for Amazon Vine:

I had no idea who Flex Mentallo was. I mean he doesn't have any big budget movies of him starring someone you've never heard of or some washed-up actor. I guess he's some muscle guy in a leopard print loincloth who flexes his muscles and something happens. It's not really important to know what his powers are because he doesn't really DO much except walk around with a trench coat over his loincloth most of the time.

Most of the story is more of a meditation on how comics have changed since the 1930s or "Golden Age" when perhaps the original Flex was invented. (Or not. I'm not looking it up on Wikipedia to find out. Call me lazy.) Flex gets looking for someone known as "the Fact" while it seems the world is ending. In a parallel story there's a rock star (or is he?) who has taken lots of pills and is on the verge of death. Apparently he created Flex as a child in a homemade comic and somehow Flex came to life. Just the look of the guy not to mention his occupation made me think of Neil Gaiman. Maybe that was intentional.

Much of it then is pretty much a fever dream with all sorts of crazy stuff happening. It would take too long to go through it all. One particularly interesting part involves Flex visiting an "adult" club for superheroes and a school for sidekicks.

I suspect this would be more interesting for real comic geeks who would get all the references. I found it an interesting look at creation and the relationship between creator and creation. I also tend to agree with the dying Neil Gaiman-looking guy that a lot of comic book heroes probably originated from nerds who wanted to feel powerful.

The artwork seemed fine to me. Better than some I've seen, though I'm no expert. Anyway, I read this in less than an hour, so it doesn't involve tons of effort and if you're a big comic book fan it could be fun.

That is all. 

This just goes to show the importance of doing your research before sounding off on something, which few Amazon reviewers ever do.  As I said in the review, I thought this was a pretty interesting book even if I didn't GET all the references.  If you're a writer, even if you don't read comics and never did, it might be taking a look at now that you can without paying hundreds of dollars to some sleaze on EBay.

That will have to tide you over until the next Two-Fer Tuesday!


  1. So I get a dollar everytime I comment? Can do.

    I think the test of a good story with inside references is whether the story works absent the references; if the only amusement value is inside references, then unless you know of those things, you won't enjoy the book. But if you can enjoy it without knowing anything about that other stuff, it's a good story with some icing on the cake for people in the know.

    So from what I'm gathering here, Flex Mentallo worked on that level, and comics geeks would probably get more out of it.

    On a more important note, I'm actually MORE interested in your book now that I know you weren't really a comics fan, because I think that'll give your stuff a fresher take. You won't feel trapped by comics conventions, but you won't feel as though you have to go all meta, either.


  2. I liked the golden age comics before the comic book association came along and made them tame everything up. That's about the time that Batman became unreadable because of all that censorship that happened. You got the super silly villains, and then the whole Adam West batman was launched in the sixties in the spirit of the new/revised and censored comic book hero. Bleh.

  3. I think I'm too old to leave a relevant comment. I grew up on comics like Casper the Friendly Ghost. Superman was popular when I was a kid and Batman was starting to take off. But I'm unaware of anything after 1970.

  4. I loved comics as a kid, but spent decades away and have nominally kept up with stuff in the interim. Didn't know of Flex though. I might not be in too much a hurry to read that one though, clever as the premise may be.

  5. I have that series somewhere.
    I remember everyone thinking it was awesome, but, really, I think it's one of those series that everyone says that about because they don't know how else to react to it. You can't say it's bad, because that would be admitting that you don't "get" it. I thought it was okay. Good but definitely not awesome.

    1. If you have the originals you should go sell them EBay.

  6. Well, I don't know where they are exactly. Somewhere in my comics. I won't be digging them out any time soon. I have no idea what the current value is, either.

    1. Since they're being rereleased they probably don't have as much value as a year or so ago though I suppose originals will always be worth more than a reprint.

  7. The whole backstory in the essay at the beginning of the book is completely fake, by the way. Morrison created Flex in the pages of Doom Patrol.

  8. Never heard of this guy. Funny review!

  9. It seems to me that most guys love superheros. I happen to know some that never go the movies rushed to see Avengers. Oddly, my daughter liked Avengers better than Hunger Games (and she liked Hunger Games).

    I agree that people should not leave 1 line reviews, but what can you do?



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