This is an odd one for me. I did not like the Grant Morrison Doom Patrol, and had never read Flex Mentallo when it originally ran as a 4 issue limited series in 1996. This was a book that was completely off my radar. But in recent years I have found a great deal of Morrison’s writing very much to my liking, and decided to give this one a try. Everyone else seemed to know something I didn’t. “What do you mean, you have not read it?”, is the response I have gotten enough to tell me that I needed to read it.
This is clearly one of those books that struck something in the readers of the day, more than now I think. Not to say it isn’t good, because that is not the case. This is a good book. It just isn’t that much of a revelation. Is this because much of it has been copied and redone since? That may be the case here, as Morrison is an often copied writer. It just seemed that much of it was trite, had a feeling of “seen that” and was a book more suited to describe what is possible in the monthly format of comics than a truly great story.
Flex Mentallo was created by Morrison for the Doom Patrol and quickly developed a following. This was enough for Vertigo to take a chance on a limited series and this book is very much in its own continuity, quite apart from the Doom Patrol. The DCU is only hinted at and more often referred to in metaphor and allegory. Overall, this is a pretty trippy book. There is a lot of meta referencing about a universe that we are all supposed to know about. Much of what is here can be seen as the seeds of Morrison’s book, Supergods, and it is clear the ideas that would form that books were being fleshed out here. The metaphor that we lost our old Gods and created super heroes, is familiar enough. He then goes into the comics as a medium and develops the idea further; that after we created the new characters as surrogate Gods, we gave them reality, only to abandon them again at another point to pure fiction. The line here between the Gods of our world and the heroes of this book is blurred. This is done very purposefully and is to illustrate the connections between our Gods and our fiction; how we lost one only to replace it with the other, then found them intruding into the “real” world.
The art here is nothing short of stunning. Frank Quietly has always been someone worth watching. His art while highly stylized, is always full if life and vigor. Fun and silly in many ways, but not without real power and force. The book is really a fine example of some of his best work.
There is another issue with this collection. It is recolored. I think the book looks great. It has a realism and visual quality that sets it apart from much of what I have seen in catalog reprints lately. However, there are fans that are not so happy. I can sympathize, but I have also looked at the original pages side by side online. Had this volume retained the fun psychedelic colors of the original comic, it would look terrible. Those colors, while very well suited to the comic book format, would not look right on this paper stock. What worked on the flat crappy paper of the day, needed a different touch in this modern volume. There is also the thought that DC wanted to appeal to more than just the old fans of this book. Newer readers might have found the look of the old color off-putting.
While a lot has been made about the supposed legal issues that kept this book out of print until now, I think much of this is more in the area of urban legend than actual fact. In any event, this book is here for fans old and new. While it may not resonate with new readers, the old fans of the book should be well pleased.