Thursday, April 19, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery

It is hard enough for me to resist anything that has to do with the team-up of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, so when Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery was re-released (in deluxe hardcover none the less) it should come as no surprise that I immediately bowed under the pressure and bought this lovely item the day of release.

On the surface, Flex Mentallo is about a muscly man named, uh, Flex Mentallo, who is living in the real world, and trying to solve a mystery that seems to involve a completely fictional character operating in real life.  This may sound far-fetched, but Flex himself was once nothing more than a work of fiction until he was somehow written to life.  While Flex is doing his detecting thing, we meet Wallace Sage, a suicidal writer/musician/artist who has recently taken a deadly overdose of drugs and is retelling his life story to a suicide helpline worker on the other end of the phone.

Though it is hard to tell exactly how in the early stages, it is clear that these two stories intertwine, and sure enough, as things go on, they begin to interact with each other.  The how, and why of it all are tough to explain, and equally hard to understand.  Frankly, I'm not totally sure I completely "get" everything about Flex Mentallo.  The story is so clearly about more than just a strange mystery and some guy committing suicide, but after one read through, I can't confidently say exactly what "it" is.

I've read a few other places that each of the four issues is meant to represent an era of comics: the golden age, silver age, modern age, and future. When viewing the story through this "era" lens, I can definitely see the distinction, but there are other layers to be had here as well; layers I hope to discover as I read though this thing a few more times in the future.  I don't often come across a comic that lends itself to such close scrutiny, but that sure is the case here.  This story pretty much flat out demands to be read a few times over.

As far as the writing goes, this is some primo Grant Morrison material.  It definitely lies on the weird side of things, but things aren't so weird as to be unpalatable or off putting.  Morrison managed to instill a strong sense of "what the hell is going on here?" in me as I read Flex Mentallo which made me want to read more in hopes of uncovering some secrets.  As I said, this is a story that will benefit from further readings, so even though I enjoyed my first read-through, I get the feeling I'll like this even more upon future reads.

On the artistic front, the art in Flex Mentallo is simply wonderful.  Frank Quitely is easily one of the best comics artists in the business, and one could make a strong case for him being the best period.  Like Flex Mentallo, Quitely flexes his artistic muscles here and delivers some absolutely beautiful art.  I am always impressed with Quitely's art, but there were a few panels in this one that stand out as some of my all time favorite Quitely art.  I always feel like I'm holding something truly special when I have a comic drawn by Frank Quitely in my hands, probably because it is special.  The guy can really make a story come to life.

It is typically a special occasion when I read a Morrison/Quitely comic, and Flex Mentallo is pretty damn special too.  I would have bought this and enjoyed it no matter what, but to be treated to something that is not only exciting to read, and lovely to look at but also demanding of the reader's scrutiny is a nice rare treat.  This is a truly special comic.  Highly recommended.

Grade: A-

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