Silverwolf’s Den: Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery

It’s rare that I read a comic that leaves me without an immediate judgement upon completion. Usually, I can at the very least assign a numerical rating after finishing about 3/4 of the comic, evidenced by the values given in my previous reviews. It is rare, however, that I sit there, staring blankly at the ceiling, trying to take in everything about the story I’ve just experienced. Yes, in this case “experienced” is probably a better word than “read.”

That’s right, today I’m tackling Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery.

flex mentallo cover

Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery weaves two parallel tales. The first concerns the titular superhero, a man with the power of “Muscle Mystery,” essentially, whenever Flex flexes, he can alter reality and space-time on a local level (this is a Grant Morrison comic; don’t expect it to be anything less than totally out there). Flex is concerned with finding his old partner The Fact, while battling against Faculty X, a mysterious terrorist organization that has laid harmless bombs all throughout the world.

Simultaneously, we see the story of Wally Sage, a rock musician who, as a child, drew his own comics depicting Flex Mentallo. Yes, that’s right, our second protagonist is the creator of our first! Wally has lost the will to live, and we watch as he recounts his life story to a Samaritan suicide hotline in an alleyway after consuming a plethora of intoxicating substances. Through this, we learn about Wally’s choices, views on life, and opinions about the value of the comics medium.

Muscle Mystery in action.

Muscle Mystery in action.

If you’ve read this far into this article, I’ve got to hand it to you: either you’re very patient or intrigued, because a lot of people would have stopped reading after my introduction. And I can’t blame them. Flex Mentallo is an odd concept. The story is divided among four issues, each of which references an era in the comics’ medium: the first issue concerns the Golden Age, the second the Silver Age, the third the Dark Age, and the last the Modern Age/future of comics. Through each issue, we watch both Wally’s progression from wide-eyed child to jaded teenager and back again, while Flex unravels The Fact’s whereabouts while pondering the progression of superheroes from idealistic champions of the oppressed to “dark and edgy” morally ambiguous crusaders.

Morrison’s writing is all over the place, but I don’t mean that in a negative way; rather, the story of Flex Mentallo ranges across a wide spectrum of concepts and plots, meshing together rather beautifully by the story’s end. The story is rife with symbolism, and I guarantee I missed at least half of it during my first read through. The story gives great treatment to the comics medium, and provides a thorough illustration of why this art form is not just enjoyable, but also integral to society. Morrison ends on an inspiring note, and shows that comics can act as a vehicle of self-empowerment.

The cover to issue #3, an homage to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.

The cover to issue #3, an homage to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

Quitely, a long-time collaborator with Morrison, makes the perfect artistic complement. Quitely’s stylized, slightly lumpy drawing style draws the reader into the multi-layered mirror worlds of Flex Mentallo. We see excellent drawings of a range of superheroes, aliens, monsters, spaceships, and cities. The cover work is probably the most brilliant of all, with each cover referencing one of the aforementioned eras of comics; issue #3, in particular, features an homage to The Dark Knight Returns. The artwork lends a sensibility and expertly depicts that complicated concepts found within this work.

At the end of it all, what’s there really left to say? I feel I can’t adequately give Flex Mentallo a numerical rating. It’s definitely a groundbreaking comic that is worth reading, but it’s something that will leave a decent number of people outright confused, and probably raise some anger from a few who wonder why they just spent time reading it. In my eyes, however, it’s a defining work, arguably the best I’ve read from the duo of Morrison and Quitely. It left me thinking about the nature of not only comics, but also life.

Though the symbolism may be confusing or heavy handed at times, anyone with the drive to read (and attempt to decipher) Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery will come away with a smile on his or her face, and a greater appreciation of the world’s beauty.

Brett Simon is a twenty-four year old comic enthusiast. He’s the Charles Atlas of Moar Powah!

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  1. As someone INCREDIBLY intrigued right now I am going to read this! ;0 Flexing muscles distorts reality and a discussion/critique of writing styles sign me up haha

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