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First off, this is not easy reading. The ideas are a lot closer to The Invisibles than to Morrison's work on JLA, though you can see it as an early exploration of some of the themes he brought to his Batman work. Quitely's art is stunning - clear enough to lead you through some very complicated page lay-outs, but almost infinitely detailed where it's needed.

If anything suffers here, it's my expectations of a linear story, of something self-contained and resolved in its own pages: Morrison doesn't give me that comfort, with multiple narratives that only intersect if you actually put the work in.

A fascinating, and beautifully produced work, which I'd recommend to anyone.
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on 15 April 2012
A pop singer tries to commit suicide by overdosing on pills, meanwhile talking to the Samaritans on his Stingeray phone while waiting for death; a fictional golden age superhero called Flex Mentallo is out to find his long lost sidekick "the Fact" while saving the world; and reality and fictional, hyper-reality (remember you're reading Grant Morrison) collide as people and superheroes find out a deeper truth about the cosmos. Muscle mystery indeed!

Having recently read Morrison's nonfiction book about superheroes "Supergods" as well as a documentary about Morrison "Talking with Gods", the book feels part autobiographical from the viewpoint of the suicidal pop singer. The childhood he relates is a lot like Morrison's, growing up with the threat of the bomb, the fighting parents, and the early and long lasting love affair with comics. The kid's drawings of comics might even be reprints of Morrison's early attempts at creating comics (he originally wanted to be a comics artist rather than writer). Flex Mentallo dates back to these teen years when he created him as a parody of the Charles Atlas characters from the 30s-40s.

There's also the theories of other worlds, parallel worlds, and how comics are our true selves trying to remind our parallel selves that we are more powerful and incredible than we think we are, that we're superheroes who've forgotten we're superheroes. The theme stretches across a number of Morrison's works and is explained in full in "Supergods", while the multi-dimensions and superbeings talking to one another echo his own supposed alien encounter in the mountains of Katmandu in the early 90s.

The book is a bit hard to follow, crashing about the place with all sorts of twists and turns, but it's still amazingly creative and interesting. Frank Quitely's artwork is also the best I've seen from him and he's an almost unfairly talented artist. Each page is gorgeous because of his talents and the book is made that much better because of his contributions. The book is also part of a larger trilogy that Morrison created in the 90s, the other two being "Doom Patrol" and "The Filth" both of which are mind-bendingly bizarre and fascinating.

"Flex Mentallo" is a fantastic, metatextual, hyper-imaginative work that's been long out of print and is well worth picking up if only for the artwork, but Morrison's writing is top notch as well. A fascinating look into the superhero genre from the outside in.

Also the hardback deluxe edition is so well produced and has an amazing slip on cover which feels great and doesn't carry fingerprint smudges on it somehow.
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The four-issue mini-series from 1996 starring the Doom Patrol's Flex Mentallo is collected as Man of Muscle Mystery (Flex Mentallo). Although I have not read his adventures with the Doom Patrol since their original publication, the story here seems to be unrelated to that incarnation of the character, but not to Grant Morrison's more esoteric style of storytelling, and this story could be considered a precursor to Joe the Barbarian TP, and is certainly an offshoot of the ending of his Animal Man series. Here we have two strands of story, one featuring Flex Mentallo, who is trying to unravel a mystery set in his own comic-book world - inhabited by characters inspired by and more interesting than many `real' comic book characters; and a second strand featuring a comic-book creator who thinks he is dying from a drug overdose. The stories seem to overlap, are certainly intercut, and it is difficult to tell if they are interacting with each other - though neither of them is really `real', of course, though we probably assume the overdose guy is meant to be real. However, despite Frank Quitely's excellent artwork - I really want to see those `comic book' characters in `real' stories - I prefer continuing characters in continuing stories, and this is in effect a one-off short story. If you like that format, then this is for you, but it was not something that will live on in my memory.
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on 17 April 2012
I have always been a huge fan of Grant Morrison, owning several of his other works, and the man has always delivered. After reading Supergods, I was thoroughly convinced that there will never be, nor has there ever been a greater writer than Morrison (except maybe Jack Kirby, of course). Whether it's taking the reins as the writer of the Caped Crusader himself, or even rebooting the X-men, he always has a firm grip on the lore behind the story, more so if the story is his own.

And that brings me to Flex Mentallo. Flex Mentallo, on the first and most basic level, is a story about a hulky muscle man brought to life by his own writer, brought into a world that desperately needs people like him. In a world where people are living in the streets and getting beaten up by gangs, Flex does his best to be the "Superman" of his world. The story, like many of Grant's terrific tales, can be a very disorienting ride, especially for newcomers to his work. Some will complain that the story is complex for the sake of being complex; another common criticism of Grant's writing style.

However, on a deeper level, you will learn that the story isn't just about Flex, it's about us. The series is broken down into 4 issues, and this is for a good reason.

The story is a commentary on the writing of comics as a whole. Flex Mentallo covers all 4 comic writing periods (Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze (or Dark) Age and Modern Age). with each issue covering that theme through story arc, artwork, and general atmosphere.

You begin to realise that Flex's world is indeed our world, and what we are making of it. How comics are only depressing and gritty because people choose to make them that way, instead of bringing back the cheerful adventures of the Golden Age, or the weird and wonderful events of the Silver Age; when comics were for everyone.

If you have any interest in the writing and history of comics, I recommend you read this comic.

And hey, even if you don't, at least you get a bloody good story out of it.

EDIT: This is completely embarrassing, but I've only just looked this over and realised that I haven't mentioned Frank Quitely's artwork at all.

Frank is an incredible artist and always has been. His work with Grant is far and beyond his greatest, simply because the duo are the best one-two punch combo in the entirety of comics. His artwork on Flex reflects this, with every facial expression, hand gesture, action sequence and environment perfectly capturing exactly what the reader wants and needs to see with a story like this.

All Star Superman, WE3, New X-Men, Batman and Robin - if Grant is my favourite writer, then Frank is, without a doubt, my favourite comic book artist ever.
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on 22 November 2016
When I ordered the hardcover it was not stated in the title description as being in French! Only now has this been rectified. Unfortunately I did not attempt to read the book prior to the final return date!
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on 13 April 2012
I really like Morrison's writing, but he can be guilty of labouring a point or taking off on unnecessarily odd tangents. Here, he's bang on the money. Concise, entertaining, provocative, strange... and the art is aces. Quitely and Morrison together are priceless. Maybe Morrison should be compelled to do everything in four issues?
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on 21 February 2016
One of the best stand alone graphic novels of our time.
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on 30 July 2016
If you like Morrison you will love this one.
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on 2 January 2016
When the book arrived it was in French...
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on 7 November 2013
The one thing that doesn't yet seem to have been mentioned about this book is the warmth that runs through it..

Grant Morrison has made Flex, a caricature of a superhero if there ever was one, self-aware enough and empathetic enough that you can't help root for him through his adventures, even the comedic (and invented) syndicated stories that are referenced along the way.

What he sets out to show, and convincingly in my opinion does, is that superheroes need us as much as we need them.

Oh, and the artwork and printing (of the hardback edition at least) is sublime.
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