A few months ago I happened upon a torrent of the comic _Flex Mentallo_ by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. It’s a mixed-up, trippy, postmodern superhero fable, twisted and kind of beautiful. I enjoyed it.
Not until reading this essay did I consider that it is also a kind of rebuttal of Watchmen, the Dark Knight, and all such Dark, Gritty Superhero Comics.
As Comics for Serious quotes:
“Only a bitter little adolescent boy could confuse realism with pessimism.”
I dig Watchmen, I do. I’m gonna have to go see that movie, despite the fact that I virtually never see any movies. But in the back of my mind is going to be Flex Mentallo, Man of Muscle Mystery.
The thing about Flex Mentallo is that acknowledges all the cynicism, it faces it squarely — reading the endnotes in issues 2 and 4 gives as a history of the fictional Flex Mentallo comic as cynical and messed up as anyone could possibly come up with — and it walks straight through it with a smile on its face and hope in its heart, to the other side.
I’m actually not a huge comics dude. I probably know multiple people who have literally read hundreds or thousands of times more comics than I have. I haven’t ever written or drawn my own superhero comics, in the main, but I have come up with many superheroes, because one of the roleplaying games I played a lot as a kid was Villains and Vigilantes, one of the earliest superhero RPGs. And reading Flex Mentallo, and watching it name-drop dozens and dozens of nonce superheroes, gave me that feeling of the excitement of coming up with characters and villains for V&V and Champions back in the day. There’s something special there, some kind of magic creating them.
I’m thinking of the self-consciously cheesy/retro game Jim and I ran in college, my character Phantom Fighter with the ability to phase out like Kitty Pride, and his martial arts telescoping staff/nunchuks… The Villainous Doctor Crime… and back much earlier, when I was in high school, maybe even middle school, my brother’s streetwise martial artist, Archangel …. I remember getting out How To Draw Comics the Marvel Way from the library, and drawing endless heroes, animal-powered, semi-robotic, flying, diving, armored, armed, magical, mutant, scientific, alien, interdimensional…. All that stuff came back to me reading Flex Mentallo.
Maybe it’s the traces of fever I think I still am running today. Or maybe there’s really something there.