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UPDATE: Podcast described below now live and can be listened to or downloaded here.
Last Sunday I had a wonderful time doing another podcast for the excellent Deconstructing Comics (the two previous I did are here and here). I guest there whenever I can. In this case I got the chance to talk with Troy Belford about my very favorite Grant Morrison(and Frank Quitely, and this was where I first fell in love with his work) comic, the one & only FLEX MENTALLO.

Along with THE FILTH(which came up a lot, and how one is the mirror of the other) I consider this the very best, and in this case most positive, thing Morrison has ever done. The talk went on for something like 2.5 hours. There is a chance it might be split into two episodes--Tim Young is still reviewing it. We covered a lot of philosophical ground, and spoke about acid, surrealism and a lot more.

This comic lends itself to that. Just speaking of it seems to reveal layers and layers, and is an example of everything that is best and unique about Morrison. My contention is that this is more a ritual than a comic, designed to heal the reader.

One point--and I don't want to go on about this too much because it's much better explicated in the podcast once it's live--is that we have a wrong idea of "escapism." The word "escape" implies a state previous of being imprisoned, trapped. What we CALL escapism--which I call "trappism"(different from the older use of the term)--is often actually just a way to make yourself further trapped in mind and body, sucked into a hermetic comics world(think the worst kind of comics fan, the classic "basement dude"--Superboy Prime as he ended up for instance; the kind of person who knows the names of the X-Men better than their own relatives, who buys all the merch, who writes angry comments about comics ALL THE TIME) which allows him to not only never deal with his own life or progress as a human being, but in fact, never truly grow up, and yet also to lose touch with the pure joy as a child that brought him there in the first place. The "darkening" of superhero comics, in some ways, seals this. And makes you comfortable with the walls of your cell.

True escapism allows you to actually escape, to grow, to heal. Morrison believes we create superheroes as a tool to help ourselves become more than ourselves, and should not use them instead as a means to hide. This is the reason that, if Superman does not stand for hope, he's of no use. Because that is what he is FOR. If superheroes only drag us down to the worst in ourselves, then they have no point. (note: I do NOT mean superheroes as synonymous with comics--I mean here specifically them and their function) There are other things more appropriate to that. That's not what superheroes are for. At the same time, "positive' or "joyful" do not equal "shallow," necessarily, either, a hard thing for us to apprehend, but true.(And some might blame Moore for this, but I don't. I blame Miller, to start with. Underneath, WATCHMEN is about the best rising from the worst; think of Laurie, and Manhattan coming to believe in miracles because of her)

This is the sequence I focus most on, to me a VERY important sequence. And also to me, exactly the reason every single comics reader should read FLEX at least once.

This is the end point of a long multileveled hallucination a depressed rock star, Wallace Sage, who when a lonely kid created Flex in his handmade comics at home(as first explained in DOOM PATROL when Flex first appeared, though the connection between that Wallace & this one is tenuous; I do think it's the same Flex--first created by Grant with Mike Dringenberg, Richard Case, and Kelley Jones, and also Steve Yeowell--each drew Flex in a different phase but I'm assuming Morrison designed him; obviously he comes from the most ubiquitous comics ad ever, and that's pertinent) and comics fan(Morrison claims this is his version of himself had he continued in music, though in fact, he looks like Quitely) who believes he's killed himself with pills, and is ranting all this to what he thinks is a suicide hotline. All his thoughts become characters. And all the characters are him. (look at Flex and the detective. Versions of the same face. A use of the way that comics characters, like ones drawn by Kirby or Swan, often all had the same features in the old days. The Hoaxer is the exception. That would be Morrison's "fiction suit" this time)

Forget cynicism, forget snickers, and just let this sink in. Here is the sequence, with a few comments. (scans are from the original, not the recolored new version)

The Big Bad reveals himself, and he's here to tell Flex that the world is shit and that this is realistic. I believe this sequence is the crux of what the book is trying to say, and to accomplish. Note too, as mentioned, that the detective's face is like Flex's face, just a different version of it. There's a reason. All are different levels of Wallace himself.

We darken our heroes to kill them, to avoid aspiring, to destroy our imaginations, to do what we THINK is "growing up." And damage ourselves, and kill ourselves, in the process. We decide poison is what we want.

The Hoaxer is our imagination, that which allows us to escape any trap. And he has words for Wallace. Not to destroy him.

To save him.

Sometimes a cigar is but a cigar. Sometimes a superhero is just a superhero. And sometimes you just need to get out of the house.

Look at the light he read comics by as a kid. Also the trigger for the return of something, more clear when you read the book. Realizing that there is something valuable to an adult about the pure present-tense joy that only kids can feel face to face. Something that is not destroyed when you become an adult, just buried.

Only an adolescent little boy would confuse realism with pessimism.

Page left out for limits. There were never any batteries in the phone(and it was always just him talking anyway).

Meet some girls

What was the magic word? If only he could remember.

What is the sound you make when you're in this moment, when you feel joy, when you don't think but just ARE? When you in fact are one with the best part of what it was like to be a kid, before you thought you had to forget it to be an adult, to be "serious"?

The word is simple.


The word is "Ha."

The sound of unselfconscious joy. The sound of...laughter.

Elaborated MUCH more in the podcast. I will of course post the link when live. Next time we talked about maybe doing Gerber's HOWARD THE DUCK. And that one is one I truly, truly love.

UPDATE: Tim Young tells me this: The DECONSTRUCTING COMICS episode examining Grant Morrison's FLEX MENTALLO with Troy Belford and myself will be up on Monday, Aug. 20 for your listening pleasure, and I hope you all enjoy it(link will be posted when it comes). It was a hell of a lot of fun. And it's a double-length episode, two hours--was 2.5 but only some unimportant stuff was removed to smooth it a bit. Still long. But FLEX deserved it.

This will NOT be your usual comics podcast, but DECONSTRUCTING COMICS never is.

If you have a moment, why not have a look at my new(and old) comics & writing at:

Bottomless Studio: the comics & writing of John Linton Roberson

Date: 2012-08-05 10:02 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] barnesarama
I remember reading this as it came out, and I felt it's the vital capstone to Morrison's work at the time - Doom Patrol, JLA and the Invisibles, concentrating the ideas included in all three of those series down into it's most purified form.

And also one of the few times Morrison has been paired with a real quality artist who gets what he's trying to do over the length of a story. The consistence of communication makes such a difference.
Edited Date: 2012-08-05 10:04 pm (UTC)

Date: 2012-08-05 11:11 pm (UTC)
bewareofgeek: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bewareofgeek
I think you may be mistaken.

The crossword puzzle is designed to make you think the word is SHAZAM.

But if you look at the crossword puzzle when he fills it in, you can tell what it is:


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Date: 2012-08-05 11:28 pm (UTC)
arbre_rieur: (Default)
From: [personal profile] arbre_rieur
Question for all: I'm interested in picking this up, but I've never read Morrison's DOOM PATROL. Would I still be able to fully enjoy it, or would I be missing important context?

Date: 2012-08-05 11:37 pm (UTC)
jcfiala: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jcfiala
Oh, this is totally enjoyable without Doom Patrol. Although Flex Mentallo showed up in DP first, this is totally divorced from that series.

Date: 2012-08-06 12:42 am (UTC)
indy2012: (Default)
From: [personal profile] indy2012
I love Morrison. I'll have to pick this up. And Quitely is always on spot. It's like him and Morrison have the same mind.

In these few pages, there are so many themes that were explored in his Seven Soldiers, which I adore. The idea of escape was of course in Mr. Miracle, the power of a child's imagination/realism being confused with pessimism in Manhattan Guardian, the meta structure of a comic/superhero folklore being explored in Zatanna and Shining Knight, and so on.

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Date: 2012-08-06 01:43 am (UTC)
halloweenjack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] halloweenjack
(think the worst kind of comics fan, the classic "basement dude"--Superboy Prime as he ended up for instance; the kind of person who knows the names of the X-Men better than their own relatives, who buys all the merch, who writes angry comments about comics ALL THE TIME)

The obverse of the total rejection of comics, a la the Man-In-the-Moon, and just as much of a cop-out WRT really dealing with yourself and your life on its own messy terms. I used to feel sorry for the totally obsessed fanboys when I was in college, but I also felt a little sorry for people my age who tried to assume a veneer of eighteen-going-on-thirty-eight sophistication and wouldn't have touched a comic book with a pair of long tongs behind leaded glass. Sometimes I think about some of them and wonder if they ever learned to stop caring so much about what other people thought of them.

Date: 2012-08-06 01:50 am (UTC)
glprime: (Default)
From: [personal profile] glprime
I did (relatively) recently pierce that barrier where pessimism at a young age becomes boring/exhausting and decided to re-embrace the optimistic side of my "optimistic cynic" outlook.

I'd say that's why superheroes exist for me: the ideal to aspire to, the reason to hope, and struggle, and fight for something. And you do the good thing not because of reward or accolade, but because you decide that's what you want to do, to stand for, even if the world still spits on you. Jesus/Buddha/prophet-of-your-choosing didn't teach me that, Spider-Man did.

And yet, all I can think when getting to the end of this is, "Put down the drugs, Grant. Seriously. You're just fucking high."

Date: 2012-08-06 02:22 am (UTC)
jkcarrier: me, at my old office (Default)
From: [personal profile] jkcarrier
I am generally not a fan of Frank Quitely's work, but this is quite nice -- I guess I just don't care for the direction his style has gone over the years (I think the simpler coloring helps too...All-Star Superman was so garish and grotesque, it made me feel kind of queasy just looking at it).

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Re: PS

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Date: 2012-08-06 12:56 pm (UTC)
bradygirl_12: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bradygirl_12
If superheroes only drag us down to the worst in ourselves, then they have no point.

So much I agree with in your narrative, and this sums it up nicely. I'm sick of dark 'heroes' who bring out the worst in us.

Re: PS

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Date: 2012-08-06 02:18 pm (UTC)
blackruzsa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] blackruzsa
I really really like the bit that differentiates realism with pessimism. I hate it when people think "real" means "dark and unhappy".

Date: 2012-08-06 03:03 pm (UTC)
shadowpsykie: Information (Hope Silly)
From: [personal profile] shadowpsykie
okay JUST from the ONE panel above the cut, MANY things, ahem, came to mind... first was "Okay kinda sexist maybe homophobic" (Make you a REAL man)

secondly his "fuzzy" muscley-ness made me think "OH YES YES PLEASE TEACH ME!" (blush)

3rd... i wanted to tounge bathe every inch of him.... (too much?)

now off to actually read the pages :D

Date: 2012-08-06 03:46 pm (UTC)
btravage: (Default)
From: [personal profile] btravage
It's really sexist
"Go out and meet some girls"

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Date: 2012-08-06 03:28 pm (UTC)
shadowpsykie: (Happy Willow)
From: [personal profile] shadowpsykie
okay, now that i have actually read it, it feels like there is much to much to actually talk about.

so a few key points and a thought:

1) I don't mind realism in comics. But like the Hoaxer said, There is a difference between Realism and Pessimism.

2) I also don't mind the death of a character, the death of superman showed that even in death he inspires hope. The Death of Supergirl inspired ME to want to be selfless and brave like her. The Death of Batman showed that even with his world and THE world crumbling around him, he would never end his mission.

3) I also don't mind the "darkening" of a character, in some cases it works. in others it doesn't (I'm looking at you Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder!)


This was a very good analysis and disenction of superhero comics. and i loved the way it examined realism, and escapism.

One book that i think ALSO did a real good job explalining escapism in comics was "The Amazing adventures of kavalier and clay" really, its amazing, i CANNOT recoment this book enough!
Edited Date: 2012-08-06 03:28 pm (UTC)

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