RECEIVING TRANSMISSION – “A LITTLE MORE POWER OVER THAT MEMORY…”

Sorry, what’s that? You were waiting for the second part of my Tygers and Lambs series? Well hey, thanks for checking in mum, glad you still read the site -  that post should go up over the weekend! [1]

The rest of you are probably looking for more SILENCE! or more League of Extraordinary Gentlemen annocommentations or something [2], and who can blame you, but you’ll have to wait a while for all of that because right now we’re doing Dirty Thoughts From Other People’s Comments Section!

WITHOUT WARNING!

Okay, so over on The Comics Journal’s website, Sean Rogers wrote a review of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s Flex Mentallo that posited the aforementioned comic as a prime example of the “strenuous vapidity” of Morrison’s writing.  I think it’s safe enough to say that most of Team Mindless [3] are pretty into Flex Mentallo – the manifesto like “Candyfloss horizons” posts that graced the site during its early days are definitely written in the key of Flex Mentallo, with its “candy-striped skies” [4] – and I wrote about the book again when the freshly recoloured “deluxe” edition was released in April of this year.  As such, bearing in mind that FEELINGS ABOUT COMICS ARE THE ONLY TRUE FEELINGS [5], I decided to have a go at taking Sean’s review apart.

Sean seems to think that Flex Mentallo is a guide to better living through superheroes, whereas I think it’s more like a Dennis Potter drama in two-dimensions [6], a strange story in which a grown man cracks and finds himself trying to make sense out of everything with reference to a lifetime’s worth of ruddy superhero comics.

My comment is up on The Comics Journal site if you want to check it out and see what you think.

[1] Just kidding, obviously. No one in my family is dumb enough to want to reas what I’ve written about comics on the Internet. It is not a frequent subject of conversation at the dinner table. “David, that bit you did on The Infernal Man-Thing was the balls, but could you quit hogging the pepper for a minute?” – doesn’t happen.

[2] I believe we’re still going to do a post on the text story, so you should keep an eye out for that if you like what we do in those posts, and why wouldn’t you?

[3] The only Team you should have been routing for in Olympageddon 2012. Rest assured that our national anthem is better than yours.

[4] Sean’s review sticks close to the classic TCJ template, so of course the caption in question is singled out as an example of the book’s overamped stupidity:

…too often Morrison tries to convey a sense of unearned wonder by spilling out vagaries in overheated prose, adopting an awestruck tone and asking his readers to “imagine” half-baked fantasies that seem rescued from Burroughs or Ballard’s litter bins. “Candy-striped skies!” the TV says at one point to a pensive Flex. “Can you imagine? And a child smiling, weightless—each floating strand of hair with a tiny eye at its tip. A swaying mass of blinking lights.” Elsewhere, we’re invited to admire a superhero utopia of bullshit portmanteaux—“Dreamatrons and boom shoes, paraspace-suits and omniscopes”—or to marvel at the experience of “Breathing the narcotic vapors of spectral avengers, inhaling ghost girls[...].”

Like I said in my comment, I found those flourishes to be at once evocative of a certain sort of frazzled romance and self-consciously silly and amusing, but as always you’re free to feel otherwise. Even if that does make you wrong. You pervert.

[5] You know this. You have always known this.

[6] If anyone’s keeping track, Pennies From Heaven is a more compelling drama but Flex Mentallo looks better.

31 Responses to “Flex Mentallo: “The New Adventures of the Mentallium Man” & other stories”

  1. David Golding Says:

    More Pink!

  2. Sean Rogers Says:

    Thanks for the measured response — I think you’re right, we just can’t get with each other’s premises, but I enjoyed reading your take anyway. Like I say, some folks’ writing on Morrison’s comics [like this bit you wrote] always makes it sound like I’d enjoy them, but I never end up doing so somehow. Thanks!

  3. Zig Zag Zig Says:

    Need the premises be mutually exclusive? Can the text not work in the manner that Illogical Volume suggests and be a success while at the same time work as Sean suggests and be empty of content?

    Morrison is very good with poetic introspection, but less strong (poor even) when it comes to the pragmatic. Or at any rate, is not very good at linking the two realms in a satisfying manner. Its one of his two greatest faults.

  4. Illogical Volume Says:

    Nah, I think the function I’m describing implies emotional and thematic content, so it looks like I’m going to spend eternity wrestling with Sean in the mud while a chorus belts out the words “somethingness/nothingness” – we have been condemned to Huckabee, for our sins.

    As such, I’m glad that Sean’s being all gentlemanly about it (seriously, thanks Sean – it was fun to disagree with you!). Don’t think I could be bothered with an eternity full of pissy sniping and pass-agg bullshit.

    I wrote a little bit about my own struggle to.integrate the thematic and the pragmatic in Morrison’s work here…

    http://mindlessones.com/2012/02/06/indigo-batman-leviathan-prime/

    …so I’d be curious as to what Morrison’s other great fault is in your estimation Zig?

    David, if I ever find myself with a day to kill I’ll make a none-more-pink edition of Flex Mentallo, just for you.

  5. Zig Zag Zig Says:

    I should say first that I generally love Morrison’s books and definitely read ‘em all, even ACTION. But he’s a lopsided magician. His reveals are usually so stunning and exciting that you don’t mind the fact that he’s either cheated on the misdirect or not bothered with a misdirect at all.

    Cases in point: Zorn = Magneto in New X-Men, Batman knew everything about the Black Glove all along, Fanny was Red Robin. These were great story beats, but they weren’t the work of a proper magician/storyteller. Yes the reveal of Batman did change the meaning of certain previous moments in the story (“I got over it”) but the reveal was otherwise unseeded.*

    Hopefully this doesn’t seem like trolling. I’m happy to drop the issue and keep reading issues. You know?

    *I’m hoping/praying that he does something like this in ACTION to pull everything together and make it sing during re-reading. He usually does something like that by issue twelve but hasn’t in ACTION as of yet.

  6. Zig Zag Zig Says:

    Red Robin = Ragged Robin

  7. Thrills Says:

    I dunno, Xorn=Magneto was quite well foreshadowed, in retrospect. There’s the Xorn-based issue where it could seem like he was never supposed to be Magneto, but then the inner monologue is a letter he’s writing, which could be lie-packed misdirection.

    Fanny being Ragged Robin didn’t feel like a cheat-based shock, either?

    I’m willing to accept that I’m just a big Granto apologist, but.

  8. Justin Martyr Says:

    You, sir, are no apologist.

  9. Papers Says:

    I’m a bit confused by the notion that they were “great story beats” but “weren’t the work of a proper magician/storyteller.” That seems a bit contradictory. Occasionally writers use plot twists – some of them work, some of them don’t. I always thought the stuff with Xorn was pretty solidly laid out in the text.

  10. Adam Says:

    Yer, I’m not entirely sure what you’re talmabout, ZZZ.

  11. Botswana Beast Says:

    how is Fanny Ragged Robin??

    the Xorn stuff is really well laid-down though, in retrospect it all seems obvious

  12. Papers Says:

    Beast– Fanny dresses up as Ragged Robin in order to defeat Quimper, but we’re still presented with Robin’s narration up until the mask is removed.

  13. Botswana Beast Says:

    oh, sure, yeah, I remember that now

  14. Zig Zag Zig Says:

    Gah! Stirred up a nest here! Sorry about this. Let’s see if I can respond to all of this:

    Papers: I suppose I’m saying that Morrison yells ‘TA-DA!’ really well, with a great deal of charm and poise, even after having let the rabbit slip a few times from the hat. He’s got energy and he’s got smarts. Both of those things make him a great storyteller. Its a lot of fun to watch, but (as I’m about to argue) he doesn’t perform his trick very effectively or honestly.

    Everyone Else: Let me get this straight. Magneto, using his ‘Chinese connections’ engineers it so that he is trapped in a prison in the disguise of an entirely other person simply so that the X-Men save him. Then he spends time (months?) as this whole other person in a monastery without the X-men around, HEALING BIRDS. And then during his Shi’ar adventure shows no signs of being Magneto. He then continues to show no signs of being anything more than Xorn for issue after issue until the Murder at the Mansion storyline (or thereabouts). But we are to believe that he was Magneto all this time?

    Yes he had a ‘star in his head’, and was in an iron prison, and killed those guys, and Quire gives that hint before dying, but otherwise Morrison has essentially lied to his audience rather than deceived it. Its not misdirection, its hoodwinking, blindsiding. Its not plot twist; its plot manipulation. Had he been what I am terming a proper magician/storyteller, he’d have seeded things from the very beginning.

    No one could have ever possibly guessed that Xorn was Magneto prior to the big reveal, basing their judgement on what had come before. Personally, I consider that a cheat.

    Similarly with Invisibles, all that Ragged Robin/Fanny stuff is explained in the issue AFTER the reveal (which is fine). But only then do the prior related scenes become meaningful/lock into place.

    And we can all thank Alfred for those acting lessons that kept Bruce from ever revealing to the audience in any manner whatsoever before hand that he knew all along what has happening with the Black Glove, or at least was highly prepared for it.

    Morrison lies. Or simply doesn’t provide the audience with enough information in order to properly anticipate what will come. (Talia = Leviathan being an exception here)

    ….

    Okay, so here’s the good thing I’ll say about Morrison (because I want to say good things. I like the guy). He’s usually pretty good at building off of what he’s previous established. James Amus in the latest ep. of DECOMPRESSED talks about this, about needing to build off what he himself has written months before even if you can’t change it. I highly doubt that Xorn was always going to be Magneto. I think that, like in his Batman run, Morrison decided to take a different turn and then built off of the imagery and ideas that he’d established prior, fudging things in a hurried manner so that you didn’t really mind or even think too hard about what had just happened. It’s his mutant power.

    That make any sense?

  15. Adam Says:

    I can’t recall the details but I seem to remember coming to very similar conclusions about Magneto/Xorn. Interestingly (kind of), Rowling goes in for a similar kind of opaque mystery in the HP books – don’t like it much in them neither. Does feel like cheating/very unsatisfying.

  16. Papers Says:

    I can see why that my be unsatisfying for some readers, but I’ve never depended on Morrison for any kind of mystery. Xorneto is interesting for me because it (1) evokes the age-old “One of these heroes is a traitor!” last page twist and (b) because it’s more about aftershadow than foreshadow, as you note with the Ragged Robin/Fanny example. I’m not necessarily expecting all the clues beforehand, but it’s the kind of trick that rewards a reread.

  17. James W Says:

    That was a good comment, IllVoll, shame no one really took you up on it (good of Sean to show up here all gentlemanlike, of course).

    I thought History had firmly established that there were at least a few cheats in the Xorn stuff, but that on balance it was a pretty cool reveal so who cares. He’s certainly never done anything as shite as a Jeph Loeb “mystery”.

  18. Adam Says:

    It’s not fair to compare any writer to Jeph Loeb (with the possible exception of Todd McFarlane)

  19. James W Says:

    He just sprung to mind as the master of the opaque mystery, the “YOU DID NOT SEE THIS COMING BECAUSE I WITHHELD ALL RELEVANT INFORMATION”, that the French* call the “Idiot’s Turn”.

    Also meant to say that I like the upcontrasted nuFlex colours.

    *do not

  20. Zig Zag Zig Says:

    Sorry for derailing! We should probably talk about FLEX or something.

    I thought that your comment to Sean was solid and on-point IllVol. Gonna give FLEX a re-read with your take in mind vs. Sean’s take and see what happens.

    Thanks!

  21. Adam Says:

    If the French won’t man up and call an idiot an idiot, I damn well will.

    Jeph Loeb. Idiot.

  22. amypoodle Says:

    The Xorn thing was pretty ridiculous tbh. When we first met him he was a cosmic Ghost Rider….. and then he’s Magneto? That one was completely improvised.

    One thing I really dislike is when Morrison pulls one of these moves and has a character tell the reader how his bullshit twist was ‘so obvious it hurt’ or whatever. He always does it.

  23. Papers Says:

    This post is, in retrospect, really making me crave those analyses of the Flexytext pages.

  24. Botswana Beast Says:

    that’s rubbish, amy, there was interviews before Xorn even appeared where Grant was like “he has the darkest secret of all”

    (I do agree wrt, “it was totes obvs it was me all along” – he did it with Talia recently, although not with the Joker, there was something with Xorn where he was like “a star for a head? and none of youse realised”, which I don’t even get – it’s because Magneto is Jewish?)

  25. Adam Says:

    Lol. Er…

  26. Thrills Says:

    I thought the ‘Star for a head, and you didn’t even ken something was up?!?!’ bit was just because, well, having a star for a head is fucking stupid, so why didn’t they realise it was a hoax? But then, y’know, it’s a superhero comic, so having a star for a heid isnae that weird.

    New X Men – the comic that keeps on giving.

    And taking.

    PS I also really like the purple Flex neon images above.Flex meets the New McCarthyism!

  27. Adam Says:

    so having a star for a heid isnae that weird.

    Sright. Exactly my thoughts. It’s a bloody superhero comic , and one written by G-Moz Man o’ Ideas no less…

    Star for a head?

    Nod it through, think no more of it.

  28. Zig Zag Zig Says:

    This is easily solved. Get your copy of NEW X-MEN annual. Read the first three pages featuring Xorn. Then read the last page. Then explain how that could possibly be Magneto.

  29. Thrills Says:

    Actually, a cursory look through my hott comix collection reveals that I don’t actually have that annual. It’s the Uncanny one with incomprehensible and brown Ashley Wood art that I’ve got, but that’s no help.

    I now remove myself from the conversation, due to lacking vital pieces of knowledge, and pure go look for the bastard on Ebay or something.

  30. Randoym Says:

    eh, I thought that Magneto “copied” himself onto Xorn like a hard drive when everyone went out to visit Genosha. Before that Xorn was, y’know, the Chinese Man in the Iron Mask.

    sorry. carry on.

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