Friday, May 11, 2007

The Next Age

It's taken quite a while, but, today, Flex Mentallo arrived. I'd been checking eBay auctions for well over a year and bidding quite often, but hadn't won until a couple of weeks ago. This is mostly because I was never willing to pay more than $50 US for the complete series (and even that seems a bit high, eh?). Sure, I could probably have read it online, but fuck that. I like the physical objects because I obviously have some sort of fetish over comics, books, CDs, DVDs, etc. Best not to explore it too far, though, eh?

(As well, I knew that my getting the actual issues would somehow cause DC to announce a trade of the series, because that's what happens when I get stuff. I avoided buying up the Beatles CDs I didn't have because I read they were working on the remasters--and what happened after I caved and bought the ones I needed? Rolling Stone announced rumours that the remasters were done and soon to be released. Of course, those rumours have yet to come true, but still. I have some sort of ancient curse. This time, I've tried to use it for the good of all of you, okay? So, if DC announces a Flex Mentallo trade within the next six months, you're welcome.)

Anyway . . .

The four-issue mini came today, so I sat down and read it. Well, really, I read the first three issues, ate lunch while watching Newsradio and then read the fourth issue. The verdict? Was Flex Mentallo all that it's made out to be? Was it worth however much I winded up paying for it (adding the $12 COD charge that came with, I probably ended up paying somewhere between $70 and $80 Canadian)?

Yeah, sure, why not.

It's a lovely little meditation on the history of the superhero comic book and its evolution over time, ending with a possible future "age," one Morrison himself has said he tried to move toward with his JLA run. The relationship between the creator and the creation is interesting.

Ultimately, it is a commentary, of sorts, on what happens when fucked up geeks are the ones who end up writing the adventures of Superman, Spider-Man and the rest of your favourite heroes. "Who needs girls when you've got comics?" is my favourite line from the series, because it seems to work well.

I think what makes Flex Mentallo interesting is looking at the last issue almost eleven years later. Did it happen? Did the paradigm shift in the direction Morrison said it should/predicted it would? Hell, has Morrison's own writing went in that direction?

Of course, to determine that, we have to understand what Morrison seems to want. From what I can gather, he wants a return to innocence, but also that, somehow, anyone can be a superhero. Not the pessimistic realism of the so-called "dark age," but a realism, of sorts. I'm having a hard time grasping it, because I'm not entirely convinced Morrison knows what he wants. He seems to obviously not want a direct return to the past, but he also doesn't want realism.

Does he want magic realism? Does he want realistic superheroes that don't automatically mean sex, drugs and a little bit of the ultra-violence?

What the fuck does Grant Morrison want?

I suppose the answer to that is his JLA run. Or would it be his New X-Men? Or Marvel Boy? Or Seaguy? Or Seven Soldiers? Or All-Star Superman? Or Batman?

See, that's where I'm having a problem pinning down Morrison and what he suggests in the final issue of Flex Mentallo--his own superhero work shows no clear direction. The best I can come up with is "respect the past, but always look to the future." So, we're going to use that as our definition of what Morrison wants superhero comics to be/see where they're going.

In the decade since Flex Mentallo have superhero comics gone in that direction?

I have to say yes. Everything we see in superhero comics right now is about the tensions between past and future, of respecting what came before but making it new. We have an entire generation of creators trying to recreate the stories of their childhood with modern sensibilities. Hell, what was Civil War except a return to the early days of the Marvel universe where heroes fought heroes and everything wasn't so certain? Look at the ending to 52: a return to the multiverse, but a different sort of multiverse built to tell self-contained stories (if we're to believe Morrison).

There was the period of unmasking heroes (mostly at Marvel) that put heroes and the average person on more equal footing. Even the unmasking of Spider-Man falls into the tradition of "look how Peter Parker fucked up his life!" in a new and different way (one that has upset longtime fans).

This does raise the issue of whether or not this is how Morrison actually wanted this next age to unfold. That's hard to say, because, as I said, the path he lays out is rather nuanced and vague. I could see someone argue that superhero comics haven't gone down it at all because of its lack of clarity.

Flex Mentallo raises some interesting ideas, ones worth exploring. I'll no doubt do more of that when I reread it sometime within the next few weeks.