Morrison was recently appointed as the DC Universe ‘revamp guy’: a creative consultant who helps to revise older, out of date characters to bring them back to popularity (Newsarama 2005). This played into this year’s Infinite Crisis miniseries (2005-06), a sort-of-sequel to the original Crisis On Infinite Earths. It would take all my word count so far to recount the plot permutations, but suffice to say that the last page of Infinite Crisis #1 (2005) was packed tight with Muscle Mystery. Here, the long-forgotten, long-overwritten Superman from Earth-2 came back into current comic book reality using his own kind of ‘superhero poetry’ – punching not just through space, or time, but physically shattering the continuity barrier itself!
And the effects of this blow were further felt, as the shockwaves shifted continuity for other heroes, too. There was only one that mattered to me. Continuity, you see, fragmented around a member of the current Doom Patrol in a double-page splash in a crossover issue with the Teen Titans (#32, 2006). It showed us all their previous incarnations: shards of the recent, rebooted ‘pretenders’, pieces of the 1960s originals, all side by side with art clipped from Morrison’s strange, ludicrous, heartbreaking era. And hidden amongst this mosaic? Tucked away so you can’t make out a face? One thing is impossible to miss, framed with the beach as background.
Familiar, skintight, leopard-print trunks.
(1) Frank Quietly, regular Morrison collaborator and penciller of the Flex Mentallo miniseries, even provides a ‘pin-up’ of Flex in all his muscle-man glory, signed “For all my fans” and “xxooxx” (Flex Mentallo #1, 1996).
(2) It’s been pointed out that it might not be a coincidence that Morrison’s origin of Flex Mentallo, presented in Doom Patrol #42 (1991) has his transformation taking place in 1954 – the year that Frederick Werthem’s Seduction of the Innocent was published, which declared Superman and all those like him as dangerous role models who believed in violence over democracy (Brooker 2000).
(3) See Scott Bukatman’s article “X-Bodies (The Torment of the Mutant Superhero)” for more on the features, both fluid and impervious, of superhero physiques (Bukatman 1994).
(4) Even other heroes were disturbed by them. Morrison wrote a representative of the Justice League responding to the Doom Patrol like this: “…those guys give me the creeps. I mean, whose side are they on, anyway?” (Doom Patrol #28, 1989).
(5) It’s not just poor freaks like the Doom Patrol, either. In reverse order: recent Action Comics (#839, 2006) had Superman confused by a sudden clarity to his ‘super-memory’; the revamped 80s Superman found his powers out of control back in Superman V2 #10 (1987); but best of all were the surreal permutations of the Silver Age, where – for instance – Superman once was cursed with the head of a lion, but his regular costume and cape from the neck down (Action Comics #243, 1958).
(6) See Geoff Klock’s How To Read Superhero Comics And Why for more information on this shift towards ‘darker’ storylines and heroes (Klock 2002).
(7) Time Magazine, attempting to explain comic book time with real-world timekeeping, announced in 1988 that Superman’s birthday must be the 29th February, explaining how he seems to be aging at a quarter of our regular rate (Friedrich 1988).
(8) See Will Brooker’s Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon for more on how Batman manages to remain (somewhat) stable through all these generic permutations (Brooker 2001).
(9) This jaw-droppingly-obvious fact was finally pointed out to Buddy during writer Tom Veitch’s post-Morrison run on Animal Man. “What’s this so-called ‘bird power’ you talk about? The birds don’t have it! The poor creatures have to flap their wings!” Buddy’s response? “Uh… you’ve got a point there.” (Animal Man #35, 1991).
(10) Will Brooker, in a discussion of the ambiguous signs of Flex’s sexuality, points out that these multiple origins themselves also suggest a ‘queerness’ present in the narrative structure itself (Brooker 2000).
(11) The Charles Atlas corporation, during the case, made repeated reference to Flex ‘beating’ a woman in the DC parody. Certainly, during Flex’s origin sequence he does shove away his would-be girlfriend, saying “I guess I am a brute!” (Doom Patrol #42, 1991). It’s a shame, though, that they never read on to see Flex’s later adventures, and the hero that he became.
(12) The background material in question was Jason Craft’s “The Annotated Flex Mentallo”.
Associated Press. 2000. Federal judge: Parody of Atlas man protected by First Amendment. http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/news.aspx?id=5670 (accessed June 2, 2006).
Brady, Matt. 2005. Grant Morrison: Talking All-Star Superman. http://www.newsarama.com/DC/AS/AllStarSuperman_Morrison.htm (accessed June 2, 2006).
Brooker, Will. 2000. Hero of the Beach: Flex Mentallo at the End of the Worlds. http://www.earthx.org/files/flexBrooker.pdf (accessed June 2, 2006).
Brooker, Will. 2001. Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon. New York: Continuum International Publishing.
Buchwald, J. 2000. 112 F.Supp.2d 330 – Opinion and Order. www.frosszelnick.com/pdffolder/CharlesAtlasvDCC.pdf (accessed June 2, 2006).
Bukatman, Scott. 1994. “X-Bodies (The Torment of the Mutant Superhero)” in Sappington and Stallinga, eds. Uncontrollable Bodies: Testimonies of Identity and Culture. Seattle: Bay Press.
Craft, Jason. 1999. The Annotated Flex Mentallo. http://www.earthx.org/node/153 (accessed June 2, 2006).
Epstein, Daniel Robert. 2005. Grant Morrison interview. http://suicidegirls.com/words/Grant+Morrison/ (accessed June 2, 2006).
Evanier, Mark. 2002. Comic Books and Other Necessities of Life. North Carolina: TwoMorrows Publishing.
Friedrich, Otto. 1988. “Up, Up and Awaaay!!!” Time Magazine. March 14, 1988. reprinted at http://theages.superman.ws/Fifty/time.php (accessed June 2, 2006).
Keller, Katherine. 2005. This Old Drake Still Has the Fire in Him – Arnold Drake. http://www.sequentialtart.com/archive/jan00/drake.shtml (accessed June 2, 2006).
Klock, Geoff. 2002. How To Read Superhero Comics And Why. New York: Continuum.
Lien-Cooper, Barb. 2002. Punching Holes Through Time – Grant Morrison. http://www.sequentialtart.com/archive/aug02/gmorrison2.shtml (accessed June 2, 2006).
Newsarama. 2005. Grant Morrison on Being the DCU Revamp Guy. http://www.newsarama.com/dcnew/MorrisonDCU.htm (accessed June 2, 2006).