Grant Morrison and Richard Case‘s run on Doom Patrol is a masterpiece.
Along with other collaborators like Danny Vozzo, John Workman, Simon Bisley, Carlos Garzón, Scott Hanna, Mark McKenna, Kelley Jones, Steve Yeowell, and more, it’s a book that shows the limitless powers of imagination possible in the medium. With themes and ideas familiar to readers of everything from Aztek to Zenith.
It’s one of those series that I think that everyone should read at least once in their lives and have it transform you. Amidst astonishing adventures of America’s strangest superheroes, it tells a tale of change, chaos, and coming to accept the absurdities of yourself and others. Embedded within it, about halfway though, was a feint. A recurring motif in many of Morrison’s missives of fudging the lines of fact and fiction as Flex Mentallo began to tell his origin story in Doom Patrol #42 from Grant Morrison, Mike Dringenberg, Doug Hazlewood, Daniel Vozzo, and John Workman. All alliteration attributed to the affect of the Man of Muscle Mystery.
If you’re familiar with Flex Mentallo, especially his own subsequent series, you already know the trick of this issue, adding another layer to his character, but I won’t explicitly spoil it for those who may still be working their way through (you’ll find out in a couple issues). While the rest of the Doom Patrol are away and Danny the Street is recovering from their last conflagration, Flex Mentallo tells the Chief his origin story.
And it’s pure Grant Morrison at some of their most clever and funniest. The central idea is a parody of the Charles Atlas muscleman ads that used to appear in comics and Morrison fleshes it out further with a cast of other heroes and adventures. Like James Robinson, Kurt Busiek, and Mark Waid, it’s impressive how Morrison can hook you with what are essentially throwaway mentions of events that never happened.
I find it fitting that this issue has guest art from Mike Dringenberg, one of the chief architects behind the early days of Sandman with Neil Gaiman. Dringenberg’s linework, especially with Doug Hazlewood inking him, really isn’t that dissimilar in tone to Richard Case’s own style, though his shadows are a bit scratchier. There’s a very interesting feeling to the artwork, enhanced further by the colours from Daniel Vozzo, of what I’d try to describe as illusory wistfulness. There’s a washed out, negative image quality to it that makes it feel like we’re in some in between place.
John Workman shows again here why he’s one of comics’ best letterers. How he places word balloons, sound effects, and dialogue boxes integrates them with the overall designs of the page, allowing a beautiful flow between words and art. It definitely comes into play with the dialogue from Danny the Street, as well as the interesting shift to more squared off word balloons for Flex’s flashbacks.
Doom Patrol #42 by Morrison, Dringenberg, Hazlewood, Vozzo, and Workman kicks off the second half of this run on the book with Flex Mentallo explaining how he sees his origin and feeds into a mystery around the Pentagon and the Men from NOWHERE that will be expanded upon in the coming issues. It’s also fascinating how it works as a parody and document on how to construct entire new worlds of characters.
CLASSIC COMIC COMPENDIUM: Doom Patrol #42
Doom Patrol #42 – “Musclebound: The Secret Origin of Flex Mentallo”
Writer: Grant Morrison
Penciller: Mike Dringenberg
Inker: Doug Hazlewood
Colourist: Daniel Vozzo
Letterer: John Workman
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: February 14 1991
Also available collected in Doom Patrol – Volume 4: Musclebound, Doom Patrol – Book Two and The Doom Patrol Omnibus
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