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The Fabulous Copyright Infringing Origin of Flex Mentallo – Doom Patrol #42

November 14, 2010


Okay. I’ve made my amusement when it comes to old comic book muscle ads clear in this brief post. Chief among that genre of advertising was the Charles Atlas sand-kick ad, which I dutifully scanned and included in that entry. Just for the sake of simplicity, here’s that Atlas ad reproduced once more for your viewing pleasure:

It’s a classic that represents the wish fulfillment of every scrawny string bean boy out there. Having been a string bean in my own days of yore, I can personally attest to that. But, even forgetting this deep-rooted connection to the male psyche, it’s memorable because it’s over-the-top and funny.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that it had been incorporated into DC continuity.

There is a God. And He is just.

In general I could care less about the Doom Patrol and their various comic book incarnations, but Simon Bisley’s faux-vintage cover, depicting a rather befuddled looking Flex Mentallo, made we want to pick this issue up and take a look inside. I’m glad that I did.

The title page would seem to indicate that Mr. Mentallo is just another preening gym-rat, like so many of the supplement-glutted narcissists I’ve seen grunting and openly checking themselves out in mirrors over at my local Gold’s Gym:

Oh, but there’s so much more. Grant Morrison, Mike Dringenberg (who partnered with Neil Gaiman to craft the only truly terrifying arc of Sandman) and Doug Hazlewood teamed to bring us “Musclebound.” Much of the story’s action occurs in flashback as Flex recounts his origin story. Said origin starts out much like the Atlas ad, and, in fact, the whole birth of Flex revolves around its “original” action:

Poor “Mac” reacts in the same way to getting pushed around by a bully and dismissed by his girl:

Note the picture of the burning mushroom on the wall. Huh? And “HOWL!”?

Mac meets a man on the street wearing a trenchcoat and certain odd accoutrements, who, through all too familiar puffery, promises to give Mac the physique of his dreams:

Check out the picture of Atlas on the guy’s “forehead.”

Mac soon receives a parcel in the mail:

The grand climax comes in this two-page spread, where “Mac” morphs into “Flex”:

So when Flex flexes, it generates some sort of telekinetic (or kinekinetic, I guess) energy, and he later learns that he can transmute matter with his powers of “Muscle Mystery.” I love how the “Hero of the Beach” from the ad becomes his “Hero Halo,” and really, who can blame Mac/Flex for pushing his fair-weather girlfriend to the side? No, he shouldn’t have laid hands on her, but I think we all sympathize with the impulse. And I got a laugh out of his stiff-legged walk in the last panel, as he struts away while still flexing.

How can a person not be entertained by this?

The whole thing is a really clever incorporation of the Atlas ad into the broader story — and it’s good to know that I wasn’t the only one that got a kick out of that old chestnut. The Atlas heirs, however, were not amused, and sued DC. Thankfully there’s this little thing called “parody” in U.S. copyright law, and the suit was tossed to the curb.

Or maybe Flex flexed it to the curb, who knows?

I was dismissive before about the Doom Patrol, but on the strength of this issue I may delve a little more into Morrison’s run. It looks like a trippy, surreal trek through an odd little corner of the DC world. I feel like I owe this title a closer look just on the basis of the joy I derived from the Atlas stuff — some sort of karmic debt.

Now you’ll have to excuse me. I have some pushups that need doing.

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