New Year, New Changes; Also, FLEX MENTALLO! HERO OF THE BEACH! DC and Marvel shake things up, and one of the weirdest heroes of the past 20 years makes his triumphant, deeply weird, return.
NPR logo New Year, New Changes; Also, FLEX MENTALLO! HERO OF THE BEACH!

New Year, New Changes; Also, FLEX MENTALLO! HERO OF THE BEACH!

Flex Mentallo's 1996 Miniseries, Issue #1 Vertigo Comics hide caption

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Vertigo Comics

Flex Mentallo's 1996 Miniseries, Issue #1

Vertigo Comics

The Big Two comics publishers have kicked off 2011 with changes big and small.

The big: At Marvel, Joe Quesada is stepping down from a 10-year-term as Editor-in-Chief. VP/Executive Editor Alex Alonso will take over as EiC; over the course of his career, Alosnso has edited some truly great books (Preacher, 100 Bullets) and one book that was about as ungreat as it's possible to get -- a sniggering, tone-deaf gay cowboy "satire" called The Rawhide Kid, of which let us never speak again. (For the morbidly curious, Cracked.com has more.)

Quesada will stay on in his position as Marvel's Chief Creative Officer -- meaning he'll continue to oversee the portrayal of Marvel characters in film, video games, television, animation and (nervous cough) theater.

At DC, the change to the status quo is considerably smaller, but significant. They're bringing back the letters page.

Until DC did away with it in the early 00's, the letters page was as much a staple of a comic's back matter as smiling sea monkeys and Charles Atlas' leopard-print speedo. Their decision to scrap it was no doubt motivated by the rise of message boards, fan sites and blogs.

The decision to bring it back now, in the increasingly fragmented landscape those very same message boards, fan sites and blogs have wrought, is interesting. (Marvel, Dark Horse, Image and other comics publishers never abandoned the letters page -- in fact, in the Image books Invincible and The Walking Dead, author Robert Kirkman's witty and occasionally prickly replies to readers provide an additional layer of fun.)

I was gonna write this whole post about the letters page as an institution, until I saw that the Washington Post's Comic Riffs blogger Michael Cavna had already done it more wittily/more thoughtfully/better/stronger/faster than I could.

(Let the record show that I had my own killer T. M. Maple material and Uncle Elvis gags, leash'd in like hounds, crouched for employment.)

Go, read. He makes good points.

I'll add only this. One of my favorite aspect of the DC Comics letters page was the "Name the Letter Column" contest featured in the first issue of every new title. Editors would invite reader suggestions, and by issue 4 or 5, the selected name would get its own logo atop the letters page for the duration of the book's run.

In 1980, an apple-cheeked, tow-headed, 12-year-old future NPR comics blogger sent in a name for the letter column of a just-debuted book called The New Teen Titans.

He began by suggesting a logo: A picture of the teenaged super-team sitting around their kitchen table, smiling as they perused readers' letters over steaming mugs of coffee.

His suggestion: KLATSCH OF THE TITANS!

....

.... They, uh.

They went another direction.

On Flex Mentallo, Master of Muscle Mystery and HERO OF THE BEACH!

Also this week, the DC imprint Vertigo announced that, at long last, it would reprint the 1996 four-issue miniseries Flex Mentallo, written by Grant Morrison with art by Frank Quitely.

Reasons why this has a certain segment of the comics community (the segment in which I belong) excited:

1. Flex Mentallo was the first collaboration between Morrison and Quitely, a team which has gone on to produce some of the best comics of the last 15 years, including We3, Batman and Robin, All-Star Superman and Morrison's stellar run on New X-Men.

2. The mini is a spin-off from Grant Morrison and Richard Case's 45-issue stint on the comic Doom Patrol from 1989 to 1993. Those 45 comics are - for reasons too varied and numerous to get into here - my favorite run of comics, of any kind, ever. (Someday, given world enough and time, I'll attempt to detail why I think it's so freaking amazing.)

3. The mini has been the subject of legal wrangling that has kept it out of print for years. This is because the Flex Mentallo character that Morrison introduced in Doom Patrol is at heart a parody of the Charles Atlas ad "The Insult that Made a Man out of Mac!"

(You know the one: A series of comic panels in which a beanpole named Mac gets sand kicked in his face, and his gal stolen, by a muscled brute; after a few sessions of Dynamic Tension, Mac -- now himself a bulbous meatsack -- returns to the beach to give that joker the ol' what-for.)

Now, you'd think that the obvious parody nature of the character would exempt him from lawsuits over trademark infringement.

You'd think that. But you? Are not Charles Atlas.

Because of this legal fight, the mini-series was never collected in a trade paperback, which means....

4. I, and many fans of Morrison, Doom Patrol, and Quitely, have never read it.  Those who have, like Greg Burgas, over at Comic Book Resources, sing its praises with gusto. Others, like Jason Craft, have gone so far as to annotate its many in-jokes and meta-references.

So yes, we're excited that the series will finally get collected in a hardcover this year. Still no word on an exact pub date, or price, but we've waited this long.  We can wait a little longer.

...

... Hmm?

What's that?

What did they end up naming The New Teen Titans letter column?

Well, I'm sure I don't remember.  I mean it was 30 years ago and I'm a grown man and TELL IT TO THE TITANS.

Seriously. That's what they chose: "Tell it to the Titans."

Pfft.

Lame. LAAAAAME.

I mean ... right? "TELL IT TO THE TITANS?"

I give them gold. GOLD. And they're all, "Oooh, look at us, with our ALLITERATION."

I got another alliteration for you, DC-Comics-editors-of-three-decades ago: Fatuous funnybook Philistines.

Zing!

Hunh? HUNH? How's THAT taste?

Shyeah. I thought so.