Issue One: Flowery Atomic Heart

flex1.jpg (172106 bytes)The first two pages of the series set the stage in many aspects: semiotically (by presenting challenging panel juxtapositions) as well as thematically (by joining images of cartoons and creation, and bombs).  Let's break these panels down somewhat:

Page One:

1.1: The Fact, about to throw a bomb.   We can make out little of his appearance.  He is outside of any panel boundaries.
one_one.jpg (57429 bytes)
1.2: The bomb flies toward us as readers; it escapes the panel.
1.3: The bomb explodes; this is contained by the panel.  We can see from the transition to the next panel that this is also a "big bang" of sorts.
1.4: A galaxy seems to be coalescing.
1.5-8: We zoom out from this newborn galaxy until it is tiny and/or far in the distance.
1.8: "230" is also referenced by the Hoaxer at the very end of the series as the flight the superheroes are coming in on. Beyond dogs, I have no idea what "K-9" might signify.

[Jamil Thomas, however, sent me this very useful cross-reference: "...the k-9 doorway stuff reminded me of that scene in the first issue of the "Sensitive Criminals" arc of The Invisibles, where Papa Skat and Lady Edith are leaving the jazz club. Volume 2, issue 8, page 3, panel 3 : 'My family goes all the way back to the Dogon people in Africa. Six thousand years ago, We opened up the Dog Door to the outside, and let the Nommo in.'" For more on the Dogon, check out the "analysis" section of Tom Coates' The Bomb.]

1.9: Slight change in color seems to indicate a change in state, or a change in perspective.


one_two.jpg (88849 bytes)Page Two:

2.1-2.2: We zoom out further from what was, from a different optic, a newborn galaxy.
2.3: We see now that this has been a magnification of the shadow in the Fact's fedora.
2.4 is identical to 1.1, but while 1.1 was in full color this is a blue-on-white outline, a tracing of 1.1.  Also, this panel is bounded, while 1.1 is not.  The image is contained, but it what it represents is free...
2.5: This outline/image is drawn on the shell of an egg.  "Your brain on drugs" is an egg from which something powerful can be born. important topic to consider here (and in all of Morrison's work).


3.1 eggs... Flex is the "egg" from which the grand crossover will emerge?  Flex is shown in ludicrous/noble relation to seedy, grungy "reality." 

4.1  Is there something performative in the way Flex and the waitress describe one another?  Is this a polite exchange?  Is it exposition?  Is it an attempt to comment on the broadly-drawn types in comics?

4.2-3  Notice the fly buzzing by.  We'll see him again in the police office.

1_5_1.jpg (42009 bytes)5.1 "What a build." "He's famous for it." Who voices these?  What does it mean that they are indeterminately voiced?   These phrases are the ones uttered by bystanders in the famous Charles Atlas tale, "The Insult That Made a Man out of 'Mac'"

Again, the bomb exceeds the panel, as it does on page 1, as it does in issue three, 9.5 and 21.3, etc.

one_five.jpg (89609 bytes)page 5 presents constant shifts in point of view.  In front of Flex in panel one, beneath him in two, behind him (and the hero halo) in three.   Notice panel 4: the bomb is alone in an unbounded panel.  It is typical for the bomb to disrupt panel closure.

5.5 Notice the red shoe to the far left in this panel.   I don't know if it's significant, but considering the emphasis on stuff and debris here, it might be.

p.5 "And I realized it wasn’t a bomb at all. It was a key…"

6 "…and it was about to open the strangest door of all." Cut to another scene, one that hearkens more to realism (?). Comics on the table.  Notice the "crossover" or layered composition: panels superimposed over a splash page.  This is a prevalent compositional structure in the series.

6.2 shows that fly again.

6.3-4  the detrirus and mess is Wally's "fucking life."  We are defined by what we own, particularly the throwaway things?   What does this say about comic books as "trash," as mere product without much literary weight?

one_seven.jpg (110539 bytes)p.7 Faculty X. Fake bombs are signs: they demonstrate the weakness of the system without exploding. They represent transformation...remember Dennis Hopper in Speed? "When you defuse the bomb, you stop the bomb from becoming."  We know Morrison likes Speed...and bombs... note issue 4, 15.3: "Before it was a bomb, the bomb was an idea."

Conspiracy theories: what makes "the debris of a thousand out-of-phase parallel earths" any less plausible than alien abduction? Why do we consider one more ridiculous than the other? (We do, don’t we?) The trope of "conspiracy" gives a new power to the implausible.  How much of "ridiculousness" is contextual?... More on things collected. "Books and papers" "a drawerful of this crap"

1_9_3.jpg (34296 bytes)p.9 "The Fact." We begin to see play with levels of representation: where is "reality?" Notice that the pov on page 9 is first-person: we are meant to be looking at the page on the same level as "Wally Sage." Since we learn later that that level of representation and the "comics" level "crossover..."  Can we characterize the transition on 9.3-4 according to Scott McCloud's schema in Understanding Comics?  Is this action-to-action?  Scene-to-scene?  Aspect-to-aspect?  Or something outside that system of classification?

9.1 "Fact" cards are more meaningful debris.   The thematic importance of physicality is emphasized here and elsewhere.  Comics are physical things, trash and fetish object at once.  Comics can also depict physicality in ways that prose cannot.

9.3-4 Comics are the outlines, tracings of a reality

9.5 The reader is Wally Sage

p10 our pov shifts: floating above "Wallace Sage". last panel: the "kids comics" level pushes its way to the foreground.

10.1 "? is not what I want".  Just like panels can create a visual "bleed" (see McCloud), Morrison creates a textual "bleed." [More on bleeds to come.]

p10-11 Flex has been brought from the "comic level" to the "real level." "Reality dies at dawn!"

12.4 doors.  Flex sits in a room full of doors.   Flex is often framed by doorways in his environment; Flex has gone through the "doorway" from cartoon "textuality" to "reality"...Flex a doorway, as well as an egg? Is Flex the agent of this coming change, or just its witness?

1_13_1.jpg (63591 bytes)p13. Jor-el on public access. Superman comes from apocalypse: we are continually told that we are on the edge of apocalypse. More of this "who’s really crazy?" or "Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not paranoid too" stuff… The apocalypse is coming because of a lack of wonder? Because we don’t believe in superheroes?

14.3 note position of word balloon. Wally speaks off panel, "above" his walking in front of his house.  Time is disrupted.  The house reminds me a bit of Morrison’s house as depicted in the end of his run on Animal Man.

14.5 Wallace Sage is a secret identity, a creation

15.1 Wally is around the corner from Flex in a moment of crossover.  The Unknown Soldier…renegade sidekicks.

p.17 another shift of representation

1_18_1.jpg (48361 bytes)p.18: "It’s funny how that’s what’s left at the end, isn’t it? All the stupid stuff. Not War and Peace, not James Joyce, just the comics, the superheroes. The Blazer, The Flaming Flag, Lord Limbo…the Golden Agent…Totally amazing names…I mean, when you think about it…they’re like, archetypal…they come right up from the depths, those things…" 18.1 I think this is the first glimpse of the man on the moon, which becomes an important image as the series progresses.   

1_18_5.jpg (24639 bytes)18.5-6 The green/red light transition is a familiar image to Morrison readers: in The Invisibles, the alien entity Barbelith has a similar appearance.

p.19 shadows, afterimages

p 20-21: The Mighty Sha_a_. "The word that God said: the word that brought the universe and the cosmos into being."

p.22: "Children have dreams"

p.23. "It’s like hallucinations. I don’t mind…it’s amazing…it’s like real…like another world happening…" pov is an aerial view again. Superheroes watching over us…


Text Pages

This annotation copyright 1999-2000 Jason Craft.  Flex Mentallo and all images are copyright 1996 DC Comics/Vertigo.