Issue Three:  Dig the Vacuum  

flex3.jpg (104340 bytes)three_1_3.jpg (10393 bytes)1.3  The use of lightning and silhouette is very evocative of the "grim and gritty era," the period during which superhero comics are thought of as more dark, brooding, morally ambiguous.   Frank Miller's art in Sin City is, arguably, an entire aesthetic built around lightning and silhouette. "Superheroes abandoned us." Loss of belief? A cultural loss of faith? "War…little children and animals dying…forests burning…"

2.4  Harry's wife's fish swims around Wally's ceramic town.  2.5  Internal monologue of the detective...this issue allows villains and humans to play their part, because the superheroes "went away"?

3  The splash page, dark and rainy, is, again, evocative of the "Dark Age."

4. follow the shifts in point of view!  4.7   These words are "indeterminately voiced."

5.1 The funeral an homage to the Comedian’s, who is buried in the seminal '80s miniseries Watchmen?  5.2  Why is the minister's speech garbled?  5.3  Who is the gray-cloaked mourner?

three_6_1.jpg (25229 bytes)6.1  We are formally introduced to the Hoaxer (who made an appearance in the police station, in issue 1).  Consider this panel in relation to the caption in 10.5: "Imagine a jail cell, yeah?  A fallout shelter, where the walls are covered with so many drawings you can't tell it's a prison anymore.  It's so bright and colorful: sexy girls, handsome musclemen, adventure."

6.4  "Implicit in the design of any prison is the means of escape from that prison" ...and the Hoaxer has managed to escape the panel boundaries here.  "It’s all a hoax"…and all true?  Isn't the Hoaxer an aspect of the creator, of Morrison or Quitely?    

7.1 The Hoaxer reestablishes the panels-over-splash page compositional layering that has gone missing for a while.

three_eight.jpg (129455 bytes)p.8. Where do we get our ideas from?   8.2-3 Notice this panel transition.  "Where does she get her ideas from?" ...from the Micro-Infinite.  8.3: partial, moving beyond the edges of the panel. Nanoman and Minimiss…imagination, relationships, and the basis of reality.   8.5  This panel is an homage to Dark Knight Returns, which had a surplus of similar-looking punk thugs with similarly annoying dialogue.

three_9_5.jpg (26107 bytes)9.5  Again, the bomb exceeds the panel, but this time the bombs are "real," not cartoony like the Fact's.  Think of Hiroshima art and the shadow drawings which are a motif in Watchmen.

p.10:  This shot of the town is to me a little reminiscent of the last page of Morrison’s final issue of Animal Man.   The imaginary is a town that is spread out before him.  Interesting (almost post-colonial), this juxtaposition of an eroticized image of women and the town spread before him.  Sex, land, the imaginary are all displayed for masturbatory voyeurism.

10.5-11.1  This orgasm is the bomb.

11.4  Underneath the brick tunnel.  It's a vaginal image, yeah, but it's also reminiscent of page 7 in issue four.  The world of "My Greenest Adventure" is where Wally creates Flex.  The blurring underneath the bridge seems to indicate that that is a place where reality gets "smudged" this a gateway to crossover?

11.3  "I wish I could sick it all out"...which Wally does, at the end of this issue.

p.12  sewers. Frank Miller's Daredevil? Too much of a stretch?  Sewers are unquestionably a setting very popular during the "grim and gritty" period.  This sewer milieu also reminds me of The Invisibles--the character Dane McGowan went to the tunnels under London to discover hidden knowledge.

12.2-3 "Strange how I find myself questioning my own sanity and trying to find rational explanations for past weird adventures."  The jarring juxtaposition of two representations which are supposed to be, due to the seriality of superhero comics narratives, continuous.

p.13 "Never grow up." "The bombs that Faculty X use destroy not objects but certainties."

14.2  "I'm Flex Mentallo...No, no, he's a superhero.  I made him up when I was a kid."  More of the blurring of identity which we saw so much in issue two.

p.15 "The word…the word that turns you from a stupid boy to a super-man" is the word that the janitor had in issue one, "Sha_a_".  We think it's "Shazam," of course, but is it?

p15-16 The Hoaxer is standing beside Wally in the alley.   The Hoaxer sees Wally Sage as a fish in a bowl. Notice the Hoaxer’s hand in 15.5: connection to Flex and Wally’s hands in issue 2?

16.2  Harry conflates facts and hoaxes, which seems pretty appropriate.

17.4  "I was there with Flex"…in the font that has usually represents Flex. ? Sex and ‘80’s comics. Flex’s voice becomes confused with Wally’s.

18.2  Frederic Wertham, who according to Wally "was fucking right!", was the psychologist who wrote the 1954 anti-comics "expose" Seduction of the Innocent.  This book accused comic books of leading children to a life of licentiousness, violence and vice, and the moral outrage it provoked struck a real blow to comics as an art form.  For a very smart analysis of Wertham as a figure, you might want to check out Kirk Varnedoe and Adam Gopnik's High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture (MoMA, 1991).

three_21.jpg (80164 bytes)21.1  "Comics aren't just for kids anymore" was a key marketing phrase during the "graphic novel" push.  21.2 is an homage to Crisis on Infinite Earths, where a popular image was that of the nigh-omnipotent Spectre (a character with interesting costume similarities to Lord Limbo of the Legion of Legions) holding apart parallel earths that were in danger of destructively converging.  The Crisis was an apocalypse of the DC Universe played out against the apocalyptic paranoia of the '80's, which makes the transition from 21.2 to 21.3 interesting (belaboring the point, but the bombs exceed the panel again here).  21.4-5 present a wild and wonderfully indeterminate play between reality, fantasy, life and heaven.  What's more "real?"

22.4 reminds me (thematically, not aesthetically) of #2 pg. 12 and #1 pg. 1-2. Sick it out--this painful moment of epiphany is a little like Kamandi's in issue 2.

Text Pages

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