Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery (Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Frank Quitely)

Flex Mentallo continues Morrison's exploration of fiction as alternate realities as first seen in Animal Man, and thankfully leaves the preachy animal rights shit at the door. But while Animal Man made the case that entertainment is essentially us torturing beings who can't fight back to make our own lives less shit for a while, Flex Mentallo takes a more optimistic look at how the beings of the lower reality affect those of the higher reality, and both realities shape each other.

As you've probably guessed from my summary of it in my Animal Man/Deltarune essay, Flex Mentallo is somehow even weirder than Animal Man. It's told across three or even four layers of reality, not counting our own, but the borders between them get hazy as symbols from one appear in another, and you wonder if Flex talking about Wally bringing him into the real world is talking about his origin story in Wally's comic or Wally making him real in his own world, and yeah, I had to read it twice before I could even start to piece together what the hell was going on.

My biggest knock against the book, and it's something that bugged me during All-Star Superman as well, is that I really don't like Frank Quitely's artwork. His base anatomy is fine, but his characters look like they're made out of cracked, crumbling clay, like each character is Clayface in disguise and in dire need of some moisturizer.


Berserk: The Flame Dragon Knight (Written by Makoto Fukami, Concept and Illustrations by Kentaro Miura)

Some of the problems with this book might be translation hiccups, but the bigger problem is somebody didn't realize scripting a comic or manga and writing a book are not the same thing. The most charitable way I can describe The Flame Dragon Knight's writing is "rushed." This is a manga that spent multiple chapters on a sea battle with pirates, you're going to blow through a ground skirmish in two pages? By blandly telling me "Grunbeld swung his hammer and turned countless enemy soldiers into viscera"? You can do that when you're scripting out a comic because you've got the artist to fill in the blanks. That doesn't work in a novel. And a novel strips away the dichotomy of beauty and horror in Miura's art, one of the manga's biggest draws.

A less charitable way to describe it is the same way everyone else describes it: what somebody who's never read Berserk thinks Berserk is. The book is less than 200 pages so every word counts, and Fukami would rather use the space that could be spent fleshing out the story and instead wastes it describing a girl getting tortured and fed to pigs, and Grunbeld's dick. In another scene, somebody chops off somebody else's wedding tackle and mutilates it so it looks like "some kind of fetid creature." Nice prose there, mate. Again, did you think you were telling Miura what to draw, so you were being vague to give him room to draw what he wanted to?

By the way, it may sound like the girl got fed to Grunbeld's dick. Rather than edit that sentence for clarity, I decided to be immature and leave it in.

For the story itself, it wasn't the worst idea. I can see Mirua wanting to flesh out some of the less important characters without derailing the manga which was already moving at a pretty languid pace (Guts' party spent seven years on a boat), so a tie-in novel seemed like the best option. Maybe the plan to give all the elite apostles that aren't Zodd like Irvine and Locus tie-in novels, but this one's less than glowing reception and/or Miura's death put an end to that.

Now, I'm a total newb to Berserk and not at all the leading expert on its lore, but my understanding was Behelits activate when the holder has a big "FUCK EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING" moment? Something that makes them give up on humans and want to sever their ties with their own humanity? Griffith had his "FUCK EVERYTHING" moment when he overheard Casca telling Guts how weak he'd become and he needed her to care for him. The Slug Count had his when he caught his wife participating in an orgy in tribute to a pagan god. Rosine had hers when her parents found her after she'd gone missing, and instead of being glad or relieved they started bickering in front of her. Ganishka had his when, after a lifetime of betrayal, his son tried to assassinate him. Yeah, Grunbeld had just been betrayed by his friend which no doubt ticked him off, but he was still holding to his love of Sigur and Benedikte when his Behelit activated. And it can't be just because he was dying, because the Slug Count and Rosine weren't fatally wounded when theirs activated. Or have I been misunderstanding it and they activate when somebody bleeds on them, rather than the blood thing being symbolic?