Happy Meals and pinball: Playing with Plastic Man!

Here’s something I haven’t said since I was nine years old — I can’t wait to get a Happy Meal.

Believe it or not, it’s not because I’ve got a hankering for a handful of chicken nuggets or an aching need for strangely warm pickle slices. Just like when I was a kid, what I really want is the toy inside that box.

Specifically, I want the new Plastic Man figure being released today (Sept. 20th) at McDonald’s.

OK, OK, there are other figures and masks being released to promote the new Cartoon Network show, Justice League Action, as well as a set of “girls” toys with characters from DC Super Hero Girls. (Just a quick aside — seriously, McDonald’s? We’re still doing the “boys” toys and “girls” toys. C’mon.) So, in addition to Plas, the toys include:

  • Superman, Batman, Hawkman, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, Bumblebee, Katana, Batgirl, and Supergirl figures;
  • Batman, Batgirl, Hawkman, and Green Arrow masks;
  • a Supergirl headband;
  • and a Wonder Woman tiara.

That’s a lot of cheeseburgers to choke down. Luckily, that Plastic Man fig obviously rocks your face off, so let’s ask questions!

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Do Plas’ arms bend or stretch? Or do they just swivel back and forth?

Does the neck pop up? Judging by the way the neck sits on the torso, it sure looks like it does. That would be fantastic.

Will Plas be one of the first heroes to be featured when Justice League Action premieres in October? That would also be fantastic.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was some sort of online game to go along with this figure?

That last one is easy, because there is — specifically, a McPlay pinball game designed by none other than friend of the blog, Luke Daab! Daab designed pinball games for all of the JLAction and DC Super Hero Girls characters, but Plastic Man really seems like a natural fit.

Just look at this guy.

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I’m looking forward to seeing what Daab and his creative co-workers have come up with; as senior art director at Creata, Daab was the sole visual designer of the game, working with programmers and the company’s internal digital team to develop the gameplay. And, he says, there is plenty of gameplay.

“You win the game by defeating Mr. Mind, which is done one of two ways,” Daab says. “The first is by slowly eliminating the lights in his health meter. This is done by hitting the silver button with the ball. The second is if you’re lucky enough to hit the ball through the small INSTANT WIN tunnel! But you have to beware. What you can do to Mr. Mind, he can do to you!”

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Of course, this is a Plastic Man-themed game, so things are a little less rigid. As a character, Plas always seems to be on the move, and his pinball game is no different.

“All of the bumpers in this game move around the board. Unlike regular pinball, the gameplay is much more random. Among the moving bumpers is a giant red ball which may or may not be Plastic Man himself. I left it ambiguous in order to stay consistent with the other games,” Daab says.

He also had some tips for would-be gamers. “By hitting the red ball in conjunction with the other two bumpers, you trigger a FREE SAVE in which Plastic Man’s hand stretches into frame and saves your ball! You can also activate defended game play. During this, Plastic Man’s arms stretch across the bottom corners of the board. For five seconds, you literally can’t lose!”

Take a look:

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I’m not going to lie — I laughed out loud with delight (delight!) when I saw those arms stretching and bending across the field. Daab understands that what makes the classic superheroes, especially DC’s superheroes, appealing is a sense of fun. That really comes through with this game design.

If this whole Happy Meal campaign — from the figures to the online games — is meant to get people ramped up for the shows coming in October, well … mission accomplished.

So, how many nuggets come in a Happy Meal nowadays, anyway?

Alleycats, Graham Crackers, and Plastic Man in the Windy City

As you may or may not know, my wife and I recently moved a few states over from Austin, Texas, to Chicago, Illinois. Getting everything ready for the move took up a lot of time (which is why the blog has suffered lately), but we’ve been here for a couple of weeks now and I didn’t waste any time hitting some of the local comic shops!

There seem to be a ton of shops in Chicago, and I’m lucky enough to live within a mile or so of two of them. Even luckier, I went to Alleycat Comics and found these:

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It might be hard to tell from the photo, but that’s Plastic Man #2 and #3 (vol. 2), featuring the work of writer Arnold Drake, artist J. Winslow Mortimer, and complete with Go-Go Checks! The issues are a little beat up, but Alleycat was letting them go for a fair price and the staff was super friendly, so I left feeling like I’d gotten more than a good deal — I had a good experience. (And a couple of Plastic Man comics to add to the collection!)

Oh, and if you think Alleycat is just a clever name, guess again:

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IT’S ACTUALLY AT THE END OF AN ALLEY. (No cats, though.)

I also managed to swing by Graham Crackers Comics-Edgewater, where they had a display for the Funko DC Super Powers keychains. I was excited when these were first announced, and then completely forgot about them. So I didn’t know they were being sold as blinds — basically, you buy a package without having any idea what’s in it, and hope you get the one you want.

This was especially painful because, hanging right there as part of the store display, was the one I wanted — a nice, fat-headed Plastic Man. Trying to decide whether or not I was willing to roll the dice, I mentioned my dilemma to the guy behind the counter. (I don’t remember his name. I’m a jerk.) And he said, “Hey, no problem — I can just sell you that one.”

Cue the angels singing:

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Welcome home, little guy. Welcome home.

Recycled: Plastic Man vs. the United Crooks of America!

After the body horror of Those Hands in the last issue, Jack Cole seemed to give his readers a chance to catch their breath with Police Comics #7. For Cole this meant coming up with a story packed with his overflowing imagination — as well as a new criminal organization, spankings, a lifelike scarecrow, and glow-in-the-dark paint.

The story is also fat with action, as you can tell from the opening splash page.

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That’s right — the United Crooks of America! An organization that counts only the most nefarious ne’er-do-wells among it members! A democratically minded mob of the creme de la crime! Naturally, Eel O’Brian wants in.

After bowling over the cops at the A.J. Phox Fur Co. (and promising to himself to return the furs later), Eel brings the spoils of his “audition” back to UCA headquarters.

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Ha! A corn roast! I’m no expert on the slang of 1942, but somehow that sounds both sarcastic and insulting. And it’s disturbing to see how proud Slug is of both the UCA’s civilized club structure and of being a proficient cop killer. This is the sort of thing I’m talking about when I mention Cole’s ability to pepper his seemingly light-hearted stories with some truly dark elements.

I also love the way Plastic Man gets so much joy out of needling Captain Murphy. Seriously, he’s going to make the guy blow a vessel. But the fun can only last so long before he has to go back undercover to be pledged as a full member of the United Crooks of America.

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Can we take a second to raise our glasses to poor ol’ Slim, who’s been the only thug so far to put it together that wherever Eel O’Brian goes, Plastic Man isn’t far behind? Look at those guys in the second-to-last panel — booing someone to their face like that is harsh.

Once the swats and near-drownings are done, Eel is put right to work along with Ape Ellson and Trigger Jones to steal the Swagger gem collection. Luckily, he’s tapped to be the getaway driver, so no one’s around to see him spring into action as Plastic Man!

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Cole’s creativity really starts rolling as the series goes on, and it shows in the new ways Plas uses his powers in almost every issue. Plastic Man is having fun, so it’s easy to imagine that Cole was, too. And as Cole’s imagination gets looser so does his drawing style; sharp angles begin to soften as he develops a slightly more cartoony, rubbery look.

I always like to point out Cole’s amazingly strong draftsmanship, and this page is a good example. Look at the way the image in every panel leads the eye to the next, from Trigger in the first panel pointing to the next, to Plastic Man’s downward swoop guiding the reader to the final panel. It shows how much thought Cole was putting into his work on Plastic Man, and it’s wonderful to look at.

Not so wonderful? That acid Trigger has dumped on Plas! The bad guys make their escape, but Plastic Man takes a quick dunk in a rooftop water tank and beats them to the car downstairs. Trigger and Ape dive into the car, only to find Plastic Man and … Eel O’Brian?!

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No wonder the cons don’t want to tangle with Plastic Man — he’s totally letting them think he’ll throw them over a cliff from a moving car. Still, back at United Crooks of America headquarters they’ve got Plas outnumbered and they’ve got a plan. It involves a spray gun full of glow-in-the-dark paint. Plastic Man’s plan involves more throwing-people-from-high-places.

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Tsk — poor ol’ Slim.

  • panels from Police Comics #7 (Plastic Man): Jack Cole, writer/artist

Plastic Man and the Injustice of it all

So, you might remember that earlier this year I raved about Injustice: Gods Among Us, Year Four Annual #1, an entry in the ongoing, Elseworlds-style storyline that was essentially a really good Plastic Man story. In these Plas-starved times, I’ve been finding it a one-shot I keep coming back to, enjoying it more each time.

A lot of that comes down to Tom Taylor‘s writing, which I liked so much that I’m doing something I would’ve sworn I wouldn’t do again — reading a comic featuring a despotic Superman fighting enemies who were once friends in a world that fears him.

The catalyst for Superman’s descent into darkness (SPOILER WARNING for a three-year-old comic) is the Joker, who manages to trick Superman into killing Lois and triggering a nuclear bomb that destroys Metropolis. In his rage and sorrow, Superman punches his fist through the Joker’s chest, kicking off his global tough-love campaign.

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Strangely enough, a Superman with blood up to his elbow isn’t usually my thing. But as I said, Taylor’s scripting is great, and he never loses sight of who these characters are as people, right up to Plastic Man’s appearance three years later. I’m digging it, much more than I thought I would, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes (even knowing Taylor stops writing the series regularly after Year Three).

Still, I can’t help wondering if things might’ve turned out a little differently if Plas had been on the scene earlier.

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Not as dramatic as a hand through the chest, but still, that’s gotta hurt.

  • Top panel: Injustice: Gods Among Us, Year One #2; artists, Mike S. Miller and Bruno Redondo
  • Bottom panel: JLA #15, artists Howard Porter, Gary Frank, and Greg Land

Muhammad Ali, Superman, and Plastic Man’s ringside seat

As most of the waking world already knows, we lost a true titan yesterday with the death of the King of the World, the Champ, the Greatest of All Time — the one and only Muhammad Ali. At the age of 74, Ali succumbed to respiratory complications due to the Parkinson’s disease he battled for more than three decades, and with him went one of the last, true-life heroes in this world.

I can’t remember a time when Ali didn’t loom large in my life. Growing up in the 70s, I was just old enough to see the excitement and admiration of the adults around me during what would be the second half of his career, following his return to boxing after he was stripped of his title for his conscientious objection to the Vietnam War. (I was five when Ali fought Joe Frazier in the Thrilla in Manila.)

In my house, he was already a hero.

So what does this have to do with Plastic Man? Once news of Ali’s death broke, the famous Neal Adams-drawn cover of 1978’s Superman vs. Muhammad Ali started making the rounds on social media, and with good reason. In addition to being a good, fun story in its own right, the cover takes full advantage of its original 10.5 x 13.5 treasury size. It’s fat with almost 200 personalities both fictional and from real life. Take a look:

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Batman sitting behind Sonny Bono! Jimmy Carter and Lex Luthor! Phyllis Diller, the Jackson 5, Jerry Garcia, and Henry Winkler in full Fonzy mode. On and on, so many people in the crowd that a person could spend an afternoon — if not longer — trying to identify them all on their own. But hey, who’s that on the left side of the ring, framed by the top ropes?

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Somehow, it doesn’t surprise me at all that Plas would be the kind of guy who’d enjoy a night at the fights. And like everyone else at that wonderful dream of a bout, Plastic Man would’ve known the match he was about to watch was going to the The Greatest.

This was, after all, Muhammad Ali.

 

We’ve been waiting 75 years for this joke

Wait a minute! Plastic Man is 75 years old today?! But he looks great — sometimes even better than ever! How does he do it?

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Hey, don’t look at me — blame Kyle Baker.

  • from Plastic Man #17 (vol. 4)
  • writer/artist, Kyle Baker

Today is Plastic Man’s 75th anniversary!

Eeyow! Today is the 75th anniversary of Police Comics #1, and the first appearance of Jack Cole’s Plastic Man!

I could very easily go on and on about this wild, action-packed origin for one of comic’s most unique characters — and I have! — but I think I’ll just sit back and let you all bask in the genius of Cole’s original story and art.

Enjoy this introduction to what might be one of the most inventive comic book characters ever created in its entirety, and be sure to wish a happy anniversary to the one and only Plastic Man!

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A brief break for Darwyn Cooke

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From “Justice League: The New Frontier,” art based on Darwyn Cooke’s original designs.

I’m taking a brief break from celebrating Plastic Man’s 75th anniversary to send best wishes to Darwyn Cooke.

Earlier today, his family released the news that Cooke is dealing with an aggressive cancer and is now undergoing palliative care. Cooke is an exceptionally talented writer and artist, and I’ve enjoyed his work for years; I’ve also heard nothing but good things about him as a professional and as a person. There haven’t been any other details about his condition, but I’m crossing my fingers that there is some hope for recovery.

In the meantime, go to your shelf and pull out one of his books, or put your DVD of Justice League: The New Frontier into your player. And if you don’t have any of his work on hand, please consider buying some of his stuff — you won’t be sorry, and it will hopefully help Cooke and his family in their time of need.