Woozy Winks vs comics’ greatest monster — the Comics Code Authority!

It’s Halloween! And I can’t think of a better time to explore a Golden Age Plastic Man story from the early 50s, a time when Jack Cole took the character through a darker, more horror-themed period.

But we’re not. Instead we’re going to look at a short, four-page Woozy Winks story from the same era that features something truly scary — the spectre of censorship! As most comic fans know, the early days of the medium were footloose, fancy-free and full of drugs, dames and the grotesque. Cole, like a lot of writers and artists from the time, started out doing crime comics, and he brought that sensibility (in a much milder form) to Plastic Man. And then along came Fredric Wertham.

Wertham was of course the psychiatrist who wrote The Seduction of the Innocent, which claimed comics were corrupting the youth of America and set off a hysteria that led to book burnings, Senate hearings, and eventually the self-censorship of the comics publishing industry. (“Murder, Morphine and Me,” a story written and drawn by Cole in 1947 for True Crime Comics was Exhibit A during the hearings; a panel of a woman about to get stabbed in the eye with a syringe was prominently featured.) Seeing a possibly fatal threat to its livelihood, the publishers agreed to self-regulate its content and promised to scrub anything that could be considered offensive (to parents, mostly). The Comics Code Authority was launched in 1954, the same year Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent was published.

So what does all this have to do with Plastic Man? Since later issues leaned heavily on reprints, the answer turns out to be plenty. Here we’ve got Cole’s original 1953 story “Ghosts Down on the Farm” from Plastic Man #39, which was later reprinted in 1956 in Plastic Man #61. Woozy’s reprinted adventures are essentially unchanged — except for some judicious black-outs and redraws that obliterate the scary stuff that was still there when it first saw print, just a year before the CCA started terrorizing the countryside.

Sound scary? Then treat yourself to the original version of “Ghosts Down on the Farm” — with the spooky, ooky, censored panels for comparison!

from issue #39
from issue #39
from issue #61 — with a very different kind of spirit
panel from issue #61 — with a very different kind of spirit
from issue #39
from issue #39
panel from issue #61; don't worry, kids, those are just novelty skeletons, now!
panel from issue #61; don’t worry, kids, those are just novelty skeletons, now!
from issue #39
from issue #39
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The horror! A mummified corpse is replaced with a sweeping, inky abyss in the first panel; the removal of the hanged skeleton further down the page seems tame by comparison.
from issue #39 — the only page left untouched in the later issue.
from issue #39 — the only page left untouched in the later issue.

Eeyow! Have a happy Halloween, everybody!

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It’s Woozy Wednesday!

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Oh, man, there’s so much to look at here. The faces in the crowd, the levitating hat — the screaming woman in the last panel! (Who, if you’ll notice, is also chewing on the strap of her handbag in the previous panel.) This is a wonderful example of Jack Cole’s imagination and sheer sense of fun at work.

Panels from Plastic Man #14
writer/artist, Jack Cole; inks/finishes, Alex Kotzky

Plastic Man joins the Teen Titans (sort of)

So, my wife and I found ourselves in a hotel room for a few days last week, and you know what that means. That’s right — cartoons!

I’ll admit, this isn’t much different than when we’re at home; we obviously know a thing or two about luxury. In any case, one of the shows I caught was an older episode of Teen Titans Go! and imagine my surprise when I caught a glimpse of Plastic Man! Granted, it wasn’t really Plas, just a quick glimpse of an image on a T-shirt, but it’s still nice to see him represented, even in a cameo. Take a look:

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See it? It’s tough to spot, but click for the bigger image and there he is, grinning on the blue T-shirt hanging in the upper right. Some other notable cameos popping up in Beast Boy’s room include Animal Man and even Nite Owl II from Watchmen (look for the posters), with a few more to spot in this clip from the Teen Titans Go! episode “Ghostboy”. Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for Plastic Man at around 0:26!

Plas stretches Beyond Gotham!

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I’m not much of a gamer. Unless it’s paper-and-pen or played on a tabletop, I’m pretty hopeless — I haven’t even had a console system since my dad brought home an Intellivision from who-knows-where. (Intellivision?! That alone probably tells you everything you need to know.)

But every now and then I hear about a game that makes me wish I had a console I could run to and start playing, especially if it features our pal Plas! Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham has been getting some good buzz ahead of its Nov. 11 release date, and a lot of that attention has come Plastic Man’s way. According to reports, the playable character pulls off some shape-changes that are both inventive and fun, which is a good description of the character itself!

I’m still not a fan of the full-body suit that seems to be the go-to uniform for Plastic Man lately, but it still looks great. Check out this article for more about Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, including a bit of information about Plas’ abilities and playability, and much more about the game overall.

The Silver Age origin of … The Dollmaker!

A couple of weeks ago, the behind-the-scenes bad guy on Gotham (the pre-Batman Batman show on Fox) was an unseen character called The Dollmaker. If you’ve been keeping up with the current incarnation of the DC Universe, you’ll recognize that name — he’s the cannibalistic villain Barton Mathis, who did the Joker a favor and cut his face off for him.

Because, y’know, it’s the New 52.

But way, way, way before any of that happened, the original Dollmaker made his debut as a Plastic Man villain in Plastic Man #10 (vol. 2)! Reflecting the simpler time that was 1968, this version of the Dollmaker isn’t a literal man-eater and doesn’t sadistically maim anyone; he’s just a crazy hypnotist with a … well, I’ll let you read the story and find out for yourself.

But first some background: In this iteration of the character, Plastic Man is a groovy swinger who hangs out with the super-uptight Gordy (who acts as a best friend/agent constantly exhorting Plas to be a “better example”). He also has a girlfriend named Mike (short for Micheline), who is the daughter of the fabulously wealthy Mrs. DeLute. Mrs. DeLute, of course, haaaates Plastic Man and plots his downfall with the help of her butler, Fawnish.

Now that we know the players, let’s dig into “The Terrible Plastic Twin!” written by Arnold Drake, with art by Jack Sparling.

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It always throws me off a little when I see Plas shrink or grow to a giant size, but for someone who can stretch every individual cell, I guess it makes sense. And how great is that birdcage?!

Plastic Man makes quick work of what’s left of the doll gang, but overlooks one that manages to puncture a tire on their runaway parade float. Before they know it, the whole thing is swerving out of control, stopping only after it crashes … hard. We catch up to our hero in the hospital, where Gordy’s in bad shape.

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There is absolutely nothing I don’t love about that last panel.

The transfusion is a success. Mostly.

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“Still feel a little whoozy …” ha! Gordy promptly sets out to show Plas how a hero with his powers should conduct himself, and how to be a “model of perfection.” Of course, this means he gets an identical Plastic Man suit and starts busting crime, causing more trouble with every outing. Meanwhile, the Dollmaker has recovered his tiny army and made his way to his shop.

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To Plas and Mike’s surprise, the cat stretches after the mouse (well, more than a cat normally would), and Plastic Man quickly realizes the well-meaning Gordy has powers he can’t be trusted with. Sure enough, he finds Gordy botching an attempt at stopping a bank robbery (Gordy winds up stuck halfway under the vault’s door), and later untangles him from a flagpole. Plastic Man tries to convince Gordy to just go home until the stretchiness wears off, but he won’t quit until he shows Plas how it’s done.

Gordy’s kind of a jerk.

Speaking of jerks, Mrs. DeLute is throwing a party!

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Good question, Mike. While the doll gang is shaking down the party, Plastic Man is busy keeping Gordy from getting run over by a subway car, and then rescues him from a bunch of crooks who get the jump on him in an alley. It doesn’t end the way either the crooks or Gordy think it will.

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This would be the last story in what was essentially a 10-issue run, in spite of what later numbering would have you believe. While this was published in 1968, issue #11 wouldn’t see print for eight more years, and while DC picked up the numbering where it was left off, the characterizations would be more in line with the original run of Plastic Man (Woozy would be back as Plas’s pal, for one thing), and pretty much everything that happened in the first 10 issues would be ignored going forward. This would be a source of confusion as the Bronze Age got into full swing, but it was probably for the best — even though concepts like the Silver Age Plastic Man actually being Plastic Man Jr. would have been neat to explore.

… wait, Plastic Man whaaat?! Take that, Gotham!

It’s Ramona Fradon Day!

Guys, I can’t tell you how this made my day.

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That’s right, me and Ramona Fradon — best buds. Well, on Facebook. And no, we’ve never actually communicated directly, but it’s still pretty exciting! Fradon, in addition to being the co-creator of both Metamorpho and Aqualad, also drew Plastic Man issues 11 through 20 (vol. 2) back in ’76 and ’77. Her work on that run helped Plas find his place in the Bronze Age and eased him back into his Eel O’Brian origin. It was also pretty silly, and a lot of fun.

More importantly, today is Ramona Fradon’s birthday! If you’ve got any of her work handy, I’d say today would be a good time to revisit the work of this illustrious artist. I mean, just look at it!

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from Plastic Man #11
artist, Ramona Fradon
writer, Steve Skeates