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!
Eeyow! Have a happy Halloween, everybody!