Le Gallerie Plastique: JJ Kirby

I can’t put my finger on what it is I like so much about this piece by JJ Kirby, but it might be everything.

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In particular I like that Kirby’s influences are apparent enough to lend a comfortable familiarity, but subtle enough to maintain originality. And I always appreciate it when an artist can use hand-drawing and computer graphics tools together in a way that still feels organic.

Best of all though, is the idea of putting Plastic Man — a character known for taking any crazy, fluid form imaginable — into the shape of a square. Whether it was on purpose or not, it’s pretty inspired.

Be sure to go see more of JJ Kirby’s work on his DeviantArt page, and see even more of his art (including a sweet Amanda Waller) on his blog.

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It’s (a sexy ) Woozy Wednesday!

I’ve mentioned before how I don’t think much of Plastic Man being portrayed as a lascivious lech, but for some reason when Woozy does it I find it hilarious. And really, that’s got to be one of the best pick-up lines in history.

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You might as well forget The Detective right now, Talia – ain’t no way you’re going to resist that ol’ Winks charm.

from Plastic Man #19 (vol. 4)

Kyle Baker, writer/artist

It’s no stretch — Plastic Man wants you to be his valentine!

It’s Valentine’s Day! A time when there’s something special in the air, when a young man’s fancy turns to … Plastic Man!

DC Comics and Cleo knew this way back in 1980, when the arts-and-crafts company put out the Super Friends Action Valentine Playbook, featuring a handful of DC’s most popular characters declaring their no-doubt platonic love. And who managed to wiggle his way in there? Well, it wasn’t that chump, Dibney.

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That’s right — Plastic Man thinks you’re a knockout! Here’s a non-sideways look at the valentine.

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This activity book would have come out a few months into the first season of the Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show, so it makes sense that Plas would have been popping up in licensed products here and there. And of course, he lends himself to some interesting art projects.

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OK, taking another look at that valentine, I know what you’re thinking — BEST VALENTINE EVER! Happy Valentine’s Day, Plasti-fans!

Thanks to Rob Kelly of The Aquaman Shrine for passing these on!

Bonus: Plas and Morgan reconcile in Plastic Man #6 (vol. 4), written and drawn by Kyle Baker.

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D’awww … that Eely-poo is such a softie.

It’s Woozy Wednesday!

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Panel from Plastic Man #1 (vol. 1)

Jack Cole, writer/artist

Recycled: Plastic Man vs. Dopey Joe’s opium ring!

Normally, these reviews of Plastic Man’s past appearances would consist of particular panels with a summary of details from the story to fill in the blanks, but in this case I’m giving you full pages from Police Comics #2 because, brother, there is a lot going on.

How Plastic Man joins the police! Opium! Canada! Casual racism! Bullets fly! Corruption at the highest levels! And all that in just six pages — I’m sure I’ll be saying this a lot, but there’s a ton of story in these relatively short features.

Our story picks up with Plastic Man visiting police headquarters, where he has a proposal for the chief: If Plas can break up the opium racket in town, he’ll be made a full member of the force. The chief calls his bluff, then raises the bet to one opium gang and that notorious gangster, Eel O’Brian. Whoops.

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Back on the street as Eel, Plastic Man quickly hooks up with drug smuggler Dopey Joe. His old pal is happy to bring Eel in on the scam, and reveals the fairly gruesome way the smuggling ring is bringing opium in from Canada. It ain’t pretty, though Eel does get to drive a fancy car.

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I love the way Jack Cole emphasized Plastic Man’s “man of a thousand faces” bit — it’s something that was lost with later iterations. Even more than the shapeshifting, I think it really shows Plas’ cleverness and ability to think on his feet. He’s no dummy.

After following the car and seeing a complicated, high-speed exchange go down, Plas follows one of the drivers and sees an equally complicated drop take place. Changing his face once again, Plastic Man pretends to be a dope addict and tries to shake his way into an opium den. Which, of course, is filled with awful caricatures of Asians.

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I have to admit, seeing these kinds of images is always difficult for me — I feel embarrassed, uncomfortable and often a little pissed. But I also understand that when these sorts of things pop up in Golden Age comics, it’s almost always a matter of ignorance and insensitivity on the creator’s part rather than overt racism. I don’t like it, but I understand it in the context of who created it, and what society was like at the time. I certainly don’t believe Cole was a racist, and I like to believe that he never would have depicted people in this way if he’d been around in more modern times.

But the way Plastic Man rounds up the opium thugs … Christ, Jack.

There are a couple things I like about this page, though. I really dig the way Plastic Man seems to already be well-known to the criminal underground, and I like how comfortable Plas seems to be with his powers. Did the story jump forward in time a bit? It seems likely, but Cole did it in a way that felt natural and unobtrusive. And for the record, I had to look up the definition of “flivver,” but it makes total sense.

Next, Plastic Man zooms back to Ottawa, hot-bed of trans-border crime. He confronts the crooked funeral director, and we learn two things; Plastic Man’s base of operations is Boston, and he’s bulletproof! The funeral director learns that, too, but it doesn’t do him much good since he catches his own slugs on the rebound. By the way, you’ll be surprised to see how many times the bad guys will mistake Plas’ arms for snakes in later stories — not to mention how many times Plas will call criminals “dogs,” which I find weirdly endearing.

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Ug! In short order Plastic Man snatches the fancy lady from the earlier drop, throttles a chauffeur, and sets Dopey up for a police raid while keeping his Eel O’Brian persona intact. He also manages to find out that there’s a boss above Dopey Joe, and gets his phone number to boot. That’s all in one page, guys.

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In our final page, Plas tracks down the big boss and finds out he’s someone with plenty of power and influence. This doesn’t slow Plastic Man down a bit, though, and soon he’s slipping through keyholes, teaching a new meaning to the term “head-butt,” and setting bad guys spinning — literally.

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And with the opium ring cracked, Plastic Man is welcomed onto the police force — even if he didn’t manage to bring in that slippery Eel O’Brian. THE END.

I really enjoy this story, for a number of reasons, but they all mainly come under the umbrella of characteristics and devices that would become classic Plastic Man tropes. The way Plastic Man is shown using his power is amazingly creative, with Plas going into action in a new way on almost every page. This really shows Cole’s unique imagination at work.

In particular, I like the snappy patter that runs throughout this story, from the sneering bad guys to Plastic Man’s own blend of rat-a-tat wiseguy lingo and righteous lawman pronouncements. And as I’ve said before, Plas is getting an obvious kick from busting criminals — he likes being a hero, and that is incredibly engaging. His affability, especially when he’s dealing with his former cohorts, is off the charts and makes him instantly likeable.

It’s not hard to see why Plas was such a success with readers right from the start; at the time, and for a long time after, there was nothing else on the stands quite like Plastic Man.

Police Comics #2 (Plastic Man): Jack Cole, writer/artist

Plastic Man in color, plus The Sad Case of the Missing Credits

I’ve mentioned a couple of times how much I’m looking forward to Hilary Barta’s covers for Convergence: Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters, and thanks to the artist we got a couple of sneak peeks at what readers could expect when the title is released in April. But now that that the solicitations are up on the DC website, we finally get to see the full-color version for the first issue.

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That is one explosive image! (Pun intended – I apologize for nothing.) It’s a dynamic drawing, and the colors really help Plas and his Nazi-punching pals from the Freedom Fighters jump off the page … even though the solicitation makes it sound as if the heroes might be teaming up with history’s biggest villains.

STARRING HEROES FROM CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS! You have to see this story to believe it! Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters are on the gallows in a New York City taken over by Nazis, when robot super heroes attack from Futures End and enemies become allies.

Like most things, that could be completely awesome or utterly terrible. I’m curious to see where writer Simon Oliver takes it. While we’re on the topic of covers, let’s talk about that Chip Kidd variant.

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Pretty cool, right? I’m a fan of Kidd’s design work, and not surprisingly I think what he did for Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits is among his best. Unfortunately, while I love his variant cover, I hate the fact that the solicitation only mentions his contribution and not the original artist — who in this case is iconic Plastic Man artist Ramona Fradon.

Let me make it clear: I don’t blame Chip Kidd for this. I’m sure if it was up to him he’d gladly give credit where it’s due; he is, after all, an artist himself. Instead this seems like the sadly familiar circumstance of DC Comics overlooking the creators who have, and continue to, provide them with content. (You might’ve noticed, for example, that I didn’t mention who did the coloring for the Barta cover; that’s because DC didn’t actually list it). I can only hope that Fradon is mentioned somewhere in the book’s credits, just as I hope all of the original artists are credited. DC might not see it as the obvious thing to do, but it would be the right thing to do.

But just in case: The image above is from Plastic Man #17 (vol. 2), written by John Albano, with art by Ramona Fradon and inks by Bob Smith. The colorist, unfortunately, was not included in the original credits.

For what it’s worth, I admire (as always) Kidd’s eye for imagery. When choosing from the artists who have depicted Plastic Man in the past, he could hardly have done better than Ramona Fradon, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for this variant in my local shop.

Idle hands are the Plasti-fan’s workshop

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As I said when I posted this on Instagram yesterday, this what happens when I have a Silly Putty egg and some office supplies (most notably, a yellow highlighter). I also found out later that the Plastic Man “belt” makes a nifty egg holder, so I’ll have to remember that in case I ever decide to have a superhero-themed hard-boiled egg party.

Those are a thing, right?

It’s Woozy Wednesday!

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Wolfgang.

Panel from JLA Presents: Plastic Man #1

Ty Templeton, writer; Dev Madan, penciller; Claude St. Aubin, inker