Interview: Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters (and what we can expect) starts to take shape with writer Simon Oliver

In just a little more than a month, Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters will finally be on the stands, marking the pliable paladin’s first appearance in a DC comic in years. As part of DC’s Convergence event, the two-issue mini series will put Plas, Uncle Sam, Phantom Lady and the rest of the Freedom Fighters back on familiar territory — fightin’ Nazis and kickin’ robot butt (OK, that last part might be new).

Personally, I can’t wait to see what writer Simon Oliver and artist John McCrea put together, especially after Oliver was kind enough to take the time to share his thoughts on his approach to Plastic Man, some insights on what makes him work, and the importance of Batman’s severed head.

It’s Plastic Man: Did DC approach you to do Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters? Was it a tough sell? What about it appealed to you?

Simon Oliver: DC initially approached me about the Convergence project and I got cold feet, and was frankly a little intimidated. I was busy on other projects and the thought of getting to grips with the kind of continuity that fanboys rake you over the Internet coals over seemed a little daunting to say the least. So I declined, put it to one side and moved on.

But then two weeks later the phone rings and it’s Dan DiDio and the entire editorial team behind the project, and Dan starts throwing DCU timelines I could use and it’s going in one ear and out the other (when I say I simply don’t know superheroes, I really mean it), but when he comes to the one about Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters battling Nazis in occupied NYC, I was like, “Hey, back up there, what the fuck was that?” I might not know superheroes but I’m pretty sure I can do Nazis.

So I was pretty much in, but then Dan went on to say, “Hey, just focus on a character-driven story, and above all have fun with it,” which is an obvious but too-often unsaid detail of writing comics (it shouldn’t be about punching in and hitting predetermined story points) and, well, I was sold. And yeah I had fun writing it and I think it shows on the page.

What materials did DC send to familiarize you with the character? Was there a version or storyline — such as Plas’ time as an Axis-buster — that you connected with in particular?

I read everything I could about Plastic, which compared to some of the other DCU characters is surprisingly light on the ground. It’s odd, because everyone knows who he is, he has this insane name recognition for a character who’s appeared in so few books. There were a couple of questions about his continuity, he was at one point killed off, but then there was a question about if he was really dead? And can you kill someone who can’t biodegrade? I think in taking on Plastic Man I not only dodged a big continuity bullet, but really lucked out in getting a character who despite everyone knowing who he was, wasn’t too loaded down with conflicting history. He really is a diamond that’s been, if not forgotten, then at least kind of passed over in favor of other characters.

But out of all his past story lines it was the old battling Nazis story line I got to focus on. I grew up in England in the 1970’s when they still published a lot of war comics like Commando and Warlord. That part was relatively easy to tap into.

Working sketch by John McCrea
Working sketch by John McCrea

I know you can’t give away any details, but some of the art teased by (Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters artist) John McCrea seemed to hint at a closer look at Plastic Man’s time at the Rest-Haven monastery; does that point to the sort of thing you meant (in an interview with Newsarama) when you mentioned finding and exploring an “emotional connection” you weren’t expecting?

Yeah, it wasn’t what I was expecting going into the project, but at some point with Plastic the story started taking me below the surface and into his past to find out “who” he really is. And to do that I had to go back to before he became Plastic Man, to when he was a petty criminal, and find that inner conflict. I mean, he went from criminal to superhero pretty quickly. By accident he was handed these powers and given a second chance, when he really didn’t deserve it — that has to leave some scars, that has to create some conflict over “who” he really is inside.

Plastic Man really does seem to be a “known unknown;” everyone is familiar with him, but nobody seems to know much about him, especially when it comes to his past as a criminal. Saying he got his powers accidentally and was “given a second chance when he really didn’t deserve it” is a powerful point. I’ve always wondered what it was about his life as a crook that made him almost grateful for the chance to be something, to be someone, else.

Yeah I totally agree. He was a lowlife who had the potential for greatness thrust upon him. I think as much as he’d like to draw a line in the sand and forget his criminal past, it’s really as much a part of who he is and how he got there; he just has to learn how to balance both sides of himself.

He’s kind of a superhero without being overly super, or heroic. He’s in that camp of superheroes that didn’t train or plan on becoming what they are — I think that makes them kind of interesting. It’s kind of like lottery winners; one day you have nothing, the next you have it all.

Plas stretches out with some tai-chi at Rest-Haven. Art by John McCrea.
Plas stretches out with some tai-chi at Rest-Haven. Art by John McCrea.

Was there something in particular in the character’s origin or history that resonated with you?

There’s a big detail that I’m not allowed to mention, but let’s just say Plastic has a big “reversal of fortune” and is back where he started, forced to reevaluate his life so far, and choose how he’s going to act from that point on. I’ve not written superheroes before, but for me as a writer that’s the kind of emotional spine, the meat of any story, that you look for. I wanted to take Plastic on a emotional life-changing journey, but at the same time not lose who he is as a character and what makes people like him so much. He’s not a brooding guy, he’s not the Dark Knight, he’s not someone who’s generally weighed down by life. He rolls with the punches, he’s a glass half-full guy, and I didn’t want to lose sight of his humor, but at the same time didn’t want to make him a joke.

If there’s anything I picked up in my research and I think had a valid point, was that people liked Plastic but felt he’d turned into too much of a wise-cracking sidekick. I really wanted to take him back and show who he was inside, balance out the jokes with some heart.

Most people do think of Plastic Man as just a humor character without realizing Woozy Winks was originally the comic relief — Plastic Man was the straight man. You said you don’t want to lose his humor, but you also don’t want him to be a joke; how tough was it to maintain that balance? And what do you think of the more goofball portrayals of Plastic Man — do you think they miss the point?

I wouldn’t say they miss the point, it’s just a different approach, and as much as I like to have moments in my books that are funny, at least to me, I wouldn’t say I was an out-and-out funny writer. There’s a moment in my second issue, which only hit me during the lettering phase, where Plastic assumes the bag of explosives he has is fake. It’s just this potentially throw-away moment, or at least it should be, but one that has a huge impact on the story. But after all he’s been through, to make such a stupid but human mistake, is kind of funny to me. It makes him very human.

Art by John McCrea, colors by John Kalisz

Speaking of Woozy, do you think he helps or hurts the character of Plastic Man?

I did manage to get Woozy in the mix, just one scene and things do not do well between them. If I did get to continue with the characters I’d go for dysfunction between them over comedy. Woozy would be the walking reminder of what Plastic was. He’s that friend who is going to get you shot. You can’t remember why you’re friends, but you stick up for them despite all common sense telling you to run the other way.

The more I think about (Plastic Man), really, the more I feel I want to pitch for his own book. It feels like such a no-brainer to me.

I couldn’t agree more. A Plastic Man book seems kind of obvious, and in particular I’d love to see what you would do with that. I have no idea what’s going on with Convergence, but whether his own book was set in the “regular” universe or the Nazi-fighting universe, I think people would definitely respond to it. I know I’d be in.

The Convergence thing is definitely a self-contained thing and from what little I know I don’t think it will have any huge bearing on continuity. I think it’s designed more as a way of looking back at different aspects of the DCU’s past, before moving on into business as usual after the move (to California).

I don’t think I’ve heard it described that way before, but it makes sense.

I may be wrong but that was the impression I got when it was pitched to me.

I think that there may be some good books coming out of it. I kept waiting to be told to rewrite everything based on some change in another book, or to shoehorn in something that wouldn’t work, but they left me alone, even let me use Batman’s severed head as a plot device, if that gives you any indication. My feeling is they should learn from that and inject some sense of fun back in. Everyone is too damn precious about IP and potential movie spin-offs to have any fun anymore.

Which is such a shame — I think fun is what’s so appealing about superhero comics in the first place. But if I can have my own, “Hey back up there, what the fuck was that?” — Batman’s severed head?!?

It’s just a robot Batman’s head, but I couldn’t not find a way to do it. But I was surprised that they let me do it.

Knowing the approach was more than “punching in and hitting predetermined story points” is really encouraging. And while you’re not wrong about fanboys and devotion to continuity, do you hope some of what you’ve written will become a part of the Plastic Man canon?

I think I was lucky because Plastic has been so passed over by the reinvention and new, more grounded approach so many other characters have had in the last 20-plus years. It’s only two issues, and we cover a crazy amount of ground in those 44 pages, so I didn’t get to do the kind of depth I would have really, really liked to do on him. The great thing was that I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel, his origin story is no different, just his reaction and moral struggle is hopefully a new angle that gives him some added depth.

Were there any Plastic Man writers or artists that you particularly enjoyed?

John fricking McCrea — blew me away on this.

Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters #1 will be released April 29.

In the meantime, catch up with writer Simon Oliver on Twitter at @simonoliver01 and be sure to read his current series, FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics (it’s really good). You can also find artist John McCrea on Twitter at @mccreaman, along with lots of his great artwork. Let them know you’re looking forward to seeing their work on Plastic Man!

I’ve never been happier to run into The Melancholy Mr. Morbid

For being as big a fan of Plastic Man as I am, I have to admit that I’ve never seen an actual issue of Police Comics, much less held one myself. And I’ve certainly never owned an issue.

Until today.

On what is becoming an increasingly rare day off from work, I was doing what most people do with their spare time — digging through back issue comic bins. I was trying to resist my newfound interest in Ultraverse titles when I decided to see what was in the store’s “special” case.

And there it was — Police Comics #76. And for 10 bucks! From what I could tell, this original Golden Age issue from 1948 had seen some mileage, with a torn cover and rolled spine to show for it. It looked as if there was some water damage in the corner, too, and I started wondering if it was even worth the price they were asking. In any case, there was no way I was going to leave without at least holding it, so I asked to see it.

After an employee unlocked the cabinet for me, I carefully took the comic out of its sleeve and gently flipped through it. Yup, there was some water damage. The tearing on the cover was worse than it had looked. And a weird stain on the cover I hadn’t noticed before was suddenly noticeable. The comic was definitely showing its age.

And it was beautiful.

I asked the employee if the price was firm, and she said it usually was, but hey, she’d let me have it for … hmmm … seven. Police Comics #76 for $7.

I was so excited I could barely wait until I got to the car to take a picture.
I was so excited I could barely wait until I got to the car to take a picture.

I couldn’t believe it, and even now, sitting here at home with the issue sitting beside me, I’m having a hard time believing it. The best part? This issue also happens to feature a great Plastic Man story written and drawn by Jack Cole. So while I open this baby up, why don’t you join me in reading “The Melancholy Mr. Morbid,” the tale of a vengeful perfume maker who stirs up a scent so potent it drives anyone who sniffs it to suicide! Is even Plastic Man safe?

The art by Cole is fantastic, the body count is crazy, and there’s even a shock at the end. Read the complete story after the jump!

Continue reading I’ve never been happier to run into The Melancholy Mr. Morbid

Le Gallerie Plastique: Sara Richard


That’s mucho Mucha, courtesy of Sara Richard – check out more of her work at her website!

Recycled: Plastic Man vs. the pinball racket!

While comic books may not be the best resource for historical accuracy, they can still be fertile ground for buried time capsules that, dug up and dusted off, uncover a look at what life was like for the comics’ creators. Take for example this Plastic Man story from Police Comics #3, published in 1941 and at a time when pinball machines were illegal in cities across the country. (Considered a form of gambling, pinball would be banned in places like New York City, Chicago and L.A. until the mid-1970s!)

Personally, I think Plas probably enjoyed a little time playing the silver ball, but this time he uses his criminal alter ego to drop in on Baldy Bushwack, an underworld chum who’s also running the biggest pinball racket in town.


Yeah, I don’t know what that accent’s all about. Honestly, I’m not even sure what Baldy’s background is supposed to be and it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with his life of crime, so let’s chalk it up to a quirk. In any case, Baldy has a great big personality and appears to get a kick out of being a crook — he’s pretty great.

Eel can’t believe how blatantly Baldy is running his operation, and asks how he keeps the heat off. Turns out it’s a surprisingly bold move.


Of course, Eel O’Brian hot footing it out of the pinball arcade means Plastic Man is on the case. Which is a good thing, because Captain Murphy is going nuts trying to figure out how the pinball racket keeps slipping through his fingers. In fact, he’s so desperate that he’s willing to give Plastic Man a crack at solving the mystery, even though he hates the thought of that almost as much as the thought of losing the racket again. So when Plas offers him a bet, Murphy jumps at the chance.


Plastic Man can easily spot a tail and quickly gives the cops the slip by stretching up the side of a building and letting them think his legs are water pipes. From there it’s on to the arcade, where unfortunately for Plas Baldy’s heard everything and has a surprise waiting for him.


That’s got to be the greatest sledgehammer gag in history.

But you don’t become the kingpin of the biggest pinball racket around by thinking small, so Baldy figures that where a sledgehammer failed, a steamroller should do the trick. It’s a train of thought that gives us a fantastic sequence that squeezes suspense, humor and action into just one page.


Soon enough, the bad guys decide they’ve had enough and make a run for it. But Plastic Man isn’t letting them off that easy, and we get to see Plas use his arm as a lasso for the first time. Meanwhile, Captain Murphy is sweatin’ as the prospect of losing Plastic Man gets more and more certain with every tick of the clock — five minutes … one minute … !


That Captain Murphy — what a softy. THE END.

Police Comics #3 (Plastic Man): Jack Cole, writer/artist

Writer Simon Oliver hints at his plans for Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters

With the April 29 release of Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters #1 slowly inching closer, the two-issue Convergence mini-series is finally getting some love from the comics press. Newsarama posted a great interview with PM-FF writer Simon Oliver yesterday, and it gives some insight into what readers can expect when the first issue finally drops.


Oliver mentions more than once his aim to explore the emotional depth of Plastic Man, and that is really encouraging. That doesn’t mean I want Plas to become an angsty mope – far from it. But I do think the character has been allowed to be seen as a one-note clown, a court jester dancing around the more-serious – and more seriously taken – superhero royalty. It’s easy to forget that Plastic Man is also a former most-wanted criminal turned Nazi-fighter and government agent. Plas gives a writer plenty of avenues to explore, many that are much more interesting than the prankster role he’s usually shoe-horned into. As I’ve said before, Plastic Man is definitely a smart-aleck, but he’s no dummy.

Here’s some of what Oliver had to say:

But I got to kind of pick the storyline and characters, at first honestly because of the Nazis in New York City angle, but then when I started digging more into Plastic Man, who he was, who he had become, I really started to find that emotional connection I honestly didn’t expect going in.

And then there’s this:

I think one of the things I picked up on going in was in the past, readers had felt Plastic Man had fallen a little too hard into the comic relief role, without making him dark and gritty (which is itself becoming a well-worn trope). I wanted to stay true to who I felt Plastic Man was, but at the same time show some inner conflict, and at the heart of this huge story is his coming to terms with who he once was and who he is now.

Sounds good to me! And as Oliver also said, the book’s “got robot superheroes and frickin’ Nazis in it!”

Go read the whole interview for more about Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters mini-series, and be sure to put it on your list for April!

cover image by Hilary Barta