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