It’s Plastic Man on parade!

Honestly, I’m not showing off.

If anything, I want to point out the genuine generosity of people when I see it, especially when I’m the one on the receiving end of that generosity. It seems like such a rare thing sometimes that I want to jump on a table and point while shouting in a British accent, “See?! There! They do exist!! Harrumph harrumph.”

In this case I’m pointing my imaginary Meerschaum directly at Russell Burbage, who runs the Seigi No Nakama blog and writes and draws the original Friends of Justice series. Russell is also an active and longtime member of a community of bloggers and podcasters (originally centered around the Fire and Water Podcast) that’s made up of a great bunch of people who continually stun me with their support and enthusiasm for each other’s projects. Russell, of course, is a big part of that.

A couple of months ago (I meant to write this up a while back), Russell sent me a note out of the blue asking if I’d like the Super Powers Plastic Man figure. Not if I’d be interested in buying it, just if I wanted it. Give me your address, he said, and it’s yours.

He didn’t know it, but I had just been pining over that same figure in one my local comic book stores. I would have loved to buy it then, but it came with a budget-busting price tag. And now here was a guy I’d never really talked to before just offering it to me. Here. I think you’ll like this. It’s yours.

Thinking about it now, I’m stunned all over again.

The real surprise came a few weeks later, though, when the package arrived. Not only was the promised figure included, but there was also a card featuring the Plastic Man stamp design, another with the Super Powers bio, the Super Powers figure itself, and ANOTHER PLASTIC MAN FIGURE! Eeyow!

And this one was the DC Direct figure, complete with removable goggles and flippy-floppy rubber arms. If you just said to yourself, “Whoa! That’s awesome!” then we are in complete agreement. Again, this was generous beyond words — so here are some pictures!

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Goggles on!
Goggles off!
Goggles off!

And finally …

The Super Powers figure (with super neck-stretching action)!
The Super Powers figure (with super neck-stretching action)!

OK, maybe I am showing off just a little. After all, how often does someone get to brag about what great pals they have? Thanks again, Russell!

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Recycled: Plastic Man vs. Madam Brawn — ROUND TWO!

The last time we saw Plastic Man, he had just run the rough-and-tumble, would-be crime boss Madam Brawn and her gang of delinquent girls out of Windy City — or so he thought. Much to the reader’s surprise, this lawless lady was not to be trusted, and soon she made her move to come back to the city and get her revenge on Plas.

Normally, I would edit the original pages a little to focus on the highlights, but this six-page story from Police Comics #5 is nothing but highlights. And if you pay attention, you can see the characterization writer and artist Jack Cole put into these action-packed panels, moving both Plastic Man and his world forward. With that in mind, here are the complete pages from Part Two of the story featuring my favorite (and the first recurring) Plastic Man foe, Madam Brawn!

We catch up to Madam Brawn making plans to take over the protection racket in Windy City, as well as preparing for her inevitable showdown with Plastic Man by doing a little flexing. Just lamp that muscle!

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I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again — I love everything about Madam Brawn. But I also love her right-hand, Gert, who is such a bad-ass it hurts. Look at her there at the far-right of the last panel and tell me you didn’t just fall for her a little bit. If I were to ever get my wish and DC brought back Plastic Man, and then brought back Madam Brawn as a regular foil for him, Gert would have to be part of that package. Every villain needs a good hench, and Gert would be the best.

And once again, Police Comics is teaching me old-timey slang. This time I had to look up “flit,” at least as it’s used here. The definition that comes up the most is as offensive slang for a gay man, but that came into popular use in the 50s thanks to J.D. Salingers’ The Catcher in the Rye, a good 10 years after this issue of Police was published. After a little more digging, I’m pretty confident in saying that “flit” here is actually referring to Flit, a brand of insecticide that was very well-known at the time, particularly for it’s successful ad campaign and catchphrase, “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” (Originally featuring art work by Dr. Seuss!) That campaign ran from 1928 to 1945, well within the time-frame we’re looking at here. Essentially, Madam Brawn is calling Plastic Man an especially troublesome insect.

Meanwhile, Plastic Man is palling around at the police station (what a difference a few issues make!) when he receives a mysterious card.

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That card is nuts. I also like the idea that Plas has already become well-known and beloved enough that a kid on the street wants an autograph.

After being alerted to a band of female pirates robbing an ocean liner, Plastic Man legs it to the docks and keeps on going, chasing after the pirates in one of Cole’s increasingly creative uses of Plas’ powers.

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Brawn and her girls are as clever as they are brutal, figuring out a way to get around Plastic Man’s shapeshifting powers while using that ability to wipe out a boatload of cops. “See ’em splatter”? Welcome to comics 13 years before the Comics Code Authority, kids!

As if stretchable sleuths and murderous, muscle-bound molls weren’t enough, this is where things start to get … weird. Because not only does Madam Brawn’s plan include making Plastic Man look like notorious gangster Eel O’Brian, she also decides to set him on a wild rampage with the help of a little something known as “marijuana.”

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I know it’s wrong, but I think Eel’s shooting spree is hilarious. Not only does it play up the ridiculous notion of the ramped-up dope fiend — a big nod, no doubt, to Reefer Madness, which premiered just five years before this comic was published — but Cole’s dialogue is wonderful. Whee, I’m a killer! Yipee!

Another thing I like about this page is the reminder of the line Plastic Man is walking. Just a couple of pages ago he was joking around with cops just like these, and now they’re shooting at him — Plas is a victim of his success at pulling off a dual identity, and his own despicable past. Also, that third panel in the second row is gorgeous, with its artful blend of angle, color, and shadow; Eel is concealed, just as his motives are by shooting over the officers’ heads. Finally, I’m just really charmed by Eel’s legs stretching beyond the limits of his pants, revealing what’s steadily becoming his true identity.

Confusion drives this whole page: The cops don’t know that Eel O’Brian is Plastic Man, Madam Brawn doesn’t understand why Plastic Man would shoot at the cops, and Plastic Man wonders if Madam Brawn knows that he’s also Eel O’Brian! But after trying to run him over doesn’t work, Brawn is sure of one thing — it’s time to skedaddle, and uses the firefight to make her getaway. But one quick-change later, Plastic Man makes like a human periscope and spots the gang’s car … where Madam Brawn has one more surprise waiting for him.

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I’m not sure what was supposed to be so special about those shades, but they don’t seem to be anything a well-tossed brick can’t handle. Plastic Man spots the crew back on the water, and is able to reach out from the dock to snatch Madam Brawn from the boat. Enraged, Brawn tells Plas she’s going to kill him with her bare hands and Plas informs her that, as far as he’s concerned, she’s no lady and pops her one.

With tragic results.

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WHAT?!?

When I read this the first time, I literally gasped. It’s not as if there wasn’t plenty of mayhem and death in this series already — or even in this same story — but it still shocked me when Madam Brawn met her death at the hands of a Plastic punch and poor woodworking. And then, in an odd act of mercy, Plastic Man reveals to Brawn that he is also Eel O’Brian!

If that’s not the perfect set-up for the return of Madam Brawn (who, let’s say, actually survives and now knows Plastic Man’s secret identity), I don’t know what is.

Police Comics #5 (Plastic Man): Jack Cole, writer/artist

Recycled: Plastic Man vs. Madam Brawn!

… and then she said said that she saw him in the food court talking to … wait a minute. Where was I?!

Oh, yeah! We were just about to take a look at the first half of one of my favorite Plastic Man stories!

In Police Comics #4, Plastic Man is pretty much fully formed as a character, having embraced his role as a hero completely. But just because Eel O’Brian isn’t pulling off crimes of the century anymore doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of enterprising bad guys running around — including one of my favorite Plastic Man rogues and his first recurring villain, Madam Brawn!

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Right from the beginning, I love everything about Madam Brawn. She’s running a crime school for women, wears overalls and diamond earrings that look as if they came off a chandelier, and is tough enough to pull it all off. Soon enough, she’s smoking stogies and putting her big plans into motion. She’s the best.

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I’d assume there’s a high bar just to get into Madam Brawn’s School for Delinquent Girls, so I can only imagine how tough the graduates must be. They’re on a hair-trigger and take no guff from anyone! After smacking Lefty Goon’s … goon … around a little, they send the gang leader a message in lipstick, delivered courtesy of the bald-headed lug they just tossed around. (Who claims he was ambushed by “six giants in a dark alley.”)

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Lefty, of course, doesn’t much care for threats or anyone trying to muscle in on his territory. He goes down to Madam Brawn’s farm to warn the “ambitious wench” that she’s playing a dangerous game, and Brawn gives a stern reply.

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After Lefty gets a right for his trouble (and a broken arm), the gang is chased off by Brawn’s attack dogs and they don’t stop running until they get back to their hideout. Smarting from the beating and the complete disregard she’s shown them, Lefty hatches a plan to rout her from her farm and out of his hair.

Naturally, it involves stolen Army tanks.

Luckily, Eel O’Brian is hanging around the hideout, and soon Plastic Man is on his way to Madam Brawn’s farm to try and stop what he’s sure will be a massacre!

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Madam Brawn might appreciate the warning, but she doesn’t need Plastic Man’s help — her own gang soon has Plas in literal knots, and it’s time for the Brawn blitz!

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Hoo boy — one thing you’d don’t want to do is tick off Madam Brawn. The story has given us an idea of how rough-and-tumble she is, but what does she do when she’s pushed too far?

She pulls the pin out of a grenade with her teeth and LETS YOU HAVE IT.

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Is it any wonder I love Madam Brawn so much? And she’s really a perfect foil for Plastic Man — a powerful woman who has immersed herself in a life of crime as much as Plas has tried to pull himself out of it. She’s tough, smart, and as solid as Plas is pliable. I’ve said it before, but I’d like to see what Gail Simone or Jeff Parker could do with Plastic Man, and I would love to see them bring Madam Brawn back as a permanent part of his rogue’s gallery.

Back in our story, Plastic Man has managed to free himself, but it’s too late; Brawn and her ladies of mayhem have wiped out Lefty Goon and his entire mob. And not just beaten up or run off — they’re all dead, killed at the hardened hands of Brawn’s delinquent girls. In spite of this, Plas refuses to fight her. He’s a gentleman, after all.

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Once Madam Brawn tires herself out, Plas offers her a way out — after all, the slaughter was all in self-defense, right? Er … anyway, they come to an agreement: If Brawn and her gang leave town forever, Plas won’t arrest them all for illegal possession of firearms. Realizing she’s not in position to negotiate, Madam Brawn agrees to Plastic Man’s terms … or does she?!

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And boy, does she have plans. But we’ll have to wait until next time to find out how this story ends!

Police Comics #4 (Plastic Man): Jack Cole, writer/artist

Where’s Plas?!

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I mean, seriously, where has he been?!

  • from Adventure Comics #478
  • Martin Pasko, writer; Joe Staton, artist; Bob Smith, inker