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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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