Review: Injustice: Gods Among Us, Year Four Annual #1

Generally speaking, I haven’t really been keeping up with monthly comics for a while. Which is why I’ve hardly read anything from the Injustice: Gods Among Us storyline, even though it launched in early 2013. But I still have an idea of what’s going on, and I’m glad about that because otherwise I might’ve missed one of the best Plastic Man stories I’ve read in a long time.

The alternate universe Injustice story spun out of a video game of the same name released that same year, and it boils down to the now-tired idea of, “What if Superman went evil?” It’s a trope I personally think has gotten really boring (and has been for a long time, honestly), and any kind of merchandising tie-in makes me leery, so I actively avoided the comic. But based on Injustice: Gods Among Us, Year Four Annual #1 (eesh, what a mouthful), I might revisit the whole thing because Tom Taylor writes the hell out of this issue.

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Taylor, who was also the original writer on the series, pulls off something that seems to give a lot of other writers trouble — finding the balance of Plastic Man. Still a seemingly devil-may-care character who cracks wise in the face of undeniable danger, Taylor’s Plas is also formidable, determined, and focused. He mockingly calls out the wrongs he sees, and demands justice from the group that has set itself up as rulers of the world. He knows who he is, who he’s been, and acknowledges his mistakes while still moving forward. He is, in a word, heroic. That’s the kind of Plastic Man I like to see.

The story, which was released earlier this month, opens with a group of protestors/terrorists (depending on who you ask) blowing up the famed statue of Superman. Almost immediately, Flash and Superman are on the scene, and after a super-speed sweep of the park, Flash has rounded up the four protestors. But, as Cyborg tells them from back at headquarters, there should be five of them. While the former heroes look for the missing man, a park bench starts shapeshifting and untying his compatriots — until Superman and Flash come back and arrest him, too. Flash recognizes him and is instantly apprehensive because this kid is Luke McDunnagh, Plastic Man’s son.

Back at the Hall of Justice, what comprises the Justice League decides there can’t be any favoritism and Luke has to be imprisoned along with the other super-criminals. You kind of get the idea that it’s less about nepotism and more about self-preservation, though, as the group also goes on high-alert, especially once Plastic Man actually walks through the doors. In short order Plas manages to insult the group, piss off Superman, and point out that Sinestro has a really evil mustache.

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I don’t want to give too much away, but what follows is a great sort of heist story, with Plastic Man handily outsmarting and out-heroing his old friends. Tom Taylor’s characterization of Plas is, again, fantastic. I would love to see Taylor take on a regular Plastic Man series; I’ve mentioned other writers in the past, but with this annual Taylor has jumped to the top of my list. Really, if for no other reason than he brought back Woozy Winks in a way that feels real and loaded with subtle depth. Sharing few words (as men tend to do), Plas and Woozy communicate a long and heartfelt friendship, one that would lead an ordinary man to risk Superman’s wrath. In a book filled with great scenes, this might be my favorite.

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Also pitch-perfect is the artwork by Bruno Redondo, who captures facial expressions, body language, and camera angles with a solid self-assurance that grabs the reader without being flashy. That might sound like faint praise, but Redondo’s work (along with the seamless finishes by Sergio Sandoval and Jordi Tarragona on the final pages) is really wonderful, and I’d even call some panels beautiful. As a whole, from Sandoval’s inks to the coloring by Rex Lokus, I can’t say enough good things about this creative team.

At its heart, the Injustice Year Four Annual (I refuse to type that whole name out again), is a story about family. It’s about the love between a father and son, even when that relationship has been strained to its breaking point in the past. It’s about the continuing break-up of the family that was once the Justice League. And a prodigal son comes home, making a holy mess out of the carefully placed dinner table. I was happy to see Plastic Man was the one stretching his elbows all over that table.

It’s ironic that an alternate universe version of Plastic Man somehow turned out to be a truer version of that character than I’ve seen in a while. If DC ever does get around to putting out a Plastic Man series, or even making him a regular part of a relaunched JLA book, I hope this is the Plastic Man we’ll see. This is the Plas I’ve been waiting for.

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Le Gallerie Plastique: Marc Greisinger

What’s this? Ooh, just fleskin’ our muskles with Plastiks Man — arf arf arf!

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Artist Marc Greisinger specializes in drawings of classic comic and cartoon characters — with Popeye and Plas being apparent favorites (mine, too!) — so I was happy to come across his playful mash-up of the two. The irascible sailor-man and the easygoing Plastic Man are a fantastic pairing (even if Popeye doesn’t seem so sure), and Greisinger’s Popeye is stylistically spot-on. The highlight for me, though, might be the clever design of Plas’ “pipe!”

For more of Marc Greisinger’s work, check out his DeviantArt page.

Recycled: Plastic Man vs. Those Hands!

Police Comics #6 is notable for a couple of reasons: It hints at what the future holds for Plastic Man’s publishing history, and it also marks the point when Jack Cole started moving away from giving Plas simple hoods to beat up and began edging toward more creative concepts and crazier villains (which is saying something). And, buddy, this story is crazy.

But first, this word from our sponsor:

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Dang it! Isn’t that always the way? You’re in the middle of a conversation and, bang! — murder. At this point, Plastic Man is fully committed to being a hero, so he rushes to the scene of the crime, where a strange clue is revealed.

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And that’s not the only clue, though the cops working the case don’t seem to think it’s a big deal. Luckily, Plastic Man is a little more diligent than the city’s finest, and strikes out to see where it leads.

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One of the best things about Cole’s work, particularly in his Plastic Man stories, is the expressions he gives to people in the background. So often these “extras” have the best reactions, which are usually a mix of comedic and completely realistic. I mean, how else would you react if a stretchy superhero suddenly slipped past your nethers?

Soon enough, Plas has followed the strange trail to a cellar, where he takes a judicious peek through a keyhole the size of a bay window to see …

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What does Plas see? What did the watchman mean when he scrawled, “Those hands” in his own blood? Well, he meant THESE hands.

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That’s right — the robbery and murder were committed by a pair of disembodied hands which can’t seem to keep their … er, selves … off the loot. Chubby Rankin and his gang seem to be palming the goods for themselves, though, and what’s worse, they’re prepared for a visit from Plastic Man. After Plas knocks his hoods around a little, Chubby shoots Plas with a web of adhesive and sends him tumbling down a long chute into an even deeper basement.

And then things get weird.

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Cursed hands that are compelled to steal! A desperate act of self-dismemberment! (I’m willing to overlook how he was able to cut off the second hand!) A very questionable beard! Is it any wonder I love these comics?

After hearing the man’s tragic story (but still saddled with the sticky netting), Plastic Man stretches his way back up the chute to surprise the gang.

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One brief fracas later and Plastic Man has the whole gang tangled up in the adhesive. He demands that the gang tell where the hands have gone, but they swear they never know — the hands just leave and always come back with booty. Chubby finally agrees to spray a special solvent on the netting to free them all, but Plas sprays them with more adhesive before setting off after the slippery digits.

In another part of town, the cursed hands are hard at work.

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Those have got to be the most bloodthirsty hands I’ve ever seen. Luckily, Plastic Man retraces the cursed hands’ steps, and catches up to Thing 1 and Thing 2. Unfortunately, they refuse to knuckle under.

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The hands have the element of surprise and manage to pound on Plastic Man for a while, but Plas gets it together quickly enough to get a grip on the hands and wrestle them into yet another nearby cellar. Then he dispatches them in dramatic, basement-y fashion.

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Of course, now Plas has to go back to the old man and explain that his mitts are gone forever because he just fastballed them into a furnace. That’s bound to be awkward.

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Well, I guess I can’t argue with that.

There are a few things I really enjoy about this story (besides the obvious). Cole’s visual language is becoming more confident and better defined, and you can see the style that would define his Plastic Man work coming into shape. I especially like the way Cole isn’t afraid to let his influences and interests show; this story is a nice example of Cole drawing on elements from his time doing humor comics, as well as a peek at the horror comics he’d do a decade later.

But, hold on — what did Plastic Man want to talk to us about back when this whole thing started?

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By this time Quality Comics was getting ready to not only expand Plastic Man’s page count, but was also moving toward making the character the headliner in Police Comics. About a year later, Quality would launch Plastic Man #1. This was only the his sixth appearance ever, but the publisher must have already known — Plastic Man was a hit.