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.
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.
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.
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.