We’ve been waiting 75 years for this joke

Wait a minute! Plastic Man is 75 years old today?! But he looks great — sometimes even better than ever! How does he do it?

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Hey, don’t look at me — blame Kyle Baker.

  • from Plastic Man #17 (vol. 4)
  • writer/artist, Kyle Baker
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Today is Plastic Man’s 75th anniversary!

Eeyow! Today is the 75th anniversary of Police Comics #1, and the first appearance of Jack Cole’s Plastic Man!

I could very easily go on and on about this wild, action-packed origin for one of comic’s most unique characters — and I have! — but I think I’ll just sit back and let you all bask in the genius of Cole’s original story and art.

Enjoy this introduction to what might be one of the most inventive comic book characters ever created in its entirety, and be sure to wish a happy anniversary to the one and only Plastic Man!

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A brief break for Darwyn Cooke

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From “Justice League: The New Frontier,” art based on Darwyn Cooke’s original designs.

I’m taking a brief break from celebrating Plastic Man’s 75th anniversary to send best wishes to Darwyn Cooke.

Earlier today, his family released the news that Cooke is dealing with an aggressive cancer and is now undergoing palliative care. Cooke is an exceptionally talented writer and artist, and I’ve enjoyed his work for years; I’ve also heard nothing but good things about him as a professional and as a person. There haven’t been any other details about his condition, but I’m crossing my fingers that there is some hope for recovery.

In the meantime, go to your shelf and pull out one of his books, or put your DVD of Justice League: The New Frontier into your player. And if you don’t have any of his work on hand, please consider buying some of his stuff — you won’t be sorry, and it will hopefully help Cooke and his family in their time of need.

Celebrate 75 years with … a whole bunch of Plastic Man origins!

As I’ve said in earlier posts, there’s just something about Plastic Man’s origin that really makes artists and writers want to retell the story. Naturally, creators also want to put their own spin on it, and combined with changes in tone and efforts to update this Golden Age hero for fresh audiences, new things almost always get added to the original.

Because of that, Plastic Man’s origin might stay fundamentally the same, but we’ve also gotten a version of Plas who never met the monks of Rest Haven, another who’s mind was altered by the experimental acid as well as his body, and still another with a notable talent for exposition. Most recently, Eel O’Brian was dunked with strange chemicals thanks to an alternate universe  variant of Batman. (Which is a little poetic, considering the longtime friendship between Plas and Bats.)

There are more versions of Plastic Man’s origins than there are days in the week, so let’s take a quick look at some of them. First up, here is a fairly faithful retelling from Plastic Man #17 (vol. 2) by writer John Albano and artist Ramona Fradon. I say “fairly” because while all the major points are there, the team opted to get rid of Rest Haven and only hints at “Ya putrid punks!”

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And here is how Phil Foglio (writer) and Hilary Barta (artist) kicked off their four-issue mini-series in Plastic Man #1, with “reality checks” by artist Kevin Nowlan. The work by Nowlan helped differentiate the “real world” from the cartoony way Eel O’Brian perceived the world after being doused in acid. Later, Plas befriends Woozy after our portly pal stops him from committing suicide and then reveals that — as a recent resident of Arkham Asylum — he sees the world the same way the Eel does. (This is also the story in which Plas and Woozy leave their futures as either crime-fighters or partners in crime up to a coin toss.) Continue reading Celebrate 75 years with … a whole bunch of Plastic Man origins!

Celebrate 75 years with … the Secret Origins origin of Plastic Man!

Plastic Man has always had something of an absurdist streak, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Jack Cole was an artist in the truest sense, and he had a talent for taking his most famous creation to the edge of silliness without ever tipping over the line. As screwball or crazy as a Plastic Man story could seem, Cole never let readers forget that Plas was a fully formed character, not a caricature. Sure, he was quick-witted and never afraid to drop a well-placed quip, but he was no clown. He wasn’t crazy — the world around him was.

This distinction started to get lost as it filtered through the years and various creators. It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly Plas started to be treated as mostly a whacky humor character, but I’d say it was probably with Plastic Man #11 (vol. 2), by writer Steve Skeates and artist Ramona Fradon.

HOLD IT! Just for the record, I love that particular era of Plastic Man, which ran from November 1975 to July 1977, before ending with issue #20. It was unrepentantly goofy, even after things took a slightly more serious turn when John Albano took over writing duties with issue #17. But while Fradon’s artwork was pitch-perfect, Skeates’ scripting was often over-the-top, and like a looney variety of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, it set a precedent that would dog the character for decades afterward.

Case in point: Plastic Man’s origin as told here in Secret Origins #30, by writer Roy Thomas and artist Stephen DeStefano. While Thomas writes in the letters page column that he tried to balance the humor and adventure associated with Plastic Man, his story leans pretty heavily on the ha-ha. And this would tie in with the four-issue mini-series by Phil Foglio and Hilary Barta that was already in the works. (Secret Origins #30 was published in May 1988, and the mini would hit stands just four months later.)

We’ll take a look at the mini-series soon, but first, let’s dive into the Secret Origin of Plastic Man!

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From here, the rest of the story continues to follow the original pretty faithfully, just with a lot more humor injected into it (Cole’s version was not played for laughs at all, though you couldn’t call it deadly serious, either). So, yeah, we get a rat with a police hat, a monk wearing roller skates trying to kill flies with a frying pan, and multiple appearances by Burp the Twerp (a character from Cole’s one-page Police Comics humor feature). Some people really like a sillier interpretation of Plastic Man, but for me, this is almost a little too much.

This post is already a bit longer than I planned, but if you’d REALLY like to hear me go on and on about this issue, check out the Secret Origins Podcast! Ryan Daly is the host of this Fire and Water Podcast Network show, and he was kind enough to have me on as a guest. Go give it a listen, and then give Ryan a big, sloppy kiss. He loves it. Really.

Tomorrow … the origin of Plastic Man!

Celebrate 75 years with … Kyle Baker’s origin of Plastic Man!

Of the various incarnations and interpretations of Plastic Man throughout his 75 year history, I have two favorites; the first is Jack Cole’s original run, and the other is Kyle Baker’s wonderful 20-issue series.

I tend to read and re-read Plastic Man stories on a regular basis (surprise!), but Baker’s too-short run is probably the one I come back to the most. Even just while preparing this post, I ended up reading a couple of issues before I could stop myself. Through a combination of humor, unexpected emotional depth, and a clear understanding of what makes the character click, Baker created a Plastic Man that could have — SHOULD have — served as a template for a new, modern Plas.

In his first issue, Baker (writer and artist for the series) lays the groundwork for the story arc and gives readers his own version of Plastic Man’s origin. All of the major beats are still there, but he also adds Nancy, Eel O’Brian’s best gal and a new character who ends up being important to the overall story. I keep wishing she was still part of Plas’ regular cast, a “Plastic Man family” that has unfortunately languished since the series ended in 2006.

And so far, this is our first quote of those infamous lines — “Ya putrid punks!” and “Adios, Eel!”

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Is it any wonder this is one of my favorite runs? There’s just so much to absorb, both in terms of the art and the script, that it’s a series that rewards a second read. And a third. And a fourth …

Tomorrow … the origin of Plastic Man!

Celebrate 75 years with … the Super Powers origin of Plastic Man!

When the Super Powers Collection was released in 1984, the line of action figures was almost instantly beloved. It was also instantly ubiquitous, getting a huge marketing push from Kenner and DC Comics, including three different mini-series for each year’s new set.

Naturally, each mini-series highlighted the latest characters to be immortalized in blister packs. By the time they got to the third release, everyone had finally come to their senses and brought in Plastic Man! I’ll talk more about the figure some other time (spoiler: it’s great), and instead let’s focus on the time an android told Cyborg about Plastic Man’s origin in Super Powers #2 (vol. 3).

In between battles with Darkseid and his minions, the Super Powers gang take advantage of the downtime to shoot the breeze instead of bad guys. Cyborg confides in Plas and Cyclotron (a character created for the toy line), telling them that he doesn’t trust another new addition, Samurai. (You might recognize Samurai as a refugee from his original spot in the Super Friends cartoon.) Plastic Man defends Samurai, reminding Cyborg that no one should be judged before they’ve had a chance to prove themselves.

It turns out Cyclotron knows exactly why Plas feels that way.

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Boy, penciller Carmine Infantino was born to draw androids, right?

As far as retellings go, this is a pretty faithful, economical version of Plastic Man’s origin. I really appreciate how writer Paul Kupperberg organically eased the story in, doing a nice bit of character building while he was at it. A lot of later writers would completely ignore Eel O’Brian’s life before becoming Plastic Man, overlooking a rich background to draw from and build upon. But in a few panels, Kupperberg tells us something important about Plas — he hasn’t forgotten where he’s come from, and that tempers his sense of justice and fairness as a hero today. I love it.

Also, he plays ping-pong against himself, which is fantastic.

Tomorrow … the origin of Plastic Man!

Celebrate 75 years of Plas with … the origin of Plastic Man! (part 1)

This year is Plastic Man’s 75th anniversary in comics, and May 14, 2016, will be the exact date marking Plas’ first appearance in Police Comics #1 all those years ago. In honor of this momentous milestone, not to mention Jack Cole’s artistry in creating such a completely original and obviously enduring character, I’ll be sharing the various retellings of Plastic Man’s completely bonkers origin story (and a few extras, here and there) throughout the week.

One of the things I like about Plastic Man’s origin story is just how quotable Cole’s original 1941 story is, both visually and written. Later creators have obviously loved being able to pay homage to both of these elements in their own work, and who could blame them? Believe me, this won’t be the last time you see Eel O’Brian getting cheeky while shouting, “Great Guns! I’m stretching like a rubber band!”

First up we have a condensed version of Plastic Man’s origin as published in Adventure Comics #467, written by Len Wein, with art by Joe Staton and inks from Bob Smith!

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And I seriously just noticed that the shadowy men of D.I.P. in the last panel are also dead ringers for past versions of the Chief!

As an added bonus, here are the Plastic Man entries from Who’s Who in the DC Universe — both the original 1986 run-down and the 1990 update.

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You can see how hard writer Phil Foglio (with art by Hilary Barta) was dragging Plastic Man over toward a more wacky and literally mentally unstable version of Plas (a version I’m on record as not being a huge fan 0f), and how much of the 1986 entry (art by Joe Staton) was jettisoned post Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Tomorrow … the origin of Plastic Man!