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!”
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.)
Writer Ty Templeton, with artist Dev Madan, would give readers a brief look at Plastic Man’s origin as part of the origin of Woozy Winks in JLA Presents: Plastic Man #1. Usually Woozy is just summed up as a sort of dim, former criminal who reformed because of the Plas’ kindness, but here in this story he’s revealed as a former top secret agent, codename: Green Cobra!
Finally, here is a Plastic Man origin that I’m not actually sure is an origin. The DC wiki says it’s an origin, but these few pages from Justice League #25: Forever Evil by writer Geoff Johns and artist Doug Mahnke were never actually followed up on (as far as I know — somebody let me know if I’m wrong), and given the nature of the whole Forever Evil storyline — well, this could be the death of Eel O’Brian just as easily as the birth of Plastic Man.
In any case, I’ve been a fan of Mahnke’s work for a long time, and these panels are gorgeous. (He also does a great looking Owlman, the evil Batman analog of Earth 3.)
Well, OK … gorgeous and a little gross. Still, it’s great work, no matter how you look at it.
Tomorrow … the final (and first!) origin of Plastic Man!