Recycled: Plastic Man vs. the United Crooks of America!

After the body horror of Those Hands in the last issue, Jack Cole seemed to give his readers a chance to catch their breath with Police Comics #7. For Cole this meant coming up with a story packed with his overflowing imagination — as well as a new criminal organization, spankings, a lifelike scarecrow, and glow-in-the-dark paint.

The story is also fat with action, as you can tell from the opening splash page.


That’s right — the United Crooks of America! An organization that counts only the most nefarious ne’er-do-wells among it members! A democratically minded mob of the creme de la crime! Naturally, Eel O’Brian wants in.

After bowling over the cops at the A.J. Phox Fur Co. (and promising to himself to return the furs later), Eel brings the spoils of his “audition” back to UCA headquarters.


Ha! A corn roast! I’m no expert on the slang of 1942, but somehow that sounds both sarcastic and insulting. And it’s disturbing to see how proud Slug is of both the UCA’s civilized club structure and of being a proficient cop killer. This is the sort of thing I’m talking about when I mention Cole’s ability to pepper his seemingly light-hearted stories with some truly dark elements.

I also love the way Plastic Man gets so much joy out of needling Captain Murphy. Seriously, he’s going to make the guy blow a vessel. But the fun can only last so long before he has to go back undercover to be pledged as a full member of the United Crooks of America.


Can we take a second to raise our glasses to poor ol’ Slim, who’s been the only thug so far to put it together that wherever Eel O’Brian goes, Plastic Man isn’t far behind? Look at those guys in the second-to-last panel — booing someone to their face like that is harsh.

Once the swats and near-drownings are done, Eel is put right to work along with Ape Ellson and Trigger Jones to steal the Swagger gem collection. Luckily, he’s tapped to be the getaway driver, so no one’s around to see him spring into action as Plastic Man!


Cole’s creativity really starts rolling as the series goes on, and it shows in the new ways Plas uses his powers in almost every issue. Plastic Man is having fun, so it’s easy to imagine that Cole was, too. And as Cole’s imagination gets looser so does his drawing style; sharp angles begin to soften as he develops a slightly more cartoony, rubbery look.

I always like to point out Cole’s amazingly strong draftsmanship, and this page is a good example. Look at the way the image in every panel leads the eye to the next, from Trigger in the first panel pointing to the next, to Plastic Man’s downward swoop guiding the reader to the final panel. It shows how much thought Cole was putting into his work on Plastic Man, and it’s wonderful to look at.

Not so wonderful? That acid Trigger has dumped on Plas! The bad guys make their escape, but Plastic Man takes a quick dunk in a rooftop water tank and beats them to the car downstairs. Trigger and Ape dive into the car, only to find Plastic Man and … Eel O’Brian?!


No wonder the cons don’t want to tangle with Plastic Man — he’s totally letting them think he’ll throw them over a cliff from a moving car. Still, back at United Crooks of America headquarters they’ve got Plas outnumbered and they’ve got a plan. It involves a spray gun full of glow-in-the-dark paint. Plastic Man’s plan involves more throwing-people-from-high-places.


Tsk — poor ol’ Slim.

  • panels from Police Comics #7 (Plastic Man): Jack Cole, writer/artist

Plastic Man and the Injustice of it all

So, you might remember that earlier this year I raved about Injustice: Gods Among Us, Year Four Annual #1, an entry in the ongoing, Elseworlds-style storyline that was essentially a really good Plastic Man story. In these Plas-starved times, I’ve been finding it a one-shot I keep coming back to, enjoying it more each time.

A lot of that comes down to Tom Taylor‘s writing, which I liked so much that I’m doing something I would’ve sworn I wouldn’t do again — reading a comic featuring a despotic Superman fighting enemies who were once friends in a world that fears him.

The catalyst for Superman’s descent into darkness (SPOILER WARNING for a three-year-old comic) is the Joker, who manages to trick Superman into killing Lois and triggering a nuclear bomb that destroys Metropolis. In his rage and sorrow, Superman punches his fist through the Joker’s chest, kicking off his global tough-love campaign.


Strangely enough, a Superman with blood up to his elbow isn’t usually my thing. But as I said, Taylor’s scripting is great, and he never loses sight of who these characters are as people, right up to Plastic Man’s appearance three years later. I’m digging it, much more than I thought I would, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes (even knowing Taylor stops writing the series regularly after Year Three).

Still, I can’t help wondering if things might’ve turned out a little differently if Plas had been on the scene earlier.



Not as dramatic as a hand through the chest, but still, that’s gotta hurt.

  • Top panel: Injustice: Gods Among Us, Year One #2; artists, Mike S. Miller and Bruno Redondo
  • Bottom panel: JLA #15, artists Howard Porter, Gary Frank, and Greg Land

Muhammad Ali, Superman, and Plastic Man’s ringside seat

As most of the waking world already knows, we lost a true titan yesterday with the death of the King of the World, the Champ, the Greatest of All Time — the one and only Muhammad Ali. At the age of 74, Ali succumbed to respiratory complications due to the Parkinson’s disease he battled for more than three decades, and with him went one of the last, true-life heroes in this world.

I can’t remember a time when Ali didn’t loom large in my life. Growing up in the 70s, I was just old enough to see the excitement and admiration of the adults around me during what would be the second half of his career, following his return to boxing after he was stripped of his title for his conscientious objection to the Vietnam War. (I was five when Ali fought Joe Frazier in the Thrilla in Manila.)

In my house, he was already a hero.

So what does this have to do with Plastic Man? Once news of Ali’s death broke, the famous Neal Adams-drawn cover of 1978’s Superman vs. Muhammad Ali started making the rounds on social media, and with good reason. In addition to being a good, fun story in its own right, the cover takes full advantage of its original 10.5 x 13.5 treasury size. It’s fat with almost 200 personalities both fictional and from real life. Take a look:


Batman sitting behind Sonny Bono! Jimmy Carter and Lex Luthor! Phyllis Diller, the Jackson 5, Jerry Garcia, and Henry Winkler in full Fonzy mode. On and on, so many people in the crowd that a person could spend an afternoon — if not longer — trying to identify them all on their own. But hey, who’s that on the left side of the ring, framed by the top ropes?


Somehow, it doesn’t surprise me at all that Plas would be the kind of guy who’d enjoy a night at the fights. And like everyone else at that wonderful dream of a bout, Plastic Man would’ve known the match he was about to watch was going to the The Greatest.

This was, after all, Muhammad Ali.