Rediscovering the real World’s Finest

Look, I love Superman. Really — he’s one of my favorite superheroes, and embodies everything good and noble about the concept. He’s a truly aspirational character.

And I used to live for the World’s Finest, deservedly recognized as maybe the greatest team-up in comicsdom. What’s not to love about Superman and Batman joining forces to defeat the bad guys?

But … can we all just admit now that Batman and Plastic Man make the greatest partners ever?!

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These guys bro so hard, Plastic Man is still trying to high-five himself.

  • from The Brave and The Bold #76 — “Death, What is Thy Shape?”
  • Bob Haney, writer; Mike Sekowsky, penciler; Jack Abel, inker
  • George Kashdan, editor
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13 Days of Plastoween: Plastic Man vs. Meat By-Product!

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  • from Plastic Man #14 (vol. 2)
  • Elliot S! Maggin, writer; Ramona Fradon, artist; Mike Royer, inker
  • Gerry Conway, editor

Happy birthday to Ramona Fradon!

Ramona Fradon — well-known Aquaman artist, co-creator of Metamorpho, and, of course, a celebrated illustrator of Plastic Man — turns 90 today!

Fradon left an undeniable and indelible mark on Plas (and a ton of other characters), and is still doing it today as a working artist available for commissions. It’s no wonder her work remains popular: Not only does she have an appealingly old-school, clean-line style, but she continues to refine her art with an expressive sophistication and deceptive detail that always impresses.

Still, it’s her Bronze Age Plastic Man work that’s my favorite, so let’s celebrate Ramona Fradon’s birthday by giving ourselves the gift of this uncolored splash page from Plastic Man #16!

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What a great page from a great artist! Happy birthday, Ramona Fradon!

  • from Plastic Man #16 (vol. 2)
  • Ramona Fradon, artist
  • Steve Skeates, writer; Bob Smith, inker

 

Alleycats, Graham Crackers, and Plastic Man in the Windy City

As you may or may not know, my wife and I recently moved a few states over from Austin, Texas, to Chicago, Illinois. Getting everything ready for the move took up a lot of time (which is why the blog has suffered lately), but we’ve been here for a couple of weeks now and I didn’t waste any time hitting some of the local comic shops!

There seem to be a ton of shops in Chicago, and I’m lucky enough to live within a mile or so of two of them. Even luckier, I went to Alleycat Comics and found these:

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It might be hard to tell from the photo, but that’s Plastic Man #2 and #3 (vol. 2), featuring the work of writer Arnold Drake, artist J. Winslow Mortimer, and complete with Go-Go Checks! The issues are a little beat up, but Alleycat was letting them go for a fair price and the staff was super friendly, so I left feeling like I’d gotten more than a good deal — I had a good experience. (And a couple of Plastic Man comics to add to the collection!)

Oh, and if you think Alleycat is just a clever name, guess again:

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IT’S ACTUALLY AT THE END OF AN ALLEY. (No cats, though.)

I also managed to swing by Graham Crackers Comics-Edgewater, where they had a display for the Funko DC Super Powers keychains. I was excited when these were first announced, and then completely forgot about them. So I didn’t know they were being sold as blinds — basically, you buy a package without having any idea what’s in it, and hope you get the one you want.

This was especially painful because, hanging right there as part of the store display, was the one I wanted — a nice, fat-headed Plastic Man. Trying to decide whether or not I was willing to roll the dice, I mentioned my dilemma to the guy behind the counter. (I don’t remember his name. I’m a jerk.) And he said, “Hey, no problem — I can just sell you that one.”

Cue the angels singing:

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Welcome home, little guy. Welcome home.

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:

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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?

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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.

 

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 … 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!