Recycled: Plastic Man vs. Professor McSneer and the 8-Ball of Death!

Following up on the fairly lighthearted tale of Plastic Man breaking up the criminal organization known as the United Crooks of America, creator Jack Cole gave readers what is — in my opinion — one of the darker stories in his long run. And while a giant 8-ball wreaking havoc across the country sounds silly on its face, it still manages to be surprisingly disturbing.

The story begins, as such stories do, at the top of a volcano.

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I like that Cole implies there is something inherently sinister about about a billiard ball, instead of the fact that billiard ball is 100 feet high. Also, you can tell Professor McSneer is evil because he’s not only drooling, he’s also blowing steam out of his nostrils. That is a bad man.

I’m posting the next page in its entirety, because it’s a good summary of the plot: Not only is Professor McSneer (a name I’ll never get tired of saying) happy to essentially knock whole cities into the side pocket of ruination, he’s also stealing all the gold and silver that happens to be in the 8-ball’s path.

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The next-to-last panels, as well as another upcoming panel, are why this particular story gives me the heebie-jeebies. As we’ve already seen, death isn’t exactly uncommon in the Golden Age world of Plastic Man, but the scale here is almost shocking. Considering this was published about three years before the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I can only wonder what Cole thought of the destructive potential of the Atomic Age.

While Professor McSneer chortles over his deadly form of robbery, Plastic Man is one the case! Hitching a ride with a westbound airplane, Plas catches up to the speeding wrecking ball.

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Unable to find a way in, and after taking a couple of potshots from McSneer’s gunsels, Plastic Man borrows a nearby drill and manages to make a tiny hole he can slip in through. Once inside, Plas remembers that criminals are a superstitious, cowardly and becomes … a snake!

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Honestly? That would freak me out, too. (I love the way that one guy in the third panel has just given up and covers his face in his hands — Cole was a master of the little detail.) Plastic Man reveals that he is not actually a snake while holding the bad guys in his pliable grip, and starts figuring out the 8-balls’s mechanism (complete with a handy diagram from Cole — exactly the sort of thing that made me love the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe). Unfortunately, Professor McSneer still has a trick up his dirty sleeve, and Plas finds himself doused in quick-drying cement.

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The 8-ball rolls on to Kansas City! An entire Army regiment is helpless before the murderous billiard ball, squashed under its relentless momentum! But Plastic Man escapes from his cement prison, and he quickly puts the kibosh on the gang with one spectacular punch. Plas races to the control panel, hoping against hope that he’ll be able to stop the 8-ball before it reaches Kansas City. Will he do it?!

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Yay!

Plas is a hero, bringing us to the end of a particularly dark chapter in the Plastic Man casebook.

  • Panels from Police Comics #8 (Plastic Man)
  • Writer/artist: Jack Cole

13 Days of Plastoween: Plastic Man vs. the Riverman!

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  • from Plastic Man #12 (vol. 1)
  • Jack Cole, writer/artist
  • Fun fact! This story by Jack Cole was published in 1948, six years before the premiere of Creature from the Black Lagoon.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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?!

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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.

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Tsk — poor ol’ Slim.

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

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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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!

Celebrate Plastic Man’s 75th anniversary with Comixology!

Guys. GUYS. I usually try to avoid shilling for any particular distributor or company, but Comixology (a service I actually both use and enjoy) just announced a weeklong sale in honor of Plastic Man’s 75th anniversary!

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It’s a pretty good sale, offering 50 percent off a nice selection of comics hitting all the highlights from Plas’ long and storied history. Any of the comics listed would be a good choice (with a possible exception, your mileage may blah blah), but if you want to focus on one run in particular, I’d wholeheartedly recommend the Kyle Baker issues. And the entire 20-issue series is available, so get to it!

(You can’t go wrong with the Phil Foglio/Hilary Barta four-issue mini series, either. Or the Adventure Comics books. Or the original Golden Age stories by Plastic Man creator Jack Cole. Or … hell, get ’em all!)

Speaking of the Golden Age, it may be surprising to some that Plastic Man has been around long enough to celebrate a 75th anniversary. It’s always worth remembering that Plas hit the stands on May 14, 1941 (cover date August 1941), in Police Comics #1. This was only three years after Superman’s debut, but Plastic Man was already a wholly original creation, and a nearly instant hit for Quality Comics.

Since then, Plastic Man has enjoyed an almost constant presence, in comics, cartoons, figures, and various DC marketing efforts. Even when the character doesn’t have his own ongoing series or featured spot in a team book, he’s never too far away. The titles being offered by Comixology are a good way to see how Plas has developed over time, and why he remains a favorite of fans and creators alike.

The sale ends May 9, so don’t miss your chance to pick up some great Plastic Man titles!

Taking Shape: Love hurts!

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He doesn’t do it as often as Eddie Izzard, or say, Bugs Bunny, but Plastic Man isn’t afraid to explore his feminine side when it gets the job done.

  • from Plastic Man #25 (vol. 1)
  • writer/artist: Jack Cole (credited)

Recycled: Plastic Man vs. Those Hands!

Police Comics #6 is notable for a couple of reasons: It hints at what the future holds for Plastic Man’s publishing history, and it also marks the point when Jack Cole started moving away from giving Plas simple hoods to beat up and began edging toward more creative concepts and crazier villains (which is saying something). And, buddy, this story is crazy.

But first, this word from our sponsor:

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Dang it! Isn’t that always the way? You’re in the middle of a conversation and, bang! — murder. At this point, Plastic Man is fully committed to being a hero, so he rushes to the scene of the crime, where a strange clue is revealed.

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And that’s not the only clue, though the cops working the case don’t seem to think it’s a big deal. Luckily, Plastic Man is a little more diligent than the city’s finest, and strikes out to see where it leads.

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One of the best things about Cole’s work, particularly in his Plastic Man stories, is the expressions he gives to people in the background. So often these “extras” have the best reactions, which are usually a mix of comedic and completely realistic. I mean, how else would you react if a stretchy superhero suddenly slipped past your nethers?

Soon enough, Plas has followed the strange trail to a cellar, where he takes a judicious peek through a keyhole the size of a bay window to see …

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What does Plas see? What did the watchman mean when he scrawled, “Those hands” in his own blood? Well, he meant THESE hands.

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That’s right — the robbery and murder were committed by a pair of disembodied hands which can’t seem to keep their … er, selves … off the loot. Chubby Rankin and his gang seem to be palming the goods for themselves, though, and what’s worse, they’re prepared for a visit from Plastic Man. After Plas knocks his hoods around a little, Chubby shoots Plas with a web of adhesive and sends him tumbling down a long chute into an even deeper basement.

And then things get weird.

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Cursed hands that are compelled to steal! A desperate act of self-dismemberment! (I’m willing to overlook how he was able to cut off the second hand!) A very questionable beard! Is it any wonder I love these comics?

After hearing the man’s tragic story (but still saddled with the sticky netting), Plastic Man stretches his way back up the chute to surprise the gang.

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One brief fracas later and Plastic Man has the whole gang tangled up in the adhesive. He demands that the gang tell where the hands have gone, but they swear they never know — the hands just leave and always come back with booty. Chubby finally agrees to spray a special solvent on the netting to free them all, but Plas sprays them with more adhesive before setting off after the slippery digits.

In another part of town, the cursed hands are hard at work.

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Those have got to be the most bloodthirsty hands I’ve ever seen. Luckily, Plastic Man retraces the cursed hands’ steps, and catches up to Thing 1 and Thing 2. Unfortunately, they refuse to knuckle under.

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The hands have the element of surprise and manage to pound on Plastic Man for a while, but Plas gets it together quickly enough to get a grip on the hands and wrestle them into yet another nearby cellar. Then he dispatches them in dramatic, basement-y fashion.

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Of course, now Plas has to go back to the old man and explain that his mitts are gone forever because he just fastballed them into a furnace. That’s bound to be awkward.

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Well, I guess I can’t argue with that.

There are a few things I really enjoy about this story (besides the obvious). Cole’s visual language is becoming more confident and better defined, and you can see the style that would define his Plastic Man work coming into shape. I especially like the way Cole isn’t afraid to let his influences and interests show; this story is a nice example of Cole drawing on elements from his time doing humor comics, as well as a peek at the horror comics he’d do a decade later.

But, hold on — what did Plastic Man want to talk to us about back when this whole thing started?

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By this time Quality Comics was getting ready to not only expand Plastic Man’s page count, but was also moving toward making the character the headliner in Police Comics. About a year later, Quality would launch Plastic Man #1. This was only the his sixth appearance ever, but the publisher must have already known — Plastic Man was a hit.