- from Plastic Man #10 (vol. 4)
- Kyle Baker, artist/writer
Wait a minute! Plastic Man is 75 years old today?! But he looks great — sometimes even better than ever! How does he do it?
Hey, don’t look at me — blame Kyle Baker.
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.) Continue reading Celebrate 75 years with … a whole bunch of Plastic Man origins!
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!”
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!
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!
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.
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!
I’ve mentioned before how I don’t think much of Plastic Man being portrayed as a lascivious lech, but for some reason when Woozy does it I find it hilarious. And really, that’s got to be one of the best pick-up lines in history.
You might as well forget The Detective right now, Talia – ain’t no way you’re going to resist that ol’ Winks charm.
from Plastic Man #19 (vol. 4)
Kyle Baker, writer/artist
It’s Valentine’s Day! A time when there’s something special in the air, when a young man’s fancy turns to … Plastic Man!
DC Comics and Cleo knew this way back in 1980, when the arts-and-crafts company put out the Super Friends Action Valentine Playbook, featuring a handful of DC’s most popular characters declaring their no-doubt platonic love. And who managed to wiggle his way in there? Well, it wasn’t that chump, Dibney.
That’s right — Plastic Man thinks you’re a knockout! Here’s a non-sideways look at the valentine.
This activity book would have come out a few months into the first season of the Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show, so it makes sense that Plas would have been popping up in licensed products here and there. And of course, he lends himself to some interesting art projects.
OK, taking another look at that valentine, I know what you’re thinking — BEST VALENTINE EVER! Happy Valentine’s Day, Plasti-fans!
Thanks to Rob Kelly of The Aquaman Shrine for passing these on!
Bonus: Plas and Morgan reconcile in Plastic Man #6 (vol. 4), written and drawn by Kyle Baker.
D’awww … that Eely-poo is such a softie.