This is probably going to be a short review, because in all honestly I’m still a little confused by Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters, and whatever this two-issue mini series was trying to do.
I can only guess that the mini was DC’s quick-and-dirty way of reintroducing Plastic Man to readers, and maybe setting up a new status quo for what I hope is the character’s return to a post-Convergence DCU. But as I said, that’s only a guess because the story itself doesn’t tell us much.
The second issue opens with a brief recap of Plas’ origin and a neat look at his time at the Rest Haven monastery, where he not only learns how to control his power but where he’s also put on his personal path to redemption. From there we jump into a scene where the Future’s End superbots are wreaking havoc on a platoon of Nazis while the Freedom Fighters look on. How long have the robots been tearing through the city? How did the Freedom Fighters manage to complete their escape from the Nazi prison from last issue? How were the Axis soldiers able to mobilize so quickly (or did it happen slowly? The city looks wrecked, later), and why are the Freedom Fighters and the Silver Ghost so quick to ally with each other? None of these – or any other – questions are ever really answered, and transitions from scene to scene jump forward with a jarring abruptness.
There are some fun fight scenes – artist John McCrea seemed to be having a little more fun this issue – and moments of light-heartedness, but for the most part the whole thing felt … shapeless. And surprisingly, this isn’t a great thing when it comes to a Plastic Man comic (or any comic, really). It made me wonder what writer Simon Oliver was shooting for, because while a reader could see points where the ideas of Plas’ atonement, heroism and questions of identity were being brought up, it was harder to see the writer who brought us The Exterminators and the excellent FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics. I suspect the problem is really with the editing, not the creative team, and I’d be interested in seeing what Oliver could do with an ongoing series where he could flesh out some of these ideas.
Oh, and the rest of the Freedom Fighters? If you’re a fan of the team, prepare for disappointment as the gang makes what is essentially the best-marketed cameo in comic book history.
I do like Phantom Lady’s slightly more sensible outfit, though.
Let’s be clear about one thing right from the beginning: Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters #1 was not what I was expecting. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
If you picked up this book thinking you were going to get the wisecracking Plas, the hyperactive hero no one — including himself — takes seriously, you were in for a surprise. This isn’t about Plastic Man as comic relief; this is Plas during wartime.
That’s something important to keep in mind, and a realization I had to come to myself reading this first installment of the two-issue mini series. Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters, at least in this first issue, is less of a superhero comic and more of a war comic. And in the context of a story set on Earth X — where the Nazis have won and New York is a city under fascist control — it makes sense.
Written by Simon Oliver, with art by John McCrea, the story sets the scene and tone early, with Nazi soldiers building a gallows for the captured and de-powered Freedom Fighters, who in this iteration seem to be led by Plastic Man. This is in spite of the presence of Uncle Sam, who usually fronts the Fighters, and it’s these kinds of small details (Plas makes an overt reference to Earth X on the first page, for instance) that make me wonder if, instead of a return to the Silver and Bronze Age versions of these characters we’re getting yet another, slightly different take. Is this the Plas who left Earth 2 to fight on Earth X, now gone native and burned out by the rigors of war? Or is this a Plastic Man who actually is native to this Earth, a hero the others have rallied around? I have no idea, and we’ll have to wait until the second issue to see if there are any answers.
Set against the opening backdrop of the gallows we also get narration from Plastic Man himself, a device used — sometimes ponderously — throughout the story, itself told mostly in flashback. The plot centers on a failed attempt by the Freedom Fighters at taking out a super-powered Nazi called the Silver Ghost. After losing their powers thanks to a Convergence dome suddenly appearing over the city, the Freedom Fighters barely escape and start living a life that’s even more underground than before, with Plas forced to return to petty crime just to keep the team fed.
Soon enough Plastic Man (now going by his old alias of Eel O’Brian) is trying to keep the underground movement going by buying guns from an old friend, who cynically betrays him to the Nazis. Somehow this leads to all of the Freedom Fighters being rounded up, though we’re not shown how, and this takes us back to the beginning, with the Freedom Fighters shackled in a prison and listening to soldiers preparing for the hanging. But at the last moment, the heroes regain their powers and bust out, just in time to hear a booming voice in the sky announce that the convergence has begun and “only one city shall survive” — setting up next issue’s appearance of the Future’s End super-bots.
I have to admit to having mixed feelings about Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters #1. The work by both Oliver and McCrea is solid, but both also feel rushed in places — an unfortunate consequence of having only two issues in which to tell what could be, and probably should be, a much more complex story. I kept getting the sense that there were ideas planted here that would never see fruition, and as a reader that made the whole thing oddly unsatisfying. The short run forces the creators to front-load the first issue with a lot of exposition and scene-setting, so I’m hopeful that the second issue will be less clunky.
McCrea’s art is great for the street-level action, and he consistently turns in some of the best reaction shots, but I’m not sure a book featuring Plastic Man is the best fit for his style. Many of the super-powered scenes almost seem static and, most disappointingly, Plas’ powers are barely on display. For a character who can literally take any shape that can be thought of, it was a let-down to see him only stretch like some kind of Mister Fantastic or Elongated Man. Shape-changing is Plastic Man’s defining characteristic — too essentially ignore it seems like an surprising oversight.
You might notice that Plastic Man is getting most of the attention here. That’s not just because this is a Plas-centric site — the Freedom Fighters just aren’t given much to do in this issue. There is very little action for the team, and even less dialogue or characterization. I understand that Plastic Man is the headliner for the series (wow, that feels good to say), but I still would have liked to have seen more from the Freedom Fighters. Instead, the story here could have been told just as easily without them included at all. Again, this could all change next issue, but for now there are a lot of characters being overlooked in what is ostensibly a team book.
As negative as all this might sound, I really did enjoy this issue, especially once I wrapped my mind around the concept of it being a war book. Is it a wacky, hijinks-filled good time? Nope. But it is an original, interesting take on Plastic Man as a hero, on his criminal past, and his struggle to resolve the two against the backdrop of wartime occupation. It’s ambitious and digs into aspects of the character that are often left unexplored. We’ll have to wait to see if the second issue delivers on that promise.
Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters #2 will be on sale May 27th!
In just a little more than a month, Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters will finally be on the stands, marking the pliable paladin’s first appearance in a DC comic in years. As part of DC’s Convergence event, the two-issue mini series will put Plas, Uncle Sam, Phantom Lady and the rest of the Freedom Fighters back on familiar territory — fightin’ Nazis and kickin’ robot butt (OK, that last part might be new).
Personally, I can’t wait to see what writer Simon Oliver and artist John McCrea put together, especially after Oliver was kind enough to take the time to share his thoughts on his approach to Plastic Man, some insights on what makes him work, and the importance of Batman’s severed head.
It’s Plastic Man: Did DC approach you to do Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters? Was it a tough sell? What about it appealed to you?
Simon Oliver: DC initially approached me about the Convergence project and I got cold feet, and was frankly a little intimidated. I was busy on other projects and the thought of getting to grips with the kind of continuity that fanboys rake you over the Internet coals over seemed a little daunting to say the least. So I declined, put it to one side and moved on.
But then two weeks later the phone rings and it’s Dan DiDio and the entire editorial team behind the project, and Dan starts throwing DCU timelines I could use and it’s going in one ear and out the other (when I say I simply don’t know superheroes, I really mean it), but when he comes to the one about Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters battling Nazis in occupied NYC, I was like, “Hey, back up there, what the fuck was that?” I might not know superheroes but I’m pretty sure I can do Nazis.
So I was pretty much in, but then Dan went on to say, “Hey, just focus on a character-driven story, and above all have fun with it,” which is an obvious but too-often unsaid detail of writing comics (it shouldn’t be about punching in and hitting predetermined story points) and, well, I was sold. And yeah I had fun writing it and I think it shows on the page.
What materials did DC send to familiarize you with the character? Was there a version or storyline — such as Plas’ time as an Axis-buster — that you connected with in particular?
I read everything I could about Plastic, which compared to some of the other DCU characters is surprisingly light on the ground. It’s odd, because everyone knows who he is, he has this insane name recognition for a character who’s appeared in so few books. There were a couple of questions about his continuity, he was at one point killed off, but then there was a question about if he was really dead? And can you kill someone who can’t biodegrade? I think in taking on Plastic Man I not only dodged a big continuity bullet, but really lucked out in getting a character who despite everyone knowing who he was, wasn’t too loaded down with conflicting history. He really is a diamond that’s been, if not forgotten, then at least kind of passed over in favor of other characters.
But out of all his past story lines it was the old battling Nazis story line I got to focus on. I grew up in England in the 1970’s when they still published a lot of war comics like Commando and Warlord. That part was relatively easy to tap into.
I know you can’t give away any details, but some of the art teased by (Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters artist) John McCrea seemed to hint at a closer look at Plastic Man’s time at the Rest-Haven monastery; does that point to the sort of thing you meant (in an interview with Newsarama) when you mentioned finding and exploring an “emotional connection” you weren’t expecting?
Yeah, it wasn’t what I was expecting going into the project, but at some point with Plastic the story started taking me below the surface and into his past to find out “who” he really is. And to do that I had to go back to before he became Plastic Man, to when he was a petty criminal, and find that inner conflict. I mean, he went from criminal to superhero pretty quickly. By accident he was handed these powers and given a second chance, when he really didn’t deserve it — that has to leave some scars, that has to create some conflict over “who” he really is inside.
Plastic Man really does seem to be a “known unknown;” everyone is familiar with him, but nobody seems to know much about him, especially when it comes to his past as a criminal. Saying he got his powers accidentally and was “given a second chance when he really didn’t deserve it” is a powerful point. I’ve always wondered what it was about his life as a crook that made him almost grateful for the chance to be something, to be someone, else.
Yeah I totally agree. He was a lowlife who had the potential for greatness thrust upon him. I think as much as he’d like to draw a line in the sand and forget his criminal past, it’s really as much a part of who he is and how he got there; he just has to learn how to balance both sides of himself.
He’s kind of a superhero without being overly super, or heroic. He’s in that camp of superheroes that didn’t train or plan on becoming what they are — I think that makes them kind of interesting. It’s kind of like lottery winners; one day you have nothing, the next you have it all.
Was there something in particular in the character’s origin or history that resonated with you?
There’s a big detail that I’m not allowed to mention, but let’s just say Plastic has a big “reversal of fortune” and is back where he started, forced to reevaluate his life so far, and choose how he’s going to act from that point on. I’ve not written superheroes before, but for me as a writer that’s the kind of emotional spine, the meat of any story, that you look for. I wanted to take Plastic on a emotional life-changing journey, but at the same time not lose who he is as a character and what makes people like him so much. He’s not a brooding guy, he’s not the Dark Knight, he’s not someone who’s generally weighed down by life. He rolls with the punches, he’s a glass half-full guy, and I didn’t want to lose sight of his humor, but at the same time didn’t want to make him a joke.
If there’s anything I picked up in my research and I think had a valid point, was that people liked Plastic but felt he’d turned into too much of a wise-cracking sidekick. I really wanted to take him back and show who he was inside, balance out the jokes with some heart.
Most people do think of Plastic Man as just a humor character without realizing Woozy Winks was originally the comic relief — Plastic Man was the straight man. You said you don’t want to lose his humor, but you also don’t want him to be a joke; how tough was it to maintain that balance? And what do you think of the more goofball portrayals of Plastic Man — do you think they miss the point?
I wouldn’t say they miss the point, it’s just a different approach, and as much as I like to have moments in my books that are funny, at least to me, I wouldn’t say I was an out-and-out funny writer. There’s a moment in my second issue, which only hit me during the lettering phase, where Plastic assumes the bag of explosives he has is fake. It’s just this potentially throw-away moment, or at least it should be, but one that has a huge impact on the story. But after all he’s been through, to make such a stupid but human mistake, is kind of funny to me. It makes him very human.
Speaking of Woozy, do you think he helps or hurts the character of Plastic Man?
I did manage to get Woozy in the mix, just one scene and things do not do well between them. If I did get to continue with the characters I’d go for dysfunction between them over comedy. Woozy would be the walking reminder of what Plastic was. He’s that friend who is going to get you shot. You can’t remember why you’re friends, but you stick up for them despite all common sense telling you to run the other way.
The more I think about (Plastic Man), really, the more I feel I want to pitch for his own book. It feels like such a no-brainer to me.
I couldn’t agree more. A Plastic Man book seems kind of obvious, and in particular I’d love to see what you would do with that. I have no idea what’s going on with Convergence, but whether his own book was set in the “regular” universe or the Nazi-fighting universe, I think people would definitely respond to it. I know I’d be in.
The Convergence thing is definitely a self-contained thing and from what little I know I don’t think it will have any huge bearing on continuity. I think it’s designed more as a way of looking back at different aspects of the DCU’s past, before moving on into business as usual after the move (to California).
I don’t think I’ve heard it described that way before, but it makes sense.
I may be wrong but that was the impression I got when it was pitched to me.
I think that there may be some good books coming out of it. I kept waiting to be told to rewrite everything based on some change in another book, or to shoehorn in something that wouldn’t work, but they left me alone, even let me use Batman’s severed head as a plot device, if that gives you any indication. My feeling is they should learn from that and inject some sense of fun back in. Everyone is too damn precious about IP and potential movie spin-offs to have any fun anymore.
Which is such a shame — I think fun is what’s so appealing about superhero comics in the first place. But if I can have my own, “Hey back up there, what the fuck was that?” — Batman’s severed head?!?
It’s just a robot Batman’s head, but I couldn’t not find a way to do it. But I was surprised that they let me do it.
Knowing the approach was more than “punching in and hitting predetermined story points” is really encouraging. And while you’re not wrong about fanboys and devotion to continuity, do you hope some of what you’ve written will become a part of the Plastic Man canon?
I think I was lucky because Plastic has been so passed over by the reinvention and new, more grounded approach so many other characters have had in the last 20-plus years. It’s only two issues, and we cover a crazy amount of ground in those 44 pages, so I didn’t get to do the kind of depth I would have really, really liked to do on him. The great thing was that I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel, his origin story is no different, just his reaction and moral struggle is hopefully a new angle that gives him some added depth.
Were there any Plastic Man writers or artists that you particularly enjoyed?
John fricking McCrea — blew me away on this.
Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters #1 will be released April 29.
In the meantime, catch up with writer Simon Oliver on Twitter at @simonoliver01 and be sure to read his current series, FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics (it’s really good). You can also find artist John McCrea on Twitter at @mccreaman, along with lots of his great artwork. Let them know you’re looking forward to seeing their work on Plastic Man!
With the April 29 release of Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters #1 slowly inching closer, the two-issue Convergence mini-series is finally getting some love from the comics press. Newsarama posted a great interview with PM-FF writer Simon Oliver yesterday, and it gives some insight into what readers can expect when the first issue finally drops.
Oliver mentions more than once his aim to explore the emotional depth of Plastic Man, and that is really encouraging. That doesn’t mean I want Plas to become an angsty mope – far from it. But I do think the character has been allowed to be seen as a one-note clown, a court jester dancing around the more-serious – and more seriously taken – superhero royalty. It’s easy to forget that Plastic Man is also a former most-wanted criminal turned Nazi-fighter and government agent. Plas gives a writer plenty of avenues to explore, many that are much more interesting than the prankster role he’s usually shoe-horned into. As I’ve said before, Plastic Man is definitely a smart-aleck, but he’s no dummy.
Here’s some of what Oliver had to say:
But I got to kind of pick the storyline and characters, at first honestly because of the Nazis in New York City angle, but then when I started digging more into Plastic Man, who he was, who he had become, I really started to find that emotional connection I honestly didn’t expect going in.
And then there’s this:
I think one of the things I picked up on going in was in the past, readers had felt Plastic Man had fallen a little too hard into the comic relief role, without making him dark and gritty (which is itself becoming a well-worn trope). I wanted to stay true to who I felt Plastic Man was, but at the same time show some inner conflict, and at the heart of this huge story is his coming to terms with who he once was and who he is now.
Sounds good to me! And as Oliver also said, the book’s “got robot superheroes and frickin’ Nazis in it!”
Go read the whole interview for more about Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters mini-series, and be sure to put it on your list for April!