Plastic Man fans go to 11

In every fandom, there are people who are into it, and then there are people who are really into it. These fans often go above and beyond, and eagerly share their enthusiasm and creativity with others.

Charles Ward is one these fans. Even better, he’s a Plasti-fan!

You might remember Charles from an earlier post, when I highlighted a Plastic Man figure he generously sent my way. This time he’s outdone himself — not only was he kind enough to drop me some Plas paraphernalia, it’s something he had custom-made. Check out these ready-to-rock Plastic Man guitar picks!

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You might notice the picks use some iconic art by Jack Cole (if it looks familiar, take a look at the header of this very blog!), and in all ways are a great use of the Plastic Man design and color scheme. In other words, these picks are pure metal.

Thanks again to Charles, and thank you Rhode Island! Good night!

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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 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 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)