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 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!

It’s Woozy Wednesday!

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Like lots of comic book scamps, the fourth wall means nothing to Woozy.

 
Panel from Plastic Man #4 (mini-series)
writer, Phil Foglio; artist, Hilary Barta; inker, John Nyberg