- from Plastic Man #14 (vol. 2)
- Elliot S! Maggin, writer; Ramona Fradon, artist; Mike Royer, inker
- Gerry Conway, editor
Ramona Fradon — well-known Aquaman artist, co-creator of Metamorpho, and, of course, a celebrated illustrator of Plastic Man — turns 90 today!
Fradon left an undeniable and indelible mark on Plas (and a ton of other characters), and is still doing it today as a working artist available for commissions. It’s no wonder her work remains popular: Not only does she have an appealingly old-school, clean-line style, but she continues to refine her art with an expressive sophistication and deceptive detail that always impresses.
Still, it’s her Bronze Age Plastic Man work that’s my favorite, so let’s celebrate Ramona Fradon’s birthday by giving ourselves the gift of this uncolored splash page from Plastic Man #16!
What a great page from a great artist! Happy birthday, Ramona Fradon!
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!
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!
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!
I’ve been doing a lot of running around lately, which is the best, lamest excuse I can come up with for not updating this blog more often. Luckily, Plastic Man has been in the aether in just the past week, so let’s hit the highlights!
It was announced last week that creators Jesus Merino, Evan “Doc” Shaner, and writer Steve Orlando will be working exclusively with DC Comics, a result of DC’s ongoing effort to lock up talent in its run-up to the Rebirth non-relaunch thing. All three have already been doing work for the publisher, and it’s a good idea to keep them around on a long-term basis.
The best part for me, though, was knowing Shaner will be one of the architects of this latest iteration of the DCU. Not only does he have a wonderfully old-school style that’s worked so well with Captain Marvel, Flash Gordon, and others, but he’s also got an obvious affinity for Plastic Man. He’s done a number of pieces featuring Plas just for the fun of it, and then he said this in the press release announcing his exclusive deal:
… The Flash Gordon artist went on to praise the characters he’ll possibly get to work with, as well as the Hanna-Barbera characters he’s been tapped to pencil, saying, “Superman, Captain Marvel, The Flash, Plastic Man, and so many more — these are some of my favorite characters of all time …” [emphasis mine]
It’s a faint trail, but it leads me to believe that we’re finally going to see Plastic Man’s return to the DCU! And if Shaner is the artist working with the character, that’s even better (and something I’ve advocated for a while now). Every time DC does one of these reboots, I hope that Plas will be part of the new setting, and almost every time I end up disappointed. But this time, I’m both cautiously and enthusiastically optimistic — don’t break my heart, DC — give us more of this!
Recently I had the privilege of being a guest on Ryan Daly’s Secret Origins podcast! It’s one of my favorite shows, so it was a thrill to be on. The podcast covers every issue of DC’s 1980s series Secret Origins, and we talked about the second half of issue #30 — featuring Plastic Man! Ryan is also joined by Bradley Null to discuss the first half of the comic, highlighting Ralph Dibny, aka, the Elongated Man. The show and the comic are lots of fun, so go give it a listen (and while you’re at it, browse through the other podcasts that are part of the Fire and Water Podcast Network — you won’t be sorry).
Part of what’s been keeping me busy lately was a trip to my hometown, where I finally got to visit Asylum Comics and Cards, one of the few comic shops in the city. (Seriously, El Paso, what’s up with that?!) Asylum is a great little shop, with a good mix of new comics, back issues (including treasury editions!), and toys and figures. And the owner is willing to negotiate prices on back issues, which means I got this sweet baby for a very good price.
It’s always a thrill to find back issues of Plastic Man, especially when they’re from the Steve Skeates/Ramona Fradon run, but it’s even better to bring them home with you.
I’ve mentioned a couple of times how much I’m looking forward to Hilary Barta’s covers for Convergence: Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters, and thanks to the artist we got a couple of sneak peeks at what readers could expect when the title is released in April. But now that that the solicitations are up on the DC website, we finally get to see the full-color version for the first issue.
That is one explosive image! (Pun intended – I apologize for nothing.) It’s a dynamic drawing, and the colors really help Plas and his Nazi-punching pals from the Freedom Fighters jump off the page … even though the solicitation makes it sound as if the heroes might be teaming up with history’s biggest villains.
STARRING HEROES FROM CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS! You have to see this story to believe it! Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters are on the gallows in a New York City taken over by Nazis, when robot super heroes attack from Futures End and enemies become allies.
Like most things, that could be completely awesome or utterly terrible. I’m curious to see where writer Simon Oliver takes it. While we’re on the topic of covers, let’s talk about that Chip Kidd variant.
Pretty cool, right? I’m a fan of Kidd’s design work, and not surprisingly I think what he did for Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits is among his best. Unfortunately, while I love his variant cover, I hate the fact that the solicitation only mentions his contribution and not the original artist — who in this case is iconic Plastic Man artist Ramona Fradon.
Let me make it clear: I don’t blame Chip Kidd for this. I’m sure if it was up to him he’d gladly give credit where it’s due; he is, after all, an artist himself. Instead this seems like the sadly familiar circumstance of DC Comics overlooking the creators who have, and continue to, provide them with content. (You might’ve noticed, for example, that I didn’t mention who did the coloring for the Barta cover; that’s because DC didn’t actually list it). I can only hope that Fradon is mentioned somewhere in the book’s credits, just as I hope all of the original artists are credited. DC might not see it as the obvious thing to do, but it would be the right thing to do.
But just in case: The image above is from Plastic Man #17 (vol. 2), written by John Albano, with art by Ramona Fradon and inks by Bob Smith. The colorist, unfortunately, was not included in the original credits.
For what it’s worth, I admire (as always) Kidd’s eye for imagery. When choosing from the artists who have depicted Plastic Man in the past, he could hardly have done better than Ramona Fradon, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for this variant in my local shop.
Guys, I can’t tell you how this made my day.
That’s right, me and Ramona Fradon — best buds. Well, on Facebook. And no, we’ve never actually communicated directly, but it’s still pretty exciting! Fradon, in addition to being the co-creator of both Metamorpho and Aqualad, also drew Plastic Man issues 11 through 20 (vol. 2) back in ’76 and ’77. Her work on that run helped Plas find his place in the Bronze Age and eased him back into his Eel O’Brian origin. It was also pretty silly, and a lot of fun.
More importantly, today is Ramona Fradon’s birthday! If you’ve got any of her work handy, I’d say today would be a good time to revisit the work of this illustrious artist. I mean, just look at it!