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!

Catching up with 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!

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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).

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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.

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The return of that little jerk, Robby Reed!

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.