In 1996, Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ commentary on the modern superhero and his roots came out as the impressive series Kingdom Come. Combing Waid’s ability to craft a quality superhero story and encyclopedic knowledge of the DC Universe with Alex Ross’ photo-realistic paintings worked as a story set sometime in the future where the ideals exemplified by Superman were challenged on all sides, by the public, by his allies, by his former friends, by his enemies, and even by himself at the end of the series. Three years later in 1999, Waid produced a sequel series, The Kingdom, where the villainous Gog kidnapped the infant son of Superman and Wonder Woman, attempting to alter history in his own favor and kill Superman in the process. The story as a whole involved four young heroes, sons and daughters of classic heroes, coming to the aid of both the older and younger versions of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman before ultimately rescuing the baby who grew up fast and introduced the concept of Hypertime.
Now, most of those second generation heroes had been seen in Kingdom Come, even if it was just hanging around in the background. But one wasn’t, and that was Plastic Man’s son Offspring.
Offspring was Ernie O’Brien, the pliable son of a pliable hero who barely appeared in the original Kingdom Come. He set out on an adventure, and wanted to make his father proud. He did. Once The Kingdom was over, it might be reasonable to assume that he’d be seen less often, and even then only in stories set in the Kingdom Come future.
Well, it didn’t work that way. In 2002, writer Joe Kelly was working on JLA with a team that included Plastic Man. One issue had Plastic Man ask Batman for help. He basically wanted Batman to scare a kid straight when said kid was running with a bad crowd. Who was this bad kid? Well, it was a kid named Luke McDunnagh. Plastic Man was concerned for some reason. Getting Batman out to where Luke and some other bad kids were up to petty vandalism and other small time crimes, it was easy to see why Plastic Man was concerned about this one seemingly random kid as Luke was changing shape, including his color, into anything to amuse himself and his gang friends. Batman figured out the kid was, in fact, Plastic Man’s son. Why wasn’t Plastic Man himself doing anything about this? Well, he was a deadbeat dad, and the kid was the product of a one-night stand.
Batman berates Plas for that, noting that of all the Leaguers at the time–which included Superman–Bats always figured Plas would be a good father. But Batman agreed to help out and scare Luke straight, which he did, but he also cast some mad (and well-deserved) shade on Plastic Man for not taking care of his own son, something Plastic Man was deeply ashamed of.
By the by, humorist and cartoonist Kyle Baker had an out-of-continuity Plastic Man series at some point after this, and he commented on the issue by having first Plastic Man tell a perpetually crying Luke, a character who had not appeared in the series before, that ignoring the responsibilities of fatherhood was out of character for him as a straight-arrow superhero, while later Batman tells the still-crying Luke that, given his own background having seen his own parents murdered in an alley while adopting multiple Robins, it would be even more out of character for him to in any way approve of someone abandoning his children. That’s actually pretty spot-on there. That story arc ended with the reveal Luke’s mother was Poison Ivy in disguise, and Luke was a brainwashed Clayface. As I said, it was out-of-continuity.
Not long after that would see a case that would send the League back in time a few thousand years where most of the League were basically killed by Bronze Age superheroes. The exception was Plastic Man, who was basically shattered into a million pieces until the rest of the League was revived in the present and he was recombined. Not only had Plastic Man not died, but he’d been conscious and unable to move or reform himself the entire time. He decided to take a leave of absence from the League and went off to, among other things, be a good father to his son.
Of course, Plastic Man came back, and not long after that Luke himself became a superhero going by the name of Offspring. He joined the Teen Titans (sort of, it’s complicated) and seemed to help out during a period between Crises when everything skipped forward one year and his tenure was largely ignored. He also managed to get kidnapped by the forces of Apokalips, but if there’s one thing he has going for him, it’s a supportive and loving father.
So, as much as Offspring has the potential to be an interesting character, much of what he does seems to be more of a chance to show what kind of man his father is. So, really, he exists to make his dad look better or worse.
Fortunately, he mostly made his dad look better.
Wednesday “You Reap What You Woe”
Comic Review: King Of Spies
Noteworthy Issues: Green Arrow #1 (April, 2023)