April 24, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Hero Case Files #94: Plastic Man

Wait...Plastic Man? Plastic Man? You're claiming Plastic Man is a Misplaced Hero? That can't be right.

I know what you, my hypothetical reader, are probably thinking:  Plastic Man is a rather well-recognized DC character.  How the hell can anyone consider him to be a Misplaced Hero?  Aren’t most Misplaced Heroes lesser known or forgotten characters?

Well, true.  But answer me this, hotshot:  where’s he been lately?

Plastic Man first appeared in Police Comics #1 from publisher Quality Comics.  The character was created by writer/artist Jack Cole and generally combined superhero thrills with cartoonish comedy.  Despite appearances, Plastic Man was actually the straight man in his stories with the humor coming from other character and situations, most notably his rather pathetic sidekick Woozy Winks.

He always looks so happy...
He always looks so happy…

Plastic Man was originally career criminal Eel O’Brien.  After a heist-gone bad at a chemical plant somehow got acid into O’Brien’s bloodstream, O’Brien was left for dead by his gang.  He passed out and somehow woke up in a monastery where he found the kindness of the monks touched him in ways he wasn’t expecting since he just plain wasn’t used to kindness.

Oh yeah, and his body was now all manner of stretchy.  His body now allowed him to bend or mold himself into any shape, or simply bounce when he hit the ground.

Taking the name “Plastic Man,” O’Brien decided to give up his life of crime and instead use his new powers and knowledge of the underworld to assist the police force in his home city and even eventually became an FBI agent.  One case had him coming across Woozy Winks, a man mystically protected by nature.  Woozy was rather dumb but essentially harmless when not being used by smarter criminals, and the nature protection angle was eventually forgotten anyway.

The thing is, publisher Quality Comics went under, and the character, along with many others, was bought out by DC.  But there seems to be a spot of confusion as to when exactly Plastic Man joined the DC universe.  There may have been a desire to use him in the pages of The Flash, but legal rights prevented it.  As such, the creative team there created the similarly-powered Elongated Man.  One of Plastic Man’s first Silver Age DC appearances was probably in the pages of Dial H for Hero, a series where a boy named Robby Reed found what looked like a telephone dial that spelled out the word “hero”.  When Robby dialed that word, he found himself transformed into a superhero of some kind, and Plastic Man (whom Robby recognized) was among the first.

As it is, Plastic Man was one of those background characters that popped up here and there for the most part but doesn’t seem to have gotten much attention.  During one of the annual JLA/JSA crossovers, members of the two squads visited Earth-X, home of the Quality characters, and a place where the Nazis won World War II.  Plastic Man is only seen in passing with the suggestion that he died trying to stop those awful Nazis.  After the original Crisis, Plastic Man got a reboot of his own.  He was still Eel O’Brien, but he ran into Woozy shortly after getting his powers and the two flipped a coin to see what would make them more money:  fighting crime or committing crimes.  Fighting crime won, and the two set up a private detective’s office.  As an added bonus, Plastic Man saw the world around him as a giant cartoon.

Plastic Man has also been known to appear in cartoons.  He did an episode of Superfriends and even had his own animated Saturday morning series from 1979-1981.  He even had an infant son on that show called “Baby Plas”.

Cartoon Plastic Man
Cartoon Plastic Man

But he got his biggest break in years when Grant Morrison stuck him on the Justice League.  Though something of a comic relief character initially, Plastic Man would stick around the League for a while even after Morrison left.  Perhaps the highlight of one extended story arc dealt with Plastic Man coming out of retirement to save the world from the Burning Martian.  That individual was original J’onn J’onzz, and the former Martian Manhunter had managed to defeat the Martian fire weakness, but unlocked a scarier, nearly unstoppable being who was looking to nuke the world.  Plastic Man was Batman’s contingency plan for the Manhunter gone rogue since the stretchy hero’s shapeshifting, unpredictability, and telepathically-immune inorganic brain made him more or less the one guy who could defeat a rogue Martian that couldn’t be stopped by a zippo.

Yes, by that time, it was basically decided Plastic Man wasn’t just stretchy.  He was actually made of some sort of living plastic following his chemical accident.

And then, one day…well, he basically disappeared again.  He’s made a few appearances in the New 52, but for the most part seems to have gone away again.  Will he return?  He’s an incredibly recognizable character as it is.

So, of course he will.

Someone has to stop giant, fireproof martians.
Someone has to stop giant, fireproof martians.