Plastic Man

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Plastic Man by Alex Ross
Plastic Man by Alex Ross
Plastic Man comic book
Plastic Man comic book

Contents

Facts

  • Real name: Eel O'Brian
  • Height: Varies, mostly 6' 1"
  • Weight: 235
  • Eyes: Groovy Goggles
  • Hair: Basic Black
  • First Appearance: POLICE COMICS #1
  • Powers: Can stretch and shape his highly resilient body into any shape he can imagine, even ones with moving parts. Immune to telepathy. Possible immortality.

Plastic Man (Patrick "Eel" O'Brian) is a comic-book superhero originally published by Quality Comics and later acquired by DC Comics. Created by writer-artist Jack Cole, he first appeared in Police Comics #1 (August 1941).

One of Quality Comics' signature characters during the period historians and fans call the Golden Age of Comic Books, Plastic Man can stretch his body into any imaginable form. His adventures were known for their quirky, offbeat structure and surreal slapstick humor. When Quality Comics was shut down in 1956, DC Comics acquired many of its characters, integrating Plastic Man into the mainstream DC universe. The character has starred in several short-lived DC series, as well as a Saturday morning cartoon series in the early 1980s.

Although the character's revival has never been a commercial hit, Plastic Man has been a favorite character of many modern comic book creators, including writer Grant Morrison, who included him in his 1990s revival of the Justice League; Art Spiegelman, who profiled Cole for the New Yorker magazine; painter Alex Ross, who has frequently included him in covers and stories depicting the Justice League; and Frank Miller, who included him in the Justice League in 'All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder' and 'Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again.'

Publication history

Plastic Man #37
Plastic Man #37

A creation of Jack Cole, Plastic Man first appeared in Police Comics #1 (Aug. 1941), an issue that also included the debuts of Phantom Lady and the Human Bomb, among others.

Cole's character, an immediate hit, took over as lead feature with issue #5. He remained there through #102 (Oct. 1950), after which Police Comics became a |naturalistic crime-drama title with no superheroes through its final issue, #127 (Oct. 1953). Concurrent with his Police Comics run, Plastic Man starred in his own 64-issue title. (The first issue carried no cover-date, but was released in 1943; the remainder were cover-dated August 1944 - November 1956.)

Cole's offbeat humor, combined with Plastic Man's ability to take any shape, gave the cartoonist enormous opportunities to experiment with text and graphics in groundbreaking manner — helping to define the medium's visual vocabulary, and making the idiosyncratic character one of the few enduring classics from the Golden Age to modern times. His art was striking for its bright, cartoony quality, with Plastic Man stretching across panels, going around the corner and up the street, wisecracking all the way. Cole's stories were noted for good humor mixed with deadly, albeit slapstick, violence.

By the end of the 1940s, however, the Police and Plastic Man stories were being created entirely by anonymous ghost writers and artists — including Alex Kotzky and John Spranger — despite Cole's name being bannered, and floundered creatively until Quality Comics went out of business in 1956. DC Comics acquired its properties, and while not continuing Plastic Man at that time later revived him in various series. DC editor Julius Schwartz noted that if he had been aware that Plastic Man was available, Schwartz would have used him as a supporting character in The Flash series rather than the newly created Elongated Man.

The character has since been intermittently published by DC, beginning with the omnibus special House of Mystery #160. A 10-issue solo series quickly followed (Dec. 1966 - June 1968), written by Arnold Drake and drawn by Gil Kane (the premiere issue), followed by Win Mortimer for the bulk of the run and Jack Sparling on the final three issues. He guest-starred in an issue of DC's superhero-humor series The Inferior Five, and teamed with Batman in The Brave and the Bold #76, 95, 123 & 148 (March 1968, May 1971, Dec. 1975, & March 1979)

Most significantly, however, DC reintroduced the startling Cole original to a new generation with the 25-cent giant DC Special #15 (Dec. 1971), reprinting Golden Age stories from Police Comics #1 & 13 and Plastic Man #17, 25 & 26. Cole reprints also sneaked into an issue each of Batman and two of Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen. This led to a second 10-issue series, numbered #11-20 (March 1976 - November 1977), drawn by Ramona Fradon and written by Steve Skeates followed by John Albano. Plas afterward starred in the "split book" Adventure Comics, sharing the title with the separate adventures of 1970s Starman and/or Aquaman from #467-478 (Jan.-Dec. 1980). Joe Staton, best-known for drawing Charlton Comics' similarly morphing, humorous hero E-Man, did the art. Plastic Man went on to guest-star or appear in short feature runs in several DC comics, and as an occasional member of DC's World War II-era All-Star Squadron.

After the DC Comics miniseries "event" Crisis on Infinite Earths altered or "reset" much of the history of the DC Universe, a four-issue Plastic Man miniseries by writer Phil Foglio and penciler Hilary Barta ran November 1988 - Feb. 1989, to re-introduce "Plas" to the post-Crisis continuity.

Writer Grant Morrison added Plastic Man to the Justice League of America (JLA) lineup when that superhero-team title was relaunched in 1997, often serving as comic relief. In issue #65, writer Joe Kelly revealed that Plastic Man has a 10-year-old son as a result of a fling with a exotic dancer (and additionally that Plas can change color, although with great difficulty). The son, Luke McDunnagh, inherited Plastic Man's abilities but has greater control over them. In this issue, Plas convinces Batman to help him prevent the boy from adopting a life of crime. Later, Plas leaves the League and voluntarily undergoes hypnosis to erase his own memory of his life as a superhero in order to be a more responsible father. This was short-lived, as the JLA needed Plastic Man to regain his memories in order to fight a renegade member, Martian Manhunter.

Writer-artist Kyle Baker began a new Plastic Man series that ran 20 issues (Feb. 2004 - January 2006). It featured humor similar to that of the Golden Age comics, while also satirizing modern comic-book stereotypes, and was generally considered to be "out-of-continuity" due to others appearing in the book (such as the Justice League) behaving humorously out of character at times. In this series, Plastic Man gets a girlfriend (FBI Special Agent Morgan, revealed as the surgically altered fiancee that Plas's alter ego had left in the 1940s comics) and adopts a gothic teenage daughter, (Edwina). Plastic Man won the 2004 Eisner Award for Best New Series.

Character biography

Pre-Crisis

DC revives Plastic Man after 10 years: House of Mystery #160 (July 1966). Cover art by Jim Mooney.
DC revives Plastic Man after 10 years: House of Mystery #160 (July 1966). Cover art by Jim Mooney.

Plastic Man had been a crook named Patrick "Eel" O'Brian. Orphaned at age 10 and forced to live on the streets, he fell into a life of crime. As an adult, he became part of a burglary ring, specializing as a safecracker. During a late-night heist at the Crawford Chemical Works, he and his three fellow gangmembers were surprised by a night watchman. During the gang's escape, Eel was shot in the shoulder and doused with a large drum of unidentified acid. He escaped to the street only to discover that his gang had driven off without him.

Fleeing on foot and suffering increasing disorientation from the gunshot wound and the exposure to the acid, Eel eventually passed out on the foothills of a mountain near the city. He awoke to find himself in a bed in a mountain retreat, being tended to by a monk who had discovered him unconscious that morning. This monk, sensing a capacity for great good in O'Brien, turned away police officers who had trailed Eel to the monastery. This act of faith and kindness -- combined with the realization that his gang had left him to be captured without a moment's hesitation -- fanned Eel's longstanding dissatisfaction with his criminal life and his desire to reform.

During his short convalescence at the monastery, he discovered that the acid had entered his bloodstream and caused a radical physical change. His body now had all of the properties of rubber, allowing him to stretch, bounce, and mold himself into any shape. He immediately determined to use his new abilities on the side of law and order, donning a red, black and yellow (later red and yellow) rubber costume and capturing criminals as Plastic Man. He concealed his true identity with a pair of white goggles and by re-molding his face. As O'Brian, he maintained his career and connections with the underworld as a means of gathering information on criminal activity.

Plastic Man soon acquired sidekick Woozy Winks, a doofus who was originally magically enchanted so that nature itself would protect him from harm. That eventually was forgotten and Woozy became simply a dumb but loyal friend of Plastic Man.

In his original Golden Age/Quality Comics incarnation, Plastic Man eventually became a member of the city police force and then the FBI. By the time he became a federal officer, he had nearly completely abandoned his Eel O'Brian identity.

The star of the Silver Age run of Plastic Man was the son of the original, who as a toddler had accidentally drunk a souvenir bottle of the same acid that had given Eel O'Brian his powers. Other Silver and Bronze-age versions appear to carry the same identity and origin as the Golden Age original. The Plastic Man who interacted with the Inferior Five was later identified as residing on Earth-Twelve. A subsequent version appearing with Batman in Brave and the Bold and Justice League of America was identified as residing on Earth-One. Afterwards, the original Quality Comics version was specified as being a member of the All-Star Squadron and Freedom Fighters, originally of Earth-Two and later moving to Earth-X. This version died during an extended period of World War II while on the latter world.

Post-Crisis

In the 1988-1989 Plastic Man miniseries, the monks and their good example were eliminated from Plastic Man's origin. Instead, Eel O'Brian, abandoned by his criminal gang after being shot and exposed to the chemical, wandered the streets as his new powers developed, frightening others and bringing the police and National Guard down on him as a dangerous monster. Eel was at first oblivious of the changes to his body, but after realizing that he was the monster everyone was going on about, he used his new abilities to escape his pursuers. He soon became so despondent over his new condition, and people's disgusted reaction to his floppy Silly Putty-like body, that he attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge. He was interrupted by Woozy Winks, a former mental patient kicked out of an institution due to lack of funding (or as Woozy put it, "something called Reaganomics"), who desired nothing more than to return to the warm safety of a straitjacket and padded room. Eel and Woozy decided to work together and capitalize on Eel's new powers to make their fortunes (Eel wanting to get rich quick, Woozy just wanting his "old room" back), but couldn't decide whether there was more money in crime or crime-fighting, and so flipped a coin to choose. Eel ended up with the name "Plastic Man" after a reporter misinterpreted his first choice, "Elastic Man", and with Woozy set up a detective agency in New York City and had various misadventures.

The miniseries also established that the exposure to the chemical had affected Eel's brain, causing him to see his world in cartoon-like dimensions.

During this time, he fathered a son during a brief fling with a stripper called Angel, but, after getting over the paralyzing irony of a rubber man accidentally getting somebody pregnant, he ran from the responsibility of being a father, although he remains unsure whether it was because he will always be a lowlife or simply because he feared being the same kind of father that he'd had while growing up. After some time, he was recommended for membership in the Justice League by Batman, and, despite his generally comic attitude, proved to be a valuable member of the team; he even formed a certain friendship with fellow League member Steel, playing a crucial role in defeating foes such as the Queen Bee using the Queen's inability to see red against her.

The retcon that Plastic Man was initially a superhero for money has affected his character development post-Crisis, notably in a JLA storyline where he, along with other Justice League members, was physically separated into two people due to the actions of the alien race known as the Cathexis: his "civilian" identity and his superhero persona. While Plastic Man devolved from a person with a sense of humor into a constantly wisecracking and almost ineffectual idiot, the "normal" Eel O'Brian struggled with the criminal tendencies he had suppressed as he had become comfortable with his role as a superhero, and wondered if he had actually changed for the better or if it had all been part of the superhero "act". Ultimately, Eel became the driving force behind the other transformed Leaguers banding together to re-join with their superheroic selves, although he was forced to beat up Bruce Wayne in order to make him realize what was happening to him.

After the "Our Worlds at War" crossover, the Justice Leaguers are sent back in time to ancient Atlantis before its initial sinking into the ocean. Though the Leaguers were killed in battle, they were brought back to life in modern times thanks to Manitou Raven's magical powers and Kyle Rayner's Oan power ring, which had preserved the Leaguers' souls. Absent from this battle was Plastic Man, who had been torn apart and his pieces spread throughout the seas. After reassembling him, Eel declared that he had been conscious throughout the thousands of years of formlessness, and immediately removed himself from the team.

Sometime afterward, Eel has himself hypnotized so that he does not remember that he and his son have superpowers. His time as a dedicated father is cut short when Martian Manhunter evolves into the fiery being Fernus, and Batman and Eel's son convinces Eel that he is the only person who can counter the telepath Fernus and save the world, with the revelation that Plastic Man's brain is as inorganic as his form and cannot be controlled telepathically.

One Year Later and Countdown

In the "One Year Later" DC Comics crossover storyline that followed the "Infinite Crisis" crossover, a young man with similar appearance and powers as Plastic Man appears briefly in the superteam series Teen Titans Vol. 3, #34. The character wears a white costume with red goggles, similar to that of Offspring, Plastic Man's son in the earlier DC miniseries The Kingdom. While the Teen Titans story itself does not identify the character, page two of a published script purporting to be writer Geoff Johns' specifies it is "Plastic Man’s son, Offspring".The Comic Bloc: "You Waited, Now See... Teen Titans #34", posted 15 June 2006 by anonymous "magicspoon" Plastic Man's son is also shown in costume, and identified as Offspring, in 52 Week 35 when he is injured while rescuing a number of the depowered Everyman heroes. In Countdown To Mystery #1, Plastic Man is seduced by Eclipso, being made to believe he is a joke among his fellow heroes, and the only way for him to get some respect is through Eclipso.

Powers and abilities

Plastic Man's powers are derived from an accident in which his body was bathed in an unknown industrial chemical mixture that also entered into his bloodstream through a gunshot wound. This caused a body-wide mutagenic process that transformed his physiology.

Plastic Man can stretch his limbs and body to superhuman shapes, lengths and sizes, with flexibility and coordination extraordinarily beyond the natural limits of the human body. He can become entirely flat so that he can slip under a door, use his fingers to pick conventional locks, pose as inanimate objects such as vehicles or pieces of furniture, and disguise himself by changing the shape of his face. There is no known limit to how far he can stretch his body. The only limitation he has relates to color, which he cannot change without intense concentration, so he is usually limited to his trademark color scheme of red, yellow, black, and caucasian flesh-colored. Despite this limit he has managed to pull off some convincing disguises in his time, such as when he posed as the Flash and even disguised himself as Batman's utility belt.

Unlike other elastic heroes such as Mister Fantastic or the Elongated Man (who retain their human physiology while elastic), Plastic Man's body is human in basic shape only. He appears to have no circulatory system or internal organs or even any cellular differentiation whatsoever. When his body is sliced or broken into pieces, there's no bleeding, and the exposed edges appear to have the same uniform pink color as his skin, as though his body has been molded out of rubber. This lack of differentiation extends to body functions as well. When Plastic Man's head was blasted into smithereens, for example, he simply molded another one in its place, explaining that it was fortunate that his brain wasn't anywhere near his head at the time.

He also isn't limited to contiguous, closed shapes as Mister Fantastic or Elongated Man are. He can open holes through his body (becoming a true toroid or a net, for example) and can even turn himself into simple machines with real, moving parts (such as a cart with wheels that turn independently of the rest of his body). Plastic Man has become so adept at molding himself to mimic inanimate objects that people can closely interact with him in these transformed shapes without suspecting that there's anything extraordinary about the chair they're sitting on or the mailbox they've just dropped a parcel into, apart from its red, yellow and pink color scheme.

Plastic Man is so comfortable and casual with his abilities that he is practically never seen in a normal human shape. He also keeps his bare feet molded into the shape of smooth boots, without any toes or arches.

Having no organic brain, he is not vulnerable to telepathyJLA: Trial By Fire and naturally he can recover instantly from transformation attacks, e.g. being turned into an animal.Wonder Woman arc, "The Witch and Warrior" His few vulnerabilities are associated with how closely his body resembles common rubber. He can be incapacitated by melting him into goo, freezing his body and shattering it, compressing him into a tiny confined shape, or rapidly stretching him past a point where he can readily reform himself, for example.

For the most part, however, Plastic Man's powers extraordinarily augment his durability. For all practical purposes, he is indestructible. He is able to withstand corrosives, punctures and concussions without sustaining injury (although he can be momentarily stunned). He is resistant to high velocities that would kill an ordinary person, as well as to blasts from energy weapons. On various occasions he has survived being melted down,JLA: Divided We Fall turned into stone,JLA: Crisis Times Five frozen solid,JLA: Tower of Babel and shattered into pieces, although some of these attacks do incapacitate him to the extent that he will need reassembling by his teammates. Most notably, in the JLA arc "The Obsidian Age", Plastic Man journeys into the past where he is scattered into separate molecules at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. He survives being disembodied like this for 3,000 years before the modern day Justice League reassembles him. While the experience is traumatizing, nearly driving him insane, Plastic Man eventually makes a full recovery and returns to duty just as before, indicating that in addition to everything else, he is also virtually immortal.

While he has no real brain, Plastic Man has been able to alter his consciousness. After the events of the Obsidian Age, he decides to retire and spend time with his son. When Batman comes looking for him to help defeat a rogue Martian, Fernus the Burning, he discovers something amazing. Plastic Man's son tells Batman that he went away for a day and came back with no memory of ever being a superhero. Only at the sight of his son posing as Plastic Man with his own shape-shifting abilities is his memory restored.

Before gaining his powers, Plastic Man was once a very talented professional thief. Although no longer a criminal, he has insight into their mindset, enabling him to be an effective sleuth.

Other versions

In Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again (2001—2002), Frank Miller's miniseries now set on DC's new Earth-31, Plastic Man was betrayed and locked in Arkham Asylum for years with his body forced into a perpetual egg-like shape (referencing a container of Silly Putty) by a pressurizing machine. The imprisonment and confinement drove him insane, and upon his release he lashed out at those around him. He fights Elongated Man, having the upper hand until Batman brings Plastic Man to his senses with a punch to the face. Batman declares that Plastic Man is the single most powerful superhero — presumably even more so than Superman and Captain Marvel, who also appear in the book. Carrie Kelly (as Catgirl) describes him as being: "Immeasurably powerful. Absolutely nuts." In this continuity, he appears with silver hair and the occasional wrinkle.

In the Tangent Comics imprint, set on the alternate-universe Earth-9, Plastic Man is a member of the Secret Six. He is scientist Gunther Ganz, whose consciousness has been transferred to a "living polymer".

A pre-Plastic Man Eel O'Brian appears in Batman Adventures #6 and 8 as a member of a crime gang lead by the Black Mask. He is also a source of information for Matches Malone.

In other media

Television

from the Brave and the Bold Batman animated series
from the Brave and the Bold Batman animated series
from the Brave and the Bold Batman animated series
from the Brave and the Bold Batman animated series
  • The character's made a guest appearance on the television series Super Friends and also appeared in some of the merchandise associated with the show.
  • And then starred in the series The Plastic Man Comedy Adventure Show, in which he was given a bumbling Hawaiian sidekick, Hula-Hula; a blonde-bombshell girlfriend, Penny, whom he later married; and later their son, Baby Plas.
  • The New Brave and the Bold Cartoon series on the Cartoon Network will guest star Plastic Man who will team up with the series regular Batman. Tom Kenny is providing the voice of Plastic Man. This time his work as Plastic Man will be aired.

In a recent interview with the comics continuum he told them, "Yeah, it was really fun to do Plastic Man again in The Brave and the Bold. For one thing, he's my favorite super-hero character of all time. I have a Plastic Man obsession. I love Jack Cole, the 40's one. And Andy Suriano, an animator/designer, and myself did a seven-minute pilot for Warner Bros. a couple of years ago, that they didn't pick up. And I voiced Plastic Man in that.

So I thought, "Well, that's the last that I'll be voicing Plastic Man in my life." And then they brought him back in Brave and the Bold and they brought me into do the voice. I didn't even have to audition. It was great. I didn't even have to try it out...


You know, I never really understood that 80s Plastic Man cartoon series, the Ruby-Spears one, because the most kinetic character ever done in extremely limited animation seems like kind of a dumb idea.

But this Plastic Man is very fun. One change that they made is that they've done a thing with Batman to be instrumental to Plastic Man's origin. He kind of winds up being his de facto parole officer. Because, as all of us comics fans know, Plastic Man used to be a bad guy.

That's what I always found fascinating about him. He was this gangster who had this accident and came close to death. He kind of had this ephipany, where he says, "I've been on the wrong side. I don't want to be a sleazebag any more. I can stretch. I'm going to have fun and be on the good guys' side."

I always thought that set him apart. He seems to be having a lot more fun than most other comic-book super-heroes. I've had it with nihilism and angst. "

End of quote

Magazines

Plastic Man goes highbrow on the cover of The New Yorker. Painted by Art Spiegelman.
Plastic Man goes highbrow on the cover of The New Yorker. Painted by Art Spiegelman.

The April 19, 1999, issue of The New Yorker features Plastic Man on the cover gawking at a Picasso painting. This issue ran a biography of Jack Cole by Art Spiegelman, which two years later would comprise much of the text in his and Chip Kidd's book Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to their Limits.

Action figures

There have been, appropriately, several versions of Plastic Man immortalized in plastic. In 1980 he was made into a stretch figure for the Mego Corporation Elastic Superheroes line. He was a part of Kenner's Super Powers action figure line in 1986. In 1998, Plastic Man was included in Hasbro's line based on the JLA comic book. When DC Comics started its own toy company, DC Direct, in 1999, Plastic Man was one of its first action figures made. A second figure, this time an interpretation of the character based on the art of Alex Ross, was released by DC Direct in May 2006.

Video games

In the video game Justice League Heroes, while fighting through the Watchtower, a voice comes over the intercom saying there is a message from Plastic Man. His message (interpreted by the computer) is that he has forgotten his keys.

Jack Cole reprints

DC Comics unless otherwise noted.

  • The Great Comic Book Heroes, by Jules Feiffer (Dial Press, 1965)
"The Origin of Plastic Man" a.k.a. "Eeyow! It's Plastic Man!" — Police Comics #1 (Aug. 1941)
  • Comix: A History of Comic Books in America (Bonanza Books, 1971)
"The Granite Lady" — Police Comics #51, Feb. 1946
  • DC Special #15 (Dec. 1971)
"The Origin of Plastic Man" a.k.a. "Eeyow! It's Plastic Man!" — Police Comics #1 (Aug. 1941)
"The Man Who Can't Be Harmed" — Police Comics #13 (November 1942)
"Plastic Man Products" — Plastic Man #17 (May 1949)
"The Private Detecitve" (Starring Woozy Winks) — Plastic Man #26 (November 1950)
"The Magic Cup" — Plastic Man #25 (Sept. 1950)
  • Batman #238 (January 1972)
  • Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #149-150 (May-June 1972)
  • A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics (Smithsonian Institution / Harry N. Abrams, 1981)
"The Origin of Plastic Man" a.k.a. "Eeyow! It's Plastic Man!" — Police Comics #1 (Aug. 1941)
"The Man Who Can't Be Harmed" — Police Comics #13 (November 1942) which has the First appearance of sidekick Woozy Winks
  • Plastic Man 80-Page Giant #1 DC (January 2004)
  • Plastic Man Archives
Volume 1, — Police Comics #1-20
Volume 2, — Police Comics #21-30 and Plastic Man #1
Volume 3, — Police Comics #31-39 and Plastic Man #2
Volume 4, — Police Comics #40-49 and Plastic Man #3
Volume 5, — Police Comics #50-58 and Plastic Man #4
Volume 6, — Police Comics #59-65 and Plastic Man #5-6
Volume 7,— Police Comics #66-71 and Plastic Man #7-8
Volume 8, — Police Comics #72-77 and Plastic Man #9-10


References

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