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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

COMIC BOOK RETROVIEW: PLASTIC MAN In The Silver Age, Part 2

Continuing a look back at Plastic Man in the '60s.  You can read Part 1 HERE
                          

I don't recall anyone ever saying anything positive about the 1960s Plastic Man series, which was DC's first attempt to revive the classic 1940s superhero it purchased from the defunct Quality Comics line in the '50s.  Of course, it would border on heresy to claim these '60s books could compare to the sheer comics genius of Plas creator Jack Cole's original Plastic Man tales in the '40s.  So yeah, this stuff clearly ain't Jack Cole.  But was it really that bad?

The task of updating Plastic Man fell to a couple of comics veterans, writer Arnold Drake and artist Gil Kane.  Drake had a wealth of experience in writing both adventure and humor comics; he created the misfit superhero team The Doom Patrol (and, later on, both Deadman for DC Comics and The Guardians Of The Galaxy for Marvel), and he wrote DC's long-running humor books The Adventures Of Jerry Lewis and The Adventures Of Bob Hope.  Kane's work on Green Lantern and The Atom had already made him a fan favorite.  Plastic Man's fate wasn't exactly in the hands of novices.

Still, it didn't really work.  It wasn't just that this new Plastic Man didn't have any of the zest and ingenuity of the original; it didn't have anything special of its own to offer, either.  It was a superhero sitcom, not altogether different from Drake's amiable, agreeable, and amusing work on Jerry Lewis, though somehow lacking...somethingThe Adventures Of Jerry Lewis was a fun title; Plastic Man was sorta fun, but not as much.

The new Plastic Man is introduced without a back story, a fait accompli, with no origin or explanation of the stretchy guy's powers.  Woozy Winks, the original Plastic Man's goofy sidekick in the '40s, is nowhere to be seen.  In Woozy's place, the Silver Age Plas has a new set of supporting characters:  his girlfriend Mike, aka wealthy and beautiful heiress Micheline De Lute the 3rd; his pal Gordon K. "Gordy" Trueblood, a pet store proprietor who wishes Plas would take the superhero biz more seriously; Mike's mother "Moms," or Micheline De Lute the 2nd, who despises that uncouth, good-for-nothing Plastic Man who has somehow captured her daughter's heart; Police Captain Matthew McSniffe, who hates Plastic Man even more than Moms does, and won't rest until he's proven that Plas is really a criminal, not a hero; the insidious Dr. Dome, Plastic Man's evil--but inept--arch-enemy; and Dr. Dome's daughter Lynx, a whip-wieldin' sex kitten who secretly lusts for Plastic Man's pliable bones.

Gil Kane's rendition of Plastic Man was only a slight modification of the original; Kane's Plas was more square-jawed, and he sported red leggings instead of bare legs, but was otherwise visually similar to classic Plastic Man.  Gil Kane was a comics legend, but Plastic Man is but a minor footnote in his long career; Kane's Plastic Man had none of the visual spark and pizazz of Jack Cole's character.  Nor did the script call for it.

By Plastic Man# 2, Kane was replaced at the drawing board by Win Mortimer. In Plastic Man # 7, it's revealed that the titular hero is, in fact, the son of the original Plastic Man, as Papa Plas and Woozy Winks come out of retirement to team up with the new guys.  Jack Sparling became the artist with Plastic Man # 8, and the book was cancelled after ten issues.


 




Plastic Man made but one extracurricular appearance in the '60s, teaming up with Batman in The Brave And The Bold # 76.  A Neal Adams cover was the best thing about the issue, as Bob Haney's story and artist Mike Sekowsky's loutish figures made the regular Plastic Man series look like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby by comparison.

Nostalgia interferes with my objectivity here.  1966's Plastic Man # 1 was the first time I'd ever seen Plastic Man in action, and DC's house ad for that issue was the first time I'd ever even heard of Plastic Man.  Up top, we asked the question:  Was DC's Silver Age Plastic Man series really that bad?  And, well...no, it wasn't that bad.  It just wasn't very good.  But it was harmless, and it was even occasionally fun.  And it served to introduce me to one of my all-time favorite characters.

Plastic Man's next appearance [SPOILER ALERT] was in 1971, as a surprise, unannounced guest star in The Brave And The Bold # 95.  With a cover-billed team-up of "Batman and...?," this issue ignored the '60s series and the son of Plas entirely, and brought back the original Plastic Man.  But now, Plas was played straight, bemoaning the fact that everyone thought he was a clown, a freak.  I was 11 when it was published, and I loved it.  Unlike the last time Batman and Plastic Man met in the pages of B & B, this time Bob Haney's script clicked for me, and Nick Cardy (perhaps my all-time favorite comics artist) turned in 22 pages of sheer brilliance.  You can argue that Plastic Man shouldn't be played straight--and, if pressed,  I'd probably agree with you--but, within its own parameters, this one worked very well for me.



But, that same year of 1971, I also finally had the opportunity to see Plastic Man as he was meant to be.  DC Special # 15 was devoted entirely to reprints of Jack Cole's Plastic Man.  I read Plastic Man's origin and first appearance (and discovered that he was originally gangster Eel O'Brien, not "Eels" O'Brien, as he'd been referred to in all Silver Age mentions), the origin of Woozy Winks, and more prime tales of Plastic Man at his best.  Mind blown.  This single-issue education taught me what Plastic Man should be, how he should look, how he should act, and rendered all other versions permanently beside the point. I'm still open to the idea of Plas played straight--check out Plastic Man's appearance in Justice by Jim Krueger, Alex Ross, and Doug Braithwaite for a stirring example of Plas fighting alongside Captain Marvel (another light-hearted hero) and the rest of the Justice League of America--but I know who the real Plastic Man is now.

The one.  The only.  The original Plastic Man.