Thursday, May 28, 2015

Stretching Things A Bit

He wears no pants.  He has cool hair and a pair of goggles.  He fights crime.  Yes, I'm talking about Plastic Man.
The one, the only, the original: Plastic Man
I've mentioned my love of Aquaman several times in the past.  The New 52 has been doing Aquaman credit, but tell people you are an Aquaman fan and they think you ate paint chips as a kid.  They imagine that time that Raj dressed as Aquaman on The Big Bang Theory.  It's not pretty.  I've established Aquaman's badassery before so I don't need to repeat it here.  Since I am one of those freakazoid Aquafans it must come as no surprise that I like the 3rd stringers on the super-teams, the characters that don't get the pop culture love that they should.  Oh, Superman is cool, I grant you that, but is he fun?  I'm talking about Batman circa 1966 fun.

Comics should be fun, dammit.  Plastic Man used to be very fun, back in the 40s and 50s when his creator, Jack Cole, was doing the character for Quality Comics, before DC got the property.  Come to think of it, DC used to be fun too.  Oh well, it's all Darky-Dark-Dark now and there's no going back until the current demographic stops taking itself so damn seriously and grows up and their kids, if they can actually have some kids, get into comics.  And by that time I'll be dead so it's a lost cause, innit?
No matter.  I'm talking about Plastic Man here.  Plas is, in the current continuity, one of those characters that writers just don't know how to use properly.  The reason being that Jack Cole had a simple but effective formula for Plastic Man's adventures.  Plastic Man is serious, but his world is crazy.
Think about that for a minute.
Not correct
Plastic Man is played straight.  The crooks and villains he faces are often zany, drawn in a cartoony style while Plas is drawn in a square-jawed, handsome sort of way.  It works.  It works very well.  Take a character like the Tick.  The Tick works because he, the Tick, is fully into his role of super hero treating every problem in the same committed heroic way regardless of the actual threat, be it an expired parking meter or an alien bent on world conquest.  It's the same thing that made Buzz Lightyear so effective in the first Toy Story.  So why is Plas now a buffoon?

Is it the stretching thing?  I would say yes when we consider that the Elongated Man, another stretchy DC hero, became the butt of jokes and was played as a buffoon in the modern age despite being a top notch detective.  Metamorpho, the element man, can change shape and even become gas if he likes, he got more respect, probably because of Batman and the Outsiders.  Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic over at Marvel, essentially has the same powers as Plas, but he's a super-genius and part of the oh-so-serious comics of Marvel.  He gets respect.  Why not Plastic Man?

The Kyle Baker series from the early 2000s has been described as a return to the Jack Cole era, but honestly I've read the Jack Cole comics and the Kyle Baker comics and it was not.  Baker's work was not bad, it is certainly funny, but in a wacky Ren and Stimpy sort of way, not in the sly Jack Cole manner.  Meanwhile in the mainstream DC Universe, which is all Darky-Dark-Dark, Plastic Man is like Ambush Bug, which he should not be, only not genre savvy.  He becomes a sort of team buffoon, not really living up to his potential.  This from a guy that started out as a criminal?  I can't help but think that if Ben Edlund, the creator of the Tick, got his hands on Plastic Man he could have made something clever and wonderful of it.

This bears further investigation, I think.