Saturday, November 05, 2005

Plastic Man

Here's an abbreviated list of graphic novels I meant to write about but never got around to it:

Spider-Man: Blue
: Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale; Batman: Hush: Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee; JLA: Trial by Fire: Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke; JLA: New World Order: Grant Morrison; JLA: Another Nail. Alan Davis and Mark Farmer (containing every character in the Pre-Crisis DC universe--if you don't know what the hell I'm talking about, you might want to sit this one out); Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth: Grant Morrison, illustrated by Dave McKean; The New Smithsonian Book of Comic Book Stories From Crumb to Clowes, edited by Bob Callahan.

The one that actually motivated me to write was Plastic Man: On the Lam, written by Kyle Baker (who recently worked with Aaron McGruder and Reginald Hudlin in Birth of a Nation).

Plastic Man was always one of the sillier superheroes ever since he was created back in the 1940s. His original artist even sold cartoons to Playboy of Plas doing such non-heroic acts as groping women from a block away (yeah, they could have done this with Superman's X-ray vision but they didn't even consider it). Baker's artwork matches the irreverent tone of some very funny situations:

FBI agent: "Uh, do you really think we should do this? I mean, we're the FBI! We can't just massacre civilians in a house of worship!"
CO: "You must be the new guy."

The story involves Plastic Man's struggle with his arch-enemy Eel O'Brian who was transformed from normal guy to superfreak almost exactly as the Joker.

The Joker was originally a villain called the Red Hood. While he was robbing a factory full of toxic goo, Batman surprised him, forcing him to swim through raw chemical run-off to make his escape. He got away but the chemicals mutated him into his present chalk white, green-haired Clown Prince of Crime.

Eel O'Brian was robbing the Crawford Chemical Works when a guard surprised and shot him, and caused him to be doused by a vat of acid. Abandoned by his gang, Eel crawled through chemical slop until he lost consciousness but was saved by the leader of a conveniently located monastery. Nursed back to health, Eel found that the chemicals transmogrified his body--he'd become plastic, capable of changing shape into anything he could imagine. Inspired by the monks, Eel turned from crime to become the world's goofiest superhero. Naturally the one criminal Plastic Man was never able to capture was the notorious Eel O'Brian.

In Baker's tale, when Plas is assigned to investigate a murder allegedly committed by Eel O'Brian, he winds up losing his secret identity, his status as a hero, and his even goofier sidekick, Woozy Winks.

In the early days of Mad Magazine, they ran a Plastic Man parody that tried to be sillier than the original. Baker must have read that issue because some of his scenes are dead-on imitations of Mad's treatment; Plastic Man parodies the parody and the story moves along without losing speed. The solution to the murder is unexpected but obvious in hindsight and manages to be as subversive and sweet as a good Simpsons episode.

Flipping through, I stopped at random on a page with lines like "It's a good thing fish have no civil rights" and "Eeew! You melted my butt." What's not to like?

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