Plastic Man shows off his power. Artist: Jack Cole.


Medium: Comic Books
Published by: Quality Comics
First Appeared: 1941
Creator: Jack Cole
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The "longest arm of the law" started out not an arm of the law at all. Eel O'Brian was part of a criminal gang interrupted in the …

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… burglary of a chemical plant. Wounded and covered with arcane substances, he was abandoned by his comrades, but escaped anyway. He quickly discovered the chemicals had transformed him, so that he could stretch his body into any shape. As revenge for their abandonment, he brought his former allies to justice. This brought him such pleasure that he adopted the name Plastic Man, and embarked on a crime-fighting career.

That's the story as told by cartoonist Jack Cole (whose earlier creations, such as Midnight and The Comet, made nowhere near as great an impact). It appeared in the first issue (August, 1941) of Police Comics, a monthly anthology published by Quality Comics. A year later, Plas (as the character was addressed) acquired a dumb, venal, but funny sidekick named Woozy Winks. Plas got his own title in 1943.

Cole was a comic genius, whose zany design sense was perfectly suited to a character that could assume any shape. He played the series for laughs, and was good at getting them. Plas was cast as the one sane man in a world gone mad — a situation made all the funnier by the fact that he himself, with all his shape-shifting, was the silliest-looking of the lot.

Superheroes became sparser toward the late 1940s, but Plas lasted until 1956. That year, the characters and titles of Quality Comics were bought by DC. A few, such as Blackhawk and Robin Hood Tales, continued as DC comics. Plastic Man, who had already lost his berth in Police Comics, was among those dropped. By then, however, Cole had long since departed, and the stories had taken a more serious turn.

Superheroes eventually made a comeback, and the idea of a stretchable one was revived with them. In 1958, Superman's pal Jimmy Olsen, acquired a formula which, when ingested, temporarily turned him into Elastic Lad. Two years later, The Elongated Man became a supporting character in DC's Flash series. (Editor Julius Schwartz later said he'd never have used such an unwieldy name, if he'd known DC owned the rights to Plastic Man.) Last but most prominent, Marvel Comics introduced Mr. Fantastic, a charter member of The Fantastic Four, in 1961.

In 1966, DC revived Plas himself. They took their cue from Cole's version, but it wasn't as funny as Cole had made it, and disappeared in less than two years.

Since then, he's been brought back once or twice per decade, never for long. In 1979, he was done as a Saturday morning TV cartoon, in The Plastic Man Comedy Adventure Show, but this lasted only one season. Even today, he turns up occasionally as a guest star in various DC comics, and is currently serving as comedy relief in the latest incarnation of The Justice League of America. Though some of these versions are reasonably enjoyable in their own right, none captured Cole's flair.

Jack Cole's Plastic Man is one of the comics medium's true classics. Without him, Plas is a second-stringer.


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