|Publisher||Quality Comics (1941–1956) |
DC Comics (1966–present)
|First appearance||Police Comics #1 (August 1941)|
|Created by||Jack Cole|
|Alter ego||Patrick "Eel" O'Brian|
|Partnerships||Woozy Winks |
|Notable aliases||Ralph Johns, Edward O Brian|
Plastic Man (Patrick "Eel" O'Brian) is a superhero first appearing in Police Comics #1, originally published by Quality Comics and later acquired by DC Comics. Created by cartoonist Jack Cole, Plastic Man was one of the first superheroes to incorporate humor into mainstream action storytelling. This character has been published in several solo series and has interacted with other characters such as Batman and many others in the mainstream DC Universe as a member of the Justice League. He has additionally appeared in several television and video game adaptations, including a short-lived television show of his own named The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show.
Created by writer-artist Jack Cole, he first appeared in Police Comics #1 (August 1941).
One of Quality Comics' signature characters during the Golden Age of Comic Books, Plastic Man can stretch his body into any imaginable form, for example a ball or a car, etc. 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 and giving him a short-lived series in the 1960s.
The character starred in his own Saturday morning cartoon titled The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show from 1979 to 1981 and was also a recurring character on Batman: The Brave and the Bold from 2008 to 2011. He was also mentioned in an episode of Justice League Unlimited but was never shown owing to ownership arguments and copyright complaints. To get around these problems, the show used Elongated Man as a replacement.
Although the character has never been a significant commercial success, Plastic Man has been a favorite character of many modern comic book creators, including writer Grant Morrison, who included him in their 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; writer-artist Kyle Baker, who wrote and illustrated an award-winning Plastic Man series; and Frank Miller, who included him in the Justice League in the comics All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder and Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again.
Plastic Man was 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 gang members 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 chemical liquid. 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 chemical, 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'Brian, 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 chemical 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 comic-relief sidekick Woozy Winks, who was originally enchanted so that nature itself would protect him from harm. This power was eventually removed from the character and Woozy became simply a bumbling yet loyal friend to 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.
After the 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths, a 1988–1989 four-issue Plastic Man miniseries by Phil Foglio introduced a new version of Plastic Man: Eel O'Brian, abandoned by his criminal gang after being shot and exposed to the unidentified 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 to the changes to his body, but after realizing that he was the monster at large, he used his new abilities to escape his pursuers. Eel soon became so despondent over his new condition that he attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge.
Fortunately, he was interrupted by Woozy Winks, a former mental patient who was 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 resorted to flipping a coin to choose serving the law (though Woozy had his doubts early on). Eel ended up with the name 'Plastic Man' after a reporter misinterpreted his first choice of 'Elastic Man'. Eel and Woozy set up a detective agency in New York City and go on to have various misadventures together.
Plastic Man was made a prominent member of the Justice League during Grant Morrison's run on the title. The story arc "Rock of Ages" shows Batman recruiting Eel to infiltrate Lex Luthor's Injustice League in the guise of the Joker, which he does successfully. He notably engages in combat with the goddess Circe, proving immune to her magical ability to turn humans into animals. He is later made a full-time member of the League and aids the League in several battles, including against Prometheus, Julian September, General Wade Eiling, an upgraded version of Amazo, a White Martian who assumes the identity of Bruce Wayne, and Queen Bee. During this period he becomes close friends with fellow new members Steel (due to the fact that they are both "lateral thinkers") and Zauriel (Plastic Man later implies in the JLA: Heaven's Ladder graphic novel that his Catholic upbringing is a factor behind this, and Zauriel's existence is a testament to his faith). After the extended League dissolves at the end of the "World War III" arc, he is the only member other than the 'Big Seven' heroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern) to retain full-time membership in the JLA.
Plastic Man has also been instrumental in defeating several foes by himself, such as a Jokerized version of Dr. Polaris and the 'Burning Martian' persona of J'onn J'onzz (Martian Manhunter). He has played substantial roles in nearly every major team-up and crossover featuring the League of this era: with the Titans (The Technis Imperative), Young Justice (World Without Grownups), the Justice Society of America (Virtue and Vice, where he is one of the heroes to be possessed by one of the Seven Deadly Sins), the Avengers (the JLA/Avengers crossover) and even the Looney Tunes (in the humorous Superman & Bugs Bunny miniseries). In the Tower of Babel arc, Plastic Man is frozen and shattered into pieces by Ra's al Ghul's League of Assassins, as part of an attack against the Justice League. Though he is put together again, this experience traumatizes him severely and when it is discovered that the assassins were following methods devised by Batman, Eel joins Wonder Woman and Aquaman in voting Batman out of the League. The heroes reconcile in following issues.
The fact that Plastic Man was initially in the superhero business for the money has had an effect on his character development, notably in the storyline "Divided We Fall" by Mark Waid where he, along with other Justice League members, was separated into two people, his normal "civilian" identity and his superhero persona, by the manipulative wish-granting Id. While Plastic Man devolved from a person with a sense of humor into a constantly wisecracking and almost ineffectual idiot, the now "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 at all or this was just part of the super-hero "act". Ultimately, Eel was the driving force behind the other transformed Leaguers banding together to re-join with their superheroic selves, noting that Bruce Wayne in particular was approaching a mental breakdown as he struggled with his rage over his parents' murder – having lacked the ability to do anything about it, as Batman was the identity that had 'inherited' his skills. Eel demonstrates this to the other divided Leaguers by savagely beating Bruce Wayne with a gun in the guise of a mugger to prove Wayne's ineffectiveness, and demonstrate the degree of psychological damage he has suffered due to the split. Later, Batman comments that it was a wise move "under the circumstances". Later, Plastic Man approaches Batman for help when he learns that Eel's estranged ten-year-old son Luke has fallen in with a gang of criminals, and has inherited his father's shape-shifting abilities, possibly to an even greater degree than Plastic Man's own. Plastic Man admits to Batman that he doesn't know if he ran away from being a father because he was enjoying his new life as a hero, or because he was afraid of becoming like his own parent. Batman later intimidates Luke into returning home, and informs Plastic Man that he is disappointed in his cowardice, imagining that Eel would have shown Luke fatherly love; in reality, Plastic Man chose only to hide on Batman's utility belt during the whole encounter with Luke.
During the story arc "The Obsidian Age", Plastic Man and the other main members of the JLA were transported through time thousands of years earlier to the beginning days of Atlantis. During a battle with the antagonists, Plastic Man was frozen and then shattered into pieces. Having no way to locate all the pieces, much less fix him, with the technology of the day, the JLA returned to their own time. There they were eventually successful in finding all the pieces and restoring Plastic Man. Plas had been conscious the entire time but unable to move, which had a profoundly negative effect on his mind. He admitted he had lost his nerve and quit the JLA, hoping to live a regular life. This return to normalcy was made easier after a new encounter with his now-teenage son, which made Eel feel that the boy needed a father and a normal life. Eventually, Batman convinced Plas to return to his life as a super hero again when they needed his shape-shifting skills and immunity to telepathy to defeat the Martian Manhunter, who had regressed to a racial memory of the long-forgotten 'Burning Martians' after overcoming his weakness to fire. After a few more cases, Plastic Man is present at the memorial service held after this incarnation of the Justice League officially disbands during the Infinite Crisis storyline.
In the 2006 "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 written by R.J. Carter. The character wears a white costume with red goggles, similar to that of Offspring, Plastic Man's son in the earlier 1999 DC miniseries The Kingdom by Mark Waid. While the Teen Titans story itself does not identify the character, page two of a published script supposedly by writer Geoff Johns' specifies it is "Plastic Man's son, Offspring". Plastic Man's son is also shown in costume, and identified as Offspring, in the 2006 weekly series 52 in Week 35 (written by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid) when he is injured while rescuing a number of the depowered Everyman heroes. Eventually, Plastic Man and Offspring come together as father and son and briefly even had an idyllic family set up until Plas was convinced that he couldn't deny his destiny as a super hero.
In Countdown to Mystery #1 (2007) written by Matthew Sturges, 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. He is later freed of this corruption by Bruce Gordon. Plastic Man makes his next appearance within the pages of Green Arrow/Black Canary #8 by Judd Winick, having been freed from a stasis tube by Green Arrow. His DNA is taken by Sivana and used to augment an amnesiac Connor Hawke, in a bid to turn the young hero into a brainwashed slave with a strong healing factor.
Plastic Man appeared for a brief period in the 2009 Justice League of America vol. 2 series written by Len Wein. After joining up with the team following the events of Final Crisis, Plastic Man has his effectiveness questioned by his teammate Dr. Light, which starts a fight between the two, which Vixen breaks up. Vixen reassigns Plastic Man to team up with Dr. Light to stop the Royal Flush Gang robbery. Though they experience some control issues between them, the Royal Flush Gang is defeated and Plastic Man and Dr. Light finally stop arguing.
During a massive battle at the Justice League Satellite in Justice League: Cry for Justice, Prometheus injected Plastic Man with a chemical that badly damaged his plastic body. The chemicals caused Eel to suffer from a condition where it took great concentration to keep himself in his usual, semi-solid state and caused him pain when he even thought about changing shape, thus leaving him in an infirm state.
In the Blackest Night crossover, while still suffering from his deteriorating state, Plastic Man had his heart torn out by the Black Lantern, Vibe, seemingly killing him. However, due to his power of near-invulnerability, he was able to survive such an attack, albeit badly wounded. Vixen states that Plastic Man was being taken care of at STAR Labs, and that he would be unable to return to the League.
Plastic Man later appeared in Justice League: Generation Lost, helping a large coalition of heroes on an unsuccessful mission to trace Maxwell Lord. He had been seemingly cured of his condition, and was shown retaining his normal shape without issue or pain.
Later, he aids the JLA on their mission into Hell, where he helps Batman defeat Geryon. The League learns Satanus' plans to use Dante's mask to become powerful. Plastic Man grabs the mask, which possesses him. The Leagues combines forces to remove the mask, which is incinerated, seemingly killing Plastic Man. It is later revealed that Zauriel transported him into another dimension before helping the League escape Hell.
In September 2011, The New 52 rebooted DC's continuity. In this new timeline, Plastic Man is considered as one of the candidates for the United Nations-sponsored Justice League International. He is denied a spot on the team for being too unpredictable. This cameo appearance was later retconned by "Eel" O'Brian's proper New 52 introduction in Justice League (Vol. 2) #25 (February 2014).
In Dark Days: The Forge, Batman unveils a containment unit to Mister Terrific in The Lunar Batcave bearing the Plastic Man logo and suggests it is time to release him.
Plastic Man assists Mister Terrific into thwarting Simon Stagg's plot to open the portal to the Dark Multiverse using Metamorpho who had been transmuted to Nth Metal. While trying to get Simon Stagg to close the portal with the help of Plastic Man, Mister Terrific is sucked into the portal with Plastic Man and Metamorpho as Plastic Man shields them from the Dark Multiverse energy which he is immune to. Upon arriving on a lifeless world, they encounter Phantom Girl who has been trapped in her intangible form and who has no knowledge of sending a signal. When the four of them find a computer in the gut of a giant dead creature, they are greeted by a hologram of Tom Strong who states that they are needed to save the universe. Mister Terrific, Plastic Man, and Metamorpho learn from Phantom Girl that she was stuck in an intangible form since she was a child. After the four of them make it back to their world, Mister Terrific tries to leave the three of them at Simon Stagg's compound only to be drawn back to them. Due to the effects of the Dark Multiverse energy, Mister Terrific concludes that they can't go their separate ways due to this inescapable bond. The team goes through several adventures whilst being attacked by a figure known as Doctor Dread, who is later revealed to be Java. This revelation, coupled with the team curing their condition, causes everyone to split up. Plastic Man attempts to connect with his ex Angel and their son Luke, who has inherited his stretching powers. Initially reluctant, the two bond over a game of basketball and stealing the Batmobile. They are then called upon by the rest of the team to band together and save Mr. Terrifc from the Terribles, a team of their evil doppelgängers put together by Doctor Dread. Plas and Luke, now suited up in his Offspring look, work together to take down a vampiric version of Plastic Man from another dimension. Following the Terribles' defeat and imprisonment, the Terrifics officially reunite as a team, with Luke, Element Dog, and Miss Terrifics joining the roster.
Plastic Man was later recruited by Obscura to help investigate a multi-dimensional conspiracy. This led them to find that it was being committed by a group of villains called the Cabal.
Malleable physiology: 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. Eel exists in a fluid state, neither entirely liquid nor solid. Plastic Man has complete control over his structure.
Skilled thief: Plastic Man was once a very talented professional thief.
Master detective: Although no longer a criminal, he has insight into their mindset, enabling him to be an effective sleuth. He is also considered to be a lateral thinker and much smarter than he lets on.
His semi-liquid form remains stable at relatively high and low temperatures, provided that the temperature change is gradual. A sudden change induces a complete change of state, creating a truly solid or truly liquid form. Plastic Man was incapacitated in the JLA story arc "Tower of Babel" when mercenaries froze and shattered his body. Once thawed and reassembled, he was physically unharmed (though emotionally traumatized). In the JLA story arc "Divided We Fall", Plastic Man is shown to have some weakness to extreme heat (intense heat vision attack from a Martian) and was temporarily melted. In some versions, Plastic Man is also vulnerable to chemicals such as acetone, which melts and destabilizes his putty-like form, although he will eventually regenerate when the chemicals are gone. Another weakness is that the only colors Plastic Man can mimic are the colors of his body and costume (i.e. red, black, yellow, white, and flesh tone), although he can use these colors in various ways, once even managing to exactly duplicate the appearance of the Flash. Whether this is an inherent flaw in his powers or a mental block has never been explained, whereas, his son, Offspring, also gained his father's powers, but is able to mimic at will any color he chooses. During Offspring's introduction, it was revealed that Plastic Man could change color, turning his nose blue to prove to Batman that he could. This color change, however, was possible only with a great deal of Plastic Man's concentration, even for such a very small area.
Plastic Man has fought many enemies in his comics:
In Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again (2001—2002), Frank Miller's miniseries (set on DC's new Earth-31 in post-Infinite Crisis continuity), Plastic Man was betrayed and locked in Arkham Asylum for years with his body forced into a perpetual egg-like shape 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 most powerful superhero in the room. Carrie Kelley (as Catgirl) describes him as being: "Immeasurably powerful. Absolutely nuts". In this continuity, he appears with silver hair and a few wrinkles.
In All Star Batman and Robin, also written by Miller, Plastic Man has only appeared in issue #5 where he is a founding member of a proto-Justice League along with Wonder Woman, Superman, and Green Lantern Hal Jordan. He constantly changes shape and cracks jokes causing the other members to repeatedly tell him to "shut up".
Plastic Man (2004–2006), written and illustrated by Kyle Baker, harkens back to the Jack Cole version of Plastic Man featuring Eel O'Brian tended to by a monk in a mountain retreat following the events of his normal origin story. Inspired by the monk's kindness, Eel resolves to use his powers for good, becoming the crime fighter Plastic Man, and works for the FBI. In this series, Plastic Man gets a girlfriend (FBI Special Agent Morgan, later revealed as the surgically-altered fiancée named Nancy who Plas' alter ego had left in the 1940s), and adopts a Goth teenage daughter, Edwina. The series won five Eisner Awards for Best New Series, Best Title for Younger Readers, Best Writer/Artist: Humor and one Harvey Award for Best New Series.
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".
In the DC Comics/Marvel Comics intercompany crossover JLA/Avengers, Plastic Man is a member of the JLA and teams with Martian Manhunter in the Marvel locale of Wakanda, where the two encounter the Marvel characters the Wasp and the Black Panther. Plastic Man is replaced by DC Comics' Elongated Man after the merging of worlds.
Plastic Man is mentioned by Sal Paradyse in Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier.
In the alternate timeline of the Flashpoint event, Eel O'Brian is a villain. After Heat Wave was sent to death row for killing Jason Rusch, O'Brian arrives to break him out in the flying fortress of the military Doom prison, having been hiding, disguised in the body of his cellmate Cluemaster. During the prison break, O'Brian dislikes being called "Plastic Man", when inmate Sportsmaster calls him this. While O'Brian helps him to retrieve his weapons, he discovers Heat Wave attacking the guards' control room and attempting to ram the flying prison at Cyborg's home city of Detroit. O'Brian refuses to let him destroy the city, but Heat Wave turns on him and seems to kill Plastic Man by using his flame gun to melt his body. After Heat Wave is defeated by Cyborg and imprisoned in Belle Reve, O'Brian is revealed to have survived the flame gun attack and smuggles himself into the prison in Heat Wave's new cellmate's body, where he is later shown advancing on Heat Wave.
Plastic Man appears in Injustice: Gods Among Us comic. He is seen among the gathered super-heroes at Congress after Lara Lane-Kent delivers a speech to them, mingling among the heroes and politicians in the continuity where Lois didn't die.
In this story, Plastic Man is against Superman's changed ethics after the Metropolis bombing but doesn't physically try to stop him until Superman arrests Plastic Man's son Luke (Offspring) for opposing him. He breaks into the Regime's underwater prison, rescues his son, and frees the captured super villains and Green Lantern Corps while encouraging them to focus their efforts on bringing down Superman.
In the collected edition of Wednesday Comics (200 pages, DC Comics, June 2010, ISBN 1-4012-2747-3; Titan Books, July 2010, ISBN 1-84856-755-3), Plastic Man is featured in a story by Evan Dorkin with art by Stephen DeStefano. Plastic Man and Woozy battle Professor Grushenko at the museum over a magic elixir with resulting hijinks.
Warner Bros. Pictures began development on a movie centered around Plastic Man, in the early-1990s with Amblin Entertainment producing and Bryan Spicer directing. The Wachowskis wrote the screenplay in 1995.
In December 2018, a new development of a Plastic Man film was announced, with Amanda Idoko writing the screenplay and Robert Shaye to be executive producer. Few years later in December, Cat Vasko was hired to do a rewrite of Idoko's screenplay, while the project is being reworked to be a female-centered movie.
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. In the 499th issue of Mad Magazine, Plastic Man can be seen in the magazine's Watchmen spoof during Funnyman's (spoof of Edward Blake/Comedian) funeral.
DC Comics unless otherwise noted:
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