A Tribute to the of

It's funny how a good idea can be copied and repackaged and still seems rather fresh.  As you look over the many characters created in the world of comics you will invariably see some similarities.  Superman was such a raging success that he spawned all manner of imitations and DC even began to clone him as other members of the Superman Family emerged, to include Mon-El, his friend and Legion of Super-Heroes colleague; Supergirl, his cousin; his own past as Superboy; the Superman Emergency Squad; Bizarro and others.  Heroes with other special abilities have been created along the way as well, which is what makes the DC Universe such a great place to hang out.  For this particular review I'm going to spotlight the very first hero with the ability to stretch his body into all manner of shapes and sizes, routinely defying the laws of nature.  Yes, despite the fact that others have had the same ability over the years, to include Ralph Dibney, aka the Elongated Man; Jimmy Olsen, who, like Ralph, used a synthetic substance to create the ability when he became Elastic Lad (with possibly the most boring costume ever conceived) and of course Reed Richards of The Fantastic Four from Marvel's stable, the original stretchable hero was none other than Plastic Man. 

I have on loan from the Webmaster a great resource in the form of Amazing World of DC Comics, Issue #11 from April of 1976.  Contained within its pages is an article by Michael Uslan (who went on to become the co-Executive Producer of the Swamp Thing and Batman movies of the 80's and 90's) and within that work is the origin of Plastic Man, to wit: 

Eel O'Brian was a gangster and armed robber.  He and his gang busted the safe at the Crawford Chemical Works one night in August 1941 (as reported in Police Comics #1), gaining $100,000 in the process.  During the escape, the guard shot and wounded the fleeing Eel who tumbled against a vat of acid.  The acid spilled on him, entering his bloodstream through the wound.  He was nursed to health at a rest haven by an order of Monks who listened to Eel tell the story of why he went wrong:  "Well, y'see, my folks died when I was ten, leaving me alone in the world.  I tried to work hard but people kept pushing me around—Always pushing!  Until finally I got tired of it and started pushing THEM around!  I'd completely lost faith in mankind, until...well, you've given me a new slant on things."  And so, Plastic Man became the world's most unique super-hero while continuing on in his secret identity as the "evil" Eel O'Brian.  Eel participated in his gang's crimes but nabbed them in the end as Plas.  But since Plas was not an authorized undercover agent, he was therefore operating on the wrong side of the law.  It wasn't until later in his career that he joined the establishment by becoming a special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Luckily, he recently shifted to the N.B.I. (National Bureau of Investigation), or else his F.B.I. affiliation might have led him to the wrong side of the law again during the Watergate cover-up.

So, there we have the beginnings of Plastic Man in a nice, neat nutshell.  He was first sighted in the Silver Age in a rather surprising place.  Come along as we check it out in House of Mystery #160 from July of 1966 [On sale 05/19/66.] when Robby Reed uses his amazing dial to become Plastic Man, along with a couple of other heroes while taking on a new villain, The Wizard of Light. Jack Schiff is at the Editor's desk and Jim Mooney is in the artist's chair for this issue. 

Things start off with young Mr. Reed going for a visit to his cousin's home, which is apparently in or around Littleville, but far away enough to require the bus to get there.  Cousin Ned is busily placing pinups of various heroes on his wall, all of which happen to be personas Robby has assumed in the past, including Hypno-Man, Mighty Moppet and Giant-Boy.  Suzy drops by for a moment and since she seems to be acquainted with Robby I can only assume they met in the prior issue.  I don't have that particular one yet.  At any rate, they agree to meet later and then Ned and Robby are off to do some rock hunting.  The boys split up and Robby soon hears a thunderous noise that proves to be a dam failure.  The pent up waters are beginning to flow toward the farming community below when he brings his dial into play to try and stop the carnage.  To his surprise he becomes Giant-Boy, a repeat from 4 issues ago during the debut story of the "Dial H for Hero" feature.  He is pleased, however, as he knows his abilities and is confident that they'll be quite helpful.  Robby wastes no time and hurriedly makes his way to a nearby quarry where he immediately uses his super strength to hurl huge blocks of granite between the farmland and the rushing waters, creating a wall that serves as a substitute dam.  Having successfully averted the crisis, Giant-Boy hears another loud noise and investigates.  Dr. Drago's private laboratory has exploded and when he arrives at the scene, the police brief the hero on the situation.  The scientist is trapped in a cloud of poisonous gas.  Taking no heed for his own safety, Giant-Boy enters the ruined laboratory. 

The hero quickly spirits Dr. Drago out, but despite his strength and speed, he discovers he is not invulnerable and the poison fumes begin to overcome him.  He stumbles over a nearby cliff into the river, gasping for breath.  As he sinks into the water, his mind racing, he produces his dial again, hoping to revert back to his Robby Reed identity before he dies.  Part I closes on that ominous note.

Flipping quickly past two pages of advertisements, we reach Part II and Giant-Boy is desperately trying to work the dial.  Successful, he transforms back into Robby Reed, who rapidly swims to the surface, filling his lungs with life-giving air.  Briefly he wonders what will happen if he should become Giant-Boy again in the future.  Will he be normal or still suffering from the poison gas?  He swims to shore while pondering the thought and works his way back to his cousin's house where Ned is engrossed in the news.  Heartbroken, he learns of the death of one of his favorite heroes.  Robby suggests he shake it off and prepare for their outing at the fair tomorrow with Suzy.

The next day the three youths are indeed enjoying themselves when they encounter something bizarre.  Giant demonic figures appear to menace the participants at the fair.  In the confusion, Robby slips away to use his famed dial again.  After the letters "H-E-R-O" are dialed the transformation begins and he becomes the fearsome and mighty…King Kandy!  Yeah, it's true.  It must have been an off month for the writers.  First they dust off a previous hero and then they come up with this silly one.  King Kandy is dressed in a form fitting costume that is peppermint striped.  He wears a crown adorned with lollipops and the white stripe on his torso is encrusted with candy that looks like perhaps gumdrops.  Leave us not forget the candy canes on both sides of each boot.  I can't wait to see how this goes.

Leaping into action, King Kandy hurls a lollipop bomb at one of the figures.  It flies right through the creature and explodes harmlessly on the ground, tipping the King off that these are beasts of illusion.  Looking around, he notes a gang running off with the Shah necklace that was on display.  This time it's the licorice lariat that is called into play.  King Kandy lassos the necklace, snatching it away from the equally strangely garbed villain, who is wearing a pointed hat that would make Merlin proud.  He and his gang members pile into the getaway car, but in the next moment a series of gumdrops splatters against the windshield, delaying their departure.  The "Man of Sweets" (straight out of the text, folks) moves in for the capture with his taffy twist, but alas, we won't see how that works as the Wizard of Light emerges from the car and fires off a blinding flash of light, leaving King Kandy helplessly dazed.  The gumdrops are scraped off and they make good their escape, but without the necklace.

Later that afternoon, The Wizard is determined to succeed, so he strikes again in the Valley City Business District, this time using an anti-gravity light from his weapon to lift an armored car.  Robby learns of this latest criminal activity via the radio and once again decides to ride to the rescue in whatever guise the dial deems worthy.  This time he becomes none other than Plastic Man "—that famous crime-fighting hero of years ago!"  He wastes no time in heading for the crime scene by grasping a pair of trees, stretching backward and launching himself like the slingshot he imitates.  As he sails to the place where the Wizard has created the anti-gravity field, he attempts to land, but is also affected, so he again stretches his arms down and smacks the gang together with his enlarged hands.  Unfortunately he's soon sucked back up into the air, but he also notices that while both the Wizard and one of the gang members have lost their protective goggles, the Wizard is unaffected by the anti-gravity field.  Robby's thoughts reveal that he knows who the immune Wizard really is and he waits until the anti-gravity field dissipates to track him down. 

Taking a page from Bouncing Boy's playbook, he forms himself into a large, bouncing spheroid and travels like a red, oversized rubber ball.  When he comes upon the hideout, he extends an oversized fist and knocks the lookout for a loop while thinking he must now find the boss, Doctor Drago. 

Once inside, the Wizard cuts loose with a repeat of the deadly gas that caused Giant-Boy to succumb, but Plastic Man uses his unique abilities to stretch his arms and neck around the gas cloud, capturing the Wizard who is indeed Doctor Drago.  Robby explains his sleuthing to the malefactor:  "When I saw the Wizard was immune to the anti-gravity light without those goggles, I recalled Dr. Drago's miraculous escape—and realized he must have been immune to the gas fumes that finished Giant-Boy!  So, I put two and two together..." I guess it's a good thing Drago didn't put two and two together or he might wonder how Plastic Man knew so much about the prior encounter by Giant-Boy.  Ah, well.  As usual, good triumphs over evil and that wraps this story. 

As a side note, the accompanying Martian Manhunter backup tale, by Jack Miller and Joe Certa, is the first time that he assumes the identity of Marcos Xavier in lieu of John Jones and it is also the first appearance of the Vulture Crime Organization. 

As I mentioned above, Plastic Man is a pretty old character, created in 1941 by artist/writer Jack Cole.  He appeared, as mentioned above, in Police Comics #1 through #102 [10/50]. With ever-faithful sidekick Woozy Winks (acquired in Police Comics #13 [11/42]) in tow, Plas received his own self-titled magazine under the Quality Comics banner in 1943, lasting 64 issues [11/56]. Cover galleries for both titles can be seen HERE. Thanks Mike! :) After the company was forced out of business by an industry wide sales slump, Quality's character rights were purchased by DC and along with Plastic Man they gained the Blackhawks, The Human Bomb, Phantom Lady and other denizens of the Golden Age who we would see again in the future. See Justice League of America #107 [09-10/73] and #108 [11-12/73]. In 1966 Plastic Man received his own DC title (featuring the talents of writer Arnold Drake and artists Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino and Jack Sparling) but for some reason they decided to make him a humor character much like the parody "super team," the Inferior Five (Plas did a guest shot in that book--issue #2 [06/67]).  That lasted 10 issues and he went into hiatus again. A summary of his Silver Age run can be read HERE. He did team with Batman in a couple of issues of the Brave and the Bold, most notably in issue #76 [02-03/68] and #95 [04-05/71]. Next stop--DC Special #15 [11-12/71].  A later appearance in The Brave and the Bold teamed Plas up with both the Dark Knight and Metamorpho in #123 [12/75]. A synopsis of the Brave and the Bold issues can be read at this great SITE. Thanks Rich! :)   I learned that he was once again given his own magazine in 1976, with Metamorpho's artist Ramona Fradon doing the honors but he was again doomed to not having much staying power and folded after about a year, #20 being the final issue.  He has showed up off and on in various other places, including Adventure Comics, Super Friends, (and as a guest on the Saturday morning TV show in 1973. Plas had his own Saturday morning show in 1979.) World's Finest Comics and yet another try in his own title--a 1988 four issue mini-series. Membership in the JLA was granted in #16 [1998], but poor Plastic Man can't seem to find his place and he is often depicted as a bum, wandering around, feeling like he's out of place in the world and tired of the trappings of being a carnival performer.  It's kind of sad when you think about how long he's been around.          

It's interesting that they chose this particular setting to reintroduce Plastic Man.  My Overstreet guide goes so far as to say it wasn't his "real" Silver Age debut, but merely a trial run prior to launching his magazine again.  Perhaps, but I think a first appearance is a first appearance, even if it was in a kind of campy setting with a villain who didn't seem to be particularly menacing. 

I like the Dial H series, but you can't go into the stories expecting a lot of sophisticated story telling.  This one wasn't too bad, but I could have done without the ridiculous King Kandy and as I already stated, The Wizard of Light didn't shine very brightly as far as I'm concerned.  I'll grade this issue with a 6.  It didn't get fleshed out particularly well, but after all what can you do with 2/3 of an issue (the other 1/3 devoted to the Martian Manhunter) and the trademark 3-heroes-to-a-story?  It's pretty hard to go into things too deeply with those constraints.  Overall, I consider this title a guilty pleasure.   

Join us again in two weeks for the next installment and by all means let me know what's on your mind at:  silveragesage@thesilverlantern.com.

Long live the Silver Age!

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