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Plastic Man #5
story and art: Kyle Baker

Kyle Baker's nuts, man!

First, he takes one of the losing-est heroes of the DC pantheon and strips him back to the essentials. Then, he applies his semi-Hirschfeld influenced, unapologetically cartoony style to a character who's been milling around the muscle-bound superhero B-list for decades. And now- now that ol' Plas is bouncing around like the maniac he is, gags attacking the reader mercilessly and probably causing some minor asphyxiation- NOW that the book has proven itself as a perfect marriage of artist and franchise, what does he do? He gets somber.

And it's perfect.

Woozy Winks, having sacrificed himself to save Plastic Man from a fiendish trap, is dead, and the first half of the issue focuses on the funeral for the boy blunder, attended only by his mother. However, Agent Morgan and The Chief, still on the hunt for master criminal Eel O'Brian/Plastic Man, know Plas would never skip out on his only friend's funeral, so, spotting Mother Winks' brilliant red socks, they quickly move in for the kill. Plas still has a few tricks up his sleeve, of course, but there aren't any laughs, here; for the first time in his life, he truly has nothing and nowhere to run to. The Chief, on the other hand, is beginning to realize that facts aren't adding up like they were supposed to, and Plastic Man's guilt may not be as certain as it first seemed.

Kyle Baker's take on Plastic Man has succeeded largely based on the wacky humor he brings to the book, so a good question this issue brings up is "WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!?!?" Plas does a bit of his patented shape-shifting, sure enough, but almost all that Baker humor readers have come to love has been left at the door. He manages a couple of gags, but this is almost certainly the least funny issue yet. So, again, why?

Simply put, Baker REALLY knows what he's doing. Choosing to be as fine a storyteller as a humorist, he knows Plastic Man has to be crushed by the loss of Woozy, and he wants us to feel that, too. This probably couldn't have come at a better time, now that things seem to be shaping up for the end of the storyline. Another issue full of shape-changing gags could have worn thin, but this respite comes at just the right time for us to consider Plas more as a person than a running joke in a red leotard; a dignity not given to this old Golden Ager in so long, it's a crime.

I wonder if Baker could do the same for Blue Beetle…

Anyways, it'll be nice to see where he takes the stretchy guy in the final chapter of this story. While this book has been much more of a return to many of the classic ideals that defined Plastic Man than a radical revamp, there can be no doubt that we're at a crucial point in his continuing evolution. Since issue #3 reintroduced the monk who nursed Eel O'Brian back to health and influenced him to turn his back on a life of crime (during another near death experience, no less), the feeling that Plas will turn over yet another new leaf has been building. After Woozy's death, things definitely won't be the same, but where will he end up and what shape (or shapes) will he be in? Can the character go through a major transformation while remaining true to the lovable freak we've come to identify with?!

Well, probably not, so I'm trusting Baker to be sane, for once, and keep the changes as light and simple as his entire run so far has been. It may not seem like much to hope for, but I think we've all been through enough revamps to know that you never steer a comic away from the place where it works best, and, I'll be damned if this isn't the best Plastic Man has ever been.


Jason Schachat

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