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Stretch Your Mind -- Plastic Man Is Back!

Plastic Man #1
story and art by Kyle Baker

In style, it's not as much Jack Cole as may have been promised, but in spirit - there's a lot here that says yeah, man, Plas is back.

To do it, Kyle Baker has leaned just as heavily on Looney Tunes as he has Cole's legacy. Plastic Man's creator drew a world as wacky as his hero, populated with grotesques, exaggerating the mundane, and likely to break the fourth wall long before anybody thought up the term "post-modern." Sound familiar to Looney Tunes fans? Then the dual influence makes sense.

Baker opens with two criminals dreaming up a suspiciously familiar plan. The smaller of the two will dress up as a baby, and somehow this will lure banktellers into a false sense of security. Never mind the guy has a greasy pencil-thin mustache. In this world, such a plan might well work long enough for the more violent aspects to fall into place. (But I'd also bet the unnamed "Boss" goes by Finster.)

Unfortunately for the criminal duo, they hatch their scheme over a garish red plastic table. And unfortunately for the table, pepper makes it sneeze. It's Plastic Man, alright, able to assume any form from Max Fleischer nightmare to standard chiseled superhero.

Gone, at least so far, are some of the post-Crisis additions to his personality. Though Baker does letter the word "acid" incriminatingly (as in, the acid coursing through a wounded Eel O'Brien's bloodstream, turning him into Plastic Man), he leaves out any overt reference to this being something psychedelic. Thus we can assume that Plastic Man isn't actually doped up and constantly hallucinating.

Instead, he has just adopted a persona as malleable as his body. Always on the side of good, of course, and that malleability makes for some strong visuals, as in a sequence of the sleeping Plastic Man unconsciously reverting to being Eel O'Brien. Though it makes sense in hindsight, it never occurred to me that his goggles were actually part of his skin. Pardon the "eew."

Baker has also returned Plastic Man to the FBI, an element that seemed to have been dropped during his stint with the JLA. (And it is the FBI, as Cole had it, rather than the NBI as DC had it during the 60's through 80's.) Woozy Winks clearly considers himself Plas' partner, another aspect of continuity briefly acknowledged, at least, by Mark Waid during his run on JLA.

Beneath the fun for old fans is a dash of melancholy, insistent but not overpowering. It's hard to predict how strong it will run through this first story arc, but it makes a nice acknowledgment of modern storytelling expectations. Even silly heroes need a touch of the human.

As for Baker's art, like a lot of his more personal cartooning of late, it smacks strongly of his recent experiences working for Warner Brothers to revive Bugs Bunny and friends. If the guys at Cartoon Network are awake and reading this book, they might just want to bring Baker back out west to pitch a Plastic Man animated series. We need something to wipe the memory of the one with Hula Hula and Penny out of our minds.

Some people may take issue with the artistic approach. Indeed, it's really not like anything you might have been prepared for by reading JLA. But it's strong, somewhat unique, and at least has the illusion of being personal.

It's going to be a fun ride.


Derek McCaw

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