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Happy Birthday, Plastic Man!

by Edward Buckler

Everyone who knows anything about DC Comics knows that the JLA consists of the World's Greatest Heroes, specifically and most recently Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Aquaman, and the Martian Manhunter. However, the icon most ignored both in the JLA and as an icon in general is Plastic Man. This month, Plastic Man celebrates his sixtieth anniversary as a celebrated comic book hero.

Anyone who knows DC Continuity knows about Plastic Man's humble origins as a hoodlum turned ductile superhero. For those of you who are not, a brief summary is in order. During a break-in at Crawford Chemical Works, a safe cracker by the name of Eel O'Brian was shot in a failed burglary as a vat of chemicals spilled onto him. Being ditched by his gang, O'Brian awakens the next morning to find himself in a monastery, where a monk has nursed him back to health. Impressed by the monk's kindness, Eel gives up his life of crime and uses his newfound powers of elasticity (brought on by the chemicals spilling into his open wound) to bring the men who abandoned him to justice.

Plastic Man is simply an icon. No one can deny it. However, the treatment given him by comic writers and fans alike is not indicative of an icon of his caliber. Throughout the sixty years he has been in Continuity, Plastic Man has been tossed about on the torrential sea of limbo. Ducking in and out of Continuity since the death of his Golden Age series, Plas has had only a few short-lived series and a mini-series from the Silver Age until today. This is a travesty when one considers the impact that Plastic Man has had, not only on DC, but also on comics in general.

Alex Ross, a favorite artist of many comic fans, has labeled Plastic Man as one of the five archetypal superheroes. Superman was labeled the archetype for science fiction, Batman for mystery, Captain Marvel for magic, Wonder Woman for myth, and Plastic Man for humor. Every comic hero that has ever dabbled their roots in humor, for example, Ambush Bug, Quantum and Woody, and Vext, all give a nod to Plastic Man, who is the basis for superheroic humor.

Plastic Man's powers and abilities have also been passed along to numerous other heroes. When Plastic Man arrived on the scene in 1941, he was a completely original idea. Since his debut, several characters have claimed ductility as their special ability. Elongated Man. The Fantastic Four's Mr. Fantastic. Generation X's Skin. Rubber Duck of Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew. Jimmy Olsen's Elastic Lad. The Pre-Crisis villains Malleable Man and Amorpho. Offspring from Mark Waid's Kingdom. Mr. Man-Plastic, the leader of the Inferior Five foes, the Kooky Quartet. Gum from The Atomics. These are just some of the characters throughout comics with Plastic Man-esque powers. All these heroes also owe a debt of gratitude to Plastic Man.

Not only do stretchy heroes give a nod to Plas, but shape-shifting characters as well. Characters like the Martian Manhunter, Clayface, Beast Boy, Marvel's Sandman, and the Wonder Twins, to name very few, are all cast in the same mold as Plastic Man. Even in early stories, Plastic Man is seen changing into inanimate objects like a rug - a practice that he still continues to this day.

Eel O'Brian is a staple in the history of comic books. A history that goes back sixty years. This legacy cannot be ignored, no matter how much one wants to do so. Like him or not, Plastic Man is a hero among heroes and needs to be treated as such. It is time that Plastic Man is recognized as the icon that he is and stopped being ignored and cheated out of the legacy that is rightfully his.

So, happy birthday, Plastic Man, from a sincerely loyal fan!

 
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