The Plastic Man Archives: Volume One – Jack Cole

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Gangsters break into a factory. One is tossed into a vat of chemicals. He survives, and recovers in a monastery. Upon waking he learns that he now possesses the power to contort his body into any shape imaginable, and inspired by the monks’ altruism he vows to use his abilities to fight crime. He uses his original face as Eel O’Brian to infiltrate the underworld, and smooths himself into Plastic Man to catch crooks.

I really enjoyed this book. Best comic from the 1940s I’ve read so far, including Batman, Superman and Eisner material. Slapstick and grotesque characters abound in these pages. The most memorable episode involves a mad scientist rolling over American cities inside a gigantic eight-ball, complete with blueprints drawn by Cole. In another issue, a stuttering Jack Cole makes a stuttering cameo in a dream sequence. Plastic Man’s sidekick Woozy Winks, resembling Huckleberry Hound and the exact opposite of the biblical Job, deserves his own series. I say opposite of Job, because a mystic’s blessing has placed him under the guardianship of Mother Nature. The weather protects him from any danger, to the point that suicide is an impossibility for him.

I must warn that there’s racism in this book, and as it was written during the Second World War you can expect xenophobic stereotypes of Axis powers. One insensitive story concerns Plastic Man infiltrating a Native American tribe whose chief wants to support Germany, although I appreciated the sheer creepiness with which the chief would appear in mirrors and command innocent people to commit crimes. And for some reason, a higher than expected portion of the police force are Irish stereotypes. This seems common in 1940s media, like that old radio show where Arch Obelor broke the fourth wall and was mocked by two detectives for writing all his policemen as Irish.

I’ve decided that DC needs to make a film about this character. He’s relatively obscure, so he lacks the baggage of Batman or Superman. The main theme of the screenplay would be duality and change. You’ve got the Plastic Man/Eel O’Brian dichotomy, as well as the natural opposition of law and crime. The change theme would obviously related to his contorting power, and less obviously his transformation from criminal to hero. With the practical and CGI effects they’ve got now such a film would be pretty cool.

In short, if you see any book written about Plastic Man by Jack Cole, you should read it.

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