He’s an extraordinary fool! I’ve been planning to write about Plastic Man for some time now, and GoCollect’s April Fool’s takeover seemed like the perfect opportunity. Let’s take a look at this high-powered but underrated DC hero.
Jack Cole created Plastic Man back in 1941’s, Police Comics #1 from Quality Comics. That issue also saw the first appearance and origin of Phantom Lady as well as a long-forgotten villain named “Slick Panzer” in story #711 (short for Convict #711), which is about an innocent man who purposely places himself in prison to fight crime from the inside. But please give me more Slick Panzer.
Origins: Joker with a Hint of Batman
Plastic Man’s origin might sound a bit familiar. It’s very similar to the birth of the Joker. A petty criminal named Patrick “Eel” O’Brien is on a job and gets shot by a security guard. He falls into a shelf of chemicals that get into the wound. He makes his escape but passes out in the woods. Here, he is found by a monk who takes Eel to Rest-Haven, a sort of monastery. Eel recovers and learns that the monk is fully aware of who he is and had even turned away the police who had followed Eel during his escape. When O’Brien asks him why, the monk responds,
“…something told me that here is a man who could become a valuable citizen if he only had a chance. Come, won’t you tell me your story?”
Eel tells his story (which is similar to Batman’s origin without the wealth) and then falls asleep. When he wakes, he discovers he can stretch extraordinarily far. He decides to turn a new leaf with his newfound superpower and become a crime fighter.
If only someone had listened to the Joker, Gotham might have turned out very differently.
Many Quality Comics characters were acquired by DC in 1956 when Quality shut down. I wanted to go into his story a bit because I find it interesting, especially his similarity to Batman (orphaned at age 10, but with no money or fatherly butler figure to take care of him) and the Joker, who took the opposite road after his own very bad day.
The Comics: A Golden Age 1st Appearance
Police Comics #1 is a very tough book. With multiple first appearances, including the very sought-after Phantom Lady, this one goes for real money. Per GoCollect, a 3.0 sold last September for over $5000. There are only 58 copies in the census, and 16 of those are restored. I have a copy of the Millennium Edition reprint from 2000 (there is also a 1975 Don Maris reprint). It is a great way to read these original stories. A copy will set you back about $10. Well worth it in my estimation. Interestingly, there are only three(!?!) copies on the census. In our slab-happy time, I would have thought there would be more. Perhaps an interesting spec would be to find and send to CGC or CBCS, high-grade raw copies of this book.
Enter the Silver Age
DC didn’t unveil their new hero (except for a handful of reprinted stories in the early 60s) until July 1966. House of Mystery #160 features Dial H for Hero. Young Robby Reed dials into Plastic Man. One could argue that it’s not really Plastic Man since it is another character becoming him temporarily, but it is considered the first Silver Age appearance of Plastic Man. In February of this year, an 8.5 sold for $329, and in that same month a 9.0 sold for $600. I have a raw copy in the neighborhood of 5.0. I think this is a book to pick up when you have the opportunity.
A few months later, DC released Plastic Man #1 in December of 1966. Here we get the Plastic Man we all know, hit with the ladies but target of both the police and the bad guys. This is a #1 issue and one to pick up when possible. In March of this year, an 8.0 went for $150. That seems extraordinarily cheap for a character with untapped potential. There are 240 copies in the census.
Plastic Man is an incredibly underappreciated character in the DC Universe. We see some of that potential in the team-up series, The Terrifics, a kind of DC version of the Fantastic Four. Now may be a great time to add some Plastic Man to your comic collection. Good luck out there!