Plastic Man was 100 percent Jack Cole’s baby. No other creator has ever come close to equaling the brilliance of Cole’s take on Eel O’Brien’s heroic alter ego.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped people from trying. Over the past 46 years, a who’s-who of talent (Arnold Drake, Phil Foglio, Steve Skeates, Ramona Fradon, Kyle Baker, Frank Miller, etc. etc.) has attempted – and failed – to successfully integrate Plastic Man into DC’s fictional universe, and by extension the modern comics marketplace.
Interestingly enough, the Golden Age Plastic Man enjoyed a phenomenally long run (1941-1956) under the Quality Comics banner and Cole didn’t write and/or draw every single appearance of his most famous creation.
(Although Cole’s output was formidable …)
So what did the writers and artists who ghosted on Plas do differently from the modern creators who tried to reignite the character’s popularity? In my opinion, they stuck to Cole’s basic formula of portraying Plastic Man as the lone voice of reason in an insane world.
It’s an approach that works wonderfully when Plas is allowed to exist in his own, quirky universe, a condition that unfortunately cannot be met in an era where super-hero comics are ruled by serious, tightly integrated continuities that weave stories out of Batman’s or Wolverine’s every hiccup.
(Kyle Baker’s take on Plas’ universe probably came closest to Cole’s, but his Plastic Man was just as crazy as everyone else – which ultimately left no “sane” character to provide an entryway for readers.)
The following story is a good example of how the Golden Age Plastic Man fared without Jack Cole. The adventure is nowhere near as inventive or enthralling as Cole’s efforts, but it’s still fun and does a nice job of addressing the “horror comics” fad of the early 1950s without losing Plas’ unique style of humor.
From Plastic Man #40 (Quality Comics, March 1953), here’s “The Maker Of Monsters.” The writer and artist are unknown.