Plastic Fang

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By the early 1950s, Jack Cole was no longer heavily involved in the creation of new Plastic Man tales and the difference was apparent. While many talented creators were drafted by Quality to write and draw Plas’ adventures, it’s difficult – if not impossible – to equal the output of the brilliantly creative Cole.

(A more detailed account of Cole’s ghosts, as well as the writer-artist’s response to seeing others work on his prized creation, can be read at the excellent Cole’s Comics blog.)

That said, Plastic Man’s adventures toward the end of the Golden Age are still entertaining and definitely stand head and shoulders above subsequent attempts to reinvent the character for modern audiences.

By 1953, the popularity of horror comics compelled publishers of the few super-heroes left standing to incorporate supernatural elements into their characters’ four-color adventures. Plastic Man was no different, as the pliable super-sleuth found himself battling monsters as well as criminals.

As today’s tale demonstrates, however, Cole’s ghosts were wise enough to keep things from getting too heavy. The 13 Days Of Halloween continue with “The Evil Terror” from Plastic Man #43 (Quality, November 1953).

The writer and artist are not credited, although GCD guesses the story was drawn by Al Luster.

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Coming tomorrow: The House Of Wax as interpreted by Charlton Comics’ House Of Recycled Ideas!

Monster Mash

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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.

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Death Be Not Plastic

Jack Cole’s Plastic Man is justly remembered for its balls-to-the-wall absurdist humor, but the great cartoonist wasn’t averse to exploring darker themes as well. In fact, his horror and true crime stories are legendary for pushing the thematic and visual boundaries of those genres to their limits.

Even Plas himself wasn’t immune to Cole’s darker impulses. The following story, which originally appeared in Police Comics #94 (Quality Comics, September 1949), opens with a scene of Plastic Man choking in a gas chamber – a horrific sight made even more unpleasant by the hero’s pliable body writhing in its death throes.

Yucks aplenty, right?

Everything turns out alright in the end, of course, but Cole ensures that both Plas and the reader sweat it out for a few pages before resetting the status quo. Here’s “Plastic Man Turns Killer.”

The story and art are by Jack Cole.

The Man Called Woozy

Plastic Man may have grabbed the headlines, but his able-bodied (well … maybe not so able) sidekick Woozy Winks proved to be a fearsome (wellmaybe not so fearsome) foe (well … oh, you get the idea) of crime as well.

You scoff? Read “Salteen’s Art Gallery” from Plastic Man # 17 (Quality Comics, 1949) and you may think differently.

(Wellmaybe not. It’s a great comic-book story anyway.)

Jack Cole provided the story and art.