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Comic Book / Plastic Man

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"Boy do I envy them! They get to fly off into space and do cool stuff and I... I get to stretch out here where it's nice and safe again."

The original Rubber Man Superhero.

Plastic Man is a DC Comics superhero (formerly of Quality), created by renowned cartoonist Jack Cole. He is best known as "the stretching member of the Justice League" though none of this is completely accurate.

In his origin story, Plastic Man was Patrick "Eel" O'Brian, a gangster. One night while robbing a chemical company, things went awry as O'Brian was shot and fell into a vat of unknown chemicals; the rest of his gang abandoned him as they made their getaway. He managed to escape and was taken in by a monastery, where he recovered. The betrayal by his own men and the kindness of the monks inspired him to change his life, and he started using his newfound shapeshifting powers (he can change into anything he can imagine, but always retains the same colors) to battle crime as "Plastic Man". He kept his Secret Identity as O'Brian in order to infiltrate the underworld, but eventually joined the FBI.

As you can imagine, given the potential for zaniness of his powers, Plastic Man soon became more of a comedy series, especially after gaining a man named Woozy Winks as a sidekick. Many of his villains were even sillier, being parodies of Dick Tracy criminals or having pun-based names.

A more somber version of Plas appeared in some issues of the (original) comic book series The Brave and the Bold in the 1970s; in this case Plastic Man was shown as having fallen in love with Ruby Rider, a rich but evil woman, and being miserable as a result.

DC also published ten issues of a Plasticman comic in the 1960s, followed by ten more issues in the 1970s. After that was cancelled, Plas and Woozy starred in the anthology series Adventure Comics for a while in the early 1980s, with stories even sillier than before. It was around this time that an animated series, The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show, also based on the character aired; instead of Woozy, however, a Hawaiian character named "Hula Hula" was his partner, and Plas was given a new love interest in a blonde woman named Penny, whom he married and later had a baby with the same powers.

Post-Crisis, a Phil Foglio miniseries changed Plastic Man's origin to make him Darker and Edgier...ish. Kinda. "Dimmer and Slightly More Pointed", more like.

In this new version, Plastic Man was never rehabilitated by monks, and briefly considered suicide in the first issue because he considered himself no longer human, until he decided to become a hero instead. Woozy, meanwhile, was now a former mental patient who was quite content in his comfortable padded cell before he got booted out thanks to "something called 'Reaganomics.'" While it was slightly more mature, it was mature the way The Ren & Stimpy Show was more mature than Looney Tunes. Later portrayals would restore the old origin and have Plastic Man join the Justice League, where he proved his mettle.

Kyle Baker wrote and illustrated an unashamedly cartoony series from 2004 to 2006, mocking the ultra-seriousness of modern superhero comics, which was much-loved by critics and ignored by everyone else.

As of Dark Nights: Metal, Plas became a member of Super Team The Terrifics, an Alternate Company Equivalent of Marvel's Fantastic Four.

He's seen more recently in a 2018 miniseries by Gail Simone.

Evan Dorkin wrote and Stephan Destefano illustrated a Plastic Man feature to run in Wednesday Comics in case any of the other strips were unable to keep up with the deadline; while not making it into the serialized issues, the single page produced is included in the collected book.

Plastic Man in other media:

  • Plas was the star of Ruby-Spears's Saturday Morning series The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show from 1979 to 1981, where he was voiced by Michael Bell.
  • Bruce Timm has said that he wanted to use Plas in Justice League Unlimited, but couldn't due to just one of the many copyright issues that surrounded the show. He does get a few mentions in an episode called "The Greatest Story Never Told."
  • He also starred in a pilot for a series on Cartoon Network. Made in 2006, it also became a series of shorts for the network's DC Nation block. Much earlier, he had his own cartoon show called The Plastic Man Cartoon Comedy Hour by Ruby-Spear Production. It ran from 1979-1981 and featured live-action segments between animated shorts. These shorts included Plastic Man cartoons but also Marmaduke, Heathcliff, and others.
  • Plastic Man has appeared often in the animated version of The Brave and the Bold. In this version, Plas was a member of Kite-Man's gang, and it was Batman who caused him to fall in the chemicals (by accident) and then took it upon himself to reform the former criminal (who is shown as still having a hard-to-resist compulsion to steal). Woozy is back as his sidekick, and Plas has a new girlfriend, Ramona, a redhead with a "New York" accent and an abusive attitude. Oh, and they have a baby too. He has proven an Ensemble Dark Horse in a series full of them. Later on, Plas appeared in Scooby-Doo! & Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
  • He had appearances on Super Friends as well.
  • He was included in Justice League Action, which being more of a funny cartoon meant he fit right in with the whole premise.
  • He shows up late in the first season of Young Justice (2010) to help fight the Injustice League around the world. He is among the heroes that the League considers for membership, and Flash mentions that Plastic Man has an extensive criminal record, but he does eventually join the League.

Tropes related to this character:

  • The Atoner: For his criminal past.
  • Barefoot Loon: His suit doesn't often include shoes.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Plas is ridiculed often, but in JLA, he proved just how formidable he can be.
    Plastic Man: "You like burning?!? How about the burning inside your lungs as they choke for air?!? LIKE THAT?!?!"
    • A later issue of JLA reveals that the reason Batman brought him into the League to begin with was that he was the only person who could defeat Martian Manhunter if he ever went rogue. When Manhunter loses his fear of fire and temporarily becomes "Fernus the Burning", (due to Martians once having been savage giants who reproduced through flames and psychic agony, until the Guardians stepped in and created the Green and White Martians from them) even Superman gets his butt kicked. It's Plas who is able to take him down, being a faster and less hindered shapeshifter who is immune to his telepathy.
    • Another JLA storyline had him, like the other Justice League members, split in two: the stretchy goofball (who literally could not be serious) and Eel O'Brian, ex-career criminal. Eel is the first to recognize that the split heroes are all incomplete in various ways and need to be put back together, even though some are happier this way, and it's mostly his steely determination and sometimes ruthless manipulation that makes it happen. He also comments on sliding back into his "thug" mentality:
      "You know the sound a gun butt makes across a guy's skull? It's low and wet. Like a ball bat pulpin' a melon. Haven't heard that noise f'r years. Now it's like a song I can't get outta my head. And I wanna hear it again."
    • Plastic Man gives the Regime one of their greatest blows when he leaves retirement for just one day, by easily swimming to their super-prison at the bottom of the ocean, and jail-breaking its entire population with Lantern rings and Mirror Master's belt, which he casually swiped from the Justice League.
    • In DCeased: Dead Planet, A zombified Plastic Man is able to massacre some of the most powerful mystics in the DCU, all while resembling an Eldritch Abomination rising from a sea of blood.
  • Bumbling Sidekick: Woozy Winks is Plastic Man's sidekick and not very bright.
  • Canon Discontinuity: The 1988-89 4-issue mini-series by Phil Foglio took place during the early part of the modern age of heroesnote , and the timeline in Zero Hour: Crisis in Time! #0 seems to confirm it. But this was mostly ignored and his Golden Age debut reestablished.
  • Characterization Marches On: In the early comics, he was a textbook example of The Comically Serious. His most recent portrayal, the one in Batman: The Brave and the Bold, is entirely different - over the years his personality changed dramatically, being mostly comic relief and Fun Personified these days.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: In the modern portrayals. Given the potential of his powers, this was to be expected.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Woozy Winks
  • Cool Shades: Plas wears goggles that look like sunglasses.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Due to the jokesy nature of most of his appearances, people forget that not only can he go toe-to-toe with most of the other big names in the DCU without much difficulty, but he's also a trained FBI operative and survived dismemberment for thousands of years.
    • In The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Batman seems to be of the opinion that Plas is one of the most powerful and potentially dangerous beings on Earth. There's a reason why his contingency plan for Plastic Man going rogue boils down to "just hope that it doesn't happen".
      "He could kill us all. For him, it'd be easy."
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Plas has always gone barefoot, but thanks to his amorphous nature, he normally has no toes. Unless he wants some, of course.
  • Disappeared Dad: Played straight, then averted in the JLA comics. It's suggested that one reason for his abandonment is his work, but it's still Parental Abandonment.
  • The Dreaded: One very specific, but powerful example: Despite his goofy persona, Plas scares the everloving hell out of Batman.
  • Early Installment Character-Design Difference: In his first appearance, his costume was red on one side, black on the other. (And in some reprints, has only one sleeve.) Even Alex Ross seems not to know this (granted, he may have misinterpreted the black portion of the costume as shade).
  • Eating the Enemy: The Golden Age Plastic Man villain Mister Aqua had the ability to turn into water. He was defeated when Plastic Man's sidekick, Woozy Winks, drank him.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Plas invoked this in one of the Quality Comics issues in order to get Woozy Winks to reform, who then was using his power to resist injury for crime. Plastic Man reduced Woozy to tears by asking him what his mother would think if she knew what he was doing.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: The original Jack Cole stories for Quality had Plas having no problem using deadly force with his stretching powers.
  • Failed a Spot Check: A Running Gag in the original Jack Cole comics (and the Kyle Baker stories many years later) was that Plas would disguise himself as some object (a table, a lamp, a vault door, that sort of thing) to spy or get the drop on the villains, and despite being unable to change his coloration, the crooks would always fall for it. They'd even sometimes comment on it, wondering why the furniture was such a garish red-with-yellow-and-black-stripes, and yet they would never put two and two together until the table had sprouted arms and was already punching them.
  • Fat Idiot: Plastic Man's sidekick Woozy Winks is overweight and very stupid.
  • Fiery Redhead: Ramona in Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
  • Flexibility Equals Sex Ability: He can play his Power Perversion Potential into being a very desirable partner.
  • Foil: Elongated Man. One was a crook, the other a cop. One gets his power from a serum, the other was transformed. One is mission focused, the other... not so much. Their personalities became much more different after Ralph had a major Despair Event Horizon, but even before, while Ralph smiled, Plas grinned.
  • From a Single Cell: Plas can recover from very extreme forms of damage. Like getting reduced to gravel-sized chunks and spending a few thousand years scattered across the ocean floor before finally being reassembled.
  • Fun Personified: Initially he was more of The Comically Serious, but recent versions have gone for this as befits his powers - even in his Darker and Edgier reboots, he's usually the most lighthearted member of any team he's on.
  • Good Parents: He actively tries to be this for his own son after he had abandoned the kid his entire life. He once Refused the Call out of fear that returning to life as Plastic Man would force him to abandon his son again. His son is the one who convinces him to go back into action.
    • In the miniseries The Kingdom (the sequel to Kingdom Come), Plas's son reluctantly becomes a superhero named Offspring. It actually helps him understand what his dad went through and appreciate him even more. There's a hug between the two at the end of the storyline. Awwww!
    • While overprotective, he was also a decent dad for Edwina in his 2004-2006 story and did care about her a lot, but the two argued a lot since Edwina was kinda goin through a Rebel Teen phase at the time, but Plas and her do see each other as father and daughter.
  • Greek Chorus: Sometimes fills this role.
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: Stretching powers in comics are usually portrayed as pretty silly or downright lame, but Plas has proven he could be downright SCARY if he wasn't such a clown. He has shrugged off abuse that would kill other members of the Justice League outright, can harden himself to dish out SERIOUS hurt on bad guys, can form sharpened shapes like knives and scissors that can slice through pretty much anything, shape-shift into pretty much any object imaginable and of incredible sizes both huge and tiny, and is effectively immortal. In Flashpoint DC, Plas is a bad guy, and has effectively proven one of the scariest antagonists in recent comics history by shoving his hand into a guy's mouth and shredding him from the inside out.
  • Heel–Face Turn: One of the first major examples of this trope in comic books. He was a gangster before the accident that gave him his powers. After being abandoned by his gang and nursed to health at a monastery, he chose to atone for his misdeeds. Similarly, his sidekick Woozy Winks started out as one of his early villains (albeit a bumbling one, even then, and he lost the powers by the end of the story).
  • Henpecked Husband: In Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Ruby Ryder and Ramona.
  • I Hate Past Me: He's really not proud of his past as a thug. During the arc where the Justice League got their identities separated, Patrick O'Brian was the first to get the ball rolling on re-joining them because he was reverting to who he was before his accident, and he never wanted to be that person again.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The very first criminals Plastic Man ever turned in were the members of his gang who ditched him at the Crawford Chemical Works.
  • Legacy Character: His son, Offspring, in the Kingdom Come series. (Later Retconned into being the same son from regular continuity.)
    • Let's just say Plas is a very good dad and his son loves him very, very much.
    • The Pre-Crisis Earth-12 had two Plastic Men, with the second one being the son of the first.
  • Lethal Joke Character: Plas is a very silly character with an equally silly power... that can be absolutely deadly in the wrong hands.
    • Batman has said that if Plastic Man decided to go evil, not even the entire Justice League could stop him.
  • Logical Weakness: One of Plastic Man's only veritable weaknesses is being frozen.
  • Mook–Face Turn: Famously, Plastic Man is one of the few classic heroes who's a redeemed crook.
  • Multiple-Choice Past:
    • The second issue of the 1966 comic had Plastic Man's archenemy Dr. Dome have his daughter Lynx split into three women and disguise themselves to interview Captain McSniffe. Mrs. De Lute and Gordon K. Trueblood in hopes of learning Plastic Man's origin so he can go back in time and prevent Plas from getting his powers. Each origin given proves to be inconsistent: McSniffe claims that Plastic Man used to be a reformed crook called the Eel who got his powers after the villain the Spider knocked him into a vat of putty (which is actually very close to Plastic Man's standard origin), Mrs. De Lute gives the account that Plastic Man was a Romani fiddler who chased after the Japanese Beetle on a train and gained his stretching powers from being exposed to milk and acid at the same time, and Gordon K. Trueblood states that Plastic Man was a yogurt farmer who fought a criminal known as the Frog and got his powers when he was accidentally injected with yogurt that came from a sick goat. The end of the story reveals that Plastic Man made up all these origins to throw Dr. Dome off and that the three people he confided with were in on the trick, with his real origin eventually being revealed in the seventh issue (where he turns out to be the son of the original Plastic Man and that he got the same powers as his dad from drinking a bottle of the acid that turned his father into a stretchy shape-shifter when he was a child).
    • Woozy Winks has been given three contradictory origin stories in the original Quality Comics continuity, the 1988 miniseries by Phil Foglio and a 1999 one-shot by Ty Templeton. In the Quality Comics era, Woozy gained the ability to be immune to injury after saving a sorcerer from drowning and turned to crime until he was confronted by Plastic Man and convinced to go straight. The 1988 miniseries went with making him an inmate of Arkham Asylum who was let go due to budget cuts and became Plastic Man's sidekick due to distracting Eel O'Brian during a suicide attempt. The Ty Templeton one-shot had Woozy's origin be that he was once a competent secret agent who was partnered with Plastic Man called Green Cobra and became how we know him today because a supervillain called the Dart locked him in a locker with a bleeding Plastic Man and exposure to Plastic Man's blood, which was similar in composition to airplane glue, caused him to suffer brain damage.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability:
    • Hooke's Law is Plastic Man's best friend. Name a form of physical attack. Chances are, he's shrugged it off during his career. It's been said that he could shrug off a full-power punch from SUPERMAN without so much as batting an eye, and he has even bounced away energy attacks. Holy crap. Oh, he also survived having most of his body destroyed and buried in the bottom of the ocean... for 3000 years!
    • When the JLA was fighting a returned Doomsday in a Superman comic, Plas attempted to tie up the monster. Said monster proceeded to stretch him so hard that he actually was being torn like paper. It was disturbing to see.
    • He can be cut in half like paper on scissors - good luck trying to do that, however, since he'll never allow that situation to occur.
    • Plas can also be tied up in knots that even he can't untie, but that requires a speedster.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Grant Morrison wrote Plas as Jim Carrey ... or, rather, as "What if Ace Ventura was wearing The Mask?"
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: He is usually portrayed as being genuinely a bit dopey. During "World War III," Grant Morrison's final story arc for JLA (1997), however, he reveals that, thanks to his longtime friendship with a C-List Fodder hero named the Red Bee, he knows just about everything there is to know about "apian management." Since an alien Evil Overlady named the Queen Bee is taking over New York City, and all the big-name heroes are busy on the Moon, Plastic Man ends up masterminding their victory. Big Barda even mentions how out of character this is for him, remarking, "This almost seems like a plan." To which he responds (while disguised as a big clown), "I only act dumb, sister."
  • Only Sane Man: Go read the original stories by Jack Cole. Yes, the adventures are cartoonish in a good way, but Plas himself is as serious as any other hero around at the time. In fact, that was the point - a serious hero with silly powers in cartoon capers.
    • Later, DC semi-inverted this by saying that the Cole-style adventures were how Plas perceived himself and them due to the effects of the chemicals that gave him his powers; to everyone else, he was a kook in a world of (supposedly) sane people... and The Joker.
    • In the Injustice universe he points out to the Justice League that Superman is literally sitting on a throne, and that they're teamed up with a guy called Sinestro who even has stereotypically evil facial hair.
  • Personality Powers: Inverted in the first issues, as Plastic Man had a Straight Man personality to contrast his wacky powers and supporting characters. Later issues has Plas act just as cartoonish as the forms he shape-shifts into.
  • Power Perversion Potential: ...We'll leave this one to your imagination.
    • One in-story example: in a JLA issue, he posed as Big Barda's dress. It took the rest of the League to hold back her Unstoppable Rage upon discovering.
    • Hilariously subverted in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies as Supergirl proudly reveals she is wearing him as a dress. Needless to say, Plas is wearing a huge smile.
    • It's been mentioned in JLA that they never team Plas with Wonder Woman.
      • In an issue of JLA, Wonder Woman is at home, about to change her clothes, and suddenly turns and addresses the red and yellow light fixture on the wall: "If my body were the last thing you ever saw, would it be worth it?". Plas sheepishly departs.
    • In Kyle Baker's run he offers an apology to female FBI agent Morgan by saying he'll give her a ride. So he proceeds to turn into a bicycle... with his head as the seat. Cue Morgan kicking his butt.
    • Grace Choi told Roy Harper that he used his powers when they had sex.
  • Psychic Static: Plas's physical brain changes shape so drastically and constantly that any psychic trying to read him finds the task absolutely impossible. It'd be like trying to read a piece of paper after having shredded it, mixed it with loads of other shredded papers and throwing it all inside a wind tunnel. In fact, in one storyline in which the Martian Manhunter became Brainwashed and Crazy, it was Plas who was able to take him down since not only does he have his psychic defenses, he's also a shapeshifter rivaling and possibly surpassing J'onn.
  • Radiation-Induced Superpowers: Parodied with Edwina's loser supervillain boyfriend "El" Ray, who got electrical powers due to using a screw made from uranium as a tongue stud.
  • Sad Clown: Some portrayals of Plas.
  • Sealed Badass in a Can: During Dark Days: The Forge, it turns out Batman's been keeping Plastic Man under heavy containment on the moon, until he and Mr. Terrific decide the situation has gotten bad enough they need to let him out.
  • Secret-Identity Identity: He spends most of his time as Plastic Man, because he really hates who he was as Eel O'Brian. Eel was a two-bit thug; Plastic Man is a hero with a loving family,
  • Seductive Mummy: The villainess Disco Mummy, as the name implies, is an attractive disco-themed Aztec mummy.
  • Shapeshifter Longevity: Plastic Man is a Rubber Man and shapeshifter with an incredible repertoire of possible forms, and in keeping with his elastic physique, he either doesn't age or ages extremely slowly. JLA: Obsidian Age takes this same trait all the way into outright immortality: in the aftermath, he's still alive after three thousand years and even able to continue his career as a superhero.
  • Shapeshifter Showdown: With Martian Manhunter.
  • Shapeshifter Weapon: Plas can turn into pretty much ANYTHING he can think of, and he can alter his density to be as malleable or as hard as he wants. If he turns his hand into a sledgehammer, he can explode your head with one swing. Of course, he's too much of a nice guy to actually DO something like that, but any bad guy that underestimates him is in for a RUDE awakening.
  • The Slow Path: In one JLA story, Plas traveled back in time and was blown up. The gravel-sized chunks of his body were scattered at the bottom of the sea, and left there for 3000 years until the JLA rescued him in the present day. He was conscious the entire time. He later said that he did go insane, but eventually just got bored and started composing poetry in his head.
  • Smokescreen Crime: In issue #42 of the first Plastic Man series, the titular hero apprehends a gang of criminals who are robbing a doll store. The robbery is actually distraction created by Dr. Devious who intends to rob a diamond company just across the street.
  • Something Person: He's called Plastic Man because he's a man with the power to be pliable like plastic.
  • Spin-Offspring: The Plastic Man of the 1966 series was revealed in the seventh issue to be the son of the original Plastic Man.
  • Sudden Name Change: Sometime after his son Luke became the hero Offspring in main DC continuity, some writers had slipped up and referred to him as "Ernie" (the name of the Offspring from The Kingdom continuity). This was later explained away as Ernie being his middle name.
  • Suicide as Comedy: The Phil Foglio version included a lot of Black Comedy.
    • Some of the Jack Cole stories also had this. One even had Woozie walk in front of a train and fall off the tracks as he tried to kill himself.
  • Super Family Team: In the 70's cartoon.
  • Swiss-Army Superpower: Plas' shapeshifting can be surprisingly versatile.
    • While much has been made of the fact that he can't change color (or change color easily, Depending on the Writer), Plas is smart enough to use this common knowledge to his advantage, and has used shadowing and makeup to trick even Lex Luthor for an extended period of time.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Averted in the original Jack Cole stories, but played straight with the DC stories.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Downplayed to Through the Eyes of Wackiness, but this is how DC has treated the Jack Cole stories (and world design) since the Foglio miniseries.
  • Tranquil Fury / O.O.C. Is Serious Business: His reaction when he finds out that Batman is the mastermind behind Ra's Al-Ghul's plans to take down the Justice League in the "Tower of Babel" arc.
    "Get him out of here."
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The Kyle Baker run gave him a few: high and especially low temperatures, acetone, and rubber bullets. None of these are shown to actually be deadly to him, but they do hurt.
    • "Ew... You melted my butt!"
  • Writer on Board: The last six issues of the Baker run, not coincidentally written after Baker was told the book would be cancelled, are an extended satire on everything Baker disliked about mid-'00s DC Universe comics, and specifically Identity Crisis and related plot arcs: Darker and Edgier plots full of gratuitous character death, Black-and-Gray Morality, and overt sexual violence; traditionally lighter characters getting killed off, corrupted or traumatised; overlong, sprawling Crisis Crossovers; Stripperiffic costumes on female characters and generally excessive fanservice; and overblown writing and general pretensions on the creators' part that they were making superhero comics Serious Adult Drama. While many critics agreed with the views expressed, there was a general feeling that the satire was too heavy-handed and took up too much of the comic.