For starters, Plastic Man (or "Plas" for short) was created by another company, Quality Comics, in 1941. He was the star character of Police Comics #1-102 (August, 1941-October, 1950), and also gained his own title, Plastic Man, which lasted for 52 issues (1943 to February, 1955). While among the longest running characters of The Golden Age of Comic Books, Plas was then pretty much forgotten. Quality Comics ceased operations in 1956, selling most, if not all of its properties to DC Comics. The new owners continued a few of Quality's ongoing series, most notably Blackhawk, but had no interest in reviving defunct series. The character was next revived in Plastic Man vol. 2 #1 (November-December, 1966), though the Plastic Man of this series was said to be a look-alike son of the original. This series ran for 10 issues, then got resurrected a decade later with Plastic Man vol. 2 #11 (February-March, 1976) for another 10-issue run.
Second, long before Plastic Man joined the League, Elongated Man (who was a Captain Ersatz of Plas) had been a member for decades (though admittedly Plastic Man was always better known.) Plastic Man only joined the ranks of the League in JLA #16 (March, 1998).
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
- 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 will finally get off the ground as 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 shows up late in the first season of Young Justice 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:
- Adorkable: In the DC Nation shorts and the pilot it was based off of.
- 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.
- Bumbling Sidekick: Woozy Winks.
- 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! #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
- 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.
"He could kill us all. For him, it'd be easy."
- 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".
- Depending on the Writer: Plastic Man's son is either Offspring or Baby Plas.
- 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 Weirdness: 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.
- 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.
- Fiery Redhead: Ramona in Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
- 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.
- Green Lantern Ring: 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.
- 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, 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.
- In The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Plas is... well... it's Frank Miller. Let's say it combines his Golden Age attitude with his Dork Age capabilities.
- As a side effect of his radical shapeshifting ability, Plas's brain changes shape so drastically and continuously that he's effectively immune to psychic powers.
- In Injustice 2, Batman states that Plas is their secret weapon against R'as al Ghul.
- HeelFace 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.
- Henpecked Husband: In Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
- Heroes Want Redheads: Ruby Ryder and Ramona.
- 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: Once of Plastic Man's only veritable weaknesses is being frozen.
- MookFace Turn: Famously, Plastic Man is one of the few classic heroes who's a redeemed crook.
- 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, 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."
- In the Kyle Baker run, local Action Girl Morgan wonders if letting Woozy Winks wander around FBI headquarters completely unattended is really a good idea, as a "a spy should appear foolish and unkempt". Of course, this is Woozy Winks we're talking about. As it turns out, the actual spy is a Subversion, as its the hyper-competent Morgan herself who is manipulating the system to her own ends.
- 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.
- Overprotective Dad: Was this to Edwina in the 2004-2006 series, and could be argued to be this for Offspring in most other continuties.
- Personality Powers: Actually subverted 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 bycicle... with his head as the seat. Cue Morgan kicking his butt.
- Before she came out as a lesbian, 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.
- 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.
- Seductive Mummy: The villainess Disco Mummy, as the name implies, is an attractive disco-themed Aztec mummy.
- Shape Shifter 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.
- Something Person
- 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.
- Super Family Team: In the 70's cartoon.
- 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."
- Voluntary Shapeshifting
- 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!"