This comic presents five different Plastic Man stories by four different creative teams, each from a different era. The first two stories, by Jack Cole, are from the Golden Age. The next story, an episode of “Dial ‘H’ For Hero”, is from the early ‘60s. The next is the first issue of an ongoing Plastic Man series from the mid-‘60s, and the last is from the next revival in the mid-1970s.
It’s hard to complain about a comic that features such great creators as Cole, Mooney, Kane and Fradon, Cole and Kane are two of the finest comic book artists of all time, and Fradon and Mooney are just a half-step below those two. But I find myself having to complain about this comic. The problem isn’t the art. It isn’t even the story. The problem is one of expectations.
Jack Cole’s Plastic Man was one of the wildest, most bizarre and most hilarious series of all time. DC has been terrific about reprinting the series in the deluxe DC Archives. Those hardcovers are treasures, truly magnificent comic collections that still stand up brilliantly today. Cole’s work was so brilliant, in fact, that none of the creators who followed in his footsteps really were able to produce work half as good.
You can see Cole’s bizarrely unique creativity in the first two stories in this one-shot. “The Origin of Plastic Man” and especially “The Man Who Couldn’t Be Harmed” are classics of hilarity, stories that shine with a uniquely off-kilter creative vision. The second story, especially, has an insane manic energy in its tale of the hapless Woozy Winks, a criminal who magically cannot be harmed by anything. It’s a real masterpiece, one that feels fresh over sixty years after it first appeared.
Which is why it’s kind of a let-down to find that the other three stories don’t quite live up to the first two. The first of the three, a chapter of the old “Dial ‘H’ For Hero”, is painfully dated. The fourth story features some charmingly loose and wild art by the great Gil Kane, but the story by Arnold Drake is overwritten and stupid rather than clever. The fifth story, by Steve Skeates, is rather more clever, but just never really catches flight.
In other words, none of the three back-up stories match the brilliance of Cole’s stories. So what’s the point of reprinting them? Why not treat this comic instead as an inexpensive teaser for the Archives and reprint a bunch of Cole stories?
DC really missed the boat with this one. The first two stories are well worth the price of admission, and if DC had reprinted eighty pages of Cole stories, this book would have been a must-have. But as it is presented, this collection is a real disappointment.