Or – “This Is The Dawning Of The Age Of Aquarius! Aquaaaariuuuuuuus!”
Eel O’ Brien is a character who has seen a lot of incarnations, even as comic book characters go. Originated by Quality Comics back in Dubya Dubya Two, O’Brien became one of the most visually memorable characters of the Golden Age, not merely able to stretch, but change his shape completely, even create complex machinery or be cut into pieces without losing his cohesiveness. The Eelster disappeared in 1956, when a foundering Quality Comics finally went under, but he certainly wasn’t forgotten. At some point, DC Comics acquired the rights (or ignored the fact that they didn’t have the rights) to Plastic Man, and the results bore fruit in a swinging sixties happening, and Plas is about to freak me out!
Plastic Man is one of the true greats, and one of the most recognizable characters in comic book history. You’ll note in the picture above that his trademark pink-legged barefoot look is absent. There’s a reason for that, and we’ll get to it shortly. This issue, atypically for the era, has credits on the front page, attributing the story to DC workhorse Arnold Drake (probably best known for creating the original Doom Patrol and Deadman, and also The Guardians of The Galaxy on the Marvel side of things) and the art to Win Mortimer, long-time Superman & Batman ghoster. Also, while the cover promises “The Menace of The Mad Mod,” there’s no relationship to the Teen Titans villain of that name, nor actually anyone named “The Mad Mod” in the issue. Weird, that… Before we get started on the stories (plural!), I want to show ya why I love reading these old comics…
Throw your voice! Learn the unbeatable martial art of Ketsugo! Fool your friends! Y’know, I want X-Ray specs! And a joy buzzer! And three super spy scopes! And have you ever noticed that the X-Ray spec guy is staring at his hand, but right behind his hand is a rather busty young lady that he’s completely ignoring, preferring to ogle his phalanges? What is WRONG with him? Also noteworthy: The trick black soap makes you look like you have a Hitler mustache. The story kicks off with Plastic Man playing tennis… against FOUR opponents, one of whom is his mod, fab, gear sixties blond girlfriend. You know she’s a hipster, ’cause her name is Mike, and she digs the ductile dude. Her mother, on the other hand, has less use for anyone who wears a red vinyl lace-up bodysuit and isn’t Emma Peel.
While Mike’s mom apparently marches off to join the parade, Plas sees trouble: a flying saucer (?) belonging to one of his old foes, a loon named Doctor Dome (!), a recurring baddie of this particular run of PM stories. Dome and his flunkies land and rush up the steps of the bank in broad daylight, waving revolvers, but are quickly repelled. Not by the cops, or security… No, El Domester is stopped by the only thing that ever really stops a super-villain (especially in the sixites): A bigger supervillain.
The Sphinx! He’s like, nine feet tall, and made of stone, so naturally, he’s knocking over banks in the middle of the freakin’ day. Plas arrives in time to stop him, but the Sphinx is soooo evil, that he grabs a nearby baby (the bank president’s son) and FLINGS him through the air, knowing that Plas will be forced to save the kid. He does, saying to the poor thing, “What are you crying about? I’m the one who just grabbed a damp diaper!” Hard to believe that DC keeps giving him a kid, isn’t it? Both Plastic Man and Doctor Dome commisserate with their people, Dome with his hot daughter, Plas with his majordomo, Gordon K. Trueblood.
Who’s Gordy, you ask? And what about Plas’s eternal sidekick, Woozy Winks, you say? Nil desperandum, my children, across the desert lies the promised land… All will be revealed. Just not now. Because right now, Doctor Dome and The Sphinx both have the same hare-brained idear: rob the crowd at the baseball stadium! Because, my friends, in the sixties, wealth was measured by chain-wallets, foam rubber fingers and mesh caps. Plastic Man breaks up their festivities, when The Sphinx chucks his secret weapon: an anti-plastic grenade! All seems lost for Eel, when, suddenly…
I don’t know why, but “Plastic Girders!” is about the most hysterical thing I’ve heard in days. Of course, I’m medicated right now. Long story… Bygones. Dome and O’Brien put aside their animosity for a common goal: knocking the Sphinx down a peg. As only happens in comics, as soon as they put their heads together, The Sphinx is quickly taken down, with a combination of flying saucer and kick in the face with a rubbery foot. This is verbatim, mind you. Why a kick in the face by the equivalent of a volleyball takes the Sphinx out is a riddle (see what I did there?), but it’s a fatal glass of beer for the man from the Nile Valley.
Thing really were simpler then. Back in the day, a joke mustache and a colander on your head were a combat outfit, and if you sewed epaulets on your bathrobe, you could actually pick your own honorarium: Doctor, Captain, Lieutenant, Sir, whatever. It’s actually a pretty cute story, and the ending is just goofy enough to give you a little smile, even if you’ve only read Hellblazer. After a half-page ad for a comic book starring Jerry Lewis (who should’ve really been around for Civil War… “Cap! Iron Maaaan! We gotta stop this whole thing with the war and the fighting and the LAAAAYYYSERS! Foynloyven!“), we kick right in to the second story, with Plastic Man and Mike at a swinging go-go joint called “The Cool Cat.” There’s a tiny chance, infinitesimally so, that Arnold Drake had never actually seen a real go-go dancing establishment when he wrote this. I’m just guessing, mind you. Plas tells Mike that he doesn’t dance, don’t ask him, because his plastic metabolism disagrees with sudden spasmodic movements. But she’s cute, blonde and wearing a skirt with less fabric than Dangermouse’s eyepatch, so obviously she wins the argument.
Suddenly, incredibly, the dance club is overrun by… GASP! Criminals! In this case, a masked biker tough-guy called “Goldzinger” (Oy), who uses his gold-attracting magnet to steal from filthy hippies, always known for their possession of precious metals. When Plastic Man gets involved, Goldzinger makes his escape by firing stolen items into him, which stick in his pliable flesh. The patrons rush him to regain their watches, tieclips, and heirlooms, and Goldzinger runs for his life. Unfortunately, the name of the book isn’t “Stupid looking villain with two different masks on,” so Plas manages to get free and tie him to a pole with a stolen gold watch. Ironically, when Mike gets home, she doesn’t notice that her own mother is meeting with Goldzinger, planning to knock ol’ Plas down a peg. She thinks she’s outfoxing HIM, but Goldie steals her blind as he leaves, his magnet attracting nearly everything she owns. Goldzinger escapes into a waiting jetplane, but doesn’t notice the distinctly patterned red seats (just like Wonder Woman never noticed the same pattern on her towels and shower curtain)…
Goldzinger, apparently the worst criminal ever, Plas-achutes to the ground, ending up on a farm. Goldzinger gives Plastic Man the slip, and runs into a farmer who chases him with a pitchfork. He uses his gold magnet to make the Goldenrod stick to her (???), but is grabbed by a nearby tree… actually Plastic Man in disguise! However, he’s not the only one playing it sneaky… turns out that the farmer is Mike’s mother, trying to get back her stuff. She’s greedy, see? This turn of events makes no sense at all, but it’s totally made up for by the good advice given at the bottom of the page.
Wow! I sure am glad you told me that, Billy! I’d been keeping mine stuck to the refrigerator to hold up pictures of my family. One of the entertaining recurring themes of Plastic Man’s superhero career has been the fact that he keeps getting saddled with children. If you’ve ever seen the Plastic Man cartoon, you may remember Baby Plas, his poorly animated son with identical powers. Alex Ross gave him a son (horrifically called “Offspring”) in his overwhelmingly acclaimed four issue fanfic rambling, Kingdom Come. Even Joe Kelly, while Plas was a member of the JLA, gave him a child, a son with similar powers who had troubles with the law, forcing O’Brien to settle down and be a daddy. Why do I mention all of this? Because, my friends, of… THE REST… of the Story. When DC acquired the rights to Plastic Man, they didn’t immediate thrust him into his own series, instead the gave him a test run as one of Robby Reed dialled-up heroes in “Dial H for Hero.”
This tiny cameo actually led DC to think that giving Plastic Man a series would move some product, but when they brought him back, they updated him, giving him a more 1960’s sensibility and dialogue, also notably replacing Woozy with FBI agent Gordon K. Trueblood, and making changes to the iconic costume. It’s unclear whether or not people were bothered by the changes, as it was the 1960’s, and publishing comic books was a less-than-exact science, but when issue #7 of this series rolled around a few months after the one we’ve just gone over, it had a little cover blurb that might catch your attention:
You guessed it, folks. All this talk of kids wasn’t the ravings of an old man on Lortab… well, not ENTIRELY so, anyway. This Plastic Man was revealed to be the SON of the original Quality Comics Plas, who appeared alongside Woozy Winks, wearing his classic costume. (Why didn’t I cover #7, you ask? Two reasons: I just found #4 in the 50 cent box at Half-Price Books on Monday, and also, my shoulder hurts really bad and I didn’t want to lift longboxes and find my copy of #7. Now, hush and eat your peas.)
The fact that this young, hip, sixties Plastic Man crossed over with The Inferior Five has led those of a categorizing mindset to conclude that the 10 issues featuring young Plastic Man took place on Earth-12, as the I-Five aren’t part of the official DCU. I think. Probably… In any case, when Plastic Man’s series resumed (continuing the numbering of this series with #11, in 1976), the adventures were once again the original Plastic Man, barefeet, fat idiot sidekick and all, and all appearances since have been in that form as well. It’s ironic to me that we keep updating Plas’s history and timeframe in the first place, given that his inorganic plastic body is immune to aging. For all we know, his origin could easily have taken place in 1940-whatever, when it was written, allowing him to have been a gangster in the 1930’s and spent the decades since on a quest for redemption.
In any case, Plastic Man seems doomed to three things: a life of comedy, never getting decent footwear, and always having a son. This particular issue of Plastic Man isn’t precisely gold, and it certainly doesn’t capture the character at his best. As DC’s 60’s humor offerings go, it’s pretty much run-of-the-mill, with very little separating the plots from being an issue of the aforementioned Jerry Lewis comic, or even Bob Hope’s. But the fact that it’s Plastic Man, the fact that it only cost me two quarters, and the “Learn All About It!” comic history aspect made this a fun and entertaining little book. I’d say one star for Plas, one for the book, and half a star for allowing me to say “Earth 12” should about cover it. And, best of all, nobody said the words “war,” “choice,” “registration,” “countdown,” or “zombie.”