Sometimes, an issue arrives that is the very definition of the phrase “Worlds Collide,” in all the best ways.  Are you ready for the All-Reet 40s and the Swingin’ 60s to smash together, circa the American Bicentennial?  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Plastic Man #13 awaits!

PlasticMan13CoverPLASTIC MAN #13
Writer: Steve Skeates/Jane Aruns/Mary Skrenes
Penciler: Ramona Fradon
Inker: Bob Smith
Letterer: Uncredited
Editor: Gerry Conway
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 30 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $14.00

Previously in Plastic Man: Orphaned at the age of 10, Patrick O’Brien (known to his pals as ‘Eel’) lived on the streets, raising himself and falling into a life of crime to survive.  During a heist gone wrong, Eel O’Brien was doused in a strange chemical mixture and abandoned by his pals, left for dead.  Thanks to the ministrations of a friendly monk, Eel recovered and Rather than melt away into a puddle, Eel found his flesh and bones had taken on the qualities of rubber, allowing him to flex, stretch and remold himself into any shape or form.  Using his newfound abilities, he set off to bring his former pals to justice, becoming a stalwart hero of the world once known as Earth-X.  (That’s code for “He used to be owned by Quality Comics” for any new Spoilerites.)  Some years later, on the world called Earth-1 (code for “Quality’s I.P. was bought by DC Comics), Eel joined the NBI, working as a federal agent to take down baddies wherever they show up…

…at least, when he isn’t being forced to use his accrued vacation time for housekeeping purposes.

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Along with his associates Woozy Winks, the lovely Sundae Supplement and Agent Foyle (first name: Comedic?), Plastic Man sets off for the remote Bellow Holler Lodge, where they will be spending their mandatory time off in secrecy (or at least as much secrecy as this coterie can muster.)  Fortunately for Plas, who hates boredom more than any super-villain, there’s another familiar player in the Bellow Holler mix, this one busing tables for tips…

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Robby Reed, possessor of the mighty and mysterious H-Dial, the device that allows him to become thousands of super-heroes, has forgotten all about fighting for truth, justice and the ways of fun, thanks to a dose of adolescent hormones, and has not yet met the lovely lady with three girls of her own.  Thanks to the hog-calling skills of Miss Amelia Roost, though, his brain is cleared of the fog of testosterone, allowing Robby to remember that he used to headline every other issue of ‘House Of Mystery!’

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For reasons as-yet-unknown, Robby’s transformation is both familiar (not unheard of, as previous dialled identities such as Giant-Boy have made multiple appearances in the past) and sinister, leading him to embark on a reign of toddler terror at the lodge.  Gaining the attention of Plastic Man, Robby engages in a quick battle and escapes via cheap shot (lemon juice in the eyes), powering down and reveling in his newfound evil sneering powers…

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Of all the nasty things Robby does in this issue, the worst comes when he bumps into Miss Amelia Roost, Hog-Caller Extraordinaire, and offers to run away with her.  Amelia is immediately taken by the handsome stranger, with his horn-rims and Billy Idol lip-curl, and staggers away from their kiss, twitterpated and forgetting all about hog-calling.  Writer Steve Skeates actually does a pretty credible job making such ludicrous plot elements stick together, and artist Ramona Fradon does her best to keep the art exciting, doing a good Jack Cole riff with Plas and his transformations.  What’s most entertaining to me is the way Fradon homages the original ‘Dial H’ stories as Robby’s identities appear, each one recurring from Robby’s heroic past…
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Plastic Man tracks the source of the drilling noises, and confronts The Mole, only to find himself combatting a dialed-up Human Starfish for possession of the valuable box-office receipts for the hog-calling competition.

Never thought I’d type those words in that order…

The Human Starfish proves to be over-matched by Plastic Man, and Robby desperately hits redial, pulling up another of his old transformations…

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…transforming into PLASTIC MAN, himself!  Stepping out of universe, for a moment: This actually happened, and for an interesting reason.  Quality Comics shuttered their operations in 1956, as the comic-book craze hit one of its lowest points, selling off the characters and properties it had cultivated, including Plastic Man himself.  DC Comics bought up most, if not all of that intellectual property, but for some reason, kept only a couple of titles (including the long-running Blackhawk and G.I. Combat) in print.  Some years later, in 1966, Robby dialed his fateful H-Dial as a kind of trial balloon (or, as they call it in TV, a backdoor pilot), leading to this moment in House Of Mystery #160…

Plastic Man Dial HThat brief return apparently got the attention of readers, though, as Plastic Man got his own solo title again that same year, running 10 issues before getting cancelled.  The numbering of that series was actually carried over into this very volume of Plastic Man, which picked up with #11 in 1966, bringing us full-circle in comics property leapfrog, and leading to the breathtaking spectacle of two Plastic Men facing off in elastic mayhem…

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While their battle rages, sweet young Amelia steps into the spotlight and performs her hog-call, the dulcet tones and foghorn intensity of which once again clear Robby Reed’s head of his confusion, causing him to lose focus long enough for the real Plas to defeat him through superior knot-making skills.  It’s a bittersweet ending, though, as a broken-hearted Amelia wins her competition, but is left with only the memory of her nerdy Lothario, while Robby returns to normal, only to have his H-Dial confiscated by the feds…

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The issue comes to a close with Plas and company being recalled to duty, their vacation mercifully cut short, leaving Robby once again in limbo until a new volume of Dial H For Hero popped up in the early 1980s.  This is one of those issues that I truly adore in comics history, one that embodies the twists and turns of fortune in the comic-book game, as the one-time Dial H guest star returns the favor for the hero who brought him back to the spotlight ten years before.  Sadly, this volume of Plastic Man would only last a handful more issues before succumbing once again to cancellation, a state that Plas knows all too well.  Still, Plastic Man #13 benefits from a nicely tongue-in-cheek script and the wonderful pencils of Ramona Fradon, hitting a sweet spot for me and earning a solidly entertaining 3 out of 5 stars overall.  Now, if only we could get DC to commit to doing a funny Plastic Man/Dial H book today…

Sometimes, an issue arrives that is the very definition of the phrase "Worlds Collide," in all the best ways.  Are you ready for the All-Reet 40s and the Swingin' 60s to smash together, circa the American Bicentennial?  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Plastic Man #13 awaits! PLASTIC MAN #13 Writer: Steve Skeates/Jane Aruns/Mary Skrenes Penciler: Ramona Fradon Inker: Bob Smith Letterer: Uncredited Editor: Gerry Conway Publisher: DC Comics Cover Price: 30 Cents Current Near-Mint Pricing: $14.00 Previously in Plastic Man: Orphaned at the age of 10, Patrick O'Brien (known to his pals as 'Eel') lived on the streets, raising…
Lucky thirteen means a cute story with wonderful Ramona Fradon art, and a better than average hit-to-miss joke ratio...

PLASTIC MAN #13

Writing
Art
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Lucky thirteen means a cute story with wonderful Ramona Fradon art, and a better than average hit-to-miss joke ratio...

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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