Plastic Man has a long history of pushing the boundaries in superhero comics, both literally and figuratively. From the original Police Comics strips penned by Jack Cole to Kyle Baker’s incredible run more than 60 years later, Plastic Man has set a high bar for cartooning and outside-the-box thinking at DC Comics and Quality Comics before it. His shapeshifting abilities allow artists to experiment with everything from form to layouts, while his non sequitur thought process eschews the standard storytelling tropes of superhero comics. He is a character packed with possibilities, which is what makes this mundane and familiar first issue far more disappointing than it would be otherwise.
All of the elements you would expect from a modern DC Comics #1 issue can be found here: a tragic origin, romantic interests, low-level criminals, and a potent conspiracy. Open the pages of Nightwing or The Flash and you’ll receive a similar concoction. Each of these parts is played entirely straight as well. There is no examination of the type of story being told or willingness to poke fun at these very familiar proceedings. Instead, Plastic Man is made out to be just another head in the very crowded collection of DC Comics superheroes. There might be a few more smiles, but very little else is offered to differentiate this comic from the rest.
So much of this is imbued in the introductory sequence in which Patrick “Eel” O’Brian receives a beating from former partners-in-crime. A baseball bat and silhouettes are used to make the violence really stick while readers are left wondering if this comes before or after O’Brian gains his plasticity. There’s an unexpected level of grit to be found throughout this moment, and later ones featuring members of the criminal underworld. Everything about them feels sad in a very mundane manner. Playing up a few minor gangster elements only enhances the loneliness on display as people treat one another terribly. Jokes fall short in this arrangement as they fail to match the tone of what is being illustrated and lack a genuine sense of humor. Every wisecrack lands somewhere between being a cliché and an afterthought.
Plastic Man is only given a handful of panels to go into action. Adriana Melo makes the most of these opportunities, contorting his body into new forms each time, ranging from the simplicity of a Super Ball to the complexity of a convertible roaring down the street with its top down. Watching Plastic Man’s imagination at work is a delight, and serves to highlight just how little space is given over to these unique elements. Melo spends a great deal of the allotted page space drawing ordinary human beings interacting in grimy surroundings, both in the present and in flashbacks. Brief sparks of genuine humor and inspiration, like when Plastic Man finds himself exposed in front of a woman, are so far and few between that they only remind readers of how dimly lit the room really is.
Plastic Man #1 isn’t a bad superhero comic. It will read in a familiar fashion to anyone engaged with DC Comics current line. That’s the essential problem though. There are already an ample number of superhero series doing the exact same things as this debut, which begs the question of why this new series is needed. In a world stuffed with sad sack heroes operating in a downtrodden city, what benefit is there in adding another? Melo offers some idea as to how the series might improve. In the few brief sequences where Plastic Man is turned on, cracking wise and stretching in new directions with each new panel, it’s possible to imagine a much better comic book. That’s not the comic we received though. Plastic Man #1 falls into the middle of modern day pack, and is more easily forgotten than it is remembered.
Published by DC Comics
On June 13, 2018
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Adriana Melo
Colors by Kelly Fitzpatrick0comments
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Cover by Aaron Lopresti