Plastic Man is back on the stands with a new miniseries from writer Gail Simone and artist Adriana Melo. It continues a long tradition of funny, frenetic cartooning dating back to Plastic Man’s earliest appearances in Police Comics during the 1940s. While Plastic Man can’t be depended upon to appear each month, few supporting DC Comics superheroes have as strong of a track record between the Golden Age and today as Patrick “Eel” O’Brian.
We have assembled a list of 10 of the absolute best Plastic Man stories ever told, running the gamut in terms of time and style. If you have ever been curious about the appeal of this criminal-turned-superhero, or just need some great comedic comics reads, then these provide a great starting point. While there are already plenty of shining highlights from the past 80 years, we’re optimistic the next few months hold even more great Plastic Man stories to crack this list.
Plastic Man (vol. 4) #1-5
Created by Kyle Baker
No cartoonist since Plastic Man’s creator Jack Cole has captured the characters essence as well as Kyle Baker. His entire run is nothing short of extraordinary and comes highly recommended. There is no better place to start than the beginning though. These first five issues blew critics away with a wild and inventive story where Plastic Man is framed for a crime and put on the run. Everything you need to know about the character can be found right here.
Police Comics (vol. 1) #1-20
Created by Jack Cole
It’s often difficult to recommend Golden Age origins for DC Comics characters, as few hold up well after almost a century of innovation in comics. That’s not the case for Jack Cole’s original Plastic Man strips. These stories helped invent the tools and style that would push comics forward throughout the 1950s, and are still a lot of fun today. While it’s not easy to pinpoint specific issues, the archival collections from DC Comics are a great place to explore Cole’s work.
The Power of Shazam (vol. 1) #21
Written by Jerry Ordway
Art by Pete Krause and Mike Manley
This team up between Plastic Man and Shazam, both targeting a crooked cop, follows a familiar formula with them fighting before working together. However, both characters are presented in their iconic forms and bounce off of one another perfectly. Plastic Man’s cynicism mixes with Shazam’s earnestness like oil and water to start, leading to some hilarious moments that highlight both of their unique forms of heroism.
JLA (vol. 1) #65
Written by Joe Kelly
Art by Doug Mahnke and Tom Nguyen
A teamup with Batman works for very different reasons as Plastic Man contrasts the Dark Knight’s seriousness and anger at every possible turn. The introduction of his son, a wayward youth, helps bring these teammates together though. Plastic Man is given a rare opportunity for gravitas, and Batman shows some heart in turn. These opposites bring out the best in one another and the story lays the groundwork for a valuable future father-son relationship.
Plastic Man (vol. 4) #8-9
Created by Kyle Baker
There is no story quite as strange in Kyle Baker’s run on Plastic Man than this one. That’s not an alienating factor though. Appearances by the entire Justice League, the Time Trapper, and even Abraham Lincoln allow Baker to really toy with all of DC Comics’ history, fictional and otherwise. It’s wild to watch Plastic Man bounce between so many different personalities and powers, especially when he’s the only hero who stands a shot at saving the day. This is a story that could only be done with “Eel.”
Superman (vol. 2) #110
Written by Dan Jurgens and Jerry Ordway
Art by Ron Frenz and Joe Rubinstein
There isn’t much to this story that plays on the Jim Croce lyrics, “you don’t tug on Superman’s cape,” when Plastic Man and Woozy Winks are hired to steal that exact object. There doesn’t need to be much to make the story a whole lot of fun though. It plays up Plastic Man’s impish role within the DC Comics superhero community with some excellent results -- for Plastic Man, at least.
JLA (vol. 1) #10-15
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Howard Porter, John Dell, Gary Frank, and others
For readers who aren’t looking for too much comedy and haven’t read any Plastic Man before, this is the perfect starting point. The tone is consistent with the rest of the awe-inspiring JLA run from Morrison and Porter, but Plastic Man is still able to be himself and play a vital role. It’s the textbook case for how such a silly superhero can still be an essential element in the grand adventures of DC Comics.
The Dark Knight Strikes Again (vol. 1) #2-3
Created by Frank Miller
Plastic Man’s appearance in this controversial miniseries does the opposite by exaggerating the character to a terrifying endpoint in this already exaggerated and dark universe. Frank Miller’s depiction of Plastic Man, radically shifting his body in each new panel and doling out some terrible justice, is one for the history books though. Miller makes for an unexpected and exceptional match with this character.
Plastic Man (vol. 4) #15-20
Created by Kyle Baker
The conclusion of Kyle Baker’s run pokes fun at the key tropes of DC Comics from the time, namely self-serious stories, events, and obsession with continuity. In a narrative that is three parts prologue and two parts crisis, it’s easy to see where the jokes will lie. It pokes fun, but never loses the series’ love for its subject matter, making it one of the most enjoyable endeavors in superhero comics to lampoon its own genre.
The Terrifics (vol. 1) #1-3
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Bennett, Joe Prado, and others
While The Terrifics is still brand new, the first three issues show a great understanding of how to create Plastic Man, both in story and visuals. His attitude and role as the team’s Johnny Storm figure provides the most consistently enjoyable portion of the series so far. The wide variety of artists featured all make him bigger than life, never restraining their imagination as to what Plastic Man could be next. The Terrifics is a great return for the character and a bright spot in his future.