Plastic Man #2
Writer: Gail Simone
Artists: Adriana Melo and Kelly Fitzpatrick
Y’know, I like stretchy people. Mr. Fantastic, Elongated Man, Monkey D. Luffy… there’s something about the stretchy superpowers that just gets the imaginations of the writers and artists going. But Plastic Man is always a cut above the rest, because my boy Eel is canonically fun. Richards is an asshole, Dibny is very dead, and Luffy’s a shonen protagonist so he is contractually obligated to be fun. Plastic Man has always been one of the most lighthearted and powerfully interesting characters in comics, and he holds a fairly unique role as being one of the only main DC heroes that is an ex-convict. When people write him, there’s a nearly absurdist quality to a lot of the stories that set him apart from other fairly serious DC fare. This series, however, takes it in a slightly different direction that takes an absurdist character and dives into his past, his personality, and the world in which he lives. And it is brilliant.
The art in a Plastic Man comic is a little more challenging than you might think because it requires one thing that other comics do not: an unerring and fun design sense. In any given issue, Plas could become up to 20 completely different items and it is up to the artist to decide exactly how they look and where Plas’ distinguishing characteristics are going to be placed on those items. That’s a lot of choices for an artist to make in a single issue! So it’s a wonderful thing to read Plastic Man and come away from each page absolutely enchanted with the way that Adriana Melo renders our plastic protagonist. It’s pitch-perfect! His transformations are all clearly him, clearly something that emerged from Eel O’Brian’s mind and went straight to his body. There’s an instinctive quality to them that makes them believable, and that comes from his facial expressions both in and out of transformations. Melo is a master of facial expressions, knowing exactly how to portray emotion and, importantly, avoiding the trap of total realism. There are two expressions that really pop from a lack of realism. In one, Plas’ eyes are drawn as just a couple of black dots. No whites, no pupils, just comic-strip eye-dots. And it’s great! The panel would look strange if Melo had drawn full eyes, and a lesser artist undoubtedly would have.
The other expression is a full-on hearts-for-eyes that occurs on a side character when Eel takes his shirt off. A hearts-for-eyes?? Do you guys have any idea how long it’s been since I’ve seen a good solid hearts-for-eyes in a comic book? It’s not even hearts-for-pupils, it’s the whole damn eye! I love it! And this isn’t even touching the way Melo uses Plas’ goggles to show emotion. When you look at the art in this comic, Melo’s true strength becomes clear: She knows that realism and surrealism are tools to communicate with the reader, and she knows when to use them. For most of the comic, a fairly realistic approach is taken – which, in intimate settings, really shows the reader how unsettling Eel’s powers can be. At other times, there are extreme uses of surrealism, such as when Eel is shown with a Scooby-Doo leg-blur as he’s running away. Melo knows precisely which tool to use at what point, and it is the contrast between the two major approaches that makes this comic so successful artistically. This is ignoring the incredibly proficient and clean linework all throughout the comic and the excellent colors. The colors don’t stand out to me at any particular point, but that’s a good thing – the linework deserves center stage, and any further surrealism would start to bend the realistic setting. The art is top-tier stuff.
The story is much the same! This issue follows Eel as he tries to find a missing child, and is roughly split into three acts: Searching Montage, Storytime, and Get Em Get Em Go Go Fight Fight. They all have different storytelling approaches and goals, and it’s invigorating to read a comic that is so well-paced and well-planned. Act One is the shortest of the acts and is essentially a rapid-fire assault of hilarious visual and verbal gags that also serve to set up the backstory and goals of the issue. It’s incredibly rare in today’s comics world that I read something so funny and so well-done, and it might be my favorite intro to a comic that I’ve read in a very long time. Act Two is Eel talking to a couple of friends of his, telling them exactly the situation he’s in and how he got there. It’s funny as hell, and by the time he gets to the end of the story, legitimately heartfelt.
I’ve always been a firm believer that a good story should be approximately 60/40 drama/humor or vice-versa, right? Well, this issue actually manages to be 70/30 humor/drama and it works! It works beautifully! And I think it works simply because of how complicated and interesting Eel is as a character. He’s incredibly multifaceted! The criminal element within him, his fear of cops, his fear of Batman, his desire to do good and try to be a hero, his regret for his past, and his perception of himself as an undeserving recipient of his power… Plastic Man has better-defined character traits than a lot of better-known characters, and Gail Simone does an amazing job bringing his character to the forefront. It is a character-driven story, and you all know how much I love those. Act Three is Eel finding the kid and taking down the bad guys! But there’s a little bit more intrigue to it at the end, and that makes a great story even better. I have no idea what’s going to happen next!
I don’t know where Simone is taking me! But I have a feeling it’s going to be somewhere awesome. One more thing: This book is funny. It is funnier than anything I’ve read since Young Animal’s Bug. And in a medium where people try to be funny a whole awful lot, reading something that is actually funny is more than a relief – it’s downright refreshing. Pick it up. You’re gonna love it.
Plastic Man #2
Gail Simone brings us what is sure to become one of the all-time best Plastic Man stories. It's hilarious, heartfelt, and an amazing exploration of the character. Don't miss out.