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REVIEW: JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED PLASTIC MAN
By Thomas Wheeler

The Justice League Unlimited figure of Plastic Man is entirely in the style of the JLU animated series. He's had a decades-long career that's been as comedic as it's been dramatic. He's been a member in good standing -- if moderate annoyance -- in the JLA. He was one of the very first guest-stars on the Super Friends show in the 1970's. He had his own wild animated series some years later. He's a frequent enough guest-star on the current "Brave and the Bold" animated series that he has several action figures in that line, including one in a "Try Me" playset where he gets pulled around like a Stretch Armstrong toy by a bad guy.

It's even pretty wild that he's been added to the Target exclusive Justice League Unlimited line, seeing as how he was never in the show. He was mentioned once or twice, but due, I believe, to some rights issues over the character at the time, he never appeared. But, here he is, Plastic Man taking his name very literally on this occasion, made out of plastic and turned into an action figure.

So -- who is Plastic Man? A little online research reveals the tale: Plastic Man - real name Patrick "Eel" O'Brian - was originally published by Quality Comics and later acquired by DC Comics. Created by writer-artist Jack Cole, he first appeared in Police Comics #1 (August 1941).

One of Quality Comics' signature characters during the Golden Age of Comic Books, Plastic Man can stretch his body into any imaginable form. His adventures were known for their quirky, offbeat structure and surreal slapstick humor. When Quality Comics was shut down in 1956, DC Comics acquired many of its characters, integrating Plastic Man into the mainstream DC universe. The character has starred in several short-lived DC series, as well as a Saturday morning cartoon series in the early 1980s.

Plastic Man has been a favorite character of many modern comic book creators, including writer Grant Morrison, who included him in his 1990s revival of the Justice League; Art Spiegelman, who profiled Cole for The New Yorker magazine; painter Alex Ross, who has frequently included him in covers and stories depicting the Justice League; and writer-artist Kyle Baker, who wrote and illustrated an award winning Plastic Man series.

Plastic Man was a crook named Patrick "Eel" O'Brian. Orphaned at age 10 and forced to live on the streets, he fell into a life of crime. As an adult, he became part of a burglary ring, specializing as a safecracker. During a late-night heist at the Crawford Chemical Works, he and his three fellow gang members were surprised by a night watchman. During the gang's escape, Eel was shot in the shoulder and doused with a large drum of unidentified acid. He escaped to the street only to discover that his gang had driven off without him.

Fleeing on foot and suffering increasing disorientation from the gunshot wound and the exposure to the acid, Eel eventually passed out on the foothills of a mountain near the city. He awoke to find himself in a bed in a mountain retreat, being tended to by a monk who had discovered him unconscious that morning. This monk, sensing a capacity for great good in O'Brian, turned away police officers who had trailed Eel to the monastery. This act of faith and kindness—combined with the realization that his gang had left him to be captured without a moment's hesitation—fanned Eel's longstanding dissatisfaction with his criminal life and his desire to reform.

During his short convalescence at the monastery, he discovered that the acid had entered his bloodstream and caused a radical physical change. His body now had all of the properties of rubber, allowing him to stretch, bounce, and mold himself into any shape. He immediately determined to use his new abilities on the side of law and order, donning a red, black and yellow (later red and yellow) rubber costume and capturing criminals as Plastic Man. He concealed his true identity with a pair of white goggles and by re-molding his face. As O'Brian, he maintained his career and connections with the underworld as a means of gathering information on criminal activity.

Plastic Man soon acquired comedic sidekick Woozy Winks, who was originally magically enchanted so that nature itself would protect him from harm. That eventually was forgotten and Woozy became simply a dumb but loyal friend of Plastic Man.

In his original Golden Age/Quality Comics incarnation, Plastic Man eventually became a member of the city police force and then the FBI. By the time he became a federal officer, he had nearly completely abandoned his Eel O'Brian identity.

The star of the 1966-1968 Silver Age run of Plastic Man, written by Arnold Drake, was the son of the original Plastic Man, who as a toddler had accidentally drunk a souvenir bottle of the same acid that had given Eel O'Brian his powers. Other Silver and Bronze-age versions appear to carry the same identity and origin as the Golden Age original. The silver-age Plastic Man who took up the mantle from his father was later identified as residing on Earth-Twelve. A subsequent version appearing with Batman in The Brave and the Bold and Justice League of America was identified as residing on Earth-One.

After the 1985 "Crisis on Infinite Earths", a 1988-1989 four-issue Plastic Man miniseries by Phil Foglio introduced a new version of Plastic Man: Eel O'Brian, abandoned by his criminal gang after being shot and exposed to the acid, wandered the streets as his new powers developed, frightening others and bringing the police and National Guard down on him as a dangerous monster. The Plastic Man series from 2004-2006, written and illustrated by Kyle Baker, harks back to the Jack Cole version of Plastic Man featuring Eel O'Brian tended to by a monk in a mountain retreat, and inspired by the monks kindness, Eel resolves to use his powers for good, becoming the crime fighter Plastic Man, and works for the FBI. The series won five Eisner Awards for Best New Series, Best Title for Younger Readers, among other accolades.

His powers are considerable, his weaknesses relatively few:

Malleable Physiology: Plastic Man's powers are derived from an accident in which his body was bathed in an unknown industrial chemical mixture that also entered into his bloodstream through a gunshot wound. This caused a body-wide mutagenic process that transformed his physiology. Eel exists in a fluid state, neither entirely liquid or solid. Plastic Man has complete control over his entire molecular structure.

Malleability (Elasticity/Plasticity): He can stretch his limbs and body to superhuman lengths and sizes. There is no known limit to how far he can stretch his body.

Size Alteration: He can shrink himself down to a few inches tall (posed as one of Batman's utility belt pockets) or become a titan (the size of skyscrapers).

Shape-Shifting: He can contort his body into various positions and sizes impossible for ordinary humans, such as being entirely flat so that he can slip under a door or using his fingers to pick conventional locks. He can also use it for disguise by changing the shape of his face and body. Thanks to his fluid stated, plastic man can open holes in his body and turn himself in objects with mobile parts. In addition, he can alter his bodily mass and physical constitution at will, there is virtually no limit to the sizes and shapes he can contort himself into.

Superhuman Agility: These stretching powers grant Plastic Man heightened agility enabling him flexibility and coordination that is extraordinarily beyond the natural limits of the human body.

Color Change: The only limitation he has relates to color, which he cannot change without intense concentration. He generally does not use this ability and sticks to his red and yellow colored uniform.

Invulnerability: Plastic Man's powers extraordinarily augment his durability. He is able to withstand corrosives, punctures and concussions without sustaining any injury (although he can be momentarily stunned). He is resistant to high velocity impacts that would kill an ordinary person, resistant to blasts from energy weapons (Batman once mentioned that he could presumably even withstand a nuclear detonation), and is completely bullet proof. His bodily mass can be dispersed, but for all intents and purposes it is invulnerable.

Regeneration: He is able to regenerate and/or assimilate lost or damaged tissue, though it does take a long time, it is far faster than an ordinary human.

Telepathic Immunity: As stated by Batman (in JLA #88), "Plastic Man's mind is no longer organic. It's untouchable by telepathy." (Mostly immune to mind control. It's unknown if Batman meant that Plas is immune to just mind control or to telepathy altogether from that point on... considering Plas's history with mind scans, mind wipes, and the use of J'onn's telepathic link.)

Immortality: Plastic Man does not appear to age; if he does, it is at a rate far slower than that of normal human beings. In the aftermath of the JLA story Arc "Obsidian Age", Plastic Man was discovered to have survived for 3000 years as little more than crumbs on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. He is now over 3000 years old and is still active as a superhero.

Ultrasonic Detection: His body will start to "ripple" when an ultrasonic frequency is triggered.

His semi-liquid form remains stable at relatively high and low temperatures, provided that the temperature change is gradual. A sudden change induces a complete change of state, creating a truly solid or truly liquid form.

It should be noted that Plastic Man has a son, who has recently taken up the "family business" under the name of Offpsring. His existence was first revealed in an issue of JLA which teamed Plastic Man with Batman. Plas was concerned that his son had fallen in with a street gang. The boy seems to have even greater control over his abilities than his father, including easily changing color as well as molecular density as well as form.

So, how's the figure? Really very cool. Definitely makes one wish that Plastic Man HAD been in the Justice League Unlimited series at some point. While there's certainly been no shortage of figures in the line at this point -- and it's honestly remarkable that it's continued as long as it has, and I sincerely hope it continues to -- an argument can certainly be made that Plastic Man is one of the more prominent characters to appear in the line that never appeared in the show.

Plastic Man's costume has never really changed, and it has one aspect of mystery about it, or perhaps a confirmation of the character's highly elastic nature. Plastic Man's costume is mostly red, consisting of a long-sleeved red shirt and trunks. The shirt has an open "V" in the front, with cross-crossed black lines. The figure shows the back with an open "V" as well, but I think this sometimes depends on the artist drawing him. He has a very complex belt, a series of black and yellow stripes, with a yellow diamond in the center.

His legs are apparently bare, and he has no footwear, and yet -- his feet do not end in toes! They end in what look like booted feet! Are these Plastic Man's feet? Is he wearing flesh-tone leggings? For that matter, what is his uniform made out of that makes it as malleable as the rest of him? Honestly, these questions have never really been answered, and I don't think one guy writing an action figure review is going to come up with the definitive answer... But it is a little -- strange...

Plastic Man's face lends itself well to the animated style of the Justice League line. It didn't even need to be altered all that much. Plastic Man has a long, somewhat angular face, with a long chin. The face has been sculpted with a grin. Plastic Man doesn't tend to take all the much seriously, even himself, most of the time. He has rather prominent ears, and his hair is black and slicked back (although given that it's just as elastic as the rest of him, who knows what this "hair" even consists of anymore), except for a prominent curl up front that even puts Superman's to shame.

Of course, there are Plastic Man's traditional goggles. Plastic Man wears these white wraparound, almost goggle-like dark glasses that totally obscure his eyes. It's all part of his trademark appearance.

As one would expect from a Justice League Unlimited figure, the articulation is somewhat limited. Plastic Man is poseable at the head, arms, and legs. However, this line has increasingly become collector-oriented, and certainly Plastic Man is an impressive and prominent addition to it, and will look great displayed with others.

Interestingly enough, Plastic Man does come with a small accessory -- although perhaps accessory isn't quite the right term. Shall we call it -- alternative version? Arguably, Plastic Man can assume any shape. The figure comes with what looks like a bent length of steel girder. It's molded in red, and has Plastic Man's face, chest, and belt painted onto it. I initially thought, "Why a girder? It seems like a strange thing for Plastic Man to turn into. He's not exactly the Man of Steel after all." But I think what we have here, given that the Plastic Man features are strictly painted on to this piece, and not at all sculpted on, is an accessory that was most likely originally marketed with somebody else, a Superman figure perhaps, that Mattel molded in red and painted like Plas.

So, what's my final word here? I'm sincerely delighted to see Plastic Man join the Justice League Unlimited line, even if he never appeared in the show. For those who were, like myself, fans of the JLU animated series, it's a real treat to see the line and the character design continue, as a Target exclusive, and for Mattel to remain dedicated to carrying on with it and bringing in new characters. Plastic Man is a very cool addition, certainly.

The JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED figure of PLASTIC MAN definitely has my highest recommendation!