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REVIEW: SDCC EXCLUSIVE DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS PLASTIC MAN
By Thomas Wheeler

The annual San Diego Comic-Con is pretty well "the" event of the pop culture world, with just about every format of popular entertainment on the premises in some form or other. Comic books, toys, movies, video games, TV shows, you name it, it's there, generally officially represented by the major companies within any given genre themselves, on hand to provide whatever up-to-date information about their upcoming products that they can. DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Mattel, Hasbro, Disney, the list goes on and on.

Of course, for action figure collectors, one of the main draws is the fact that many of the toy companies that are present are also offering exclusive products of one sort or another. This has been true for a good number of years, and it was certainly true this year. And as it has for the past two years, that included Mattel's excellent line of DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS action figures. In 2008, they brought Lobo into the DCUC world. In 2009, it was the Wonder Twins. 2010 -- say hello to PLASTIC MAN!

Now, don't get me started on the irony of Mattel making a plastic man of Plastic Man. With this guy, there'll be plenty of jokes over the course of the review without my restoring to the blindingly obvious.

Plastic Man's history is an interesting and extensive one. He was created by writer-artist Jack Cole, and first debuted in a title called Police Comics, in its first issue, in August of 1941. Interestingly enough, the title was not published by DC Comics. It was published by a company called Quality Comics. Plastic Man was one of their signature characters over the next fifteen years. When Quality Comics was shut down in 1956, DC Comics acquired many of its characters, including the quirky Plastic Man. Integrating him into the mainstream DC Universe would not be especially easy, given the somewhat cartoonish style of the character's adventures and settings.

Nevertheless, Plastic Man has starred in several short-lived DC Comics series, as well as other media. He was one of the first guest-stars outside of the core group of heroes in the 1970's Hanna-Barbera "Super Friends" series, where he was called in to extract a mouse from inside the workings of a massive computer machine. Only Plastic Man's pliable powers allowed him to stretch his arm through a literal maze of computer hardware to reach and rescue the tiny rodent. This was little more than a cameo for Plastic Man, but it did prove that "Super Friends" could expand its cast, and would continue to do so over the many years of its run.

Plastic Man also had a short-lived animated series of his own in the 1980's. Currently, he's a frequent guest-star on the "Batman: Brave and the Bold" animated series.

Although Plastic Man has had trouble being a solo hit in the DC Universe, he remains a favorite character of various comics creators, including writer Grant Morrison, who included him in his 1990's revival of the Justice League of America.

Plastic Man's original origin story, as presented in the 1940's by Jack Cole, tells the tale that Plastic Man was a crook named Patrick "Eel" O'Brian. Orphaned at age 10 and forces 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 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 an 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 great capacity for good in O'Brian, turned away police officers who had followed 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, Eel 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, yellow, and black costume and capturing criminals as Plastic Man. He concealed his true identity with a pair of white goggles and by remolding his face. As O'Brian, he maintained his career and connections with the underworld as a means of gathering information on criminal activity.

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 Silver Age Plastic Man -- here's where things get a little complicated, apparently due to a desire on DC's part at the time to justify the passage of time, and due to the existing Multiverse. The star of the 1966-68 Plastic Man series was actually the son of the original. As a toddler, this Plastic Man had accidentally drunk a souvenir bottle of the same acid that had given his father his powers, which, in turn, granted him the same abilities. This Plastic Man was eventually identified as residing on "Earth-Twelve", a somewhat offbeat Earth in the Multiverse that was also home to the heroes known as the Inferior Five. A subsequent version of Plastic Man appearing with Batman in the "Brave and the Bold" comic as well as "Justice League of America" was identified as residing on Earth-One, and was generally thought to have the same origin as the original. The original Quality Comics Plastic Man was eventually specified as being from Earth-Two, the "Golden Age" Earth in DC Comics, and was a member of the All-Star Squadron and the Freedom Fighters.

After 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths, which undid the Multiverse, a new Plastic Man mini-series was presented in 1988, written by Phil Foglio. The character's origin was similar -- Eel O'Brian was abandoned by his criminal gang after being shot and exposed to the acid. Rather than ending up at a monastery, however, he wandered the streets, disoriented as his powers developed.

Plastic Man has a son, who first appeared in the pages of JLA. Plastic Man enlisted the aid of Batman to help prevent his son from joining a local gang. The boy was shown to have the same abilities as Plastic Man himself, with even greater control over color and density. Plastic Man's son, presumably the same individual, has also turned up in "Teen Titans" and "52" as a hero named Offspring, an character first introduced in the sequel to Alex Ross' Kingdom Come, "The Kingdom".

As to his powers and abilities, Plastic Man's powers are derived from the accident in which his body was bathed in an unknown industrial chemical mixture that also entered his bloodstream through a gunshot wound. This caused a body-wide mutagenic process that transformed his entire physiology. Plastic Man exists in a fluid state, neither entirely liquid nor solid.

Plastic Man has complete control over his entire molecular structure. He can stretch his limbs and body to superhuman lengths and sizes. There is as yet no known limit to how far he can stretch his body. I recall one comic book where he was able to stretch his body to sufficient size and shape to replace part of a damaged suspension bridge while other heroes rescued the cars. He can shrink himself down to several inches in height, or expand to the size of skyscrapers. He can contort his body into shapes and sizes impossible for ordinary humans, making himself flat enough to slide under a door, or using his fingers to pick locks.

He is substantially invulnerable, 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, and is resistant to blasts from energy weapons. Batman once speculation that he could presumably withstand a nuclear detonation. He is completely bulletproof, and if his body mass should be dispersed somehow, he can, over time, pull himself back together. He can also regenerate lost or damaged tissue.

He also is apparently functionally immortal. He does not appear to age. In the aftermath of the JLA story "The Obsidian Age", Plastic Man was discovered to have survived for three thousand years as little more than plastic crumbs on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. He is now over 3000 years old as such.

The only semi-limitation to his powers is with regard to color. He cannot change his color without intense concentration. In the same tale where Plastic Man encountered his son and discovered that the boy had the same powers as himself, except perhaps more extensively, Batman pointed out the boy's ability to readily change color, something Plastic Man does not usually do. At the end of the story, with considerable effort, Plastic Man was able to turn his nose blue. Understandably, he doesn't often use this ability, and generally sticks to his usual flesh tone, and the red and yellow colors of his costume.

Plastic Man's personality is as offbeat as his powers. He tends to take a rather lighthearted approach to life, although he is capable of being serious. He has a sense of humor and a penchant for wisecracking his way through things that can grate on the nerves of other heroes, but he's proved himself a true hero time and again.

So, after all of that, how's the figure? Extremely impressive, but one might also be inclined to ask -- what makes Plastic Man qualify as a Comic-Con exclusive? How about some seriously cool packaging and a ton of accessories to mimic his powers?

Let's be fair -- no action figure in the world is going to be able to do everything that Plastic Man can do. Technically, this isn't even the first time Plastic Man has been presented as an action figure. The first Plastic Man figure of note was actually produced by Mego in the 1970's, as part of a segment of their various super-hero toys, a very particular branch called "Elastic Superheroes". These were essentially takes on "Stretch Armstrong". Plastic Man was an obvious candidate for this, and since this was the only time Mego tackled this particular hero -- there was never a standard 8" version of him -- this is a highly sought-after toy.

Some years later, Plastic Man made his way into the well-known Super Powers line from Kenner, with one of the more interesting spring-activated super powers. Squeeze his legs together and his neck stretched out. He's also turned up a couple of times in Mattel's line of action figures based on the "Batman: Brave and the Bold" series, including one stretchy version that's in a multi-pack with Batman and a villain named Rubberneck who has Plastic Man gripped in both hands, and a "Try Me" action feature that lets the customer cause Rubberneck to stretch Plastic Man back and forth. There's also been a Justice League Unlimited figure of Plastic Man in that line.

But I think it's fair to say that the DC Universe Classics line is the top echelon of Mattel's DC action figure offerings, and Plastic Man is finally a part of it, and as a San Diego Comic-Con exclusive, he certainly enters the line in a top-notch way. The figure came in a colorful box, printed with a design similar to the card art of the standard DC Universe Classics figures. Pop the box open and there was a small folder, scaled to the DC action figures, from the Department of Extranormal Operations, with several small papers about Plastic Man. This was essentially a replacement for the biographical information that usually appears on the package.

Within the box was Plastic Man, packaged in a bubble on a card. However, the entire package had been designed to look like Plastic Man himself, taking the form of a toy package! Front and back, the card was designed to look like Plastic Man's body. His hands folded across the front, and his huge white glasses were across the top and front. These glasses, it turns out, are full-size and actually wearable, if you're so inclined. This is easily some of the most clever packaging I've seen in some time.

The figure is excellent -- and entirely unique. This is due to two factors. The most obvious is that the figure needed to be entirely unique to accommodate the various accessories. The other reason is that, in the closest Plastic Man has to a "default" form, he's not quite as muscular as his contemporaries. I suppose he could be, but he's generally not. As such, even if the figure didn't need to be designed in such a way as to accommodate various additional parts, using the standard "male hero body" for Plastic Man wouldn't have been entirely appropriate.

The figure nevertheless has decent muscular detail, just somewhat slimmer. Plastic Man is the same height as the average DC Universe Classics figure, measuring slightly over 6-1/2" in height. And of course, he has the full range of articulation of a DC Universe Classics figure, making him fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.

The figure, overall, is a superb likeness of Plastic Man. The face is long with a somewhat angular chin. Plastic Man has somewhat wavy black hair, and the figure even has him imitating Superman's "S" curl a bit. Plastic Man conceals his eyes underneath a pair of white-rimmed sunglasses that almost look like goggles. The figure was a huge, almost comical grin on its face, but this is certainly reflective of Plastic Man's personality.

Plastic Man is wearing a red top, open in a V-shape on the front and back. The front has several laces across the open "V". The shirt is long-sleeved. He has a wide, yellow and black striped belt, with a yellow, diamond-shaped belt buckle. Plastic Man has red trunks, and his legs are bare. Interestingly, he does not have any apparent footwear, and yet his feet do not end in toes. Is he barefoot? Is he wearing flesh-colored leggings? Or is he just trying to mess with our heads? Given Plastic Man's personality, I think we'll go with that one...

The paint work is very neatly done. Plastic Man does not have the most complicated of costumes, but even so, I always appreciate seeing neat details, and this figure has them in abundance. Of particular note are the fine laces on his costume, and the rather complex striped belt, which probably was something of a challenge for the painters.

Then there's the accessories. It's not easy to get an action figure to imitate super-powers. Granted, many super powers are not that readily apparently. Superman is bulletproof, but I wouldn't want to take a Superman figure out to a rifle range. Flash can run fast, but I wouldn't want to tie a Flash figure to the back of a car and take off down a freeway and see if he can keep up -- even if that figure was capable of independent locomotion.

Still, a Plastic Man figure that doesn't have SOME means of expressing himself, just doesn't quite live up to the reputation of either the character, or the reputation of Comic-Con exclusives. And here's the other thing that warrants Plastic Man as qualifying for that distinguished honor -- his accessories. They're all -- there's just no polite way of saying it -- additional body parts that can be swapped out.

The figure actually comes "wearing" some of these parts. It takes a bit to get him to a normal human form, if anything about Plastic Man can be considered normal. Let's start with the springy replacement for his legs. Plastic Man can be detached right above the belt, and reattached to a large, red, plastic-coated spring. And yes, Plastic Man has assumed this configuration once in a while. The piece is very nicely made, and features a duplicate of Plastic Man's belt. I am convinced that there is an actual metal spring inside the outer red plastic coating. It's just too heavy, too strong, and too -- springy -- for this to have been made solely out of plastic. A lot of work went into these parts.

Then there's the rubber arms. Stretch Armstrong, eat your rubbery heart out. These are attachable at the shoulder. For those of you disinclined to read instructions, let me explain this -- PRESS THE BUTTON IN THE BACK OF THE FIGURE BEFORE YOU SWITCH OUT THE ARMS! That's what it's there for. It's a spring-release for the shoulder sockets. This allows either the standard or the rubbery arms to be set in place or removed very easily, and then held securely when you release the button. The button itself is very unobtrusive and doesn't negatively impact the look of the figure.

The thing about the arms and their placement is this -- the arms are so flexible that it's impossible to get a decent grip on them at the shoulder and try to pull them out without pressing the button to release them. And you might end up ruining them in the process.

The arms are entirely red, and a little over 4-1/2" long at rest. I'm not sure what their full extension is, since I don't want to break them. They are extremely flexible, and have been molded in such a way that they even have individual fingers and thumbs. They look great, they do the best job I've ever seen of replicating an elastic hero's powers (Elongated Man and Reed Richards take note!), but I would recommend handling them with some caution.

Plastic Man also comes with two substitute hands, which can be attached to his standard arms. One is shaped like a fly swatter. It has Plastic Man's belt buckle diamond shape in it, and is very well made. It's a little too small to be of practical use in the real world, unless you're an astonishingly good shot, but at Plastic Man's scale, he could probably take care of anybody's bug problem. I'd hope he'd wash his hands afterwards, though...

The other hand accessory is designed to look like one of those toy paddles with the ball attached to it on an elastic cord. As with the fly swatter, it has Plastic Man's diamond buckle shape in it, but it's also been designed to look like woodgrain. The ball and cord are made of the same sort of rubbery plastic as the stretchy arms. I don't think this is any more "actually" functional than the fly swatter. Then again, I was always lousy with these things.

Plastic Man's final in-pack accessory, and something of a nod to his Super Powers incarnation, which the Four Horsemen sculpting and design team are huge fans of, is a piece of extendable neck, with a "bendie" in it.

Now, there is one additional accessory, packaged separately, that was only available at the San Diego Comic-Con. It's designed to make Plastic Man look like he's taken on the form of a suitcase! His head and arms can be attached to this, and it has the same spring-action latching system as the figure's torso, for the arms, and is activated by pressing the handle in. The suitcase has the same colors and patterns as Plastic Man himself. It seems like an odd choice. Then again, I suspect most people had to pack a suitcase to travel to Comic-Con, and I do recall one long-ago cover of the 60's Plastic Man comic book, where he disguised himself as a suitcase into which some weird crook had put his haul from a bank heist, and was trying to get away. So there's precedent for it.

The suitcase itself has some interesting features in its own right. It has a San Diego Comic-Con emblem on the back, and it even opens via two latches! Contained inside are miniature replica covers of the first issues of SUPERMAN, BATMAN, and WONDER WOMAN, each about 1-1/2" x 1", printed on little cards, backed with the DC 75 logo.

The suitcase also has the same spring-release for arm attachment as Plastic Man himself. Press the handle on the suitcase for this function before attaching and detaching arms.

So, what's my final word here? I'm extremely impressed. Certainly Plastic Man has earned his place in the iconic DC Universe Classics line, and making him a Comic-Con special in order to design the figure to come with all of these cool accessories to better display his powers was genius on the part of Mattel, and definite credit should also go to whomever came up with the package design idea of making the package look like Plastic Man as well!

Need it be said that he has sold out from both the Comic-Con and MattyCollector, but there are other ways that toys like this can be acquired, and if you're any sort of DC Universe fan, you'll definitely want to add this figure to your collection.

The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of PLASTIC MAN most definitely has my highest recommendation!