Looking back over the years, DC Comics has made or used some inventive, yet crazy characters. Back in the publisher's infancy, a new superhero emerged who wasn't like any of the others popping up in comic books at the time. Plastic Man was an innovative concept back in days when plastics were just coming into production. Since he was first introduced, Plastic Man has gone on to be one of the most powerful characters in the DC Universe, but also the strangest. He is one of those characters almost everyone knows about, but what people know about him if often pretty limited. He's been around for more than 70 years, but few DC fans know him as well as they know characters like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman or the Flash.
This general lack of knowledge may be a problem for DC seeing as the company announced plans for a Plastic Man movie set for release in the near future. With a feature film on the way for a character who has been around since before the United States entered into World War II, we decided it was high time to dig through the past and uncover whatever we could about this zany character. Seeing as Plastic Man has been around for so long, we probably missed a few things so sound off in the comments and let us know some of your favorite facts about Plastic Man we may have missed in this list of 20 strange and stretchy facts about Plastic Man.
20 HE WASN'T ORIGINALLY A DC CHARACTER
We may know and think of Plastic Man as a character straight out of DC Comics, but the company can't claim creation rights. That honor goes to the now defunct publisher, Quality Comics. Back in 1941, Quality Comics' artist and writer Jack Cole came up with Plastic Man for Police Comics #1. The company continued to publish what became one of their most popular characters for 15 years before DC Comics ever entered into the picture.
Quality Comics shut down in 1956 and sold off the rights to their characters to DC, which quickly incorporated Plastic Man into the DC Universe. DC launched a solo title for Plastic Man in the '60s, but put him to rest for a nearly a decade before bringing him back in 1966's House of Mystery #160 in 1966.
19 HE WAS CREATED LONG BEFORE MR. FANTASTIC
Most people who aren't familiar with the character's origin wrongly associate Plastic Man with Reed Richards from Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four. It's easy to see the comparison seeing as their powers are almost identical, but for those folks who are die-hard Marvel fans accusing DC of copying Mister Fantastic, the truth is Plastic Man was partly inspirational for the creation of Richards and not the other way around.
Plastic Man was created all the way back in 1941 and he was an incredibly popular character for more than two decades before Richards was ever created. The Fantastic Four didn't debut until 1961, 20 years after Police Comics #1, which featured the debut of Plastic Man. Granted, DC and Marvel's library of characters tend to match one another, but Plastic Man has longevity over Mister Fantastic in this case.
18 HE'S NEVER BEEN COMMERCIALLY SUCCESSFUL
When he first debuted, Plastic Man was one of the most popular characters in Quality Comics' line of books. He began in Police Comics #1, but quickly took over the book and saw it renamed Plastic Man soon after. When Quality shut down and sold the rights to the character to DC Comics, he retained his popularity... unfortunately, even a popular character has to sell books to maintain publication and for some reason, Plastic Man was mostly a commercial failure for DC.
The character was certainly beloved by fans, but people weren't buying the book enough to make it stick. He went into publishing limbo for a decade before coming back, but he would repeat this several times over the years without fully establishing a title like Green Lantern, The Flash or other popular DC characters.
17 HE HAD AN ANIMATED SERIES IN 1979
Back in 1979, when DC's Super Friends was smashing television ratings for ABC, the network released The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show to air directly after Super Friends. The show was an amazing success and ran until 1981. The series was broken into separate vignettes all related to the hero. These included Plastic Man, Baby Plas, Plastic Family, Mighty Man and Yukk, Fangface and Fangpuss and Rickety Rocket.
When the series went off the air, it was repackaged and released into syndication with 130 half-hour episodes. The show was well-received and beloved by fans thanks to its wacky portrayal of the title character. You can still get a copy of the episodes featuring Plastic Man, which amount to 35 separate shows thanks to a DVD release in 2009.
16 HE'S AN EX-CON
If you're unfamiliar with the origins of Plastic Man, you might be surprised to learn he was once a criminal. Originally, Patrick "Eel" O'Brian was an orphan who ended up on the streets at 10. He quickly fell into a life of crime and found himself a member of a burglary ring by the time he was an adult. His specialty was cracking safes so he was often used by his fellow gang members to take care of the detailed work during their heists.
There wasn't much written about his time as a criminal seeing as the accident that gained him his powers happened within the first few pages of his initial appearance. After gaining his superpowers, he maintained his criminal identity so he could gain information and intelligence about potential heists and stop them as Plastic Man.
15 HE ACQUIRED HIS POWERS VIA "UNIDENTIFIED" CHEMICALS
Like most superheroes created back in the Golden Age of Comics, Plastic Man acquired his superpowers thanks to some "unidentified" chemicals. During a heist at the Crawford Chemical Works, he and the other members of his gang were found by a night watchman. This sent the thugs into "escape mode" and they made for the door, but not before a large vat of chemicals marked "acid" poured onto Eel after he was shot in the shoulder.
He was able to escape, but found that his buddies left him for the cops to find and passed out. He was rescued by a monk who tended to him and even turned away the police who had gone looking for him. That assistance along with the fact that his gang abandoned him turned Eel away from crime to become the superhero, Plastic Man!
14 HE CAN STRETCH INTO ANY FORM
A big difference between Plastic Man and Mister Fantastic is what they can stretch into. Reed Richards can stretch any part of his body and often transforms into a sphere or a flattened mass he can wrap around a target, but Plastic Man is far more malleable. There is nothing he cannot alter his body into, which includes basic shapes or dangerous weapons, avatars of other superheroes and cars.
Plastic Man was created around the time the plastics industry was getting started, which may have helped mold the character into one who could take any shape... like plastic. Regardless of the reasons for his ability, Plastic Man has shown a remarkable affinity to transform himself into anything. In the beginning, he would even modify his face so he looked nothing like his true form to help mask his identity.
13 HE CAN ALTER HIS DENSITY
Being able to convert your body into any shape you want is certainly a good skill, but it could create an unforeseen vulnerability. If Plastic Man were to stretch too thin, he could be torn, but thankfully, he has a solution to that problem. He can alter his density at will in any part of his body any time he needs to. This has enabled him to become so hard, he deflects bullets or he can become soft enough to slip through the smallest of spaces.
There are other aspects of his density control that empower him outside of bullet deflection; he can also increase and decrease his muscle mass at will. By doing this, Plastic Man easily outclasses most other DC superheroes in superhero strength. He is also highly resistant to concussive blasts and most other forms of attack.
12 HE CAN ALTER HIS COLOR
One of the only true limitations to Plastic Man's physique is color. In almost every depiction of the character, he is wearing his familiar red and yellow costume, but rarely seen in any other color. The reason for this is simply that changing colors is incredibly difficult for him. In order to change the color of any part of his body, he must concentrate intensely on it for a long time.
To change his color completely, it would probably take him days, weeks or even longer. It's not practical for him to do it, which is why he almost never bothers. Fortunately, he can turn himself into an exact duplicate of the Flash or Batman's utility belt, but the usefulness of that runs out rather quickly.
11 HE IS IMMUNE TO TELEPATHIC ATTACK
There are a lot of superheroes and villains in the DC Universe who use telepathy as a form of attack. The Martian Manhunter is probably one of the most well known, but there are many others from the lowest street-level superheroes to the heaviest hitters. Unfortunately, none of them can do squat to the mind of Plastic Man seeing as his mind isn't made up of the same spongy material as the rest of us.
This fact was once pointed out by none other than Batman in JLA #88, written by Joe Kelly and penciled by Doug Mahnke in 2003. Batman noted that "Plastic Man's mind is no longer organic. It's untouchable by telepathy." This makes Plastic Man far more powerful than most including Superman who has shown a susceptibility to mind control in the past.
10 HE CAN CHANGE HIS SIZE
Plastic Man can not only alter his size, he can do it rather well. Should he need to grow to the size of a skyscraper to take on a threat or cast shade onto a picnic, he can do that. If the need arises to shrink to only a few inches in size, he can do that as well.
The shrinking ability has proven useful over the years as it makes it easy for him to hide in and around places easily. This has worked to surprise people or gain intelligence. In one instance, he shrunk to the size of one of Batman's utility belt pockets, which comes in handy should he ever need to take a ride on Bat's waist for some reason...
9 HIS WEAKNESS IS A RAPID CHANGE IN TEMPERATURE
There's not much that can bother Plastic Man... he can deflect bullets and resist just about any form of energetic attack, but there is one thing he doesn't deal with well: cold. Actually, it's the rapid change in temperature that really creates a problem for him. Just like we all learned in 8th grade science, materials like rubber don't react well to a rapid color change and Plastic Man is no different.
Normally, Plastic Man is in a semi-liquid state and he can operate at either high or low temperatures, but rapidly changing from one to another will completely alter his state. Rapid freezing will turn him into a solid, which can be shattered while rapid heating will turn him liquid. If this happens, he cannot reform and becomes a relatively useless puddle.
8 HE'S THE DC UNIVERSE'S COMIC RELIEF
You know how Peter Parker is always making jokes at the wrong time to lighten the mood while he gets pummeled by a familiar foe? That character trait may owe something to the likes of Patrick O'Brien who is arguably the comic relief of the DC Universe. Unlike Parker, Plastic Man doesn't just crack a joke or two to throw his enemies off, he is a practical joker of the highest order.
Flipping through the pages of his books, you will often find him joking around with other superheroes. He does this by turning into their equipment like Batman's Utility Belt or by messing around and becoming a couch they sit on without realizing it's one of their teammates. The guy rarely takes anything seriously, which either entertains or enrages everyone around him.
7 HE BREAKS THE 4TH WALL
In the Marvel Universe, Deadpool is well known as someone who breaks the fourth wall. He often talks to the readers or comments on the situation without any regard for maintaining a sense of decorum. Ryan Reynolds pulled this off perfectly in the Deadpool films, but he wasn't the first comic book character to get away with it. Plastic Man has been breaking the 4th wall far longer in the DC Universe.
Breaking the fourth wall is nothing new to characters who spend more time in comedy than in drama, which is why Plastic Man has no problem doing it. He often breaks the fourth wall without making it seem like a cheap gimmick. It's a great way to add exposition to a scene or just to have fun with the reader and Plastic Man does it all the time.
6 HE ONCE HAD A SIDEKICK
Back in the 1940s, it wasn't uncommon to pair off a superhero with a sidekick. Batman had Robin and Plastic Man had a comedy sidekick who went by the name Woozy Winks. Originally, he was magically enchanted so that he would be protected from harm by nature itself, but this aspect of the character appears to have long been forgotten and phased out.
Over time, Woozy Winks went from fateful sidekick to bumbling idiot who was forever loyal to his buddy, Plastic Man. He is almost always depicted wearing green pants, a black polka-dotted green shirt, bowtie and hat. He was a big part of the earlier stories, but rarely made appearances in the books through to the modern age. He has appeared in cartoons, but has yet to make much of an appearance in modern comics.
5 HE WENT LEGITIMATE
When a superhero starts out in a life of crime, it's only a matter of time before they become a police officer. This took place while Plastic Man was still being published by Quality Comics. He started out fighting crime, but it wasn't long before he joined up with the city police department to become a full-time cop. This was a way of legitimizing his crimefighting, but he didn't wear a cop's uniform or anything like that.
After a while, he went from local city police officer to full-time federal agent in the FBI. It wasn't long after this that he stopped using the Eel O'Brian identity and simply went as Plastic Man. This aspect of his personality eventually changed when he went over to DC, but he fought crime with a badge for several years thanks to Quality Comics.
4 POST-CRISIS MADE HIM INTO A PI
When DC bought the character after Quality Comics went under, he made appearances for a little while, but went unpublished for nearly a decade soon after. He was brought back a number of times, but he only saw real changes thanks to the Crisis on Infinite Earths event in 1985. The post-Crisis version of Plastic Man reintroduced a new version of the character in a four-issue miniseries by Phil Foglio in 1988-89.
This version of the character underwent a similar origin story, but didn't immediately become a superhero like he did in the Golden Age. He ended up finding Woody who was a former mental patient, but someone who could help him. They flipped a coin on whether they should be a criminal gang or help people and ended up opening a detective agency in New York.
3 HE'S A MEMBER OF THE JLA
For fans of the Justice League comics and cartoons, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Plastic Man is a card-carrying member. After all, just about every superhero in the DC Universe has been a member at one time or another and Plastic Man is no exception. His most prominent time as a member of the group came during Grant Morrison's run working on JLA.
During the "Rock of Ages" storyline, he is recruited by Batman to pretend to be Joker so he could infiltrate Lex Luthor's Injustice League. After succeeding in this mission, he is elevated into full-time member status and helped the League fight in numerous battles. When the extended League eventually dissolved, he was the only member other than the "Big Seven" to retain full-time membership.
2 BATMAN HOLDS HIM IN HIGH REGARD
Batman is one of those characters whose respect is difficult to ear. He is one of the most stoic and intelligent characters in the DC Universe so when he describes another character, it's probably wise to listen to what he has to say. In The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Batman saves Plastic Man from imprisonment in Arkham where he had been "stored" for years in a confined egg-shape that drove him insane.
Batman notes that Plastic Man is the most powerful superhero in the room and Catgirl went on to say he was "immeasurably powerful. Absolutely nuts." Batman has also commented on Plastic Man by saying he could likely survive a nuclear detonation, cannot be touched by telepathy and that he is one of the most dangerous and powerful people in the universe.
1 HE'S IMMORTAL
Plastic Man is one of the silliest characters in the DC Universe, but he may also be one of the most powerful. Over the course of his publication, Plastic Man has been shown to be immortal and there doesn't appear to be any way to destroy him for good. He has been frozen and shattered numerous times, but he is able to reform himself just like the T-1000 in Terminator 2. It just takes him a little while to reconstitute himself.
Additionally, he doesn't age... or he makes it look like he doesn't age. In the "Obsidian Age" storyline, he was found to have had his molecules scattered across the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, but was able to eventually recombine after 3,000 years. He looked the same as he did before and had no problem returning to fighting crime.