A Stretch of the Imagination

Plastic Man Archives Volume 7: written and illustrated by Jack Cole (1946-47; collected 2006): Another jolly, anarchic, cleanly rendered volume of Golden Age Plastic Man adventures, written and illustrated by the stretchable hero’s creator Jack Cole and members of Cole’s studio. Plastic Man is one of the few Golden Age comic books that holds up today, not just as a historic curiosity, but as an exemplar of the form and of the superhero genre.

Plastic Man’s adventures are funny and fun without being weightless (the death count is surprisingly high). Cole’s imagination found wings with a hero who could look like pretty much anything, battling crooks who were comic grotesques. While Plas works for the FBI (the first superhero to work for a government agency, so far as I recall), he remains a curiously liminal figure — a bringer of chaos and anarchy in the cause of law and order.

While Cole would ‘cut loose’ on the splash pages of Plastic Man’s adventures (taking a cue from the Will Eisner studio’s Spirit, upon which Cole worked briefly), he primarily worked his narrative magic within a fairly conventional panel layout. It’s inside the panels that everything cuts loose, and within which little jokes and sub-stories play out in the background in a manner which anyone who’s read the later Mad magazine would recognize, though I think Cole was taking his inspiration from great comic strips that include Bringing Up Father (aka Maggie and Jiggs), Krazy Kat and E.C. Segar’s Thimble Theatre (aka Popeye) when it came to the dense shenanigans occurring around and behind the main action of a strip.

The product of a true visionary and artist, Plastic Man is one of those rare Golden-Age comic-book creations who has never been improved upon by writers and artists other than his creator. Lovely, lovely stuff. Highly recommended.

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