Plastic Man returns in a maniacally energetic, ragingly harebrained, gloriously Technicolor series. Baker recaps Stretch's origin: Eel O'Brian, career criminal, attempts to rob a chemical plant, only to fall into the fateful vat of acid that gives him his superpowers (i.e., his infinite pliability). He recuperates from the accident with a kindly group of monks and emerges as Plastic Man, doer of good. After listening to Eel's sad tale, one of the monks remarks, "I'll let you rest up from your exhausting backstory," and it's this sort of self-awareness that provides the bite needed to balance the story's relentless silliness. Plastic Man's co-stars include his doughy sidekick, Woozy Winks, and a dishy agent named Morton, a hard-boiled blonde with zero patience for our hero's occasional hijinks. The general plot, in which Eel is framed for murder and Plastic Man must clear his name, is paper thin, but it provides an excellent backdrop for Stretch to do his thing, and it allows Baker's comic inventiveness to shine in endless sight gags. One memorable spread has Plastic Man splashed across the side of a building, disguised as graffiti. Baker also makes visual nods to other great cartoonists, including one in which Stretch's acid-transformed face melts between his hands in a take-off on a classic R. Crumb drawing. Plastic Man is an entertaining confection with all the weight of a balloon animal.
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The 1940s adventures of Plastic Man are considered to constitute a high point in early superhero comics. Their appeal stems not so much from the character himself, although his ability to stretch his body limitlessly and change his shape into almost any object was then novel, but from creator Jack Cole's unmatchable juxtaposition of superhero thrills and droll zaniness. Over the years, attempts have been made to revive the character, but none held a candle to Cole's original. Baker, whose idiosyncratic style has kept him on the periphery of mainstream comics, comes closest yet to matching Cole, by ratcheting up the wackiness. Whereas Cole's Plas and sidekick Woozy Weeks were absurd figures in a largely straight-faced world, in Baker's hands everyone is ridiculous. Baker uses his animation experience to impart a unique and attractive look; figures and backgrounds are comically exaggerated, and each panel suggests a cartoon cel. If Baker's rendition doesn't equal Cole's, it, unlike the other contenders, merits a berth beside and may even please contemporary readers more than the original. Gordon Flagg
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