Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The shape of things to come

The Plastic Man Archive Edition: Volume 1

I have a confession to make. I don’t really know a lot about comic book history. I also don’t buy or seek out a lot of really old comics. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just a hard nut to crack. That being said, I find myself getting more and more interested in the whole plethora of older works. Sure I find myself reading them in these reissued collections but honestly, I can’t be a collector just yet – not that I particularly want to be. I want to read the material, not own the originals – kind of like any classic literature really, if you think about it.

Reading this collection sort of whetted my appetite for these relatively historic artifacts. Yeah, I know there’s a plethora of crap out there just like today but this is the foundations and beginnings of all the ideas we’re inherently familiar with in the medium. Not only that, there is more than just superheroes in the pages of these golden age comics. They look to be more about adventuring than superheroing. There are jungle explorers, cowboys, space explorers, warfare comics, undersea explorations and just about any sort of man vs. nature/man/himself type of story.

But none of this has to do with Plastic Man. This volume is jaw droppingly fun to read. I guess a lot of it just caught me by surprise because when I tend to think of older comics I think of comic code comics. This predates them and we get stories where gangsters are seen being shot through the head, Plastic Man is forced to smoke enough pot until he goes on a killing rampage, countless gangs of thugs are killed indiscriminately, and the general level of violence and drugs is higher than one might expect. And it makes the stories better because it manages to ground them in some form of reality instead of a whitewashed version of the world aimed at kids. For instance, instead of villains uttering vague threats to rule the world, Plastic Man smashes up an opium smuggling ring.

These stories are as hefty as they are brief. They fly off in tangents as often as they contain follow a direct route to the conclusion. Ideas are flying as hard and fast as the fists and bullets. And all the while we’re given a likable character in the protagonist. Plastic Man is showing us the basis for the Batman we knew before the most recent crisis. He’s trying to do right while being unable to escape his past, and while Batman needed a company wide event to fix his problems, these comics just have Plas knocked unconscious and dream about meeting his creator – long before Morrison did it folks.

You can read this book as a historic artifact but you can also read it as fun comics. You won’t regret either. I’m honestly shocked I enjoyed this as much as I did. I was thoroughly impressed by this collection.

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