Apr 24, 2010

Not Dark Yet, But It’s Gettin’ There: Plastic Man #20

Plastic Man 20-01Before Jack Cole’s last noir period of the Plastic Man stories, he created a brief, but glorious series of stories in which he pushed the cartoony aspect of his work to the limits. These stories pre-figure – and even on occasion surpass -- the famous stories by Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, and Wally Wood in the first 20 issues or so of MAD, with dense, crowded panels and numerous extra jokes in the background.

Plastic Man #20 featured the famous Sadly Sadly story. This story has been reprinted several times, but the other two stories in this issue have never before been reprinted.

In this issue, we see Cole heading full speed into his last comic phase. The pages are dense with gags and infused with a manic energy. The brilliant Woozy Winks story in this issue has strikingly similar visual solutions that Wally Wood would develop for his MAD stories.

Lamp that opening panel with 20 different great dogs all drawn by Cole. Each and every dog is infused with a manic obsession. Funny, scary stuff.


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For all the crazy comedy, Cole is also layering on more shadows, and some of the distortions which should be funny, actually come off as grotesque, like gargoyles instead of clowns. The weird black eyes of the villain Ali Badda, in the Oriental quarter story, are disturbing instead of funny. Even Plastic Man’s expressions are distorted in unsettling ways, as though he cannot contain his inner darkness.

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  1. What eye candy! This is my favorite period from Cole. As you say, shadows are looming, but it gave this stuff real zany bite!

    Great post!

  2. The real questions here is whether anyone even remembers Plastic Man in a serial cartoon series. I remember it from the late '70s though it looked at least a couple of years old.


    Steven G. Willis


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