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The guy can't stay in one form for long.

Plastic Man is a DC Comics superhero, created by renowned cartoonist Jack Cole. He is best known as "the stretching member of the Justice League" though none of this is completely accurate.

For starters, Plastic Man (or "Plas" for short) was created by another company, Quality Comics, in 1941. He was the star character of Police Comics #1-102 (August, 1941-October, 1950). And also gained his own title, Plastic Man which lasted for 52 issues (1943 to February, 1955). While among the longest running characters of The Golden Age of Comic Books, Plas was then pretty much forgotten. Quality Comics ceased operations in 1956, selling most, if not all of its properties to DC Comics. The new owners continued a few of Quality's ongoing series, most notably Blackhawk. But had no interest in reviving defunct series. The character was next revived in Plastic Man vol. 2 #1 (December, 1966). Though the Plastic Man of this series was said to be a look-alike son of the original.

Second, long before Plastic Man joined the League, Elongated Man (who may have been a Captain Ersatz of Plas) had been a member for decades (though admittedly Plastic Man was always better known.) Plastic Man only joined the ranks of the League in JLA #16 (March, 1998).

In his origin story, Plastic Man was "Eel" O'Brian, a gangster. One night while robbing a chemical company, O'Brian was shot and fell into a vat of unknown chemicals; the rest of his gang abandoned him. He managed to escape and was taken in by a monastery, where he recovered. The betrayal by his own men and the kindness of the monks made him decide to change his life, and he started using his newfound shapeshifting powers (he can change into anything he can imagine, but always retaining the same colors) to battle crime as "Plastic Man". He kept his Secret Identity as O'Brian in order to infiltrate the underworld, but eventually joined the FBI.

As you can imagine, given the potential for zanyness of his powers, Plastic Man soon became more of a comedy series, especially after gaining a man named Woozy Winks as a Sidekick. Many of his villains were even sillier, being parodies of Dick Tracy criminals or having pun-based names.

A more somber version of Plas appeared in some issues of the (original) comic book series The Brave and the Bold in the 1970s; in this case Plastic Man was shown as having fallen in love with Ruby Rider, a rich but evil woman, and being miserable as a result.

Plas and Woozy starred in the anthology series Adventure Comics for a while in the early 1980s, with stories even sillier than before. It was around this time that an animated series also based on the character aired; instead of Woozy, however, a Hawaiian character named "Hula Hula" was his partner, and Plas was given a new love interest in a blonde woman named Penny, whom he married and later had a baby with the same powers.

Post-Crisis, they changed Plastic Man's origin to make him Darker and Edgier. Now he never was rehabilitated by monks, instead he tried to commit suicide because he considered himself no longer human, and Woozy was a mental patient. Hey, it was the Dork Age. Fortunately, later portrayals have been more positive: his first origin got restored, Plas is his cheerful self again, and he joined the Justice League where he proved his mettle.

Kyle Baker wrote and illustrated an unashamedly cartoony series from 2004 to 2006, which was much loved by critics and ignored by everyone else. Baker’s series returned to the origin of the Jack Cole stories and mocked the ultra-seriousness of modern superhero comics.

Bruce Timm has said that he wanted to use Plas in Justice League Unlimited, but couldn't due to just one of the many copyright issues that surrounded the show. He does get a few mentions in an episode called The Greatest Story Never Told.

He also starred in a pilot for a series on Cartoon Network. Made in 2006, it will finally get off the ground as a series of shorts for the network's DC Nation block. Much earlier, he had his own cartoon show called The Plastic Man Cartoon Comedy Hour by Ruby-Spear Production. It ran from 1979-1981 and featured live-action segments between animated shorts. These shorts included Plastic Man cartoons but also Marmaduke, Heathcliff, and others.

More recently, Plastic Man has been appearing often in the animated version of The Brave and the Bold. In this version, Plas was a member of Kite-Man's gang, and it was Batman who caused him to fall in the chemicals (by accident) and then took it upon himself to reform the former criminal (who is shown as still having a hard-to-resist compulsion to steal.) Woozy is back as his sidekick, and Plas has a new girlfriend, Ramona, a redhead with a "New York" accent and an abusive attitude. Oh, and they have a baby too. He has proven an Ensemble Darkhorse in a series full of them. He had appearances on Superfriends as well.

Evan Dorkin wrote and Stephan Destefano illustrated a Plastic Man feature to run in Wednesday Comics in case any of the other strips were unable to keep up with the deadline; while not making it into the serialized issues, the single page produced is included in the collected book.

Tropes related to this character:

  • The Atoner
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Plas is ridiculed often, but in JLA, he proved just how formidable he can be.
    • "You like burning?!? How about the burning inside your lungs as they choke for air?!? LIKE THAT?!?!"
    • A later issue of JLA reveals that the reason Batman brought him into the League to begin with was that he was the only person who could defeat Martian Manhunter if he ever went rogue. When Manhunter loses his fear of fire and temporarily becomes "Fernus the Burning", even Superman gets his butt kicked. It's Plas who is able to take him down, being a faster and less hindered shapeshifter who is immune to his telepathy.
    • Another JLA storyline had him, like the other Justice League members, split in two: the stretchy goofball (who literally could not be serious) and Eel O'Brian, ex-career criminal. Eel is the first to recognize that the split heroes are all incomplete in various ways and need to be put back together, even though some are happier this way, and it's mostly his steely determination and sometimes ruthless manipulation that makes it happen. (He also comments that he remembers the sound a baseball bat makes against a skull, and has begun to crave hearing it again...)
  • Bumbling Sidekick: Woozy Winks
  • Characterization Marches On: In the early comics, he was a textbook example of The Comically Serious. His most recent potrayal, the one in Batman the Brave And The Bold, is entirely different - over the years his personality changed dramatically, being mostly comic relief and Fun Personified these days.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: In the modern portrayals. Given the potential of his powers, this was to be expected.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Woozy Winks
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Due to the jokesy nature of most of his appearances, people forget that not only can he go toe-to-toe with most of the other big names in the DCU without much difficulty, but he's also a trained CIA operative and survived dismemberment for thousands of years.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: In his first appearance, his costume was red on one side, black on the other. (And in some reprints, has only one sleeve.) Even Alex Ross seems not to know this.
  • Fiery Redhead: Ramona in Batman the Brave And The Bold.
  • From a Single Cell: Plas can recover from very extreme forms of damage. Like getting reduced to gravel-sized chunks and spending a few thousand years scattered across the ocean floor before finally being reassembled.
  • Fun Personified
  • The Golden Age of Comic Books
  • Good Parents: He actively tries to be this for his own son after he had abandoned the kid his entire life. He once Refused the Call out of fear that returning to life as Plastic Man would force him to abandon his son again. His son is the one who convinces him to go back into action.
  • Green Lantern Ring: Plas' shapeshifting can be surprisingly versatile.
    • While much has been made of the fact that he can't change color (or change color easily, Depending on the Writer), Plas is smart enough to use this common knowledge to his advantage, and has used shadowing and makeup to trick even Lex Luthor for an extended period of time.
  • Hair of Gold: Penny in the 80s cartoon.
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: Stretching powers in comics are usually portrayed as pretty silly or downright lame, but Plas has proven he could be downright SCARY if he wasn't such a clown. He has shrugged off abuse that would kill other members of the Justice League outright, can harden himself to dish out SERIOUS hurt on bad guys, can form sharpened shapes like knives and scissors that can slice through pretty much anything, shape-shift into pretty much any object imaginable and of incredible sizes both huge and tiny, and is effectively immortal. In the recent DC Crisis Crossover, Flashpoint, Plas is a bad guy, and has effectively proven one of the scariest antagonists in recent comics history by shoving his hand into a guys mouth and shredding him from the inside out.
  • Henpecked Husband
  • Legacy Character: His son, Offspring, in the Kingdom Come series.
  • Nigh Invulnerable: Name a form of physical attack. Chances are, he's shrugged it off during his career. He even immediately bounced back when Circe, an evil sorceress with the power of a demigod, turned him into a pig.
    • That might not be the best example, since using Baleful Polymorph on an expert shapeshifter is rather silly. Though in all fairness, he was so good at it that Circe became convinced she was fighting Dionysios.
    • It's been said that he could shrug off a full-power punch from SUPERMAN without so much as batting an eye, and he has even bounced away energy attacks. Holy crap. Oh, he also survived having most of his body destroyed and buried in the bottom of the ocean... for 3000 years!
    • Circe got her revenge in a Wonder Woman story where she transformed most the male superheroes in the world into animals for female supervillains to hunt down. Since Martian Manhunter, Beast Boy and Plastic Man were immune, she took special means to keep them out of her way. For Plas, she stretched him out under heat lamps and started to slowly MELT him.
    • When the JLA was fighting a returned Doomsday in a Superman comic, Plas attempted to tie up the monster. Said monster proceeded to stretch him so hard that he actually was being torn like paper. It was disturbing to see.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: "I only act dumb, sister."
  • Only Sane Man: Go read the original stories by Jack Cole. Yes, the adventures are cartoonish in a good way, but Plas himself is as serious as any other hero around at the time.
    • Which was the point. Later, DC semi-inverted this by saying that the Cole-style adventures were how Plas perceived himself and them due to the effects of the chemicals that gave him his powers; to everyone else, he was a kook in a world of (supposedly) sane people... and The Joker.
  • Personality Powers
  • Power Perversion Potential: ...We'll leave this one to your imagination.
    • One in-story example: in a JLA issue, he posed as Big Barda's dress. It took the rest of the League to hold back her Unstoppable Rage upon discovering.
      • It's been mentioned in JLA that they never team Plas with Wonder Woman.
      • In an issue of JLA Wonder Woman is at home, about to change her clothes, and suddenly turns and addresses the red and yellow light fixture on the wall: "If my body were the last thing you ever saw, would it be worth it?". Plas sheepishly departs.
  • Sad Clown: Some portrayals of Plas.
  • Shapeshifter Showdown: with Martian Manhunter.
  • Shapeshifter Weapon: Plas can turn into pretty much ANYTHING he can think of, and he can actually alter his density to be as malleable or as hard as he wants. If he turns his hand into a sledgehammer, he can explode your head with one swing. Of course, he's too much of a nice guy to actually DO something like that, but any bad guy that underestimates him is in for a RUDE awakening.
  • The Slow Path: In one JLA story, Plas traveled back in time and was blown up. His body shattered into pieces and was scattered at the bottom of the sea, and left there for 3000 years until the JLA rescued him in the present day. He was conscious the entire time.
  • Something Person
  • Super Family Team: In the 70's cartoon.
  • Tangent Comics: In this series "Plastic Man" was a man trapped in a plastic body.
  • Tom Kenny: His current voice actor.