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Plastic Man:
The Complete Collection

The animators interviewed on the Plastic Man collection have it right. There's just something about the look of the character that seems fun and inviting. He's also a character that seems absolutely right for animation.

Hannah-Barbera/Ruby-Spears/Warner Brothers/Cartoon Network have known that all along, and tried to make it work. In the second episode of Super Friends, only Plastic Man could save the day - never to appear on the show again. Tom Kenny and Andy Suriano brought him to life in a brilliant short pilot, included here, that for some reason Cartoon Network didn't run with - though heaven knows they should have. And of course, Plastic Man has finally struck a chord with kids through his appearances on the brilliant Batman: the Brave and the Bold show, once again played by Kenny.

Yet his most successful run outside of comics came in the late 70s with The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show, an unwieldy title meant to cover all the bases for a character that executives clearly didn't understand. Originally the series included two other features, "Mighty Man and Yukk" and "Rikkity Rocket," but those have mercifully not been included on this disc collection.

What we actually have on Plastic Man are two seasons' worth of the adventures of the pliable polymorphic superhero that ran on ABC and through childhood memories. Hemmed in by market research, the episodes have their good and bad points for hardcore fans of the character.

(I'm going to admit that for friends of mine who have never picked up a Plastic Man story by Jack Cole - and that's the majority - this series is one long fond memory. And the five year old in my house? ECSTATIC that the magic mailbox delivered this series.)

Plastic Man works for a law enforcement agency, but where the series makes adjustments is in trying to make him almost seem like both Batman and every other mystery-solving team Saturday morning had. So Plastic Man has a Plasticmobile, a Plasticplane, etc., which could be cool. He also has two sidekicks instead of the one goofy one - Woozy Winks - from the comics.

In the featurette "Plas-tastic," writer Mark Evanier finally explains "Hula Hula" to my satisfaction. It had always bugged me that this goofy Hawaiian character would be globe-trotting with Plastic Man; the southern belle Penny may not have been logical, but you could understand why Plas would keep her around. Evanier confesses that in the mandates for the show was a list of ethnicities that Hanna-Barbera hadn't gotten around to portraying yet, and that the writing staff had to pick at least one to be a sidekick.

So we get a comic relief character with a superhero who is supposed to be funny anyway. The surprise in rewatching these episodes is that Michael Bell's portrayal of Plastic Man actually is funny. The stentorian toned voice artist lifts himself up to a high tenor and proves that even with corny jokes, he has a great sense of timing. Elsewhere on the featurette about the character's history, one expert describes Plastic Man as the Bugs Bunny of the superhero world, and Bell's portrayal has a lot to do with bolstering that idea.

The stories themselves are aimed at an elementary school level and the animation is pretty par for the course for that time period, which is to say uneven at best. For adults this will be strictly for the nostalgia value.

However, just like in 1980, kids will go nuts with the introduction of "Baby Plas," the one-toothed scion of Plastic Man and Penny. It took comics almost two decades afterwards to introduce that character into continuity (sort of) in the form of future superhero Offspring. I have a feeling that over the next couple of weeks I'm going to be hearing a lot of Baby Plas' rallying cry "Me play, too!"

On the discs themselves, the packaging is reasonable, though the menu artwork leaves a bit to be desired, often thick-lined crude recreations of animated characters that weren't all that sophisticated in quality in the first place. That's with the exception of Plastic Man himself, usually portrayed in an image by Jose Garcia-Lopez. The biggest confusion will come about in finding the extras - the actual case lists the featurette and the unsold pilot as being on Disc Four, but in truth, they're spread across the first and second discs.

It may be the popularity of The Brave and the Bold that caused Warner to put out this collection, but for whatever reason, it's a good complete look at a character that kids love. Every now and then it's good to be reminded that some superheroes are just right for them. And in actuality, I've got most of the Jack Cole stories, and by today's standards, they're not for kids. So both demographics should be able to have their versions. Here's hoping that this sells well enough that Plastic Man might just get another shot at the solo spotlight.

Derek McCaw

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