Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Secret Avengers and Why I Hate Plastic Man

A running promotional gimmick at Marvel was the slow unveiling of the members of the new Avengers teams, one person a day with a little "personal" quote by them. Apparently popular enough that Robert Kirkman parodied it in an unveiling of his own super-team. It's an effective advertising ploy for both the company and creators as well as the working to the various online websites as it brings traffic and discussion to the sites.

With the Secret Avengers, the figures were done in silhouette, causing much discussion over various guesses based solely on the character profiles. Now, after several weeks Marvel has begun bringing those characters into view. It turns out that Marvel rigged the game in their favor though. Not content in just concealing through silhouette, major details are left out of the original figures. Leaving out key details strikes me as cheating and being dishonest in their promotional gimmick though. What's sad is that the comic NEWS sites don't ever call the companies out on things like this, they don't bring to attention the misleading and outright dishonest statements made in interviews and promotional stories. They serve as nothing more than free advertising for the companies whose wares they hawk.


Why I don't like Plastic Man

My first exposure to Plastic Man was probably Saturday morning cartoons. I remember seeing him in an episode of the Superfriends and later in his own cartoons. A buddy also had a record album of some adventures of DC heroes, focusing on the shape changing ones (I remember Plastic Man and Metamorpho each having an adventure). I eventually saw him in one of his 60s comic adventures as well and then some adventures in World's Finest, drawn by Joe Staton. I guess he seemed a natural fit as he drew the equally light-hearted adventures of the size changing E-Man.

While growing up, I liked Plastic Man (AND E-Man, Metamorpho, Elongated Man, etc). The adventures were light-hearted but the character's powers and adventures had a surreal wackiness to them.

Roy Thomas used a "serious" Plastic Man in All-Star Squadron. There were a few light-hearted touches, but his use of Plastic Man was similar to his use of Johnny Thunder. He didn't compromise the characters' integrities in order to fit them into serious books. A comedy character in a serious book needs to be treated seriously not as a buffoon or mental patient. He got it. Grant Morrison and James Robinson didn't.

When Morrison brought Plastic Man into the JLA, he treated Plastic Man as a clown and not a serious superhero. He let his meta-fictional concerns over-ride internal story logic. He was setting up his team to be of iconic characters and ones along mythic themes. Thus Plastic Man as the "trickster god" was in and Elongated Man was out. However, there was never in-story reason why the team chose to have the mentally questionable Plastic Man over the intelligent and proven Elongated Man. Plastic Man's loony personality became the dafault and he remained with the team for a long time and figured more prominently in the JLA-Avengers than Elongated Man would. The popularity of Plastic Man probably was a factor in the deaths of the Dibnys. An interesting side-bar, Elongated Man was created as a foil for the Flash because the creator at the time did not know that DC owned Plastic Man and thus set out to create a new character. However, Elongated Man soon grew into a full-blown character in his own right.

The problem with all of this is that if you actually go back and read the original adventures by Cole, you realize that the Plastic Man in All-Star Squadron is by far more accurate to his original appearances than the Grant Morrison trickster character. See, Plastic Man was the straight man. His world was a bit surreal and his sidekick Woozy Winks was a buffoon, but Plastic Man was not. He was extremely capable and straight-forward, along the same lines as Will Eisner's Spirit. There was humor in the stories and situations but the main characters were not caricatures. Read the original stories and revisit the modern ones and you realize that the modern fans and creators have once again confused character and personality with the story and genre or at the least, unable to separate the two. As portrayed in the League and elsewhere, the body is Plastic Man but the personality is Woozy's!

Was reminded of this when Rucka mentions that Ted Kord died a hero's death. Kord died in a story that set out first to completely tear the character down. Because he was in a comedy book, he and Booster were treated as being unreliable and considered incompetent by their peers. And, then he's shot in the head by a former friend. It only works if you ignore every story written by every writer but Giffen and DeMatteis, many of which that came out concurrent and after their landmark run on the League books. And, then ignoring everything the pair actually did with Maxwell Lord and the thematic elements of his story. Even the Brave & Bold cartoon did a better job of treating the Ted Kord Blue Beetle respectfully and giving him a true touching and heroic death.

Meanwhile DC has brought back a truckload of characters that have been killed off, although they only go half as far as they should have. No Elongated Man and Sue. No Question. No Blue Beetle. No Neptune Perkins, Judomaster, Tempest (I or II), GA Atom, Tasmanian Devil, Dr. Mid-Nite, Starman, Damage, Human Bomb, Black Condor II, Firebrand I, II, III, Crimson Avenger, Blue Jay, Silver Sorceress, Sandman I, II, Star-Spangled Kid, Minute Man, Commander Steel, Steel, Vibe, etc. Of all the villains, they leave the original Kobra as being dead? Oh, and they make the announcement that now Dead is Dead. I seem to recall when another company made that decision and a year later decided on not only bringing back a couple of major characters but also one whose very name had been the definition of being "dead" ie, there was "dead" and there was "Bucky and Uncle Ben dead". So, it'll last as long as until Geoff Johns decides that he wants to bring back Prince Ra Man.

Yet, one of the characters brought back is Hawk aka Hank Hall and he's going to be in the Birds of Prey. The character was terribly mis-used in Armageddon 2001 and ever since. I'd like to see him come back as a hero. Have to wonder just how is he going to be treated as a hero? He died as a villain in full Extant mode, but he comes back as Hawk? Plus, let's face it, no one other than the Kesels have been able to write the character as being conservative, a lunkhead, AND sympathetic ala a faithful brother and friend.


Chuck Wells said...

I'm feeling your pain here, Cash.

I doubt that you're singing to the choir though, too many lemmings in the shops get off on the very writers who you've correctly called out.

Rip Jagger said...

I feel the same you do about the online news sites. Once upon a time way back in the past, they served as a good central source for comic book information. But increasingly they've become mere advertisements for the next new comic book "experience".

I also felt the same way about the ads as you did, though it's a small thing surely enough. It's a cheat for sure.

As for Plastic Man, I actually enjoyed him in JLA, but then I was aware that the character was being handled differently than his original source material suggested.

I'm reminded of how Marty Pasko handled E-Man at First Comics before Joe Staton took over the writing of that comic. It was the same problem, a desire to pursue satire at the expense of storytelling and wit.

Rip Off

cash_gorman said...

It's a small thing, but it's also a cumulative thing. If the creators and companies keep misleading the readers about books through interviews and promos and the news sites never call them on it...

The latest heroes have been revealed and the misleading art on at least two of them are even more misleading in the major details they choose to leave out (such as almost all of the extraneous detail that makes the flying character look unique).