Monthly Archives: April 2016

Plastic Man 3

Quick Rating: Wacky, but in a good way
Title: Rubber Banned

Writer/Artist: Kyle Baker
Editor: Joey Cavalieri

If you’ve spent any time watching cartoons on televisionlately, then you’ve probably noticed that they share the same hypnotic effect of music videos. Time passes, drool pools, and your buttocks become a major gravitational power. It’s so easy to just sit here… and watch that little rabbit… and that little creature with the stripes… and…

What was I talking about? Ohh, yes- Plastic Man— this issue begins where the last one concluded. The police have realized that Plas is the criminal Eel O’Brian. They try to apprehend him and wackiness ensues.

Kyle Baker wants the Plastic Man comic book to be a cartoon. The problem is that you have to turn the pages. Comedy is all about… well, pacing. (Jack Benny probably said that first and if he didn’t then he should have.) This is particularly true with slapstick. Imagine a pie fight. Now imagine the film focusing a little longer on each impact — less funny. In a cartoon, the pacing is predetermined and the viewer experiences the pacing as set by the makers of the cartoon. With a comic book, you can reach for your drink and the magazine and the joke wait for you to come back. Yet, the pacing is gone. I’m not saying that it can’t be done- just that readers make it harder. (The corollary being that, if we’d stop reading comic books altogether, then they would be funnier.)

So, Kyle Baker has a tough job laid out for him, especially since this looks like it may become an on-going series. (You heard it here first- 2004 is the year of plastic.) So, the first two-thirds of this issue rely on trademark Plastic Man slapstick and they’re funny, but sometimes it gets a little off- and I think it may be the pacing. Then, the JLA shows up and we switch humor gears to satire. The pacing becomes a little less important and the humor blasts off. If nothing else, the issue is worth it for the interaction between Batman and Superman. Maybe that’s just because the humor plays much more into single panels rather than the extended art required for more physical jokes.

January, 2004

Plastic Man 1

Quick Rating: Delightful
Title: Rebound

Doing the things that plastic can What’s he like? It’s not important

Writer/Artist: Kyle Baker
Editor: Joey Cavalieri

Do you remember the funny pages? That was what your dad offered to read to you on Sunday morning when your mom was trying to get a little extra sleep. Before there were comic books, there were comic strips. More than likely, you were exposed to Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes or Bloom County or Nancy or Beetle Bailey or…. You may not have been very discriminating. Who is reading the funnies? How can you read just one? Have you ever noticed that mice don’t have shoulders?

I don’t know why Superman and Batman and all the rest survive as American pop culture icons and Plastic Man is condemned to the ignominy of blank stares. There is a statue of Superman in downtown Cleveland. There should be a statue of Plastic Man outside a Play-Doh factory somewhere. How many children fight over Plastic Man action figures? Aren’t they always the ones still hanging in the discount aisle (next to Lethargic Lad and the Tick)? Why not a movie? Of course, it would star Jim Carrey.

Kyle Baker appears to be the lovechild of Jack Cole and Salvador Dali, having served an apprenticeship under Tex Avery. Comics, like most pop culture, get by on intelligence and/or liveliness. Every panel in Plastic Man #1 shines with joie de vivre. It is fun to read this comic book. Sure, the jokes are old, but humor is in, well, timing, and, you know, presentation. Baker can draw a good joke.

In this issue, we get to know Plastic Man at work and at play. We revisit his origin. He’s a pliable superhero with a bucket of creativity. The public idolizes him for his audacious escapades. We also meet his sidekick, the much-maligned Woozy Winks. Despite the hero worship, Plastic Man is troubled by meaninglessness in his life. And we conclude on a highly mysterious note. The panels are big and there are a lot of primary colors.

I really enjoyed Plastic Man. It accomplishes a near miracle in updating a character without doing its history a disservice. While not probing the most troubling questions of our day, it does not insult your intelligence. Kyle Baker makes the pages dance as if Mikhail Baryshnikov had strapped pencils to his feet.

December, 2003

Midnight Mass: Here There Be Monsters 1

Quick Rating: Yeeesh
Title: Arturo

Writer: John Rozum
Artist: Paul Lee
Color: Sherri Van Valkenburgh
Letters: Janice Chiang
Cover: Tomer Hanuka
Editor: Zachary Rau

Popular art forms are always chasing the next big thing. Comic books are nothing if not a popular art form. Usually, they’re a bit behind the times however. Perhaps that’s because the more mass the media, the longer it must wait for enough of the masses to assimilate something. Moreover, comics must deal with the detritus of being pegged as a children’s medium. This guarantees a look-and-wait attitude on the part of publishers until enough dubious parental decisions pile up to allow for generalized acceptance.

Thus, we had the mostly-naked women phase in the mid- to late-nineties, preceded by the soap opera as storytelling phase. All of this has been overlapped by an extended drugs-and-blood-and-flesh-make-for-gritty-realism phase. Nowadays, horror has begun to raise its grotesque little head. It has gotten so you can’t swing a dead writer at a comic book convention without hitting a publisher with at least one horror comic in his stable.

Midnight Mass debuted in an earlier miniseries, which I have not read. According to John Rozum, this miniseries will give him the chance to focus on the monsters and some of what makes them tick. Apparently what makes them tick is moving into a house, slaughtering the residents, and watching cable. Our protagonists, the Kadmons, are a married couple. They fight monsters. They appear to be quite busy in their chosen profession, but then they do live in a world knowingly populated by monsters and, yet, they seem to be the only people fighting the monsters.

The art is grim, light on the light and heavy on the gray. In some respects, it has a rubber-stamp feel- I mean it looks inked into static ness. The creature designs are interesting, but I kept seeing them as Muppets. That’s for me to deal with. You will hopefully have a different reaction. Otherwise you will never watch Sesame Street again.

I don’t know why people read horror. I’m not even sure why I do. It used to be that a comic book horror story was brief with a twist ending. The art did all it could to ensure the observer had chills. Modern horror comics tell extended stories about monsters desperate for us to get to know them. The cathartic effects are limiting, at best, particularly the more graphic the horror portrayed. The horrors of King Lear’s losses by the end of Will’s play are far more cathartic than watching his friend blinded onstage much earlier. The story, so far, in Midnight Mass is repulsive. It’s neither bad nor good, which is an entirely different matter. I don’t know what that means for buying the next issue.

Waldorf’s got my leg!!!

January, 2004