Hollywood! Adapt This: PLASTIC MAN

     December 15, 2013



Hollywood continues to adapt properties left and right, so even though Hollywood! Adapt This has been on a bit of a hiatus lately, it’s back to help point big-wig producers in the right direction.  As comic book properties continue to be mined in all sorts of ways – movie franchises, TV shows, original digital content and video games – it’s clear that movie and television studios are looking to do more than adapt something for a one-and-done showing.  Instead, major production companies like Marvel/Disney, Warner Bros./DC, Sony, and 20th Century Fox are building cinematic worlds to showcase entire catalogs of characters.  Sure, the movies and TV shows are built around the best-known heroes and villains, but the newly emerging multi-platform worlds are bound to be large enough to feature some of the more peripheral characters, like today’s adaptation suggestion.  Hit the jump for more.  Hollywood!  Adapt this: Plastic Man.

police-comics-plastic-manI want to introduce a new segment of Hollywood! Adapt This this week, so before we get to this week’s topic, let’s take a look back at the most recent properties up for adaptation in Hollywood:

As you can see, the adaptation business is alive and well in Hollywood.  For another untapped property, let’s take a look at today’s suggestion: Plastic Man.

plastic-man-comic-jack-coleWhat It’s About: 

Originally published by Quality Comics (and later acquired by DC), writer-artist Jack Cole’s creation, Plastic Man, first appeared in Police Comics #1.  His powers include the ability to stretch his body and form it into nearly any shape he can imagine, incredible resiliency, apparent immortality, superhuman strength and invulnerability (including plastic organs), and a curious immunity to telepathy.  For fans of Plastic Man, aka Patrick “Eel” O’Brian, it’s not just the powers that make the character so memorable, but rather his quirky, off-beat brand of humor and his slapstick adventures.  Although Plastic Man has yet to be a commercial success, the character maintains a cult fandom that includes such comics heavyweights as Grant Morrison, Alex Ross and Frank Miller.  He’s appeared in a number of short-run DC series, had his own short-lived 80s animated series (The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show), and frequently appears on Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

O’Brian began his character arc as a 10-year-old orphan, forced to live on the streets and take to a life of crime to survive.  O’Brian joined with a gang of burglars as their safecracker and was quite successful, until a night-watchman shot him through the shoulder, after which he was doused with an unknown chemical, as appeared to be quite a common occurrence back in the day.  O’Brian’s story takes an interesting turn in its original iteration as he was then healed and rescued by a monk at a mountain monastery, whereupon he vowed to reform his ways and use his new plastic powers in an effort to fight crime.  In a late-80s arc by Phil Foglio, Plas’ origins started out the same way, but rather than fight crime out of a sense of duty and justice, he and his partner Woozy Winks were in it for the money.  Over the years, he’s teamed up with organizations as terrestrial as the local cops and the F.B.I., to partnerships with various heroes, to the ultimate in superhero team-ups, the Justice League.

plastic-man-batman-brave-and-the-boldHow Could / Why Should It Be Adapted?

DC has done well for itself in both the TV world (with Arrow and the upcoming Flash series), and, obviously, in the movie world, with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and Zack Snyder’s new take on Superman leading the way.  Arrow has a good balance of humor, emotion and action, but the cinematic universe tends to take itself so seriously that there’s rarely any room to breathe.  That’s all well and good because it works in films like Man of Steel or The Dark Knight (and not so much in Green Lantern), but there’s another, lighter side of the DC universe to explore, and Plastic Man is at the center of it.

Can Plastic Man carry his own feature film?  Nope.  Not right now in any event.  Rather, much like Marvel is looking to original online content with Netflix for its development of lesser-known heroes, DC would be wise to take the same path to expand their universe, test the waters with their near-limitless supply of supporting characters, and see how fans react.  They’re quite literally testing those waters with Aquaman, so it’s all a matter of finding the right medium and striking at the right time.  A stand-alone mini-series or a limited series production in which a number of small-potatoes heroes cross paths might just be the best way to reintroduce someone like Plastic Man.

plastic-man-kyle-bakerThe Final Word:

Would I watch a limited series run centering on Plastic Man?  Sure.  I’m picturing a short, four-episode arc that takes the character from “Eel” O’Brian, to his reformation at the monastery, to his revenge on the criminals that left him for dead, to either his establishing a private detective agency or working with the local authorities.  Now, if the series pulled from Kyle Baker’s Eisner-award winning run, absolutely!   That particularly self-aware and self-referential story arc, coupled with Plas’ own ability to become a walking sight-gag, makes this property a perfect answer to the dark cloud that has settled over DC adaptations as of late.  Let Stretch do his thing, and if the odd occasion comes up where he might be able to help out one of DC’s brooding superheroes, all the better for it.  As for casting the wobbly wonder, I only wish Bruce Campbell were 30 years younger.

Be sure to tune in next time when we tackle a beloved video game property on Hollywood! Adapt This!  May the powers of light be always with you!

*Via credit for this article’s header image of Plastic Man through the ages.