Friday, May 29, 2015


Plastic Man, these days, is typically depicted as a living Looney Toons cartoon sharing more in common with Jim Carrey's rubberfaced performance in The Mask than the straight-faced, rubberized G-Man he was in his debut. For all his bizarre shapes, weird extrapolations, and enthusiastically comedic tales, the original Plastic Man himself was all-business and few larfs.

Chuckle-related responsibilities fell to his sidekick, Woozy Winks, and the colorful cast of crooks,criminals and super-weirdos populating his books. In fact, Plastic Man had one of the most entertaining roster of one-shot nemeses and ne'er-do-wells in the entirety of the Golden Age, although none of them really turned into an ongoing menace they the Joker did for Batman, Luthor did for Superman or a guy with a brick who dressed like a bat and called himself Brickbat did for prisoner superhero 711. Remind me to write that guy up, as a matter of fact.

That's the same way I manage to get dates.
Anyway, one of Plas' early enemies was Sadly Sadly, a mope-faced career criminal who plagues him in the pages of Plastic Man vol.1 No.20 (November 1949) and who isn't even the only Charles Dickens-related pun I've seen in a Plastic Man book. An erudite lot over there at Quality Comics.

Phil Sanders, wanted by the Feds and guilty of more crimes than you could cram on the back of a cereal box, manages to elude the authorities and Plastic Man for two solid years, despite an active manhunt going on 24 hours a day. His successful laying-low and his highly desirable status with law enforcement notwithstanding, Sanders decides to try his hand at picking up an acting gig advertising for a "sad character" with a face which "must break [the] hearts of [the] audience!"

Knowing that acting gigs pay pretty well and figuring that theatrical makeup may disguise him from his pursuers, Sanders aces the gig easily. When his director gives him tips to weaponize his hangdog expression, however, Sanders - now dubbed Sadly-Sadly - uses his unconscionably woeful face to deprive sympathetic citizens of their wealth.

Cry, and you cry alone. Laugh and you get arrested.
"All I have to do is remember what Camden taught me about the tone of my voice and the expression on my face" thinks Sadly-Sadly as he bounces out of the audition with the lunch money of his fellow performers tucked into his pockets. "I'll be able to pull anything and maybe even win Plastic Man's sympathy!"

He sure does! In short order, Sadly empties out an armored car, steals a luxury sedan, and not only gets away with rare gems but encourages a crowd to beat Plastic Man to death as he makes his escape. And yet this is still less grim than almost anything on the racks today.

Plastic Man plays dead just long enough to delight Sadly, attending the open-casket funeral and breaking character so as to indulge in happy celebration. Which is when Plastic man slugs him in the fucking face so hard that it paralyzes his face muscles and makes it impossible to "play sad" any longer. I SAID Plastic Man didn't have a sense of humor, and this is what I meant.

Still, looking back, it's amazing to imagine that there was a time when superheroes were so simple and whimsical that a really sad person could make an effective villainous foil. I guess if they can come up with a cosmic entity who's so sad that he breaks the multiverse and kills countless trillions, then they'll have something they consider worthy of hanging their hat on.


Cheryl Spoehr said...

This story is similar to one radio comedian Jack Benny did on one of the suspense shows,not sure if it was Suspense. Jack played a man with such an ordinary and forgettable face that he could rob a bank,go in the next day and start a new account,and no one would connect him with last night's robber.Can't recall how it ended. It is also like Marvel's Purple Man,but of course he had some kind of chemical cause his power. Seems to me that is the difference between golden and silver ages,in the golden,things were one step removed from reality.In the silver,you need an impossible explanation to do the same thing.

Cheryl Spoehr said...

I will try to post again.I recall a radio show starring Jack Benny with a similar story,Jack played a man with such an ordinary face that he could rob a bank,then come back to the same bank the next day and start an account,and no one would remember that he had robbed the place yesterday. It was on one of those suspense radio shows,don't recall if it was Suspense. This story is also similar to Marvel's Purple Man,except that he gained his power by some chemical accident.That is the difference between golden and silver ages,in golden age stories were one remove from reality,silver age needed an impossible explanation to make the story plausible.

Calamity Jon said...

Thanks Cheryl, that's fascinating stuff - I wasn't even aware of Benny having ever performed on a radio show besides his own. I'm going to see if I can hunt the episode down online somewhere!

Pops Gustav said...

Apropos of nothing but coincidence, I just re-read this story last night, reprinted in JIMMY OLSEN #150! A great story which once again shows that stretchy superheroes should never be played straight.

Calamity Jon said...

Reader Dave Motto sent in some additional information about the Jack Benny performance in question - check out this link for more:

Thanks Dave!

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