Warning: SPOILERS for Plastic Man #3
The latest issue of Plastic Man reveals a shocking connection between the origins of The Pliable Paladin and The Clown Prince of Crime. Though The Joker doesn't make an appearance in the issue, the final page of the comic establishes a clear connection between the criminal who was once known as The Red Hood... and The Sultan of Stretch.
First appearing in Police Comics #1 in 1940, Plastic Man was originally Patrick "Eel" O'Brian. A career criminal, O'Brian was shot while in the middle of a chemical factory robbery and abandoned by the rest of his gang after he passed out when his wounds were exposed to a strange chemical. O'Brian was later discovered by a brotherhood of monks, who nursed him back to health and sheltered him as he discovered that the chemicals had given him the power to shape-shift.
Inspired by the positive example of the monks, O'Brian turned over a new leaf and swore to use his new powers to fight crime.
The new Plastic Man miniseries depicts Eel O'Brian in the early days of his career, when he still maintained a secret identity and was trying to track down his old gang as the first step in making amends for his criminal past. The latest issue has seen Eel's former boss, gangster Sammy Mizzola, learning about the weird stretchy man that has been targeting his gang and figuring out that he is a back-from-the-dead Eel O'Brian. Fearful that the JLA is on his back in addition to the enraged O'Brian thanks to a strange message, Sammy takes a desperate step.
The ending of the issue sees Sammy returning to the scene of the crime, having guessed that the chemicals O'Brian was exposed to were responsible for his newfound superpowers. He takes his girlfriend Janet with him, having tried, without success, to make her dreams of becoming a lounge singer come true despite her complete inability to carry a tune. Deciding that he can find another use for Janet, Sammy asks her to stand next to a vat full of chemicals and draws his gun. The issue ends as we pull back to reveal the name of the company - Ace Chemicals - as the sound of gunfire echos beyond the factory walls.
Batman fans will recognize the name of the chemical company as the same firm which was responsible for creating The Joker. It was a swim in a chemical vat at the Ace Chemicals factory in Gotham City that gave Joker his trademark chalk-white skin, bright green hair and ruby-red lips. The details have changed over the years as to whether or not the chemicals also drove Joker insane or if it was the sight of his own clownish appearance that did the deed. Either way, there's an odd sense in drawing a connection between the two robberies that transformed two men in two completely different ways.
The revelation that the Cole City branch of Ace Chemicals was responsible for creating Plastic Man is a nice little continuity nod. It's also a subtle gag, poking fun at just how many comic book origins stories are based around accidental exposure to chemicals. Maybe a future issue of The Flash will reveal that Barry Allen ordered all the chemicals for his crime lab at the CCPD from Ace Chemicals, too?
Plastic Man #3 is now available from DC Comics.