Flexibility when big, life changes happen is a helpful character trait to possess or develop. This first blog post lists and compares several of these characters in the order they were first published (by publication year). This is part 1 of a two-part post.
I think flexibility is the main reason why super heroes with elastic or super stretching powers are fascinating. They embody adaptation. They can work around most physical obstacles, rising to impossible challenges. At the same time, they look unusual and strange. They connect to the sense of being an outcast or an outsider that comic book characters explore (the X-Men being a long standing example).
Plastic Man, 1941
In 1941, Plastic Man arrives in Police Comics #1. He is the earliest hero in American comics publishing with stretching powers. A reformed thief, Plastic Man has an overwhelming sense of humour. This brightness was later contrasted with depths of sadness when the character appeared in several Justice League of America story arcs during the 1990’s. Flexible and elastic characters can change with the times. They embody adaptation.
Reed Richards, Elongated Man, 1961
Almost exactly 20 years later, in 1961, two more elastic heroes appear. One more arrives for DC, and a prominent stretchy heroes appears at Marvel Comics. These two heroes are the detective Elongated Man, and the super scientist and Fantastic Four team leader Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic). Richards is a character with strong family connections. He would literally stretch to great lengths to defend his family. Elongated Man is also a character with strong family connections. Like Plastic Man, he is also the survivor of almost overwhelming tragedies, having lost his wife Susan Dearbon (before New 52 relaunch at DC comics) and almost losing Susan again (after the New 52 relaunch) in Secret Six.
Elasti-Girl of the Doom Patrol appears in 1963. She represents the outsider interpretation of elastic and stretchy heroes. Also experiencing loss and tragedy, she and her team died in a battle to save a small fishing village. Like Elongated Man, she has returned following the New 52 relaunch, however.
Flat Man, 1989
In 1989, a hero with limited stretching or elastic powers called Flat Man appears at Marvel comics. Flat Man joins the Great Lakes Avengers, who are often sidelined or maligned by the Avengers, or the X-Men. Combined with the Flat Man’s character development – gaining the confidence to admit to himself that he is gay and eventually come out to his teammates – the outcast status appears in connection with another elastic hero.
Are these ideas of flexibility, of overcoming obstacles, and being an outcast justified and relevant, or just overthinking? Part two on the Wallflyer will cover heroes after 1991 – Dhalsim, Mrs. Incredible, Monkey D. Luffy, Jake the Dog, and Ms. Marvel.
Update 22/2 Link to part two added to the last paragraph.