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 2 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).
Dhalsim from the Street Fighter series has less extreme and flowing stretching powers. He can’t elongate his body into a sheet, but his arms and legs still spring out, which is an effective fighting tactic in the two dimensional world of Street Fighter. Some writers have criticised Dhalsim’s cliched and racially stereotyped design; Dhalsim is a practising yoga master from India. He wears skulls and breathes fire. These characteristics show Dhalsim’s elastic design was not deeply thought out or planned when he, and the cast of Street Fighter 2, were initially created. He is one part of an ‘international’ cast of characters. Looking for depth, flexibility, and outsider status would be difficult considering the stereotyping behind his design.
Luffy (Monkey.D.Luffy), 1997
Monkey D. Luffy is the pirate captain of the Straw Hat pirates from the long-running One Piece manga. He has several traits in common with Plastic Man. Both have morally chaotic decision making skills, and extreme, stretching abilities. They also have a sense of humour and optimistic buoyant personalities. Luffy has the middle initial of “D”, which marks him as an outsider in the One Piece world. Another elastic hero marked as an outsider.
Mrs. Incredible, 2004
In 2004, Helen Parr appears in the Disney Pixar animation The Incredibles. Similar to Mr.Fantastic, she is a strong family figure, and like Mr. Fantastic, would make tremendous
sacrifices to protect her family. Her elastic powers are also similar to Mr. Fantastic. Mrs. Incredible also made a significant sacrifice in her life when she gave up being a hero entirely to raise a family.
Jake the Dog, 2008
In 2008, Jake the Dog is the first prominent, non-human shape shifter and elastic hero. His story arc progresses from a more carefree adventurer, to concerned parent. He shapeshifts not just to fight and carry Finn around, but also to adapt to his changing responsibilities. He starts in the same, chaotic place as Luffy and Plastic Man, but transitions to become more similar in character to Mr.Fantastic and Mrs. Incredible.
Ms. Marvel, 2013
Finally, in 2013, Ms. Marvel arrives. Her abilities include shapeshifting and stretching, similar to Plastic Man and Luffy. Kamala Khan fights prejudice and stands out as a diverse role model. Another elastic hero with outsider status, who is an authentic American Muslim character, concerned with the safety of everyone in her New Jersey community. The depth and thought behind Ms. Marvel’s design and writing contrasts with the ideas and stereotypes hastily used to create Street Fighter character Dhalsim. Ms. Marvel needs to be flexible to take on prejudice in her community toward Americans who are also of the Islamic faith.
An interesting trend observed just from the publication year is the increase in shapeshifting and stretching characters since 1997. Moving into the 21st century, flexibility is an increasingly valuable character trait. We can see a bit of our own struggle to be more flexible with the demands of contemporary life in these characters.
So, are these insights valuable, or just over thinking? You can head back in time, and read about elastic heroes before 1990 on the Wallflyer.