Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Plastic Man Vol. 2: Rubber Bandits by Kyle Baker

The second volume of Kyle Baker's Plastic Man series isn't as consistent as the first. I got the sense from this interview that Baker was trying out different approaches to see if he could find some way to (a) connect with the existing super-hero comics-buying crowd and/or (b) find (perhaps create) an audience for his own kind of humor comic. And this experimentation shows in the book itself. Not that it ever feels like he's flailing around, but he doesn't always seem as comfortable with the material. For example, the two-part "Continuity Bandits" story feels forced in a way that the collection-ending Tom & Jerry tribute doesn't.

I think "Continuity Bandits" - in which Baker expresses his skepticism towards DC's going-on-30-years trend away from making super-hero comics for kids - falls into the same kind of in-between zone as those Nextwave comics I wrote about. It's like a MAD Magazine version of a DC comic, but the satire is blunted because it relies on a bunch of in-jokes. Like Nextwave, this seems to be pitched to people who read contemporary super-hero comics, but think most contemporary super-hero comics are kind of silly. I think this is a limited audience, which is not really a problem, but it's also a limited target. The best MAD Magazine parodies go beyond making jokes at the expense of the target and end up making more expansive cultural criticism. "Continuity Bandits" plays to its (imagined) audience, but that's all it plays to.

That said, Baker's cartooning is great throughout the book and he varies his technique and style on a story-by-story basis. "Continuity Bandits" really looks like classic MAD Magazine, while the Tom & Jerry story is done in a stripped down version of the animation storyboard style of On the Lam. That variety is part of what makes Baker's self-reflexive take on this character work so well: I could imagine him transforming the entire history of cartooning into a bunch of Plastic Man stories.

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