Judging from the poll in the sidebar, it seems that the majority of you think Plastic Man has changed the least since his Golden Age incarnation.
I couldn't disagree with you more.
Sure, he looks pretty much the same, adjusting for change in drawing styles since the Golden Age. But, in my opinion, he couldn't be more different. In fact, I think he's the character who's changed the most. He's become the very opposite of what he originally was...
the straight man.
C'mon, now, raise your hands; how many of you have actually read a Golden Age Plastic Man story? More than one story? More than five?
Most readers' current impressions of Plastic Man are not gathered from work done by his creator, Jack Cole. Their impressions come from his appearances in the Morrison JLA, his Kyle Baker series, his occasional crossover cameos, or, at oldest, his '60s series and Brave & Bold appearances.
None of those are anything like the original Plastic Man. Sure, his powers were wacky. His sidekick, Woozy Winks, was wacky. His villains, heck, his entire world was wacky.
But he was not. Plastic Man wasn't crazy, and seldom joked, except in that wan way of battle-banter that all Golden Agers favored. Part of the genius in Cole's creation was juxtaposing a fairly straightforward heroic type again a world more like "Fun Comics" or "Percival the Cop" than like Metropolis or Gotham. It was the dynamic marriage of the new superhero comics with the old "sproing-take" humor comics that was the basis for Plas's adventures, and his popularity.
The humor came not from Plastic Man being a wacky goofball, but from his comparative deadpan in his crazy world. Plastic Man wasn't meta-referential absurdism; it was camp. Plastic Man wasn't Jim Carey; he was Adam West.
Plas was, in essence, the straight man in his own series. Almost no subsequent writer has been able, or even tried, to duplicate this effect. It's understandable; it's the natural consequence of
putting him in "our" modern comic book world of superpowered rapists and deformed child-torturers. In order to keep this current world seeming "normal", writers have taken all the wackiness that used to surround Plas and tried to stuff it in him.
He's an elastic character, yes, but not that elastic. It simply doesn't work, so as a result, Plastic Man always seems forced, unfunny, out of context, and generally annoying. All this is done in the service of making the current comics remain "serious". But, naturally, the effect is the opposite. As soon as Plastic Man appears, you are are reminded through his commentary that, ehn, it's just a comic, there's nothing really at stake, don't take anything that happens to heart as significant.
Recently, writers have realized this problem and have therefore begun to ground Plas as if he were a Marvel hero, with personal problems, an illegitimate son, crises of conscience. All of this leads to the further Death of Whimsy and Dearth of Fun in comics, and only serves to spoil, not deepen, Plastic Man. I mean, really; shades of Speedball. Except for his look, Plastic Man is now nearly completely unrecognizable as the same character as the Golden Age version.
If you want Plastic Man to even remotely resemble what he was in the Golden Age, you need to take him out of the more serious center of the DCU and put him off at its wackier edges, such as the Shadowpact, the Doom Patrol, the All-New Atom, Dr. Thirteen, and the like. Let him be the character that takes the craziness seriously, like he did in the Golden Age. Let Plastic Man not be zany, but rather the symbol of zaniness. Reposition Plas as the straight man against all the DCU's zaniness, and he would bounce back in no time.