Saturday, September 22, 2007

Plastic Man: On the Lam! by Kyle Baker

I read the first few issues of Kyle Baker's Plastic Man series as they came out in 2004 -- eagerly, since I was a big Baker fan from back in the days of Why I Hate Saturn and The Cowboy Wally Show. But I dropped the book after the first plotline, feeling vaguely let down and unexcited. (And the series itself petered out not too long after that.) I wondered if my lack of interest was due to me or the story, so I found this trade paperback compilation of that first Baker storyline and decided to re-read it.

(Parenthetically, this has a great production design -- the cover is plastic, like some waterproof book, and it looks like Plaz in the form of a book. I appreciate it when designers go that extra step and make the design really match the style and sensibility of a book.)

I had pretty much the same reaction this time as I'd had the first time I read these issues. Baker's art is clean, colorful, and idiosyncratic...but it also keeps looking to my eye like screenshots from an animated show, and isn't as appealing to me as his old style. (Yes, it's not all that different from his old style -- I think it's just a difference in tools -- but there's something a bit colder and flatter about his art now. This might be a purely personal reaction, but it's been consistent; Baker's new work doesn't look as appealing to my eye as his old stuff. Or maybe I just like his stuff better in black & white, since I do like his recent family humor strips.)

The stories are a good mix of the silly and the serious; the tone is just right for Plaz, and it works well with the similarly-toned art. But...I liked it intellectually, and thought "this is the way a Plastic Man comic should be done" rather than really enjoying it and laughing at the jokes. Maybe I'm too old to appreciate it the way it should be appreciated, but it still didn't strike me the way it should have.

So I'm lukewarm here -- I think Baker is the perfect writer-artist for a modern Plastic Man title, and that he's hitting the right tone here, but there's something indefinable missing. I guess what I'm finally saying is that the sheet music is right, the conductor is right, and the band is playing on key and in tempo -- but I just don't feel the song. Again, that may easily be me and not Baker. If you have any affection for the traditional, funny version of Plastic Man, you should at least look at this book -- it might hit you in a way it didn't me.

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