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Meta-Messages – Kyle Baker Buries the DC Universe

In this feature I explore the context behind (using reader danjack’s term) “meta-messages.” A meta-message is where a comic book creator comments on/references the work of another comic book/comic book creator (or sometimes even themselves) in their comic. Each time around, I’ll give you the context behind one such “meta-message.” Here is an archive of the past installments!

Today, based on a suggestion by Travis Pelkie, we take a look at Kyle Baker’s mockery of the DC Universe in his final issue of Plastic Man back in 2006…

Kyle Baker’s Plastic Man was an excellent comedic series by writer/artist Baker, one of the greatest creative talents working in comics today. Sadly, it only lasted 20 issues. Before the book ended, though, Baker decided to spend a lot of his last issue making fun of the DC Universe at the time (during the time of Identity Crisis, where we learn that the villain Doctor Light raped Sue Dibny years before she was brutally murdered by one of her friends and Infinite Crisis, where Wonder Woman snapped Maxwell Lord’s neck to stop him from taking control of Superman’s mind). Do note that this comic was made BY DC Comics, so you have to give DC a whole ton of credit for allowing Baker to mock them like this.

Plastic Man was in a long arc at the time involving his sort-of adopted daughter, Edwina. Eventually he and his supporting cast led to a big battle with Ra’s Al Ghul. However, in a completely unrelated plot point at the end of the previous issue, Billy Batson is killed off. This allows Baker to give us these brilliant three pages mocking the funeral of Sue Dibny, the revelations about Doctor Light and the general oddity of turning everything, even kid’s characters, grim and gritty…

The rest of the issue concludes Plastic Man’s story, except for when, in the middle of their battle with Ra’s, a bickering Trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman show up to have their own little conflict in the middle of Plastic Man’s conflict…

Very funny stuff.

Great job by Baker and, again, kudos to DC for having a good enough sense of humor to allow Baker to go with such sharp satire.

Thanks to Travis for the suggestion! If YOU can think of a future Meta-Message, be sure to drop me a line at bcronin@comicbookresources.com!

47 Comments

XD The only way this could get better is if this was followed up by an image of Kyle Baker standing on Dan Didio’s desk and pissing on his face while “Take this job and shove it” plays in the background.

Lots of class ther Mr. Q….YOUR MOTHER RAISED YOU WELL!

Blimey, I’m surprised some of that got through especially the idea of Doctor Light having sex with a child’s corpse.

“I’ll slap your grandchildren will look like me”

Hearing this in Kevin Conroy’s voice makes this one of the greatest lines of dialog, ever.

Kyle is channeling Harvey Kurtzman during Mary Marvel’s eulogy. I’m gonna have to get those 20 issues now.

This could have been the start of “After Watchmen”. Well played Mr. Baker.

Baker’s Plastic Man was such a great run.

Dc under Didio really is the biggest fucking piece of shit in the history of comics. Vile, nasty, hateful, ugly crap.

I only read it once a long time ago, but if I remember correctly, Larsen’s Savage Dragon mini had the Dragon fight a giant spider in the sewer and then, as he walks away after the right, the Dragon makes a remark about the spider that I thought was about Spider-Man.

Damn, I’ve never seen this before! Now I really want to go out and track down Kyle Baker’s entire run on Plastic Man. I obviously missed some brilliantly funny stuff with amazingly wacky artwork.

That is the least subtle insult in the history of comics. He might as well have just had them say “HEY COMICS SUCK THESE DAYS, DON’T THEY?”

Good thing that DC got the message and none of this stuff was a problem ever, ever again. :)

The first few pages of issue #1 (Plas disguised as a dinette table around which the villains sit plotting, unsuspecting — until someone spills the pepper…) ranks among the funniest things I have read in my life.

A brilliant series that frankly NEEDED to end early, because “DC darkness” (my term) invaded it too much for its own good. V important that it ended on a strong note, because you could feel Baker’s (justifiable) rage becoming palpable and threatening to (understandably) consume him.

Would LOVE to hear some of his thoughts on this, looking back.

Baker’s Plastic Man is probably the greatest comic ever. And he did the whole damn thing himself. Writing, art, coloring, lettering… it truly was Kyle Baker’s Plastic Man. And every issue was gold.

well said Baker:

Captain Marvel died 1953. (havent read the 70ies revival)

the golden age Cap reads fun to great (Monster Society of Evil)
what DC did with him is by and large GARBAGE.

A guy in a wheelchair enters in a bar, he is foul-mouthed and incredibly rude to everyone there. Then another guy gets offended and beats the crap out of the guy in the wheelchair.

Guy in the wheelchair = Brad Meltzer
Guy that beats him = Kyle Baker

Which is worse? I don’t know, they’re both douchbags. There is no valor or honor in beating up a guy in a wheelchair. IDENTITY CRISIS is just too easy to mock. It’s not worth it, Mr. Baker. You should have just ignored it. The guy in the wheelchair would have left sooner or later.

Heck, Baker didn’t just stop at the Infinity stuff…. he went all the way back to the start of “Gimm ‘N’ Gitty” and blasted the Dark Knight Returns. Beautiful artwork AND eviscerating satire!

I didn’t get that series because I wasn’t a fan of Baker’s art style.

My mistake. Yet another series to add to my Hunt List.

The Green Death

August 24, 2013 at 12:17 pm

I loved Baker’s Plastic Man, the whole series was great. I especially enjoyed Ras’ bare chested sword fighting with Batman. Wonderful series!

Great stuff. Baker’s prematurely-ended “The Shadow” was another worthwhile DC comic.

this pannel proved that dc did have some humor to allow baker to mock them like he did in plastic man including having the trinity go at it with each other and superman yelling at wonder woman stop killing people. plus also the swipe at doctor light being a rapist.

“you have to give DC a whole ton of credit for allowing Baker to mock them like this.”

This book was probably so far under the radar by this stage that nobody knew about the content except Baker and the editor, so…maybe not so much credit?

“This allows Baker to give us these brilliant three pages mocking the funeral of Sue Dibny, the revelations about Doctor Light and the general oddity of turning everything, even kid’s characters, grim and gritty…”

Sad to say, heroes who dress less conservatively than “circus performers” (such as the Green Hornet, the Lone Ranger, the Shadow and to a lesser degree Zorro) have it rough in recent years.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MerchandiseDriven Bright colors also appeal for children for toy marketing.

http://www.goodsearch.com/search-web?utf8=?&keywords=%22Max+Allan+Collins%22+AND+Karnstein

Max Allan Collins and Yuku Poster Count Karnstein have written about the absurdity of attempting to make adult versions of properties made for children.

I agree with Jones, just remember that time when Keith Giffen destroyed the Earth in Legion because nobody was watching

@ Clutch: “Kyle is channeling Harvey Kurtzman….”
I thought so. When I saw the art I thought: “This has a very ‘Mad magazine’ vibe: Jack Davis vaguely, perhaps.”

I’d never heard of this series. Judging from this snippet, it looks great. Amazing that Baker is responsible for the whole package. I remember him from the Shadow and some Web of Spider-Man.

Awesome stuff, especially the close-up on Batson, What was that: pencils-only? Anyone?

But this wasn’t in continuity – Billy and Cap were still around after this!

Could this also be symbolic of the way DC has handled characters from Quality (Plaz) and Fawcett (Capt Marvel) over the years? Ironically, DC has handled Captain Marvel BETTER than Plastic Man!

I must track these down

This is hilarious.

@Herb Finn — For all the things that DC has done wrong, there is very little that they have done worse than handling Plastic Man.

Further to the fourth scan:

“Maybe because most heroes that break across culture now seem to owe their origins to TV, films, games or comic books”.

I find it intriguing when people keep bringing up the idea of, to paraphrase, normal people do not read comic books, comic books belong to pederastic perverts who daydream about flying to the stars, etc. Despite the protests against comic book adaptations, attempts to turn New York Times best-selling prose thrillers aimed at more the adult audience (I exclude Harry Potter perforce due to his YA derivation) have not often produced prolific franchises.

http://mysteryfile.com/blog/?p=19550

http://thelatarniaforums.yuku.com/topic/11820/Where-are-the-heroes#.UhmRyRzGqL8

But those really well thought through heroes who emerge primarily from literature into mainstream culture do seem a little rarer. Maybe because most heroes that break across culture now seem to owe their origins to TV, films, games or comic books.

Baker also seems to allude to the various toy line tie-ins.

http://www.comicbooked.com/dc-and-warner-bros-extend-agreement-with-mattel/

http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2002-07-10/business/0207090494_1_mattel-made-aol-time-warner-dan-romanelli

I’ve been wanting to get Kyle Baker’s Plastic Man for a while… I have borrowed the collections from the library and wish I’d bought them now from the LCS when I was still collecting monthlies and trades.

A very under-rated series (by “comic fans”) and the best treatment of Plastic Man after the classic Jack Cole run. His Plas was the real deal, not a manufactured “Gee we-don’t know Who-He-Is so let’s make him Jim Carrey! version courtesy of You-Know-Who.

The Trio fight and references to “Identity Crisis” totally nail what’s wrong with DC (and Marvel) today… Too bad that the people who NEEDED to get the clue haven’t thus far and continue to produce depressingly bleak comics with their buddies! I don’t know that the majority of these people would have been hired as late as the early 1990s by either Marvel or DC. Definitely not during the 1980s.

Kyle Baker really is a quality talent that’s generally unappreciated by comic fans. I guess his work is too smart for fans of Geoff Johns, Jeph Loeb, Grant Morrison, Jim Lee, Dan Didio, Dan Slott, Axel Alonso, and Joe Quesada… They apparently are producing what people want to buy from the LCS now.

Comics are at least as incestuous as the relations in Hollywood if not even-more-so now… Not much good comes from dynasties like that as the Roman emperors, European monarchies, and the Kennedys have proven.

This was a very fun series that ended far too soon. Even the format of the first collection was inventive; it has a soft plastic cover designed so that the cover is actually Plastic Man himself! As funny as this send-up of the then-current events is, my favorite issue of the series remains the one where Plas & company are stuck in the vampire’s house.

“Like that’s Light’s new power now” is the line that I remembered and compelled me to share with Brian. One of my favorite bits EVER.

I’m very glad a lot of you got introduced to this book because of this post. I read most of it, and thankfully picked up all the issues I was missing fairly recently. Now I just have to find the time to read the whole thing.

As the Green Death mentions, the Ra’s “SHIRTLESS FIGHTING” is also another great bit from this run.

One note: at least 2 of the 20 issues were drawn (and maybe written) by Scott Morse.

Pete Woodhouse, I’m pretty sure that Baker was doing the art all digitally. I know “I Die At Midnight” mentions that it’s done digitally, and that predates this.

What’s amazing is how good the funeral sequence is at being a funeral, hitting those emotional buttons without being smarmy, but also how it sends up the notion of superheroes as “adult” or “realistic” — you’ve got Batman’s “panty liner” comment, and all the pictures of the sexed up female heroes, showing how absurd their costumes are, particularly in the setting here.

So glad to hear that Baker’s doing comics again (he apparently is doing something called “Meh”).

A lot of what was shown here hits the same buttons in my brain as Ambush Bug: Year None. And that was one of my favorite DC series ever. I need to track this down.

I sold off half my collection not long ago, but these books ain’t going nowhere.

I wouldn’t give DC editorial too much credit they have been know to publish stories without reading them just ask Joe Casey.

This kind of whiny, conservative, self righteous pearl clutching annoys me to no end. It’s a simplistic attitude that’s harmful to multitude and diversity in superhero comics, and while I like the fact that Baker allows himself to get “political” in his own story I think it’s sad that his views aren’t challenged in the slightest by neither himself nor any commenter.

Travis: Cheers, good skills as usual!

Will E. Dynamite

August 25, 2013 at 7:13 pm

I agree about not giving DC credit on this. It’s the same way creators got away with stuff with Steel & Legion in the 90s- if it wasn’t high selling,a marquee title,or on the way out, editorial staff at DC seemed to have a “meh,whatever” attitude & some people took artistic advantage of that (thank God). Sadly,Baker was very much right. The virtual mauling of character of Mary Marvel was proof of that.

Fucking hell, “whiny, conservative, self righteous pearl clutching.” Golly, people that view every single aspect of their daily lives through the prism of bullshit culture wars are just swell.

Yeah, that’s a pretty dumb appraisal of Baker’s work here.

“while I like the fact that Baker allows himself to get “political” in his own story I think it’s sad that his views aren’t challenged in the slightest by neither himself nor any commenter.”

Well, because nobody wants to challenge him because he’s saying what we’re all thinking. Except you, I suppose. I’m not sure what’s “conservative” about taste.

There was once a moment when “darkening” characters to examine them was appropriate, even possibly necessary. But when companies like DC decided to use that merely as a way of upping sales, that moment passed. And at the point Baker is talking about here…well.

One thing I appreciate about Baker is that, while I don’t always agree with his opinions or aesthetic choices (like the font used on most of the pages here–well, ech. My only quibble. There, a challenge. Happy?) one can’t say he doesn’t think them through or hold them honestly.

So…the purpose of characters designed for children being turned grim and dark. What I think?

Revenge by their now-older and sadder fans, taking out their inability to grow up on the childhood toys they’re trapped with forever.

Who want want to watch their favorite superhero being raped because they resent them remaining perfect while the fan just festers. That can’t be right. The fan has failed in life. So must the ideal.

“Who want to watch their favorite superhero doing X?!?!?!”

Well, everyone SHOULD watch their favorite superhero do things, be put in situations or have things done to them that has never been done to them before, from the extremely mundane to the absurd to the grotesquely dark. It explores the characters, defies our expectations, opens new avenues and in the long run allows for greater diversity as well as new ideas, ideas like the ones people’s favorite superheroes sprung from in the first place.

Baker makes the mistake of believeing that superheroes in comic books have always been a certain way, or (possibly even worse) during som arbitrarily chosen time became what they always SHOULD be, a perfect distillation where only slight variations of the concept are allowed and steps that in any way doesn’t fit the formula are sacriligious. If that attitude reflected the world as it is we’d still be re-telling Homer’s Odyssey and there’d be no Plastic Man (or Hercules, Phantom, Scarlet Pimpernel, Batman, Kitty Pryde…) for him to write or draw.

And yet, he still manages to fit a Mary Marvel upskirt shot into the story. Nice. Not.

I can’t bring myself to read Kyle Baker’s comics…. That last page looks so disjointed and unplanned. What a mess.

I found another one for you, not sure if you featured this one yet or not. Uncanny X-Men #98, page 5 features a panel of Jack Kirkby and Stan Lee commenting on Jean and Scott kissing. Just found it while re-reading the books.

Alan that might be the biggest pile of self important drivel I’ve ever read. Just because characters should do things they haven’t done before, that doesn’t mean EVERYTHING should be done to them. I don’t want or need to see Mickey Mouse get raped, or Superman be a serial killer. Just because you get off on the “grotesquely dark” doesn’t mean it’s proper for every character or venue of entertainment.

And Superman is reflected in the ancient myth-making of Odyssey and Hercules, and every super-hero then follows Superman to some extent. Creating something new or adapting it for the times has nothing to do with taking something existing and torturing the concept. You actually help make a case against yourself.

Was this an actual comic published by DC? It looks so cheap.

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