The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
Patrick "Eel" O'Brian
classic comedic super-hero and member of the Justice League
We do not know the religious affiliation of Plastic Man.
Really, this is probably the most glaring omission from our list of religious affiliations of comic book characters, because Plastic Man is such a historically significant character. Plastic Man the only one of the "Significant Seven" who we do NOT have a religious affiliation listing for. (These are the seven most historically significant superhero characters, as listed by Mike Benton in The Comic Book in America: An Illustrated History, Taylor Publishing Company: Dallas, Texas, 1989, page 178. The others are Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Captain America and Captain Marvel.)
Many modern readers may be surprised at Plastic Man's inclusion among these major superhero characters, given Plastic Man's more marginal status relative to these other characters. It is true that there are many characters who today are better known or more popular. But Plastic Man is of immense historical significance in the superhero comic book genre. At one time Plastic Man was the world's best-selling superhero. The character was also very influential to the comedic superhero sub-genre, a genre which, to a large extent, he created.
Ah, but what religion was he? We're still looking into this. If you know of any material from the comics or published research, please let us know.
We can observe that Plastic Man's real name - Patrick O'Brian - is obviously a very "Catholic-sounding" Irish name. A number of people have speculated that Plastic Man is Catholic. However, we never identify a character as Catholic (or as an adherent of any other religious group) simply because of their name.
Plastic Man was, in fact, created by the legendary comic book artist Jack Cole, who was a Methodist. But comic book writers and artists often create characters whose religious affiliation is different from their own. A very large proportion of the most influential American superhero comic book writers and artists prior to the 1970s were Jewish and Catholic, but their characters were almost always based on an essentially WASP or Protestant (more specifically pseudo-Episcopalian) template.
During the time that Plastic Man was created, the religion taboo in the American comic book industry was very much in force, and major characters were very rarely overtly identified with a specific religious faith.
Ray Marshall wrote (21 March 2006) to us with the following insightful suggestion:
Well, being that plastics were essentially a 20th century invention, one could probably assume that Plastic Man, if an adherent at all, would certainly belong to one of those late 20th century inventions, the megachurch, where comfort, entertainment and prosperity are the messages.
Possibly Jack Cole named his Plastic Man character "Patrick O'Brian" because he considered the character an Irish Catholic. Possibly Cole thought of Plastic Man as a Methodist because he based the character in some way on himself. We don't know yet. We'll update this page when we find something more definitive.
From: "Religious Super Heroes PC or otherwise" forum discussion, started 17 September 2003 on "HERO Games" website (http://www.herogames.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-8036.html; viewed 12 July 2007):
Sep 17th, '03, 09:38 PM
Another thread got me to thinking a bit about religious super heroes. They do occur in comic books. Some it barely gets mentioned, some few are quite devout in their faith...
Sep 24th, '03, 07:50 AM
...I think the other purpose Nightcrawler had was to contrast was to Wolverine's cynicism and disabelief in things he could not sense, and in Storm's former 'goddess'hood.
Really, it depended on the writer, there were some that even had Nighcrawler's faith shattered later on, but I'd still put him as one of the first religious super heroes, and it never struck me as in a particularly 'bad' way :)
Sep 24th, '03, 08:18 AM
re: "I'd still put him as one of the first religious super heroes"
I don't think you can qualify Nightcrawler as one of the first religious super-heroes. That's assuming that none of the Golden Age or earlier Silver Age heroes were religious. I think that Nightcrawler was just one of the first ones where his religion was important to the story. In the 40's, it was just kind of assumed that most everybody was religious, and therefore it was just no big deal. But, when you're in Nightcrawler's situation, on a team like the X-Men (as opposed to, say, the [JSA] Justice Society of America), then yeah, being devout makes you stand out from the crowd.
Sep 24th, '03, 09:04 AM
I'm not sure. I'm no expert on Golden Age comics, but I don't recall much praying or going through any religious situations for many super heroes. Everyone was supposedly patriotic, but we were seeing super heroes carry the flag or salute was wide out in the open as well. I'm not saying they weren't religious, but it was very 'off panel' and therefore we never really will know. You can assume all day, but that's all it would be. With Nightcrawler, we 'knew'.
Sep 24th, '03, 05:20 PM
Is this the part of the script where I mention that Plastic Man had a basically religious origin during the VERY early part of the Golden Age? Granted the words "God" or "Jesus" aren't used, but it's the classic story of redemption... And I'm talking the original Jack Cole origin, not that stupid retrocon in which he flips a coin to decide whether he's a good guy or a villain.
Sep 25th, '03, 02:52 AM
But I think the point of this thread is overtly religious chaacters. The Golden Age didn't produce much, if any, in the way of that.
Plastic Man was in a religious hospital (or something similar) and "saw the light", but as you say it was presumed that people should do so then. It's not like he went out afterwards and said, "I'm going to do the Lord's work" and we saw that as a theme in the comic. Instead he became "a hero", doing "good".
Sep 25th, '03, 04:58 AM
He woke up in a monastery. And I'll grant your point, which is why I admitted outright that it wasn't "really" a religious origin.
It is however an element I wish DC would play up a bit more -- it's more interesting than the "Horny Jim Carrey on Speed" take Grant Morrison brought to the character (and led to the atrocious "Dark Nut" issue). There were times during the Morrison JLA that I thought it was going to happen -- especially when he started pairing Zauriel and Plaz [Plastic Man] (it's a natural pairing; the angel and the redeemed) in dialog.
One of the fanfic projects I hope to actually write someday is "The Real Origin of a Plastic Man", rectifying the two conflicting origins and addressing this very element. Even if the plot ends on a punchline and is Hallmarky by my standards, I happen to think it works -- but perhaps I'm overly fond of the title.
Sep 25th, '03, 06:08 AM
I do agree with you, they should emphasize this more in the character. I think it got buried partly because in the Golden Age it was too "heavy" to go there (just because the medium was seen as light entertainment, obviously in that day and age in "adult" fiction it would have been done), then the tide of history has ignored that, perhaps unfortunately as a "convenience" of Golden Age story-telling, rather than recognizing that the character had a genuine ephiphany.
Good luck with the project, I hope you do it, you should post a link on these boards when you do.
From: "Catholic Clix - Comic info needed!" forum discussion started 3 May 2003 on HCRealms website (http://www.hcrealms.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-40338.html; viewed 24 May 2007):
Ok, so in recent films it's been apparent that Daredevil and Nightcrawler are Catholic - Daredevil's confessor is also his confidant, and Nightcrawler allegedly is a former priest and is seen reciting the rosary (in German) in X2.
So, who else out there could be fielded in a "Catholic" Heroclix team?
So far divine providence might help w/ the tons of supersenses rolls one would make w/ Daredevil and Nightcrawler on your team... *grin*
...IIRC [If I recall correctly], here's the Catholic Clix you can play:
Possible Catholics (or lasped Catholics):
Catwoman (her sister was a nun)
From: "What Religion is Your Favorite Superhero?" discussion board started 20 April 2006 on official website of DC Comics (http://dcboards.warnerbros.com/web/thread.jspa?threadID=2000072337&start=30&tstart=0; viewed 8 May 2006):
Posted: Apr 20, 2006 9:30 AM
...What is the religion of the heroes we read about?... Don't get me wrong, not picking on anyone, just wonder what everyone thinks what our heroes believe. ...Other threads touch on the subject in passing, time to discuss it!
Posted: May 6, 2006 1:01 AM
I know Patrick "eel" O'Brian (aka Plastic Man) was once said to be Catholic, and I think the same is true of Kyle Rayner (AKA Green Lantern/Ion)
From: "Any Christian Superheroes?" thread began 22 April 2004 on rec.arts.comics.dc.universe newsgroup (http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.comics.dc.universe/browse_thread/thread/4e5839f075fecf76/8821b5db671e7ce1; viewed 20 June 2006):
I can't think of any major superheroes that strongly believe in any real faith, and that surprises me. Certainly not in the DC Universe. I think there are more minority superheroes than religious ones...
From: David Doty
Date: Thurs, Apr 22 2004 12:45 pm
The GA [Golden Age] Plastic Man's origin always seemed to me to be a story of religious conversion, with the religion strangely blacked out. Criminal is fatally wounded, nursed back to health by monks whose goodness convinces him to change the course of his life? Sounds like a conversion experience to me.
From: Peter Henrikson
Date: Thurs, Apr 22 2004 5:43 pm
Just happened to think of a couple more.
I think the Spectre would be pretty religious.
Some one mentioned Plastic Man's origin, So I think Dr. Strange might qualify as his back story is similar.
From: "Here, God exists in Four Colors and Two Dimensions", posted 7 March 2006 by grabbingsand on Metafilter website (http://www.metafilter.com/49827/Here-God-exists-in-Four-Colors-and-Two-Dimensions; viewed 11 June 2007):
Jimmy Olsen is a Lutheran. Really. And Clark Kent? Methodist, it seems. Daredevil, Gambit, Huntress and The Punisher? Catholics, all of them, though I have to wonder when Frank Castle last went to Confession. With about half of DC Comic's line-up heading to church in the latest issue of Infinite Crisis and knowing that Civil War is imminent in the House of Marvel, what better time than now to contemplate the particular faiths of our two-dimensional heroes.
Superman is definitely Jewish. He sets my Judar a-beeping.
I also suspect Spiderman and Plastic Man.
But Batman? So goyish! [i.e., "non-Jewish"]
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:34 PM on March 7
From: "Stuart Moore's A Thousand Flowers: O Deadly Night" forum discussion, started 2 December 2003 on Newsarama website (http://forum.newsarama.com/archive/index.php/t-6949.html; viewed 28 June 2007):
12-02-2003, 10:40 AM
There have been a couple of good Christmas tales of recent memory. The two I'm thinking about are the JLA issue where Plastic Man narrates the story of how Santa Claus joined the Justice League, and the 'Nuff Said issue of Captain Marvel. The latter made the heart of this Grinch grow at least three sizes larger.
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