Empowered with polymorphic abilities, both Plastic Man and Ms. Marvel can stretch and transform, but which is the more versatile comics shapeshifter?
Marvel and DC both have incredibly versatile, shapeshifting characters on their rosters who time and again step up to save the world. Ms. Marvel, is Marvel’s newest neighborhood hero, a young-adult sensation who will soon be joining the MCU. Plastic Man is DC’s funny-man reformed crook with a heart of gold. Both characters’ powers operate on the same principle: the total manipulation of their molecular structure. Which, then, is the superior shapeshifter of mainstream comics?
Plastic Man has been around since 1941, created by cartoonist Jack Cole, while Kamala Khan (who took her name from Carol Danvers, now known as Captain Marvel) was created by Sana Amanat, Stephen Wacker, G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, and Jamie McKelvie in 2014’s All-New Marvel Now! Point One #1. Plastic Man has therefore had a lot longer to flex his rubbery muscles, but with Marvel showing Ms. Marvel more love than DC has ever languished on Patrick “Eel” O’Brian, which one has accomplished the most impressive canon feats?
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In her debut run in Ms. Marvel (2014), upon emerging from her Terrigenic cocoon, Kamala takes the shape of Carol Danvers, demonstrating her uncanny ability to mimic other people including their clothing and voices. Shortly after, she discovers she can shrink to the size of an insect and grow to the size of a small building at will. Later, readers are introduced to her second most powerful ability: a healing factor to rival Wolverine’s. In Ms. Marvel #3, she is shot at point-blank range while attempting to foil a robbery, briefly losing consciousness only to awake fully recovered. In Ms. Marvel #14, her super-strength is put to the test when she’s captured, and her “embiggened” fists split open a heavy steel door. Most notably, she’s done more than pull her weight among such Marvel teams as the Avengers, Champions, and Secret Warriors; rarefied air for so young a superhero.
So, how does Plastic Man stack up? In JLA #89, the conclusion to the “Trial By Fire” storyline by Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke, Plastic Man grows as big as a skyscraper to single-handedly grapple with the Burning Martian. The confrontation leaves Batman staring in awe, especially since Plastic Man’s opponent boasts strength that comes close to that of Superman. In the same battle, is also established that Plastic Man’s non-organic mind has the side-benefit of making him immune to telepathic attack.
What’s more, Plastic Man’s rubbery physiology makes him virtually immortal. His uncanny ability to bounce back – in some cases literally – from deadly situations like a Looney Tunes character is perhaps a nod to his cartoon roots, and nowhere is this more evident than in another JLA story, “Picking Up the Pieces,” which takes place in the aftermath of “The Obsidian Age.” After a catastrophic encounter with Ancient Atlanteans, Plastic Man was turned to stone by magic and shattered; his molecules scattered across the bottom of the Atlantic ocean, and left to wait for three thousand years where he existed as a disembodied consciousness. The League collected as much of his cells as they could and the rest regenerated on its own, and he returned back to normal, albeit with some psychological trauma.
While Plastic Man has canonically struggled to change color without significant concentration and tends to be presented as a less earnest hero, he easily takes the prize from Ms. Marvel mostly due to the innate nature of his abilities. While Ms. Marvel can heal from a gunshot wound, Plastic Man can shrug them off, along with physical attacks, telepathic assaults, and even the process of time, all because his body is constantly malleable. While Ms. Marvel treats her shapeshifting as something to access, Plastic Man treats it as an inherent part of who and what he is, with many creative teams choosing to have him rapidly shapeshift between panels for visual gags. While Ms. Marvel may gain this level of control over her powers over time, Plastic Man has it now, along with a long history of transformative feats that make him easily the more versatile shapeshifter.
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