One of the most surprising moments in Dark Days: The Forge featured a character that hasn't played a significant part in the DCU in years — Plastic Man.
Although the character doesn't exactly show up in Dark Days: The Forge, the comic book teases his future role in the upcoming Dark Nights: Metal mini-series.
But there are a lot of questions surrounding the revelation, with a few possibilities for how his appearance will play out.
Where has he been?
The Forge made it clear that Plastic Man has, until now, been kept in some type of containment "box." But how long has he been there?
It's possible that the powerful character has been there for years. Although Plastic Man was a staple on the Justice League in the past, he's been pretty absent from DCU stories since before the New 52 relaunch.
A few of the character's appearances during the New 52 weren't directly connected with this version of the character. For example, a version of Plastic Man played a part in Convergence, fighting Nazis who took over New York City in an alternate, bottled version of the city. And a version of Plastic Man's son was in Multiversity.
Another in-continuity appearance was so much of a cameo that it might not exactly count anymore, with the way the "Rebirth" timeline has merged the histories of certain characters. He made a cameo in Justice League International #1 (when he was shown as someone that was considered a candidate for the team), and Patrick "Eel" O'Brien was briefly part of the "Forever Evil" event in Justice League.
With the reshaping of the DCU timeline lately, it's possible that this character is a sort of new version of Plastic Man, one that takes from all versions that came before.
So, assuming he's been locked up in some sort of "box" containment for awhile — on Batman's moon Batcave, no less — why is he there?
What's in the box
Batman says in Dark Days: The Forge that "we all agreed he was too unstable … that there was no end to what he could do if we weren't careful."
So the reason Plastic Man is being kept contained is because his physiology is unstable. And it wouldn't be the first time that this sort of storyline was used with O'Brian.
In fact, it's possible that the stability problem can be directly linked to a previous problem the character had, one referenced in 2009's Justice League: Cry for Justice and Blackest Night. In the former story, Plastic Man had been injected with a chemical that interfered with his ability to use his powers. And in Blackest Night, Plastic Man — still dealing with this instability — was further injured in a battle with a Black Lantern, causing him to be cared for at STAR Labs.
Subsequent stories have undone that malady, but there's probably a good reason that Plastic Man has been kept hidden, in stasis, in Batman's moon base.
There also seems to have been a consensus — at least, according to Batman — about Plastic Man's containment. "We" all agreed, he said.
However, was Plastic Man himself part of that "we?"
And if he was, has he been cured?
Batman said he "extracted the molecules from his body," indicating that whatever was troubling Plastic Man might now be cured. Was it the aforementioned chemical from a pre-Flashpoint story? Or some other molecules that caused him to become unstable?
Chances are, Plastic Man will be back to his old self. Even Mister Terrific seems happy about "letting him out of the box."
But if Batman has kept Plastic Man locked up for everyone's good all this time, what's motivating him to let the hero out?
Part of Batman's resigning might be simply that he thinks Plastic Man is finally healed from whatever malady made him unstable. But it's much more likely — and even implied in The Forge as Batman says "I'm going to need him for what comes next" — that Plastic Man's release is part of Batman's plans to go up against the forces of the "dark."
Although it's clear that Batman has no idea just how powerful the characters from the Dark Multiverse might be when they attack the DCU, he is cautious enough about his investigation into the dark to understand the answers he's seeking are far from being understood.
As such, it's wise to have formidible heroes on the side of the "light."
What makes Plastic Man so powerful is his ability to change shape, density and flexibility. He has often been the key to success for the Justice League, using his malleable form to contain explosions or other harmful agents, or adding strength or flexibility to his body to stop villains. He's also almost invulnerable, living through attacks by chemical and energy weapons, as well as being bulletproof. He's allegedly unable to be touched by telepathy, and he can regenerate most of his body mass if it's lost.
But powers might not be the only reason Batman wants to enlist the help of Plastic Man. His history may also play a role.
When O'Brian gained his powers, he was living as a criminal. When he was abandoned by his gang when a robbery went wrong, he decided to turn over a new leaf, just as his powers began to develop.
In The Forge, Batman has been shown to be very discreet with the investigation he's conducting into the immortal properties of what he calls the "dark." Although he's gotten other heroes involved — most notably Mister Terrific and the Outsiders — he's only giving pieces of the puzzle to those heroes, and he appears to be hiding his motivations from his fellow Justice League members.
So if Batman wants a discreet, dark ops-type hero to assist him, Plastic Man's past in the world of crime might come in handy.
That said, he's also known as a jokester, and it's tough to keep a red-suited hero a secret for very long. But then, maybe his humor is the real reason that Mister Terrific smiled when Batman mentioned freeing Plastic Man.
Whatever the reason, fans of the character should be releived that the little-seen Plastic Man is not only back in continuity, but is needed for DC's next major event. "It's time to let him out of the box."