I’m working on writing up a review of the first couple volumes of One Piece for the Manga Moveable Feast, but I thought I’d take the time to talk about other characters in comics who have similar stretchy powers as One Piece’s enthusiastic protagonist Monkey D. Luffy. While Luffy gained his rubber powers by eating the fruit of the Gum Gum tree, there are plenty of examples of super heroes with magical stretchy abilities in western comics. Here’s a brief overview of some stretchy superheros.
Reed Richards aka Mr Fantastic:
The leader of the Fantastic Four, Reed Richards gained his stretching abilities due to a scientific experiment gone horribly wrong. The funny thing about Reed Richard’s powers is that for someone with such goofy-looking powers, Reed is unquestionably a total stiff in terms of his personality. The contrast between his somewhat frivolous powers and his intellect make him an interesting leader of one of the classic super teams, even though he’d rather spend all of his time in a lab.
In an amusing coincidence, the Elongated Man’s powers are also fruit based. It seems like poor Ralph Dibney is always going to be a second-string character, because it doesn’t do much good to be a detective in the same universe as Batman. It also doesn’t seem to be all that wonderful to be super stretchy in a universe containing Plastic Man. He’s doomed to be second best and he and his wife seem to be mainly used as cannon fodder in DC crossover event comics.
Jimmy Olsen (Elastic Lad)
When Superman’s best friend travels forward in time to hang out with the Legion of Super-Heroes, he does so by taking on the abilities of Elastic Lad when he drinks a serum. Unfortunately his super powers do not enable him to make time with the Legion ladies very effectively. Jimmy’s transformation into Elastic Lad were part of a general pattern where he endured being changed into any number of strange creatures. If you’ve been transformed into a giant turtle boy, gorilla, or a radioactive dude having temporary elastic powers seems completely normal.
Plastic Man is by far my favorite stretchy super hero, mainly because Jack Cole was an incredibly talented cartoonist who took full advantage of the idea of someone having elastic powers. Eel O’Brian was a thief who was splashed by a strange acid, gaining Most stretchy superheroes have some degree of invulnerability due to their malleable nature, but Plastic Man is able to transform himself into any shape imaginable while still retaining the distinctive red and yellow coloring of his costume. Plastic Man comics end up being delightfully surreal, but comics featuring other heroes with elastic powers often just focus on their stretchy limbs instead of taking full advantage of the possibilities of a person made of rubber.
Luffy seems to be partially invulnerable due to his rubber powers, but he mostly uses his elastic abilities to pack some powerful punches, just based on the first couple volumes. I’m curious to see how his elastic powers are used further into series.