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Plastic: Death & Dolls #1
Image Comics

Comic Books

‘Plastic: Death & Dolls’ #1 unfurls the true layers of Edwyn the psychopath

How does a man become a boy and a story become a myth?

Don’t get me wrong, I adore Plastic. Writer Doug Wagner and artist Daniel Hillyard crafted a funny, unsettling, and endlessly demented tale about Edwyn the (ex-) serial killer and his sex doll Virginia. But what was even more impressive than all the insanity and hijinks is that the duo avoided the trap of making a clearly awful protagonist too good, showing just enough decency while cementing Edwyn as a murderous lunatic, for a story that was ultimately a hugely intriguing character study.

But that tenuous balance could’ve been undone when the pair announced a new book, Plastic: Death & Dolls, which focuses on a “10-year-old Edwyn, his relationship with his mother, and how this little guy ended up decapitating his first victim.” Because anytime you tell an origin story, you’re bound to foster a greater approachability and connective potential, and that could take Plastic away from that “safe zone” where it can tell an important and poignant story without making a proper hero out of Edwyn.

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Luckily, Plastic: Death & Dolls is perhaps an even more robust success thanks to the truly dedicated work of its creators.

So, then, what’s the actual trick? It begins with the way in which Edwyn’s past is regarded. We live in an era where nostalgia is rampant, and you can slap on a hazy filter on nearly everything and get people endlessly reminiscing. But here, Wagner and Hillyard treat the past and present with the same level of madness and arms-reach air of reality. There is no romanticism regarded to younger Edwyn, and we see him just as deliberately and clearly as we see his adult version. Even the slightly sepia-toned artwork from Hillyard feels almost like a satire of, or at least a commentary on, our nostalgia obsession and how we blindly regard the good old days.

So why, then, even delve into Edwyn’s background at all? It’s the same reason we have Plastic in the first place: it’s a really novel and disarming idea, and we can understand some key aspect of humanity through this direct and unflinching approach to even the worst of us. Starting back at the very beginning, then, only gives us a fuller picture of the man and to understand that just because someone has a reason to be a whacked-out murderer doesn’t ever make it right. And that’s an important piece of commentary in age where media literacy often seems to be tenuous at best.

Plastic

Variant cover by Daniel Hillyard and Michelle Madsen . Courtesy of Image Comics.

I think you see that in just how violent and depraved this new book is already, and how a little (OK, maybe a lot) more blood and some extra creativity go a long way to leaning heavily into violence at the heart of this story. (There’s a beheading with a hacksaw in the early pages that’ll have your skin actually explode from your body.) It’s a way to go big and extra bold to get people thinking about this kind of media, what we allow and what we deem off limits, and how a little savviness is vital in creating a healthy connection with this kind of dark, decidedly primal aspect of humanity.

The fact that this book is as much a prequel as it is just a continuation of Edwyn’s story is also quite important. It not only speaks to the emotional development and life arc of this character, but it also speaks to the larger tradition of our shared interest in these violent psychopaths (who frequent fiction so much I’m not even wasting time sharing examples). How they’ve always spoken to us, what that really says about ourselves and the way we use fiction, and what that means at a time when we’re both more aware of ourselves than ever before and yet still clueless in some key ways. With this new series, Edwyn has, in a way, elevated to a more mythic character, and one with a backstory and an ever-extending presence.

I think Wagner and Hillyard tried to do this with Plush and Vinyl, but focusing back on Edwyn does more for their thematic goals than almost anything else. It almost feels like they’re creating a kind of oddball Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, and through that we can see how elemental their ideas are and how much they’re speaking to some massive tradition of humanity outsourcing its baser tendencies onto fiction.

Plastic

Variant cover by Melissa Pagluica. Courtesy of Image Comics.

At the same time, though, I don’t want Plastic: Death & Dolls just to be seen as this kooky thought experiment. No matter how or why they’re telling Edwyn’s full story, Wagner and Hillyard continue to be utterly dazzling storytellers. There’s an efficiency to this story that makes it feel so deeply exciting, and we launch right in from panel one in a way that almost anyone could pick up regardless of their past readings. Hillyard’s art isn’t just especially brutal and beautiful this time around — it continues to nail the tone and feel of Edwyn’s world as much as it remains really open and ever-evolving (which again speaks to my whole “mythologizing of Edwyn” idea). The balance of past and present has other benefits, too, including how it regards Edwyn’s mother and how that makes her a certain kind of “threat” that’s important for extending and adding texture to our “hero.”

The duo have remarked that Plastic: Death & Dolls may be their best work so far — and that’s apparent in the energy, creativity, and dedication that makes this story already feel like this massively important chapter. Even as it’s just as bonkers and unassuming as ever, and that’s ultimately what lures you into its heinous clutches.

So, no, without spoiling too much, you won’t have to worry about falling too hard for Edwyn’s weirdo charms. But the mere fact that I was worried even slightly just speaks to the overall prowess and quality of Plastic: Death & Dolls. It’s both a sequel, a prequel, and some wholly undefinable new addition to a story about violence, morality, and the way people are out in the big, scary world. It makes no assumptions, demands no responses/reactions, and remains unwavering in its telling of a weird but ultimately potent story. Read on if you dare: you may find still yourself deeply in love and existentially unsettled.

Plastic: Death & Dolls #1
‘Plastic: Death & Dolls’ #1 unfurls the true layers of Edwyn the psychopath
Plastic: Death & Dolls #1
The debut issue sets the stage for a bloody, insightful exploration of a humanity that we'd rather ignore outright.
Reader Rating1 Votes
8.3
The story melds past and present into a novel exploration of our murderous lead.
There's a new sheen of mayhem and intensity without making this story overly gimmicky.
I continue to be impressed by the profound collaboration of Wagner and Hillyard.
You may need an affinity for 'Plastic,' 'Plush,' and 'Vinyl' for this book to fully land.
8.5
Great
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