After the great superhero extinction of the early-to-mid 1950s, any number of perfectly serviceable character concepts were going begging, and ended up recycled into non-superhero titles.
So it was that Jimmy Olsen ended up with Flash-like speed in September 1956, Hawkman-like wings in February 1958 and finally the flexible form of Plastic Man (Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen 31, Sept. 1958).
While other superheroes were vanishing, Superman — thanks to his popularity on radio and movies and then on television — actually gained titles. By Sept.-Oct 1954, when the Jimmy Olsen comic was added, Clark Kent’s alter ego was already headlining Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Superman, Superboy and World’s Finest.
Plastic Man had only been out of business four years when exposure to an alien chemical gave Jimmy his stretchy powers. Later, Prof. Phineas Potter’s stretching formula would enable Jimmy to become Elastic Lad for short periods.
Elastic Lad’s adventures became almost a backup feature for Jimmy, appearing repeatedly and even earning him an honorary membership in the Legion of Super Heroes.
Even Lois Lane got in on the act as Elastic Lass (Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane 23, Feb. 1961). The unstoppable Composite Superman used Jimmy’s Elastic Lad powers to defeat both Superman and Batman.
The quirky, oddball nature of the Plastic Man powers made them perfect for Jimmy’s adventures. They enabled him to maintain an occasional superhero persona while never threatening to steal the spotlight from the real hero, Superman.
Ironically, while in the semi-comedic form of Elastic Lad, Jimmy had his most tragic and finest moment. In Alan Moore’s 1986 swan song to the Silver Age Superman, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, Elastic Lad, Krypto and a super-powered Lana Lang willingly gave up their lives to defend Superman.