365 Reasons to Love Comics #200
Welcome, my friends, to 365 Reasons’ 200th episode spectacular! Bring in the dancing girls! In this issue: someone dies! And things will never be the same again!
Also, I talk about my favorite comics character of them all. He’s almost certainly not yours. Maybe I can help you see things my way, though. And maybe I can link you to the archive, as well as the reader survey, in which your comments are appreciated.
200. Elongated Man
“An ear– in the fireplace!”
With those words, I became an Elongated Man fan for life. That’s right, I love Elongated Man, the warmest, coolest, nicest superhero ever created. And to think, his creation was a mistake– he was only invented (by Julius Schwartz, John Broome, and Carmine Infantino) because Big Julie forgot DC owned the rights to Plastic Man. Ha!
Ralph Dibny, the World Famous Elongated Man, first appeared in Flash #112 from May, 1960. Yep, he’s been around for 47 years. He is older than Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four and older than Spider-Man. He’s been around a while. His origin is thus: fascinated by contortionists, Ralph tracks down their secret– they all drink Gingold soda. Ralph scrounges up the rare Gingo fruit and makes his own super-extract. As these comic things tend to go, he was gifted with super-stretching abilities! Naturally, it led him to a career as a superhero, which was a perfect fit with his astonishing detective skills. Yes, Ralph is considered one of the DCU’s greatest detectives, after Batman, and can literally smell a mystery– his nose twitches at even the slightest hint of something sleuthable. In the original story, he was a rival for the Flash, but they became fast friends (no pun intended. Well, maybe a little) and teamed up on numerous occasions afterward, before Ralph graduated to his own solo back-up series in Detective Comics.
Except, by that time– in fact, by his second appearance– he wasn’t flying solo. Nope, Ralph was married to Sue Dibny, nee Dearbon, a wealthy socialite who allowed herself to be swept off her feet by the kooky Ralph. She was sharp as a tack, smarter than she let on, and easily Ralph’s equal in terms of wits and banter. They were a bit like Blondie and Dagwood and a lot like Nick and Nora Charles, the famous detecting couple from the Thin Man novel and films. Thin Man, Elongated Man… see? It was brilliant. Ralph and Sue became comics’ finest couple, proving that marriage could be cool and that love conquered all. The series of stories in Detective were fun little mystery tales sold on the strength of the Ralph/Sue relationship and the inventive uses of Ralph’s elastic abilities.
When Ralph joined the Justice League, Sue followed, and eventually worked her way in as a key member of the support staff, especially when the League went International and Ralph and Sue joined Justice League Europe. Gerard Jones proved he knew how to write Elongated Man by using him to tremendous effect both in the Justice League title and in a four-issue Ralph-and-Sue mini-series. Finally, Elongated Man had his own title!
These issues are the cheapest comics I ever bought, as all four came in a pack that sold for a third of a dollar at a convention. But oh my, they’re worth so much more. Jones wrote a story that put a bit of strain on Ralph and Sue’s marriage but solidified them again at the end, and he also gave Ralph his own archenemy– Sonar, a two-bit Green Lantern villain given a strong revamp as ruler of his own “perfect” little country, Modora. The mini combined the Nick & Nora elements with a dash of Reed-and-Sue-and-Doom from the Fantastic Four. And the Mike Parobeck art was beautiful; he really fit as a brilliant Elongated Man artist, and would return to the character for a few issues of Justice League Europe. Really, pick up this mini if you ever stumble upon it. It’s good comics. And Comics Should Be Good, right?
After the implosion of the Justice League titles, Ralph and Sue found themselves on the back burner. They still turned up occasionally, like in James Robinson’s Starman, but they weren’t big stars. Then a little comic called Identity Crisis came along. Sue was brutally murdered and retroactively revealed to be raped, and Ralph was left a gibbering mess. It was the worst comic ever made, and I say this not as an Elongated Man fan, but as a fan of good stories. It wasn’t a good story. Let’s not dwell on it.
Ralph became one of the lead characters in the maxi-series 52, which followed his journey in “real time” to find a way to bring Sue back to him. He ended up at the focus of a huge mystical mystery, and in the conclusion of the arc (I’m totally going to spoil the ending, so if you haven’t read 52 and don’t want to know what happens, do not read the rest of this paragraph), he was killed off. That was all part of the plan, though, and he was quickly reunited with his wife. They became Ralph and Sue, Ghost Detectives! So yeah, it was a sort-of-happy ending by the finish, and the best thing we could hope for. (Hey, I told you someone died in the 200th issue, didn’t I?)
Elongated Fans were also treated to a few Ralph appearances on the Justice League Unlimited cartoon. And he was voiced by Jeremy Piven, of all actors! Haha.
Let’s look back back now on my opening quote: “An ear– in the fireplace!” This brilliant line comes from the first Elongated Man solo story in the back pages of Detective Comics, in the same issue which introduced the yellow oval around the bat. It’s also the greatest page in Elongated Man history, and one of my favorite comics moments. I shall present it to you now, in all its glory. Click to elongate:
Brought to you courtesy of Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino. Thankfully, the gods saw fit to answer my prayers, and gave us a Showcase volume for Elongated Man. The 500+ page black-and-white comics tome collects all of Ralph’s early adventures, from his Flash appearances to his long-running series in Detective. Buy it now! My highest recommendation.
I’ve been a fan of Elongated Man for a long time, and was never quite sure why. But I know now, of course, and it’s quite simple: he was an optimist. Solving mysteries were fun for him, he had cool stretchy powers, and he was married to the best woman in the world. Ralph and Sue were the best hero team in the DC Universe, and I can’t wait to see them again. The future holds infinite potential. So until the time comes, I hope you’ll forgive me a glance at the fireplace every now and then, in the hopes of finding an ear. ‘Cause you never know. Someone might be on the roof.
As it stands, though, I’m still not the #1 Elongated Fan– no, I’m the Ductile Detective’s #2 guy. The biggest EM fan in the known world has gotta be Michael Hutchison, who not only operates the only Elongated Man fan site on the web, Dibny Dirt, but also dedicated the final issue of his online comics magazine, Fanzing, to his favorite character. He currently runs the blog Monitor Duty. Don’t worry, buddy– someone else gets it. Keep on rocking.
For more Dibny treats on the internet, check out The Diary of Dibny, a blog kept by Ralph himself, detailing his adventures during 52. Also, visit the Comics 101 column about the Dibnys, and listen to the beautiful song Four Color Love Story by the Metasciences. It’s a little ditty about superhero romance, and it even references Sue. I love this song. It’s fantastic.
That’s enough Elongated Enthusiasm for today. I’ll see you around, in the next 165 columns. Keep them noses twitchin’, everybody!
(Also– just for the record? Any of Ralph’s purple costumes are the best. Death to that red-and-blue monstrosity! The true Elongated Man color is purple, I tell you! Purple!)