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CSBG Archive

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.

7/19/07

200. Elongated Man

Elongated Man 3.jpg

“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!

Elongated Man 1.jpgElongated Man 2.jpg

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?

Elongated Man 4.jpgElongated Man 6.JPG

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:

Elongated Man 5.JPG

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.

Manga Elongated Man and Sue.JPG

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!)

33 Comments

Make that three people who get it.

The Elongated Man is the man, but it’s Sue Dibny and the awesome The Thin Man vibe to the couple that really makes him work. Take away Sue and the Elongated Man just isn’t the same.

Which is why I think it was probably best that 52 killed him off and reunited him with his wife. The characters just belong together, and personally, I’d be happy if that was their swan song and they stayed gone until whenever DC reboots its universe again.

Like, next year.

I miss Ralph and Sue.

Nope, don’t get it, never have.

But then there’s always been just the one Stretcho for me, even if Reed did come later.

Yeah, really, without Sue, Ralph was still a GOOD character, but WITH Sue, he was just a GREAT character.

And yeah, “Ghost Detectives” is better than nothing, but man, is it crap.

Congrats on 200, Bill!

Excellent choice Bill! And good call on the Gerry Jones minseries, which is awesome.

I’m actually disappointed that DC has released a Showcase volume, & turned the Dibnys into Ghost Detectives, because that means, first, they’re technically still publishing the real Ralph & Sue, & second, they’re acknowledging them as part of the DCU & might still use them.

Which totally gets in the way of my, “buy Elongated Man from DC for $20 & publish an non-Meltzered EM comic myself,” plan. Which sounded good as I was taking a bath once.

Hey, don’t dismiss the Dibny’s appearance in Robinson’s Starman series so quickly! There was a lot of affection in their portrayal and Robinson was faithful to the detective, nose-twitching angle. There’s another series I miss!

I prefer Plaz myself–but I like Ralph & Sue too.

I love how Sue was used in JLE–sometimes better than Ralph, But I liked both of them in that series, and that mini-series you mentioned was great.

I read Identity Crisis (took it out of the Library)–glad I didn’t buy it–it wasn’t very good.

hifidigitalboy

July 19, 2007 at 11:53 pm

I had always thought of EM as a cheap knockoff of Plastic Man until he joined the JLI. The JLI related series changed my viewpoint on many characters that I still hold dear to this day.

Andrew Collins

July 20, 2007 at 12:58 am

Who drew that manga-like pic of Ralph & Sue at the bottom? That is just adorable…

It really is – even if, in patented manga fashion, Sue looks more like his daughter than his wife. Is she supposed to be that tiny?

Joshua Cochran

July 20, 2007 at 5:22 am

She’s not tiny, his legs and neck are just stretching.

Love EM, love Reed, but I can’t help wondering as I read this… what’s with the stretchy guy/ Sue combinations? Is that just a coincidence?

I love that Elongated Man, for what little of his adventures I have been yet priviledged to experience.

The Kirbydotter

July 20, 2007 at 7:18 am

This is an awesome choice for the big # 200!!! :)
(congratulations on this 200 days in a row feat by the way. Keep it coming! Cool stuff as always!)

Ralph and Sue Dibny were THE cutest couple in the comics!

I never made the Thin Man connection. Good call!

Elongated Man was such a fun and cool character, just like I like them!
I love detective stories.
I love when comics don’t take themself too seriously.
I love the Schwartz influence of the more “brainy” stories of the Silver Age.
I love the fact that Infantino could often ink himself on that series (since it was only a back up series and only a few pages long).
I love the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League run over all others.
I love the Elongated Man mini that had the ultimate team on it: funny scripter Gerard Jones! Perfect Parobeck pencils! And Ty Templeton as the inker! No way to top that!

I will hate and curse Brain Meltzer to the end for what he did to Sue.

Why did no one ever give Sue powers? Did she ever try to be Elongated Woman?

Yes, someone else doesn’t like Identity Crisis. Infinite Crisis was pokay but Identity was just unpleasant.

Congratulations on getting to 200.

I wanna know where manga Ralph and Sue came from too, Bill.

Why did no one ever give Sue powers?

She didn’t need them.

Any DC crisis is one too many. Although I forgive DC for the original crisis a little bit as teh Wally West flash stories were very good. But not any of the rest and not for ruining Ralph and Sue.

Bah on 52 and IC/IC2.

The showcase volume is excellent, BTW. Sit for a long stretch of time and read it cover to cover.

I rather liked the Ralph/Wally relationship in JL* (much more so than the Hal/Wally).

I wanna know where manga Ralph and Sue came from too, Bill.

I stumbled upon it somewhere in the tundra of the internet a while back, and I’ve no idea who drew it or where it actually came from. I was kinda hoping the artist would be reading this.

Lauren wrote:

“Any DC crisis is one too many. Although I forgive DC for the original crisis …
Bah on 52 and IC/IC2.”

All right, I’m going to say this again (it’s my little pro-”52″ mantra): “52″ was NOT a huge crossover series. It was not one of those dreadful company-wide crossovers like any of DC’s Perpetual Crisis or the Secret Civil Wars of M. It was, yes, a comic with a gimmick — one you either embraced or not, the weekly “real time” trick — but it was happily self-contained, decidely NOT an event comic. I wish people would stop comparing it to Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis and all the rest.

And one of the many things “52″ did right was restore Ralph’s smarts and heroism (though it faked us out pretty well) and then reunite him with Sue.

I actually thought making them Ghost Detectives was a good way of keeping them part of the DC Universe, and making them fun and entertaining again, without simply chucking all the existing continuity. Not that I would have had a problem with chucking the existing continuity. This whole situation speaks to everything wrong with superhero comics today–the rape and murder of Sue will always hover over these characters, even if they’re completely rebooted, making them pretty much useless as kiddified characters, which is what they’re meant to be. It’ll literally be a generation before we can properly revive the tradition of a kid-friendly DCU, thanks to short-sighted thinking. Feh.

Two things (unless I think of more):

1) Yes, Ralph was originally a rival to the Flash, but even then, they were friendly rivals. It wasn’t like Ralph was insulting the Flash’s competency or being a jerk to him–he was just catching the same criminals the Flash was going after.

2) That Carmine Infantino art was just gorgeous. I’d heard of him as being something of a legend, but the ‘Showcase Presents’ volume was my first actual exposure to Infantino in his prime, and it’s just amazing stuff–really pops off the page, and he uses Ralph’s stretching abilities in clever, visually exciting ways.

Why no mention of EM’s appearance in the Justice maxi? I loved the interaction with Plas in that series.

Congrats on the 200 mark. This and Urban Legends are the reasons I check this site before Newsarama.

Found the artist’s website re: manga Ralph and Sue!
You gotta love Google image search (and Japanese keywords)

http://silverrockets.chips.jp/hpkyi/index.html
go to
GALLERY
and then
ABOUT “ELONGATED MAN” 

a lot of love for the Dibnys there.

Say what you will about Identity Crisis. Not very good, I’ll agree with that.

But Identity Crisis was the story that introduced me to Ralph and Sue Dibny, and made me interested in them before brutally terrorizing them.

So I owe it for that much, at least.

-M

The problem with the ghost detective thing is that it stopped the characters from growing. Well that sentence isn’t quite right. But what I mean is, it wouldn’t have been that bad if a superhero couple finally had a kid. That would have been progress. That the hero didn’t start with a kid, and gets one. especially since sue is so involved in the stories, that the kid would eventually start getting involved. Unlike spider woman, she has a kid that you never see.

Comics make my life. Especially Japanese ones I just love with all my existence cartoons. I’ve gone beyond a normal person’s limit on comics. I’ve obsessed over the topic till everyone around me would be tired of me talking about it.

I’ve always been more of a Plastic Man fan myself, and EM is a good character, he just has the worst origin story of any character that has been around as long as him, soda? come on.

The very first super-hero comic book I ever read was an issue of Detective Comics. The main story had a Batman with amnesia trying to find out his own secret identity. The back-up story had Elongated Man and his wife at a movie studio. So he was actually one of the very first super-heroes I knew. I think I only read two other stories with him, though.
Was he the only DC character with a public identity for several years? I’ve often wondered when he went public. Was it before the Fantastic Four? I wondered for years if he came before or after Reed. Stretching ability, public identity, a wife (back when super-hero marriage was EXTREMELY rare)– Who was copying whom?

I can understand why sooooo many people hate IdC, but I enjoyed it for a trio of reasons.
One for the internal monologue by Green Arrow, so well done and in character.
The second is the way it re-introduced me to Elongated Man and Sue, who I’d known for years from JLE but never given a 2nd thought to.

The loss really made me realize how valuable they were, and even though all that potential is gone now, I still have a great abiding love for the duo, that I would’ve never gotten without this.
The added pathos, reading those old stories, knowing how things turn out is sad, but poignant too.
I suppose it’s a case of my callow youth coming out, but at least I do get it now.

Third, the realistic take on living as a Superhero.
I know it’s brutal, and a big turnoff to people–and I come to comics for escapism–but for my personal “what if heroes were real” story this is my top pick.

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