by Michael Hutchison
Ralph Dibny was a wiry kid growing up in small, residential Waymore, Nebraska. Though Ralph loved being the center of attention, the limelight is hard to find in a small town. His muscular brother Ken, five years his senior, was extremely popular in a mainstream sort of way: Eagle Scout, star football player, etc. It was probably feelings that he could never match Ken in these activities that led Ralph to more outlandish behavior. Even before his awkward teens, he was dressing in loud purple clothes, playing practical jokes, grandstanding, etc but he couldn't find anything he was good at.
Then one day, Ralph's family attended a carnival and Ralph saw the sideshow contortionist and decided that was the life for him. To us, that may seem like a stupid dream, but the troubled young lad saw a skinny, gangly man who used those traits to his advantage, entertaining audiences and traveling the world. Thus, Ralph went home, tied himself in knots and promptly called his mom to rescue him. Embarrassed, he went back to the carnival and asked the contortionist for help, but the man refused to give away trade secrets. Over the next several years, as carnivals, circuses and fairs visited Waymore, he would ask the contortionists for advice. Some gave him the brushoff; others said there were no secrets, he just had to practice; but he noticed one little fact: EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM DRANK GINGOLD SODA POP!
Ralph suspected that Gingold Soda was the reason for the contortionists' flexibility. Reading over the ingredients, he found them to be similar to most other soft drinks except for the juice of the gingo, a fruit from the Yucatan peninsula. He began processing the fruit juice in his home lab until he'd distilled the essence of the fruit; then (and I think this settles the matter of his qualifications as a scientist) he drank it! There weren't any immediate effects, although he noted that it might taste good with a peach schnapps. (Anyone out there know whether the drinking age in Nebraska is 18 or 21?) However, his arms stretched one day when he reacted to a falling flowerpot, and from there on he was able to stretch as long as he took repeated doses of gingo elixir (more often referred to as Gingold, although this is really the brand name of the soda pop).
Being a glutton for attention, he began dressing in a purple costume and calling himself the Elongated Man. He traveled to Central City, where he managed to foil a few crimes and rescue several innocents before the Flash arrived on the scene. Then a rare vase is stolen from an inaccessible museum, and the Flash suspects it is actually E.M. who could break in to steal it. However, after the briefest superhero fight in comics history (it happens IN BETWEEN the first panel, where Flash is running after E.M., and the second panel where E.M. has already surrendered!), he and the Flash team up to solve the mystery and a new super hero was born!
At the beginning of his career, Ralph announced his real name to the world making him the first active superhero to do so. In recent times, fewer heroes have gone to the trouble of keeping secret identities. However, Green Lantern John Stewart and the members of Infinity, Inc. are the only other heroes to openly unmask in front of the media.
Ralph's wandering took him to New York, where he crashed the boring debutante ball of the vivacious young Sue Dearbon on the pretense that there were jewel thieves inside. She was attracted to him because of his sense of humor that flaunted the conventions of her stuffy upper-crust family. He was attracted to her because well, he's not an idiot. Ralph and Sue's marriage happened almost overnight, with the Flash as the best man.
After their wedding, Ralph and Sue spent much of their first year travelling across America. Indeed, most of their life since has been one long vacation. However, no matter where Ralph goes, he always seems to run into a mystery to solve or a crime to thwart much to the annoyance of Sue. At first, she was almost shrewish in her complaining about his amateur sleuthing, though nowadays she gets a resigned kick out of it.
Ralph developed a close friendship with Barry Allen, helping him to solve numerous cases. He assisted the Justice League of America in its early days and became friends with several other superheroes, notably the Atom, Green Arrow and Black Canary (all were low-powered heroes who relied on their wits). Ralph travelled in time with the Justice League and Justice Society when they went searching for the Seven Soldiers of Victory. He also joined Zatanna in her search for her father Zatara.
Finally, shortly after the League moved to their new satellite Headquarters, Ralph was invited to join the JLA. He and Sue continued to globetrot in his free time, invariably finding mysteries to solve. It is not known how Ralph transported up to the satellite, since he has no place of residence in which to store a transporter tube.
After the JLA satellite was destroyed in an alien invasion, Aquaman (as the only remaining charter member) declared the League an unreliable defense for Earth and disbanded the JLA. Aquaman formed a new JLA, with membership depending on a hero's willingness to make a total commitment to the League. Most of the League's "Big Guns" had personal lives that prohibited such a major commitment. The only members able to remain were Zatanna, Aquaman, the Martian Manhunter and Ralph, so long as Sue was allowed to join. As the only married member, and the only one without a permanent residence, this seemed reasonable.
Sue brought out the best in Ralph, and he was an even cheerier member
than before. The other JLAers compared them to Nick and Nora Charles of
the "Thin Man" films.
That summer, Ralph lost his best friend when Barry gave his life to defeat the Anti-Monitor's energy cannon. His relationship with the new "Flash", a self-interested womanizer, was bitter for a time.
After being evicted from their Detroit Bunker HQ, the JLA moved back into their old Mountain HQ and found it inhabited by a walking, tentacled potato which Gypsy nicknamed Junior. Unbeknownst to them, Junior was siphoning off their life forces bit by bit, until it finally started sucking them dry. Sue returned to the Mountain to find Ralph and the others in an almost desiccated state and she managed to hit the priority JLA alert before Junior sucked her dry too. The original JLA members returned to defeat Junior and restore the JLA's life energies.
This was the first time that being in the JLA had almost killed Sue.
A few weeks later, during G. Gordon Godfrey's political attack on Earth's superheroes, a superhero edict was issued by the president and the JLA was ordered to disband. Ralph got into a fight with fellow member Vibe, who refused to make up with Ralph and walked away from the League (to be killed that evening by Professor Ivo). Ralph, dejected, muttered that his wife had been asking him for a vacation and left.
Ralph wasn't invited to join the new Justice League that was formed by Maxwell Lord later that month, and he was probably still on his vacation anyway.
Ralph and Sue travelled to England, where he and Batman defeated a descendant of Doctor Moriarty and fullfilled every detective's dream: to meet Sherlock Holmes! Still alive, and living in some remote mountain monastary, Sherlock was visiting England for the wedding of the descendants of Moriarty and Mr. Watson.
Ralph returned to Waymore for his 30th birthday, expecting the small-town-boy-made-good treatment. Instead, his friends and relatives ignored his achievements and overlooked his grandstanding, paying more attention to his brother Waymore's new mayor! Finally, Ken spelled it out for Ralph all his life, Ralph had never tried to relate to people as a normal person would. In talking about his life, Sue also confided that their early marriage may have been just an escape for both of them but that their relationship had grown into true love.
Ralph was invited to join Justice League Europe later that year. Metamorpho even wondered aloud why Ralph wasn't the team leader, since he'd had the most experience as a Leaguer of any JLE member. In the JLE, Ralph became good friends with Metamorpho, Dmitri (Rocket Red) and Buddy Baker (Animal Man) after discovering that they were all married men. Ralph also finally bonded with Wally West, the new Flash, and stopped mentioning how wonderful Barry was in Wally's presence.
After Maxwell Lord was shot, the various Leagues were taken over by a UN bigwig named Heimlech who started firing the League members he considered useless. Ralph was one of the first to go. To add to his embarrassment, Sue was kept on as the JLE's computer programmer!
After the stress of attacks by Despero and Dreamslayer, and the death of Silver Sorceress, Ralph and Sue took time off to attend the European Economic summit in Paris. The conference was disrupted by Eurocrime--a collection of gimmicky criminals from European nations, each with a power based on their national dish--no really! Sue, meanwhile, met a charming man named Bito Wladon from the nation of Modora. Although she knew that matched the description of the Green Lantern arch-villain Sonar, she knew Sonar to be in an American prison. Bito charmed Sue with his mature manner which seemed even more striking when compared to her husband's grandstanding antics. Ralph and Sue began having serious marital problems as Sue wondered if her marriage was just a childish decision.
The couple travelled with Bito to Modora, a 19th century village with 21st century technology. The populace seemed quaint although their halted manner made it obvious that they were constantly under surveillance by the master of sound, Sonar. Ralph discovered that Bito was the real Sonar, yet Sue wouldn't believe him. Sue was still charmed by the opulence of the Modoran castle and Bito's romantic overtures. Disgusted and heartbroken, Ralph walked out on her to solve the Eurocrime mystery at the Economic Conference.
Upon discovering that Sonar was behind the disruptions at the conference, Ralph covertly returned to Modora and challenged Sonar. At the same time, Sue discovered the police-state nature of Modora and led the town in an open revolt. Sonar fled and the Dibnys reunited.
The Justice Leagues re-organized again. Sue took charge of the JLE and had new costumes made for Ralph, Power Girl and Dr. Light. Since Sue's regular designer was unavailable, she had their costumes re-designed by Paul Gambi, the Central City tailor who makes clothing for Flash's Rogues Gallery. Sonar coerced Gambi into implanting spy equipment in the fabric.
This time, the UN re-settled the JLE in an historic English castle filled with collectibles, antiquities and fine art. Apparently, the British didn't want to spend the money demolishing it themselves, so they figured they'd give it to a superhero group and wait a week or two.
Ralph loved the castle especially when a suit of armor began walking around the castle on its own. Eventually, the suit of armor revealed itself to be the ghost of the original lord of the castle, Duke Donald.
A team of Modorans brought Ralph a hoversled and an invitation to their new Elongated Man museum. Ralph and Sue returned to Modora, where Ralph was mortally wounded by Sonar's old sceptre as it hung on the wall of the museum. Sonar agreed to save Ralph's life if she would divorce Ralph and become Sonar's consort. Sue agreed.
At the same time, Sonar used the Rocket Reds, Eurocrime, the Global Guardians and other brainwashed metahumans to fight off the JLE and take over the republics of the post-Soviet Union. Ralph, Sue and the JLE managed to overcome Sonar and this time, Ralph had the pleasure of delivering a, ahem, "sound" punch in Sonar's face.
Sue is now more in love with Ralph than ever before and considering she gave up the chance to be queen of the Eastern Hemisphere for him, he has no reason to doubt her love again.
Immediately after, Sue was captured by a gang of New Aztecs who threatened her with death. They figured that capturing Sue Dibny and demanding the presence of the JLE was a logical way to keep the League away this kind of thinking proves that members of the United Nations are secretly Aztecs. The only importance of this incident is that it started Ralph thinking about the dangerous situations he was facing more and more often which caught Sue in the crossfire.
A week or two after that incident, New Druids attacked the JLI members and burned down the JLE castle, thus fullfilling their secret demolition contract with the United Nations International Landmark Demolition Subcommittee. They shot Sue and Ralph with stun rays and left them to die in the burning wreckage. Though the JLI got away without too much trouble, Ralph was again confronted with the fact that Sue could die due to his League membership. Ralph announced that he was taking an extended leave so that he and Sue could return to their first love traveling.
The suit of armor (Duke Donald) decided to join them. No, really.
Ralph, as a Justice League Reserve Member, was called in to assist the JL Task Force in defeating an American Neo-Nazi movement's attempt to eliminate all of the "inferior" races from the face of the Earth. Ralph was disturbed by the Nazi members, who, racist beliefs aside, bore a striking similarity to the normal people he grew up with.
Ralph also assisted the League during the fight against the Overmaster. Shortly afterward, he had the distinguished honor of being the first of many superheroes to take Triumph down a peg.
Since then, Ralph has been spotted at many of the usual Earth-shattering calamities. He was also seen at the memorial service for Hal Jordan, and he recently helped The Atom (Ray Palmer) celebrate his birthday amongst his old JLA buddies.
And in Ralph Dibny's future
Possible future #2: Ralph loses most of his hair and joins Batman's
'Mankind Liberation Force", per Kingdom Come.
Possible future #3: As one of the Leaguers who defeated Professor Ivo, and the one most likely to have children, it seems a good possibility that his descendents will be assassinated by an Ivo robot programmed to eliminate all Justice League descendents. (Although Legion of Super-Heroes continuity has been restarted, and EM's insignia was not visibly crossed off on the robots' plating, this still seems a likely scenario.)
Simply put, he can stretch any part of his body.
Additionally, Ralph's physiology has been altered enough that he's survived blasts by energy weapons on several occasions. In the same way that he can survive energy weapons fire that would kill an ordinary human, he can recover quickly from a stun weapon (for example, JLI #56). In both cases, he will be weakened, but certainly more healthy than you or I would be.
One more superhuman capability is his superior strength. He can support people on his back when he forms an arch and he's been seen carrying a heavy metal cage that contained his wife. There can be any number of factors to explain this increased strength. While he may not be in the strength class of the standard superteam "big ugly strong guy" (Tasmanian Devil, Hulk, The Thing, Strata, Garv, Broot, Pig Iron, etc ), he must be able to carry close to a thousand pounds.
Ralph's fighting skills are above average, but when utilizing his powers they are astounding. Few fighters can match him when it comes to successfully tackling large numbers of people.
His costume is made of a special nylon-type fiber that can stretch for hundreds of yards.
Ralph's deductive skills are matched only by his knack for running into extremely bizarre situations. Although he may not have the studied analysis skills of Batman, Ralph's intuition never fails him when it's time to solve a strange mystery involving a purple cow or a disappearing barn door.
Ralph doesn't have any true weaknesses, but he does have to re-charge his powers with regular doses of gingold elixir. This makes him the only metagene-based superhero whose powers aren't permanent. This limitation has had its downside. Contaminated, hyperaccelerated gingold has turned him evil and given him the power to liquefy objects. Also, a rare gingold-killing mold can be made into an elixir which drives the gingold from his system.
Aside from getting his own comic series, Ralph has a few other limits:
This article is © 1998 Michael Hutchison
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