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The Elongated and Winding Road
by J. Morgan Neal
Where does one start with Ralph Dibny?
I suppose the best place to begin is like with all other stories...at the beginning of course.
The Flash # 112
"The Mystery of the Elongated Man!"
First, it must be pointed out that The Elongated Man was just as much an accident of birth in the editorial office as he ever was as drinking that Gingold soda pop to become a superhero.
Once upon a time a man named Julie Schwartz was re-inventing DC comics.
He along with some of the best talent to ever ply their trade in the business were taking old characters and revamping them for newer audiences. One of those was The Flash. Indeed, he was the first one to be made over into the very first Silver Age superhero. (Apologies to those Martian Manhunter boosters out there.)
The Flash's Rogues Gallery is one of the fullest and most famous in all of comicdom, and at one point the idea came up to have one with the ability to stretch. So clad in the villainous hue of purple...the new baddie was born. However a problem arose. Apparently the creative team liked him.
So, somewhere in story conferences it was apparently decided that Barry "The Flash" Allen needed a foil to go along with his villains.
A friendly, amateur hero who might be a little annoyng.but ultimately lovable.
Plastic Man was the model. He was perfect. A wild, funny power that Carmine Infantino could play with artistically and makes him unique.
However, Julie thought. Plastic Man was an old Quality comics character. So....I'll reinvent him!
And thus, after a shot of Gingold the Elongated Man was born. Still clad in purple and adorned with red hair, Julie attempted to make quite certain they didn't open themselves to any lawsuit from any parties who may still be protective of the copyright to Plastic Man. (Which could be why Ralph wasn't given the power to shape-change like Plas did...unless they just forgot about it all together.)
Of course the irony was that they knew the people who owned those rights very well.
Almost intimately once might say.
Plastic Man was owned by DC comics.
So in other words if Julie had looked into where Plas was at that time instead of just deciding that Plas was off limits, then we would not have had Elongated Man at all.
God bless Julie's lazy bones.
For while I and many others love Plas, Ralph is just as lovable and they are two very distinct characters apart from their obvious similarities.
Rendered by the talents of John Broome and Carmine Infantino, Ralph served ably as a recurring supporting player in The Flash, so much so that he got his own back up feature in Detective Comics, showing off more of his sleuth abilities than being comic foil.
We also saw much more of his lovely wife Sue, who even in those all too brief stories was forged into one of the most interesting and well-rounded (keep your minds out of the gutter folks) female support characters from that time.
And they were married. No big wedding issue, no big deal made of it, they were just like most people; matter of fact hitched.
Almost all of these back-up tales were penned by Gardner Fox along with many various artists.
Those old Detective back up tales I think overall are the best stuff that has been done with Ralph and Sue.
Nice little mysteries, some nice husband and wife banter. They were like capsule Thin Man movies
Ralph moved from there to become a member of the Justice League of America.
Ralph got a lot of play as he and a few others who did not have their own comic title. It certainly helped the reputation of the character to where to this day he is not quite considered an also ran character like some DC characters. The JLA stigma still remains.
Ralph even survived the first big revamp of the JLA into the Detroit years and benefited by being on a smaller stage. This time Sue was also in attendance and actually other than some individual guest shots, Ralph and Sue are always depicted together now. As it should be.
Ralph did not make the cut in the next big shake up of the League. The JLI that was formed from the Legends the first cross over event after the Crisis on Infinite Earths did not have Ralph in attendance.
That wasn't because of any dismissing of the Elongated Man character however as only two of any of the previous League had anything to do with the JLI initially.
As a matter of fact, sooner than later came along Justice League Europe and Ralph and Sue had a home again. On the Continent no less!
Some good work was done here by Gerald Jones on Ralph and Sue and it even led to an Elongated Man mini-series by Jones and Mike Parobeck that was quite entertaining.
It is a shame it didn't turn into a regular gig for the stretchable sleuth and his lovely wife.
When JLE folded its tents, Ralph was at loose ends again and did not appear again in any significant way until James Robinson's wonderful Starman series.
James utilized the two well tying them into the cataclysmic climax of the Starman series and served as one of the main solutions to the epic event.
Robinson had them decide to turn down a chance to stay in Opal City, and Instead continue their usual practice of traveling the world for adventure including Ralph having a short stint as a guest star in the current Doom Patrol series.
Perhaps Plastic Man having a much greater presence of late has caused some people to think that having The Elongated Man around is redundant.
But the differences in the characters once you see beyond the surface similarities as I referred to before are markedly different.
One hopes that some hot talent will take aim at The Elongated Man and show everyone the full potential of the character and expand the characters fan base and increase his status in the DCU. Such as Kevin Smith did with Green Arrow and Jeff Smith may well do with Captain Marvel.
The pieces are all there, all that has to be done is to stretch them into place.
It has been a long and winding road for Ralph from Action Comics to Zero Hour and one that has been far more interesting than not.
That's pretty good for a character that started out as an afterthought in a plotting session from over 40 years ago.
So until he extends his pliable form into our comic reading again in the future, lets just remember all the good stuff he has given us up to now, and hope his life is filled with good times and happiness...and a really good nose twitching mystery.
Not too much of a stretch I think.
J. Morgan Neal resides in North Texas with his cat Boot Reer Float. By day he is a not so mild mannered Security Officer and by night the scourge of the unimaginative as Four Color Man! Writer of articles, creator of characters, author of sequential comics!
He is Associate Editor for the O'Neil Observer and is the co-creator and writer of Aym Geronimo and the PostModern Pioneers, currently featured in the Shooting Star Comics Anthology #1
All characters are © DC Comics
This piece is © 2003 by J. Morgan Neal
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