| THIS ISSUE:
Something of a S-T-R-E-T-C-H
by Kent "Cheeks" Orlando
I've got this friend, see...?
I met said friend online, in the course of the cybernetic choraling that I've come to realize is part and parcel of this whole weekly "Unca Cheeks Shoots His Great, Wide, Flapping Yawp Off About Old Funny Books" business.
I run a comics-oriented web site; he runs a comics-oriented web site.
It was pretty much inevitable that we'd cross paths, sooner or later.
We have considerably more in common than we do positions from which we stare across at one another, divided. We both enjoy and prefer the various DC Comics, Inc. characters rather more than we do their less iconic Marvel Comics counterparts. We're both decidedly more "writer"- centric than we are concerned over things less overtly visual (i.e., penciling and/or inking). We both firmly believe fellow online smartass Louise Freeman is the bee's knees; that the rac.dcu message boards are proof incontrovertible of Satan's foul, fell dominion over the earth; and that I'm pretty much infalliably omniscient, all things being equal. (Oh, he's never actually come right out and stated that last bit, maybe... but: good golly! It only stands to reason, doesn't it...?)
He's a good egg and a square-shooter, then: this buddy of mine.
He only has this one itsy-bitsy, teensy-weensy little personal foible, really.
He thinks the Elongated Man is a really waycool comics character.
All right.. all right: let's all just settle down, then, shall we...?
Granting the obvious and the indisputable, right from the very git-go, then (i.e., that the character -- straightaway from his four-color introduction, really -- was none-too-cagily conceptualized as a poor man's Plastic Man; namely, a ductile crime-fighter with an amiable, long- suffering sidekick and an endearingly goofy outlook on life): it should be stated, nonetheless, that DC's rubberband-come-lately did possess his own unique (if derivative) charm; that a great many of the Silver Age stories featuring said character were pleasant and diverting ones; and that the very best of these, certainly, more than merit the fond backwards glance... and (possibly) even allow us to ascertain A Larger Truth or three, re: the mainstream adventuere comics of their period overall.
"The Mystery of the Elongated Man" [FLASH #112; April, 1960; John Broome, author; Carmine Infantino, artist] -- being the first ever appearance of the redoubtable Mr. Dibny -- is as good a place to begin as any, I suppose.
The two heroes first run into one another (almost literally, in this particular instance) whilst simultaneously attempting to prevent an (inexplicably) plummeting kitten from become a furry street pizza. [See page reproduction, below]
Boy... that Central City: one hot, toddlin' town, huh...?
"Newbie" hero the Elongated Man reaches the fallen feline just ahead of "The World's Fastest Human," which -- I readily grant you -- doesn't make much sense on the face of things, certainly. (On the other hand, however: neither do spandexed men running at umpty-ump times the speed of light. Or spandexed men "elongating" themselves the length of a city block, as far as that goes. So: I suppose it isn't quite on the same level as -- oh, say -- stumbling across little green men in a Hemmingway novel.)
A throng of admiring onlookers (including the Flash's then-fiance, Iris West) gather about the stretchable stalwart, making appreciative little ooohs and ahhhs of admiration; and leaving the Scarlet Speedster to fume impotently on the sidelines.
"Well," the Flash muses; "... this is a new experience for me! I'm being ignored... while Iris and those other people flock around that Elongated Man!"
Nor is this to be the only instance in which Central City's newest "guardian angel" steals its long-time champion's thunder, as -- time and again, in the weeks to follow -- the guy in the baggy purple union suit manages to stay one half-step ahead of an increasingly frustrated Flash, just-in-the-nick-of-time-wise.
" [...] he seems to be on the spot especially when Flash is in the vicinity," Our Hero frets at one point, succumbing -- albeit briefly -- to a good, old-fashioned bout of High Paranoia. "It's as if he wants to rob him of popularity... or to eclipse him in the public eye! Hmmmm... I can't help wondering..."
This rather unflattering Portrait of the Super-Hero as a Raving Jealous Egomaniac being what it is (I mean: geez, fellah... would Superman sit around sulking like a schoolgirl, just because someone else decided to pimp-slap Lex Luthor around on alternate Tuesdays and Thursdays? Loosen up the ol' cowl a mite, wouldja please? Get a bloody grip, f'chrissakes -- !): author Broome is quick to reassure the readers, at any rate, that the mysterious "Elongated Man" is a good'un, via the time- honored expediency of Origin Flashback.
A young Ralph Dibny -- "the second son of an average midwest American family" -- lays wide, staring eyes on his very first "India Rubber Man" at the impressionable age of nine, while visiting "a traveling sideshow."
"Come on, Ralph," his older brother nudges, evidently bored. "There's other things to see here!"
"Lemme alone!" the (plainly) enraptured Ralph all but snarls. "I'm gonna stay here and watch him some more!"
(If any of you reading along, at this juncture, were to venture the opinion that small boys obsessing over limber older men in trunks is just a weeeeeeee bit on the sick side of the attitudinal railroad tracks...
(... well: you won't be getting any arguments from your upright and aghast ol' Unca Cheeks on that score, by golly, by jingo.)
Things get even steamier for the more squeamish among us, one scant panel later, as Our Ralph slips his way unannounced into the "India Rubber Man's" private quarters, and lisps desperately:
"Excuse me, Mister India Rubber Man... but could you tell me how you stretch yourself that way?" To which the sideshow denizen smartly responds, in turn [Pick One]:
A.) "Sorry, young feller... but I can't tell you! You see... it's a trade secret!"
B.) "Painfully. Very, very painfully." [*rimshot*]
C.) [turning away from the wall of advanced alien machinery, scowling]: "It's too bad you had to see this, little Earth manling. Too bad, that is... for you..."
D.) [kindly]: "Why... by patient and protracted tugging upon my respective body parts, my little cherub." [stands up; drops pants] "Here. Allow me to demonstrate..."
Undaunted, the pre- adolescent and length- obsessed Ralph Dibny (who -- manifestly -- is wrestling with some way, waaaay serious inner demons, Male Adequacy-wise) slouches his disconsolate way towards adulthood; never relenting in his quest to prove that Size, indeed, Does Matter.
"I'm beginning to think that there is no 'secret' how they do it!" a ragged (if not slightly unhinged) Ralph mutters darkly, after experiencing yet another setback in his personal, ongoing hegira. "I think that first one long ago was just having a joke at my expense!"
Shortly thereafter, however: Dame Inspiration sneaks up behind the Soon-To-Be-Stretchable Sleuth and kawallops him a good'un with her mystic croquet mallet. To wit:
"What Ralph Dibny [...] suddenly remembered was this... that in every India Rubber Man's tent [...] there had been a bottle of a soft drink called Gingold! But -- what did that mean?"
"I've found out," an intense Ralph Dibny muses, reflectively, "... that the India Rubber Men don't drink Gingold because they think it will make them stretchier... but only because they happen to like it! But if they all like it, isn't that some kind of clue?"
(They "all liked" be-bopping about in their underwear in front of paying customers and hanging out with Jo-Jo, the Dog-Faced Boy, too, come to think. Geez... I guess we're all just blamed lucky that the "India Rubber Men" in question didn't "all like" infant cannibalism, if that's what passes for Logical Deduction in the non-Gotham portions of the DC Comics universe.
(What a maroon.)
Well... this being a Silver Age super-hero origin: author Broome shoehorns in the (then-)obligatory larding of pseudo-scientific claptrap atop the whole awkward mess ("I've learned that the main ingredient of Gingold is the juice of a little- known tropical fruit! And I've isolated the essence of that fruit by chemical means... enough to affect me... if it has any effect!")...
... and -- one rapidly downward-accelerating flower pot later -- voila! Instant career second-stringer!
"This uniform of mine is made along the lines of stretch nylon," a gleeful Ralph informs us, mere panels later. "Now I'm ready to realize my ambition!" (Yeah... his "ambition" to become the super-hero equivalent of Nathan Lane, maybe. I mean: just check out the last panel, directly overhead. Looks like Peter Scolari in BOSOM BUDDIES, f'chrissakes. I'm just sayin', here, is all.)
Well... be that as it may (and it certainly is, if I'm any judge of spandexed horseflesh): we need to take momentary leave of "Puff-Puff, the Ssssssensitive Super-Hero," in order to check in with The Right Honorable Barry Allen, Esq.; a.k.a., The Flash.
It seems there's been a rash of "impossible thefts" taking place within the boundaries of Central City, these past few weeks: "An outside window [...] forced open on the twentieth floor of a skyscraper, and the safe inside looted"-type stuff.
The Flash -- all but certain that his newfound rival for the affections and adulation of Central City's populace is the costumed cutpurse in question -- sets a trap for the unwary Ralph Dibny, involving some rare and tempting antique vases...
... and (Zut Alors!) catches him at the scene of the crime!
Ralph attempts to escape from the Flash on foot (Idiot Notion #1); then briefly entertains the notion of engaging in combat by "stretching myself around [a] tree" (Idiot Notion #2); and then answers the question "Now... where are those vases?" with a chirpy: "In the garage behind the warehouse... where I put them!" (Idiot Notion #3)
Some are born to greatness; some have greatness thrust upon then; and some couldn't spell "greatness" if you spotted them two vowels.
In all perfect fairness, however: it turns out that the terminally well- intentioned tyro hero only "took" said vases in order to keep them safe from the real art thieves; stashing them in the garage (along with a couple of convincingly cold-cocked gunsels) only long enough to place a phone call to the Central City police department.
"Then you came here early in order to capture these robbers... and clear your good name?" a startled Flash inquires of the Elongated Man.
"... which is Ralph Dibny, by the way!" the rubbery rookie responds. (Well... maybe it's not all that "good" a name, really. I mean: Ralph DIBNY -- ?!?)
"Say," the Flash blurts, suddenly; "... I recognize those men! They belong to the Perry Veto gang! But where's their ringleader?"
"There was a third man," a shame-faced Ralph confesses; "... but he escaped me, Flash!" (Oh. Well. Color me thunderstruck, by all means.)
Quicker'n you can say "... this looks like a job for a real super-hero": the Flash is off and... ummmm... running; scouring the city at hyper- velocity for the aforementioned Veto, and whirlwind-ing the latter's car right off the road.
All's well that ends well, then; as Flash and Elongated Man end up scoring a tie later that same week, re: the coveted PICTURE NEWS "Man of the Year" award. (PICTURE NEWS being newsgal Iris Allen's journalistic employer of record.)
"How about the two of them shaking hands?" one of the banquet attendees asks, jovially.
"Right!" Ralph responds, agreeably. "Just sit where you are, Flash!" He extends himself, courteously; occasioning the following jape on the part of a grinning Scarlet Speedster [Pick One]:
A.) " *Whew*! Talk about a 'boardinghouse reach!"
B.) "... huh? Why's he extending just one finger, f'pete's sake? I... hey! SAME TO YOU, FELLAH -- !"
C.) "He said hands, Degenerate Lad! Hands! HANDS -- !"
Okay. So. I've maybe played just a wee li'l bit rough with ol' Ralphie Boy in the course of this here retrospective-slash-Friar's Club Roast.
Just a minuscule tad, mind.
On behalf of all you pained and outraged Ralph-aholics out there, then, the whole wide world over -- oh, yes, yes, yes; all eight or ten of you, for goodness' sakes! -- allow me to make heartfelt amends, by all means.
Okay. So: basic super-hero competence-wise... Ralph Dibny (a.k.a., the
Elongated Man) wasn't exactly lapping the rest of the spandexed field,
right in the beginning, there.
"Space-Boomerang Trap!" [THE FLASH #124; November, 1961; John Broome, writer; Carmine Infantino, artist] opens up with a vacationing Ralph perusing a letter from his newfound friend, Barry [the Flash] Allen, detailing a knotty dilemma weighing heavily upon the mind of the latter: the current whereabouts of perennial pain-in-the-tuchus Captain Boomerang.
"Boomerang may have been a model prisoner while in jail," the Scarlet Speedster muses; "... but he was a daring criminal before that! And a sensational coup on his first week out of jail would be just his style!"
[UNCA CHEEKS' ASIDE: the Flash is being entirely too kind by half, in this regard. In actual point of fact, the goonily haberdashed geekasaurus better known as Captain Boomerang was (and remains, to this day) one of the least menacing and/or effectual members of the Flash's personal "Rogues Gallery"; a Johnny-One-Note costumed recidivist whose pet "gimmick" -- various and sundry sorts of bizarrely enhanced boomerangs -- placed him somewhere on the Unca Cheeks Dork-O-Meter midplace betwixt, say, old Wonder Woman nemesis the Crimson Centipede and Steve Urkel. So: now you know, then.)
"Captain Boomerang!" a grim-visaged Flash seethes, upon discovering the gangling gadfly loitering about the Central City Museum. "You dared show up here... in uniform?"
"And why shouldn't I be here, Flash?" Boomerang simpers, by way of reply. "The general public is invited to this exhibition... and that includes me, doesn't it? And as for my uniform... there's no law against my wearing it, is there?"
(No... but: there jolly well ought to be. I mean... just look at that thing, f'chrissakes! A scarf and a beret?!? Jesus on a pony -- !)
A stubborn Flash rudely insists upon chaperoning the sneering Boomerang throughout the entirety of the latter's tour of the museum; particularly whenever the Aussie rogue wanders too closely towards "the crown jewels of Normark," presently on loan to Central City for public display...
... which means that they're both in prime position to witness the event, moments later, when the inevitable boomerang comes a-whizzing through a nearby door.
"Good gosh!" a plainly startled Flash emotes. "That thing has snatched up the Normark jewels... and is heading for that open window!"
Confronting the Thomas Keene-eyed Captain Boomerang upon his quick return to the Museum, the Flash all but snarls in response to the former's pious exclamation of: "Why are you staring at me like that, Flash? You don't think -- !"
Well... yes. He does, as a matter of fact. (Go figure, huh...?)
"Now listen, palsy!" the affronted Aussie scolds. "I'm not the only one in the world capable of manipulating a boomerang, you know! After all, you saw me here all the time...!"
Intuiting his friend's befuddlement and consternation from all of the foregoing, then: Ralph Dibny resolves to make a quick road trip, down Central City way. Just for a quick look-see, mind.
Meanwhile, Back At Pinhead University: the Dean of Students is working on his orientation speech.
"I've got Flash going in circles... at super-speed" a smug Captain Boomerang gloats, inwardly. "He can't figure out my latest stunt! And yet it's so simple --
[UNCA CHEEKS' ASIDE: ... well... it would almost have to be, wouldn't it...?]
"... something my very active brain worked out in jail!" (Yeah. Right. Whatever.)
Said "simple" stunt, in plain point of fact, turns out to have been [Pick One]:
A.) "... this time-travel boomerang! When I throw it a certain way, its vibrations carry it into the future!"
B.) "... this transformation boomerang! When I throw it a certain way, the vibrations morph me into a far mightier costumed super- villain! Like the Calendar Man, say... or maybe even the Top!"
C.) "... this chiropractor boomerang! When I toss it a certain way, the vibrations throw my back out!"
D.) "... mutual funds! Screw this 'costumed super-villain' crap! We're talkin' high-yield interest bearing bearer bonds! We're talkin' coffee futures! We're talkin' PORK BELLIES, even-- !"
As luck would have it (mind that I don't call it good luck, necessarily): the Captain's "time-travel boomerangs" have been be-bopping their merry way through a completely alien aspect of the chronal-spatial continuum.
"The world that this object comes from," one of the alien residents therein opines, upon witnessing the arc of yet another "time-travel boomerang" whizzing through their other-worldly air space, "must be getting ready to attack us! We must attack first!"
(Well, don't look at me, f'chrissakes. I didn't write it.)
(I mean: are these the bone stupidest aliens evereverever, or what? A chunk o' wood is seen in the skies over their typically ultra-advanced ubercity -- a curved stick, mind, now; not much bigger than your hand, for cry-yi-yi -- and they figure its the vanguard of an extra-dimensional invasion force?!? JEEzus! Good thing no butterflies ever showed up; they might've started preparing for the imminent arrival of Galactus or somethin'. I'm just sayin', is all.)
Well. Anyway: the redoubtable Ralph arrives in Central City, in full spandexed regalia; to the not-inconsiderable consternation and bewildermenrt of the city's locals.
"I like people looking at me!" the Elongated Exhibitionist cheerily confesses, at one point. "I guess that's why I always wear my Elongated Man uniform in public... my trademark!"
(" [...] that's why I always wear my [costume] in public"...? Always?!? Even at the McDonald's drive-through? Even when buying socks at Sears? Even when passing by the local elementary school playground -- ?!?
(I... ummmmmm... I think I know why "people" are "looking" at you, Mr. Dibny, sir.
(You twisted, degenerate animal freak, you.)
Tracking down buddy Flash at the museum (he has no "life" apparently, either. Just... y'know... hangs out in the general area of the Egyptian Art exhibit, most nights. With his pants off.), Ralph mulls over their joint options, re: safeguarding said establishment's rare and irreplaceable "collection of Chinese jade"...
... and then: the Gomer Pyle of the super-villain set waltzes into the room.
"Naturally I'm here, Flash," the little weenie silkily avers. "I have to establish an alibi in case anything... errr... happens to that jade, you know! Otherwise, I'd be the prime suspect! Ha! Ha!"
"He's mocking us, Ralph," a glowering Flash seethes at his spandexed buddy; "... as if challenging us to pin these crimes on him!" (There's just no fooling the trained and experienced Silver Age DC Comics super-hero, is there...?)
Once again, a boomerang mysteriously appears right out of bloody nowhere; and (once again) said Aussie toy scoops up the very gimcrack being guarded by Flash and Elongated Man, and promptly hightails it out the nearest conveniently open window.
Working in not-too-terribly-silly tandem, the Scarlet Speedster and the Ductile Detective manage to snare the wayward wooden dingus; the better to muse and ponder over it, in turn.
"If our wily foe is behind this stunt," a smug speedster all but gloats, "his fingerprints should appear on this boomerang! And if they do, we've got him!"
Obviously, the Fastest Man Alive (who, God wot, isn't exactly keeping the Batman awake most nights, worrying about that "World's Greatest Detective" rep) hasn't thought things all the way through on this one. The "wily" (*kaff*kaff*) Captain Boomerang's costume comes equipped with gloves, after all; and it's manifestly unlikely that even an umpteen-
time loser such of his dubious caliber would ever be so blind horse stupid as to... to...
"My fingerprints?!?" the rodent-like rogue bleats inwardly, whilst attempting to scamper. "Holy smoke! I didn't always wear my gloves while handling that boomerang! I've got to get out of here!"
Okay... so. Two quick observations, at this juncture in the storytelling proceedings:
1.) I've got a nine-year-old at home who could out-cogitate all three of these JEOPARDY contestant wannabes.
2.) Go ahead: laugh at Boomerang, if you wanna.
Just bear in mind, however: he was one of the Flash's arch-enemies, for something like... I dunno... eleventy-gazillion years or so (give or take). Gave him all sorts of fits, all that time, too.
So: what does that say about Our Hero, then, in this particular instance...?
Just as the Flash zips forward and collars the scrambling super-baddie, the latter frantically gestures towards the following page and shrills: "Flash, wait! LOOK -- !"
"What in thunder -- ?" a plainly flabbergasted Flash manages to blurt.
"People stretched out in the street," Boomerang helpfully observes. "Crawling on all fours, as if they can hardly move -- !"
(Oh. So... it's sorta like Ft. Lauderdale during spring break, then...?)
"... strange creatures," one of the prostrate and glassy-eyed pedestrians wheezes, when questioned; "... like beings from another world... shooting queer weapons..."
(Naaaaaahhhh. Too easy. Particularly given that one of the members of our gaudily spandexed trio is wearing a long, poofy scarf... and another one is Ralph "My Life Was Ultimately Given Meaning By Watching Semi-Naked Older Men Contort Themselves" Dibny. I'm just sayin', is all.)
"Over here, Flash!" Ralph interjects. "There's an announcement over the television... there's a set on in this store!"
After calmly informing the excited Ralph that what he's watching is, in plain point of fact, an old re-run of CHARLES IN CHARGE -- which (Christ knows) certainly could be mistaken as evidence of an alien invasion -- the Flash changes channels; and the trio is rewarded by the sight of an ashen newscaster solemnly intoning the following [Pick One]:
A.) "... and by some mysterious radiation, the aliens have neutralized all our weapons! Our armed forces are helpless! The government is being called on to surrender! The aliens are equipped with fatigue guns!"
B.) "... and the very first thing the invading aliens did was to drag a hysterically screeching and blubbering Will Smith out onto the White House lawn. And then take turns... doing things to him. For hours and hours, even."
C.) "When reached for comment, Superman; Hawkman; and the Martian Manhunter all merely chuckled quietly and murmured: "... alien beings, you say...? Heh-heh-heh... big, mean, nastybad aaaaaaaliens, picking on the poor, widdle helpwess humans...? MWAH-ha-haaa -- !"
D.) "No. Seriously. 'Fatigue Guns.' Says so, right on the handles."
"We've got to use our special powers to fight these invaders, Ralph!" a grim-visaged Flash stoutly avers.
"Right!" the Elongated Man readily agrees. "It's we two against the invaders!"
"Make that we three!" Captain Boomerang chirrups, in summation. "Give me a chance, Flash! I... I want to fight for our world against these alien creatures!"
For reasons which surely passeth all human understanding (unless the two heroes are simply thinking: "... ahhhhh...what the hell... kinda skinny to work as a shield, mebbe... buuuuuuuut..."), Flash and Elongated Man both nod assent; and the ferocious, juggernaut-like alien armada is promptly made mincemeat of by The Fastest Creature In the Entire Bloody Universe (formidable); A Guy Whose Balled Fists Possess All the Same Awesome Consistency of Wet Play-Doh (ummmmm...); and Some Poodle Wanker Who Lobs Curved Sticks At People (... oh, c'mon, now...).
Somewhere along the way, however: Boomerang manages to get his grubby little mitts on one of the aliens' aforementioned "fatigue guns"... and (oh, golly; who ever could have seen this one coming?) promptly turns its rays upon the two super-heroes, the very instant Earth has been liberated, once more.
Upon regaining whatever it is he's been using in the place of actual consciousness all throughout this sorry business, the Scarlet Speedster is nonplussed to discover himself trussed and strapped onto a... a...
... well: just look at it, f'chrissakes. [See page reproduction, below]
Just makes you wanna go find out where John Broome's kids live and whack the holy living crap outta them, doesn't it...?
"You haven't licked me yet, Captain Boomerang!" a belligerent Flash snarls (having forgotten, apparently, about that one drunken weekend at the "Bide-A-Wee" Econo-Lodge during the annual Silver Age Heroes and Villains "mixer," a few years back.)
"Haven't licked you?" the oh-so-sensitive super-baddie shoots back. "Listen... when I shoot off this huge space boomerang that I prepared especially for this purpose... it will carry you into a perpetual orbit around the moon! You're finished, Flash!"
" [...] this huge space boomerang..." "[...] especially for this purpose..."
Well: it's just as the huuuuuuge "space boomerang" (I may never get tired of typing those words, really. Space... boomerang. SPACE. Boomerang. Spaaaaaaaaace... BOOOOOOOOMerang.) is finally well on its way to achieving escape velocity that a groggy and reeling Ralph Dibny finally manages to shrug himself awake. [See page reproduction, below]
"Tired or not," the doughty (if dough-like) warrior resolves; "... I've got to catch that boomerang before it gets out of reach! Flash's life is at stake!"
(... because God alone knows but that the captive Flash couldn't possibly do anything as patently ridiculous or out of character as... oh, I dunno... say... vibrating himself out of those ropes, there... or simply undoing the knots, at super-speed...
(... or even maybe just patiently hanging on and enjoying the bloody ride until the big, dopey "space boomerang" completes its proscribed arc and comes right back to the point where it STARTED, even. I mean: it's a freakin' BOOMERANG, for the love of Allah! A BOOOOOOMERANG! It. Will. Come. Back. Helloooooo -- !)
"Thanks a million, Ralph!" a grateful Flash enthuses, upon being (*snort*) "rescued" from A Certain Fate Worse Than... Whatever. "You can let go of me now -- !"
(Boyoboy... get the little freakazoid away from his long-suffering wife for just a day or two, and suddenly it's Alternative Lifestyle City, isn't it...?)
"The Flash overtakes his foe with such a burst of speed" (the accompanying caption wearily provides) "... that the wind from his passing -- like a fierce, hurricane wind -- knocks the legs out from Captain Boomerang..." (Ewwwwwwwwwwww -- !) [See page reproduction, below]
("The wind from his passing" is "like a fierce, hurricane wind"...?)
So: this time out, ol' Ralphie Boy actually managed to pull something like his own (negligible) weight, when called upon to do so.
In other words: a marked step up from his initial spandexed offing, to be sure...
... but: could the still-wet-behind-the-domino-mask hero do the same, one wonders, if pressed to do so by some hero other than the genial and forgiving likes of Barry Allen?
Someone along the lines of... oh, say...
... the Batman?
It's one thing, winning the trust and/or admiration of a perennially grinning congenital "nice guy" the likes of, say, Barry [FLASH] Allen.
It's a whole 'nother one, scoring in the spandexed gut-check competition with the big, bad bat.
"The Secret War of the Phantom General" [DETECTIVE COMICS #343; September, 1965; John Broome, author; Carmine Infantino, artist] opens up with the the "New Look" Silver Age Batman and Robin vroom-
vrooming their merry masked way in the general direction of Gotham City Police Commissioner James Gordon.
"... and Commissioner Gordon didn't say what our friend Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man, wants to see us about, Batman?" a curious Teen Wonder plaintively inquires of his masked mentor.
"No, Robin," the Darknight Detective replies. "Over the Hot- Line, Gordon told me only that Ralph was impatiently waiting for us at the New Gotham Hotel... where he and his wife Sue always stay during their visits here!"
(... and that's something that always puzzled the holy heck out of your painstakingly rational Unca Cheeks, now that he mentions it: that whole "Hot-Line" business, as popularized in the public sentiment by the live-action BATMAN television show of the same era. Why does Commissioner Gordon need both a "Hot-Line" and a "Bat-Signal" in order to reach everybody's favorite Caped Crusader? And how in the name of Alexander Graham Bell -- several decades before the advent of the cellular phone, mind -- did they ever manage to establish a working phone line between police headquarters and a spot directly underneath " 'Stately' Wayne Manor" without immediately and irrevocably queering the Dark Knight's whole "secret identity" shtick in the first place? I mean: somebody had to lay down some serious, serious phone cable between the two points, at some point along the telecommunication way... si? And -- bloody hell -- couldn't any half-bright Gotham telephone operator trace the location of said line, under those circumstances? I mean... geez-o-pete -- !)
Well... in any event: several dozen gunsels and assorted hardcases are robbing the Gotham City Train Terminal; whilst in continual walkie-
talkie communication with a mysterious and unseen individual referenced only as "The General."
Pinned down under a withering fusillade of machine gun fire immediately upon their arrival [see page reproduction, above], Batman and Robin nonetheless recover quickly; barreling into their opponents with the sort of practiced athleticism and intelligent derring-do long their established four-color trademark.
Even so, however: the Dynamic Duo are startled by the sheer and meticulous brilliance with which each of their combative strategies is met, re: the genius-inspired gangsters. A pre-arranged "getaway" smokescreen is activated, precisely on cue; their escape route has not only been plotted out in advance, but padlocked versus pursuit; and even on-site medical support for any/all of their fallen comrades (!!).
Fuming post the sting of allowing the gunsels in question to effect an uncharacteristic (in Gotham City, anyway) getaway, the Batman rasps:
" [...] the crooks operated like a well-trained army...! They used military tactics... covered their rear with a machine gun... even had stretcher-bearers to carry off their wounded!"
Later on, that same evening -- while visiting with the vacationing Ralph [Elongated Man] Dibny, at the New Gotham Hotel -- the Darknight Detective and the Boy Wonder repeat said assessment in front of the Stretchable Sleuth; who responds, in turn, with a cool and insightful: "A... A what?!?"
"What's the matter, Ralph?" a solicitous Batman inquires of his costumed comrade. "What's wrong -- ?"
... and, at this point: John Broome makes A Very Special Guest Appearance.
No. Seriously. John freakin' BROOME.
"As the writer of this story," the (quite frankly) preternaturally gaunt and spooky-seeming Broome solemnly intones; "... I must warn you, reader, that you're in for a startling surprise!" (What... you mean more "startling" than the unexpected [and unsettling] sight of this guy's mug, staring back at us from the pages of DETECTIVE COMICS magazine? Sweet Jesus have mercy.)
Where the following panels rank, comparatively, on the ol' Startle-O-
Meter is (of course) a matter of personal preference and inner resolve; but our Shocking Revelation Du Jour, in this instance, is the sudden appearance, stage right, of one pudgy, balding and monocled Otto Preminger lookalike by the name of "General Von Dort, formerly of the Afrika Korps -- at your service!" [See page reproduction, above]
"I fought in Africa in World War Two!" a startled underworld denizen blurts, upon the military maladroit's gliding onto the flashbacked scene. "Von Dort almost beat us! But he's dead -- he was with Hitler in that fatal Berlin bunker!" [See page reproduction, below]
"So you were led to believe," the Nazi No-Goodnik simpers, pleased to have been spared the inconvenience of trotting out his resume himself. "But, as you see, I am very much alive! I have given up conventional warfare to become a General of Crime! And you men of the underworld shall become my army! My military-slanted crimes will make us all rich!"
"Sounds great, General," one of the henchmen-to-be agreeably... ummmm... agrees; "... but let me ask you something... how do you know one of us won't turn informant, and give you away to the authorities?"
"YOU WOULDN'T DARE!!" Herr General quips back with sweet equanimity, playfully treating the glassy-eye gunsel to a little impromptu mental "WWF Smackdown!"-type action.
"He's right!" the rabbity recidivist stammers inwardly, eyes wide and unblinking. "I... I wouldn't dare!"
"Now with that flashback out of the way," the Spectre morosely informs us; "... we can return to the present"; where --
"Now with that flashback out of the way," author J-O-H-N B-R-O-O-M-E morosely informs us; "... we can return to the present"; where a nattily-attired Ralph Dibny is regaling Gotham's Guardians with a little backstory of his own.
"... and Sue and I just returned from a tour of South America," the Ductile Detective informs them, idly playing with the cunningly carved "Larry, the Anatomically Correct Llama" figurine he'd manage to smuggle through Customs. "While there, I came across a fantastic rumor! The natives there speak about [Pick One] -- ":
A.) "... a nest of ex-Nazis, fugitives from World War Two, and led by the brilliant but evil General Von Dort!"
B.) "... a nest of ex-Nazis, fugitives from World War Two, and led by a godless cabal of lame, washed-up '70s and '80s pop stars! We're talkin' Barry Manilow, here! We're talkin' Lionel Richie! We're maybe even talkin' --" [visibly repressing a shudder] " -- Kenny Loggins, for the luvva Allah! KENNY FREAKIN' LOGGINS, maaaaaaannnnn -- !"
C.) "... a nest of rich, psychopathic, sexually deranged expatriate Americans, who all enjoy taking limber, willowy adolescent boys; tarting them up in cute li'l domino masks and capes; and forcing them to perform carnal atrocities of the most foul and degenerate sort! Oh... 'Angel,' 'Stefan' and 'Blaine' all asked me to say 'kiss-kiss,' incidentally."
D.) "... well... God alone knows what, actually. Almost makes me wish I'd actually bothered to learn that silly, make-believe language of theirs, in retrospect. [chuckling good-naturedly] Hey! Check out what the llama does, when you lift his tail up -- !"
"Quickly" (the following caption breathlessly provides); "... plans are laid, and a course of action agreed upon..."
" [...] you'll continue your spadework as the Elongated Man," the Batman informs The Tourist-y Tyro; "... trying to learn all you can about Von Dort! While Robin and I will try to pick up his trail in the underworld!" (One really does hope -- possibly in vain, with the nightmarish visage of John Broome still green and hideous in memory -- that said "underworld" has little or nothing to do with the stench of burning sulphur, or the shrill, piteous shriekings of the dead and the damned.)
"Two evenings later" -- because, hell; what's the hurry, right? -- as a worried pair of crime-fighters cruises through the metropolis," a grim Batman shares his darkest suspicions with a wide-eyed and worshipful Boy Wonder; to wit: " [...] that, sooner or later, another military-style crime is going to hit the city!"
(It's a sweet, cushy gig; this whole "World's Greatest Detective" business. Once you've established that all-important "rep" for yourself... you can just... y'know... coast.)
"Of course," he continues; "... we can't always expect to be Johnny- on-the-spot when it happens! But... if we could get there in time to take some prisoners... question them... "
Your Cheap'N'Nasty Unca Cheeks would have been willing to pay top dollar and then some to find out what sort of "questioning," precisely, awaits one of the Batman's squirming and helpless "prisoners" (for some reason, the mental image of a sweating and leering Bruce Wayne -- nekkid, except for six-inch stiletto heels and a hot pink feathered boa; undulating clumsily to the phonographic strains of Maurice Chevalier's "Thank Heaven For Little Girls" -- persists and persists)...
... but: another military-style crime hits the city. [See page reproduction, above]
"A mammoth auction of famous art works and antiques is being held [at Gotham Park] tonight," the Caped Crusader announces, whilst tracking the trajectory of a passel o' gun-toting parachutists in the distance. "That auction could be the target selected by the General for his latest military caper... with those parachutists spearheading the surprise attack!"
The proverbial "element of surprise" must be more common than driveway gravel, then, within the paneled borders of the DCU; because said "surprise attack" includes such stealthy, ninja-like strategies as " [...] blowing up the road... trying to seal off the area of their crime!" [See page reproduction, above]
Such concussive cunning, however, scarcely even slows the Dynamic Duo; and -- moments later -- the pair is once again sending their respective foemen scattering like so many tommygun-toting tenpins, as explicated with penciler Carmine Infantino's typical lyricism and intelligence.
This time out, the end-result of such frenzied fisticuffs is a nice, fat chalk mark on the good guys' side of the ledger: the fascistic felons are convincingly routed, and the aforementioned "famous art works and antiques" remain unmolested.
"At that moment, however," we are informed (via whispered auctorial aside); "... in a laboratory in Gotham City," Herr General (aided and abetted by his trusted second-in-command, Heinrich) is looting a massive vault of an ominous-looking canister of something-or-another.
"Now we can relax, Heinrich!" the General mirthlessly chuckles; crading said canister to his portly and aging bosom. "We have what we came to get... and, in a few days, the entire world will be at the mercy of General Von Dort!"
"Nothing can stop you, My General!" Heinrich simpers; still working his oily way towards that much-coveted "Sucking Up" merit badge. "Nothing!"
So saying, the Teutonic Twosome hie themselves aboard the very next flight headed in the general overall direction of South America; there to turn their twisted, gnarled hands towards doing Satan's black and ruinous work. Or whatever.
Two days after that (nobody -- but no-damned-body -- rushes the Batman, by golly!): the Darknight Detective; his teen protege; and Ralph "Busily-Redefining-the-Concept-of-Complete-and-Total-Uselessness" Dibny are busily swapping notions and notes, re: Crime-Fighting Dos and Don'ts.
"I'm sorry I didn't get to fight by your side in that second military caper, Batman," the Elongated Man apologizes. "But from all I've heard, you two did all right without me!" (Oh. Gee. Thanks, Mister PlayDough Pal, Sir. Anything to merit your approval. You darn betcha.)
"Listen," the Conceited Contortionist continues. "I had asked an old buddy of mine who was in the O.S.S. to check up on General Von Dort's background! He found that just before Germany surrendered, Von Dort was in charge of a highly secret project... to develop a death ray!"
"My O.S.S. pal says that the Nazi plans were very advanced," Ralph continues; "... but apparently, they lacked a vital radioactive metal isotope called M-244 to complete their fantastic weapon!"
" [...] and at the very hour when the 'military caper' took place at the charity auction in Gotham Park," a grim-visaged Batman concludes; "... someone broke into a top-security labratory, here in Gotham City, and got away with a full canister of M-244! That thief must have been Von Dort! And it means those army-style criminal forays he mounted were only a cover-up!" [See page reproduction, above]
Obviously, such a gargantuan and indigestible chunk of Plot Exposition can only mean one thing, ultimately: SUPER-HERO ROAD TRIP! (Woooooo -- !!)
Utilizing a handy (swear to Jesus) "nuclear detection device" of the Caped Crusader's own invention, the true-hearted trio all clamber aboard the former's ubiquitous "Bat-Plane"; and -- before you can say "The Boys From Brazil" -- quickly track down the heretofore hidden location of Von Dort's super-secret Nazi bunker, "hidden high in the Andes Mountains."
Espying a purple-garbed sentry nearby, drawing a bead on the arriving altruists with his Daisy air rifle, the Elongated Man moves swiftly to counter-attack by means of his least vulnerable appendage. (Maybe even his least valuable one, if long-suffering wife Sue Dibny's notorious tell-all memoir -- He Made Me Feel Like the Lincoln Tunnel, ALLLLLLL Night Long -- is to be believed.)
(... and, say: check out that Bat-Plane, in the page reproduction above. Are jets normally s'posed to... y'know... land like that? I mean: standing straight UP, like a frickin' flagpole -- ?!?)
"Himmel!" the cry goes up, as dozens upon dozens of similarly ineptly-
attired Hessian henchmen come thundering out of the nearby barracks like... well... a bunch of henchmen, really. "The American pair of crime-
fighters... Batman and Robin!"
"... and don't forget the Elongated Man!" a jovial Ralph chirrups in cheery summation, like... well... an ineffectual and egocentric jerkweed.
As the Dynamic Duo set about the wholesome business of jacking some long-overdue Nazi jaws and suchlike, the Elongated Man demonstrates those oft-referenced and little-seen "deduction" abilities of his, re: the speedy stalking and cornering of General Von Dort. (i.e., he stretches his head into various conveniently open windows, making noises like a wounded Werner Klemperer.)
The good news: Ralph stumbles across General Von Dort.
The bad news: Ralph stumbles across General Von Dort.
"Now, you American snooper," the monocled malevoloent mockingly murmurs; "... you will do exactly as I command!"
"That power coming from his monocle," the mind-numbed myrmidon inwardly muses; "... it's affected me... my brain! Can't... throw it off -- !"
... and -- with no more preamble than that -- the dazed and dazzled Dibny de-elongates back down to ground level...
... and promptly does his level best to throttle the holy heck out of Gotham's Dynamic Duo. [See page reproduction, above]
"Can't move," a panicky Boy Wonder wheezes, whilst attempting to fend off Ralph's left leg. (Only on this site do you ever get to see sentences like that, by God!) "Like being squeezed... in a vise!"
"For Ralph's sake," a ferociously struggling Batman manages to husk; "... and ours... we've got to free ourselves, Robin! Listen... follow my lead... quick!" Whereupon, the twin tornados take out the ensorcled Elongated Man by [Pick One]:
A.) ... cunningly maneuvering to squeeze the very breath out of him with his own elasticized limbs.
B.) ... finding a gigantic Sunday newspaper, and using his freakish face to make fun impressions of various comic strip characters.
C.) ... dressing up a hysterically blubbering Robin as wife Sue Dibny, and... ummmm... distracting him. And then getting the Boy Wonder some much-needed reconstructive surgery.
D.) ... oh, hell: they just taking turns whacking the holy living crap out of the silly little spandexed wannabe. I mean... the Elongated Man, f'chrissakes
"Breath-taking moments later..." (Boy... that John Broome. Whatta card, huh...?)
"Von Dort..." Ralph manages to gasp, scant seconds before slipping into blissful unconsciousness; "... his monocle... danger...!"
"Monocle?" a plainly perplexed Batman echoes; clearly having forgotten, in the midst of all this excitement, that the Reich-inspired rogue he's been pursuing for the better part of a bloody week by this point is, in fact, sporting a distinctively uni-focular appearance.
An over-eager Boy Wonder attempts to square spandexed accounts with a suddenly appearing Von Dort, by kulturkampfing him in the mouth eight or ten times; only to find himself afforded no better treatment, ultimately, than the similarly stunned Ralph.
Thankfully for all involved, however: there's a for-real super-hero on the premises.
Afterwards -- with a suitably K.O.'d Von Dort having been duly carted away by the appropriate authorities (chained and manacled, one hopes, in a small, window-less room somewhere; with a grainy, 16mm print of ILSA: SHE-WOLF OF THE S.S. being projected against the far wall. Over and over and over again.) -- the Batman, after examining the General's machinery, informs his partners that:
"This death ray Von Dort was working on would have killed anything in its range! If he had been allowed to perfect it [...] millions of people would have died, in his march to world conquest!"...
... which (let's face it) is a not-inconsiderable step upwards, "props"-
wise, from having "Once Managed To Poke Captain Boomerang A Good One" as the high point on your super-hero resume.
So: that's a legitimate "gimme" for the ol' Ralphster, then.
Well: we've seen enough of how DC's resident Stretchable Sleuth handles things whilst yoked in tandem with the bigger kids on the four-color block, I think.
Various DC Comics scripters have advanced the notion, over the years, that Ralph [Elongated Man] Dibny is better than fair-to-middlin' in the ol' Sherlock Holmes department; some even going so far as to aver (somewhat grandiosely, in your Bat-besotted Unca Cheeks' resolute opinion) that he is only a notch ot two below the high-water mark established by Gotham City's own Batman, in said regard.
Ralph Dibny is, most assuredly, up to putative "snuff" whenever the conundrum in question involves (say) which inheritor bumped off the rich old dowager; or (again, say) the whos and hows behind a particularly ingenious bank robbery; no doubt about that, by golly, by jingo...
... but: c'mon, now. :-)) Can you even imagine what Gotham City would be like, if it was this guy regularly matching wits with the evil, stone brilliant likes of the Joker, or Ra's al Ghul, f'chrissakes...?
Nonetheless: during the well-executed tenure of his DETECTIVE COMICS back-up berth, in the 1960's...
... the ductile Mr. Dibny: he did piece hisself together a neat little whodunnit or three, back in the storytelling day.
"The Man Who Hated Money" [DETECTIVE COMICS #347; January, 1966; author unknown; Carmine Infantino, artist] opens up with a sequence in which Silver City disc jockey Flip Phillips is held up at gunpoint in an alleyway by a masked gunman. [See page reproductive, below]
"Cool that trigger finger, man!" the sweating Maynard G. Krebbs lookalike stammers at the grinning holdup artist. "You can have anything I own... outside my life!"
Upon liberating his terrified victim of the latter's lawful lucre, however: said robber does not pocket dem ol' greenback dollahs, and dart away into the anonymity of the shadows...
... but, rather -- snarling: "I hate money, pal! I hate it worse than anything!" -- shreds the proffered largesse into half a hundred itsty- bitsy, teensy-weensy pieces (!!).
"Like, crazy, folks!" Phillips later informs his listening audience. "That's just how it happened! That far-out crook actually jigsawed my long green! Now, why'd he do a kooky thing like that?"
The following morning: Sue Dibny -- patient and long-suffering wife to husband (and big, overgrown spandexed kid, if truth be known) Ralph -- espies an attention-snaring headline in the newspaper, over breakfast; cocks one elegantly arched eyebrow; and phones down to the hotel desk.
"Desk service?" she purrs. "Please send a bellboy right away. We're checking out." [See page reproduction, above]
"What gives, honey?" a perplexed Ralph inquires, over a cup of coffee. "I thought you wanted to look over the historical sights in town?"
"Page Eight; Column One," Sue mutters, lobbing the offending newspaper in her hubby's general direction whilst moving with implacable purpose towards their luggage.
"A robber who tears up money and throws it away?" the ductile half of the detecting duo exclaims, quickly skimming the printed particulars. "A thief who hates the loot he steals? What in the world -- ?"
"There it goes," a bleakly bemused Sue observes, as her husband's patrician proboscis begins to waggle back and forth like unto the dorsal of a sexually excited porpoise; "... mystery-scenting time! Which means we're on the move again!"
(... and your stern and remonstrative Unca Cheeks would just like to go on the record -- here and bloody now -- that said little idiosyncratic "character trait" is easily, hands down, one of the eight or ten all-time grossest in all of recorded mainstream comics history; right up there with, say, Doctor Octopus' disgusting little "habit" of picking his nose with those mechanical tentacles, whenever [he thinks] no one is looking; or that... that thing Jay [Flash] Garrick used to do with live chickens, and that funky metal chapeau of his. I'm just sayin', here, is all.)
Checking in with the officers on duty at the Silver City police station, Ralph is amazed to discover that the cash-loathing cutpurse has struck yet again; this time opting for wiggy local avant garde artist (Jesus whack me with a stick if I lie) Hannibal Holiday.
(We can tell he's The Real Deal, artist-wise, see; because our high-
falutin' Hannibal is gadding about -- in public, mind -- a paint-spattered smock; a long, foppy cravat wound 'round his neck; and a beret about which even fabled french ham Maurice Chevalier might think twice before donning, beyond the forgiving environs of a child's birthday party.)
His story is absolutely identical in the particulars to that of disc jokey Phillips -- masked gunman; machete'd monies; etcetera -- in every way, save for the additional aside on the former's part that Holiday should tell anyone who will listen that [Pick One]:
A.) "Ha-ha-ha! I hate money! Pass the message along!"
B.) "... and I'm going to keep on doing this until the U.S. government listens to me, and starts printing in happy, slappy decorator colors! On octagonal bills! The size of BEDSHEETS -- !"
C.) "I tried making a criminal 'name' for myself last year, as 'The Man Who Hated Condominiums'! You can't even imagine what trying to tear one of those babies in half is like -- !"
D.) [favoring Holiday's latest work-in-progress with a withering sneer]: "... and you have the unmitigated gall to call yourself an artiste? PFAH! Where's the elephant dung? Elephant dung is de rigueur this season, you pig-ignorant philistine -- !"
Confronted by such a confounding covey of clues as these, Ralph quickly elects to confide the nature of his investigative stratagem with the ever-loyal Sue. [See page reproduction, accompanying]
"Honey," the dutiful Dibny informs her; "... we're going on a spending spree! I want to flash a big, fat bankroll... in the hopes that this money-
hating bandit tries to hold me up!"
"What a wonderful idea," an eager Sue assents. "You'll catch the crook... and I'll get the 'reward'!"
[NOTE TO ALL THE LADIES READING ALONG, ON THIS ONE: Lookit... I just work here, all right? :-)) I support The Friends of Lulu AND the Women In Refrigerators web site. And I'm old. And frail. Kammerad! KAMMERAD -- !)
"And so" (the following caption silkily provides) "... while Sue remains in her hotel room after dark, Ralph goes for a stroll that pays off even quicker than he hoped when -- " [See page reproduction, accompanying]
"This is a stick-up!" a blandly smug Ralph is informed, at gunpoint. "Any guy that shows off a wad of dough like you deserves to be taken!"
"Obviously, this man has a psychological problem," the man who once dedicated the entirety of his existence to belly-crawling after fleabag carnivals and circuses -- in order to grovel and drool at the feet of sweating, limber older men, mind -- muses, handing over his billfold. "Maybe I can get a hint of what it is, before he goes into his money-
tearing act -- "
"Man," the bandit whistles appreciatively, thumbing through the detective's stash; "... what a haul!"
"Hey!" an aggravated Ralph exclaims, as his assailant dashes off. "What about the money? You're supposed to tear it up -- !"
"Tear up five hundred SMACKEROOS?" the gunman sniggers. "Are you kidding -- ?!?"
Oh, yeah. This guy's in the Batman's weight division, detective-wise. Yooooouuuuuuuu betcha.
Well: loping after the offending criminal mastermind on elongated legs like some great, angry purple ostrich, Ralph quickly catches up to him (as well as the man's hidden partner); pimp-slapping them both into convenient unconsciousness, for ease of carrying to the nearest constabulary...
... where the thunderstruck detective is startled, in turn, by news of yet a third hold-up at the hands of the (increasingly) notorious money-
hating robber! [See page reproduction, above]
Stage actress Rhoda Marr -- accompanied by her current leading man, August Clemens -- tells the following tale of fiscal woe, while a cluster of newspaper reporters lolling about nearby scribble obligingly:
"As you dear boys know," the Tallulah Bankhead wannabe husks; "... our show Heart To Heart opened tonight... to an almost empty house, I might add! And, after the performance -- "
" -- we got into my car," her fellow actor continues, picking up the storytelling thread; "... and there was this masked chap, gun in hand!"
"I hate money, you understand," the robber informs the frankly nonplussed pair, helping himself to their bankrolls. "That's why I must go around tearing it up!"
"HA HA HA!" the berserkoid bandit cackles, fleeing the scene of the crime whilst scattering newly-shredded monies about him. "Soon, there won't be any money left ANYWHERE -- !"
Either this guy is one of the most devious and calculating criminal geniuses ever, in the history of the DC Comics universe entire...
... or else he's Alan Greenspan, working double overtime on that pesky "inflation" problem.
The following day -- whilst perplexed hubby Ralph continues his (so far) fruitless sleuthing, re: The Money-Molesting Malcontent -- wife Sue Dibny attempts to amuse herself by taking in an art exhibit, featuring works created by (small world, ain't it?) noted local art crank (and previous hold-up victim) Hannibal Holiday.
"I guess the crowd was drawn to this art show for the same reason I was," Sue ponders, observing the massive and serpentine line of faddists and rubberneckers attending said show, due to artist Holiday's newly- minted notoriety.
Standing in said line, Sue also overhears an increasingly omnipresent Flip Phillips-penned pop ditty -- i.e., "The Man Who Hated Money" -- blaring from a string of successive transistor radios.
"Good idea," she muses; "... putting out a song with that catchy title!"
(Why, oh why does a jaded and cynical, '60's-Top 40-weaned Unca Cheeks envision this opportunistic little bit of quasi-musical ephemera sounding very much like some lesser something from the studiedly atonal oeuvres of -- say -- Gary Lewis and The Playboys; or maybe even John Fred and His Playboy Band...?)
Opting to take in a quick matinee performance of Rhoda Marr's "Heart To Heart," Sue is confronted yet again by an example of just how very heavily, indeed, The Anti-Money Anti-Social weighs on the minds of the local citizenry.
"Sorry, lady," the theatre's ticket taker offers, apologetically. "There's been a sudden rush for tickets! We've sold out for the rest of our performance!"
It is, therefore, an uncharacteristically glum and grumpy Sue who greets her huntsman hubby, upon his return to their hotel room.
"I just wish that money-hating bandit would hold me up," Sue grouses. "I'd like to be doing as well as his victims!"
(... and this, mind you, is from a woman who's just been treated to the king mack daddy of all shopping sprees by her endlessly indulgant meal ticket -- !)
"Honey!" Ralph exclaims, eyes widening in sudden comprehension. "You're an angel! You just solved my mystery for me!"
Now... notice, please:
At no point does (putative) "detective" Ralph Dibny gather up anything even remotely resembling a legitimate, honest-to-Sherlock clue, whilst "investigating" the mystery in question.
To the extent that ANY "sleuthing" (in the traditional and commonly accepted sense of the word) is done at ALL: it is the bored and restless SUE Dibny who does so.
Hold on to that point, friends.
We'll be revisiting it soon enough, come Page Five.
Doing something so indescribably disgusting with his lips that it all but beggars Unca Cheeks' ability to keep from bolting from the room, shrieking like a schoolgirl: Ralph resolves to wrap the case up in his own... ummmmmm... inimitable style. To wit:
" [...] on the stage of the Silver City Theatre -- in the presence of my invited guests -- the victims of the money-hating robber!" The silly, showboating goober.
"I've gathered you here together," the now-costumed Elongated Man informs radio personality Phillips; artist Holiday; and stage diva Marr, the following morning; "... to expose the money-hating rob -- "
The sound of a gunshot, from the direction of the manager's office.
Bounding to the rescue, Ralph is confronted by the same two cutpurses as a few evenings before, helping themselves to the theatre's cash receipts.
Even for the (normally) non-combative Ralph... this is pretty much of a "gimme." The pair don't even keep him decently occupied for the duration of an entire page.
So: it was actually these two luckless louts who were behind the whole "I-Hate-Money" scam, then... right?
"Actually," a stern and disapproving Ralph lectures, once the maladroit malefactors having been hauled away to the local hoosegow; "... there never was a 'money-hating robber'!"
"He was a creation of Flip Phillips, the disc jockey!" Ralph continues. "He dreamed up the whole thing, to publicize a new song he had written -- 'The Man Who Hated Money'!"
(... which he was playing over his own radio station, an alert and attentive Unca Cheeks is quick to point out. Which -- correct me if I'm grazing in the cloven fields of irreversible error, here -- is kinda sorta illegal, isn't it? Or don't they have "payola" and racketeering laws on the books, within the DCU...?)
"The story was a fake?" one of the others stammers, goggle-eyed and incredulous.
"... and we fell for it!" another murmurs, bitterly.
"... because you all needed the publicity desperately," a coldly furious Ralph concludes; "... you [all] decided to pretend that this 'money-hating bandit' held you up, too!" (Apparently, they don't have radio, TV or newspaper advertising in this corner of the cosmos, either.)
Okay... admittedly: it's not exactly up there with Rex Stout's IN THE BEST FAMILIES, or Ellery Queen's THE PLAYER ON THE OTHER SIDE...
... but: it was a honest-to-gosh'un mystery --
(... such as it was, anyway...)
-- AND: he did actually manage to crack it, all by his lonesome.
Which is still more impressive, achievement-wise, than whupping up on the sorry, spandexed likes of Captain Boomerang.
I'm just sayin', is all.
Let's look at one more of Ralph Dibny's DETECTIVE COMICS solo puzzlers, before winding up our lengthy Elongated Man retrospective... shall we?
If the (so-called) "mysteries" with which the indefatigable Ralph Dibny was generally presented, back in the day, were (frequently) a tad on the easy-does-it side...
... they were, nonetheless, vastly entertaining little eight page affairs: tidily plotted; snappily dialogued; and (most memorably of all) gorgeously rendered by that most signal of Silver Age DC interpreters, Carmine Infantino.
Too: they effectively demonstrated (more so, I think, than any "deductive" abilities, in especial; they scarcely being, as stated, real "mysteries" at all, in the classic sense of the word) a plucky persistence on the Elongated Man's part; as well as (even more importantly) the wholly admirable ability of Ralph Dibny to think on his feet; to "guesstimate" quickly; and a ready willingness to go with the (often correct) "gut" instinct, whenever confronted by incipient crisis.
Rather than an out-and-out "detective," then... I consider Ralph Dibny to be more of an innate and intuitive extemporizer: blessed with the enviable native ability to know when to "pick up the dice" of brute circumstance (if you like)...
... and the native genius requisite to the rolling of natural "sevens," virtually on demand, thereof.
Let us examine the following, then... in the light afforded us by the foregoing:
"Green Lantern's Blackout" [DETECTIVE COMICS #350; April, 1966; author unknown; Carmine Infantino, artist] opens up with Ralph Dibny being gifted with a birthday serenade, courtesy of loyal and adoring wife, Sue.
"Say, that's right," a bleary-eyed Ralph muses; "... it is my birthday! I still remember the terrific surprise Sue prepared for me on my last birthday!"
[UNCA CHEEKS' ASIDE: ohhhhhh... stop sniggering and leering like that, for pity's sake! It was an impromptu mystery, all right? I swear, you people are all such pitiless, degenerate animals...!]
"Okay, honey!" an enthused Ralph carols, sniffing this way and that way in their hotel room. (The traveling Dibny's, you see, were -- and remain -- the married "gypsies" of the DC universe; gadding about the countryside and residing within an endless series of swank and expensive hotel suites, on heiress Sue's generous "dime.") "Where is it? What's my birthday present this time?" To which the sweetly smiling Sue, in turn, responds [Pick One]:
A.) "You'll have to be patient, birthday boy! It won't be ready until two o'clock!"
B.) SUE (smiling): "Same thing as last year, you big silly!"
RALPH (ecstatic): "Oh, boy! Chuck E. Cheese for lunch... AND Batman gets to sleep over tonight, an' play CANDYLAND with me, an' ev'rything! YAAAAAAY -- !"
C.) SUE (smiling): "Same thing as last year, you big silly!" [crosses over to the closet; opens it, to reveal a blindfolded, bound and gagged pre-adolescent boy] "No known relatives. No witnesses. Rock on, Degenerate Lad."
D.) SUE (smiling; produces a wad of Silly Putty from behind her back): "Just what you've always wanted, darling! Say hello to little Ralph Junior -- !"
Warned by an imperious Sue to be returned not one instant past two o'clock, on the dot; an enthused Ralph dresses and makes his way down to the hotel lobby, whereupon he is besieged by an eager swarm of autograph hounds.
"Pardon me, sir," one particular gentleman murmurs, separating himself from the aforementioned throng of fawners and worshippers; "... but aren't you Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man?"
"That's what these autograph hounds tell me," the elasticized egomaniac chuckles, good-naturedly. "Just stand in line and --"
"Oh, I'm here for something more important than an autograph," the mysterious stranger -- who (from the sartorial look of things) has been rummaging deep, d-e-e-p into Jimmy Olsen's remnant pile -- counters. "My name's Thomas Kalmuku... but my pal Green Lantern calls me Pieface! It's because of Green Lantern that I'm here! He needs help... desperately!"
[UNCA CHEEKS' ASIDE: Yeah, yeah... I know, all right? "Pieface." It was twenty-five YEARS ago, f'chrissakes. Let's just all count ourselves damned lucky they never thought of tarting him up in the obligatory fuzzy parka and mittens.]
"Green Lantern's had a mental blackout," Thomas continues. "Not only doesn't he know who he is... but he thinks that today is the day after tomorrow! When I read in the newspapers you were in town... I rushed right over to see you!"
"You did the right thing, Pieface!" the ethnically sensitive Elongated Man concurs. "That kind of mystery is right up my alley!"
On their way over to the Ferris Aircraft complex (where test pilot Hal Jordan -- a.k.a. Green Lantern -- earns an honest dollar), Thomas continues supplying Ralph with the details of this particular conundrum.
"In order for you to understand what's happened," Thomas concedes; "... I'll have to take a chance, and reveal Green Lantern's secret identity to you! I know you'll keep that information in strictest confidence!"
"Naturally," Ralph readily concurs, frantically jotting down notes on a yellow legal pad; nudging the miniature recording device disguised as a matchbook closer towards Thomas with one careful knee; and surreptitiously punching up the number of the "hot tip" desk for THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER on his cell phone.
The who-shot-John runs as follows: shortly after returning from an unspecified "mission in deep space," Green Lantern (after assuming his "Hal Jordan" identity) begins to display telltale signs of both temporal and spatial diaspora; showing up a day early for a scheduled test flight; attempting to re-charge his nigh-omnipotent Power Ring a scant hour after having previously done so, while still in his civilian identity; dashing about in a fuzzy pink bunny suit and belligerently demanding painted eggs from frightened and hapless passers-by. Stuff like that, there.
It gets worse before it gets better: Hal professes not even to remember being the designated Green Lantern for this space sector; shows up an hour later, now convinced that he's already successfully completed the aforementioned test flight; and returns to the site of his invisible Power Battery to re-charge his ring yet a third time! [See page reproduction, above]
The keenly intuitive Ralph, in turn, responds to Thomas' recited litany of woes, re: Hal, by [Pick One]:
A.) ... moving his finger back and forth across his lips and making a wubba-wubba-wubba sound.
B.) ... offering to make Thomas' friend feel more "at ease" with the rest of his brethren within the spandexed community, by kicking out everyone else in the Justice League of America, save for the Batman; and obligingly re-naming the organization The All-Demented Sociopaths Squadron of America, instead.
C.) ... pointing out that Arkham Asylum is only a two or three day "road trip" away, by car.
D.) ... offering Thomas "five hundred smackers" for the ring; "... cash money, bay-beee!"
Arriving at Ferris Aircraft, the determined duo are startled to observe that the site's sentries are sprawled and unconscious at their designated posts; with a phalanx of (putative) assailants darting away from same. [See page reproduction, below]
"There's not much cash here," Thomas points out to his plasticized pal. "They must've swiped our top-secret plans -- !"
"One of them has a hand sprayer," Ralph observes; "... probably filled with the same gas that put everyone here into a deep sleep!" (Oh, dearest God! Those fiends have managed to distill the essence of Celine Dion into a gaseous state -- !)
With no further preamble than that, Thomas and Ralph launch themselves towards the fleeing gunsels; the latter of whom (whether due to inborn combat puissance, or simply luck of the pugilistic draw) give one holy heck of a good accounting for themselves, in turn.
At one point along the testosteroned way, the battle is joined by none other than the redoubtable Mr. Jordan, his own bad self; laying into his newfound foemen with all the natural ability and overall efficaciousness of... of...
... well: of a super-hero, actually.
The solicitous Thomas, however, remains no less consternated on behalf of his boon companion.
"Why doesn't Hal switch to Green Lantern?" he anguishes, inwardly. "He'd overpower 'em in one second flat!" (Forgetting, apparently, the circumstances initially compelling him to seek out the Elongated Man's assistance in the first place. The big dummy.)
"Pieface kept looking at me as if he expected me to handle these gunmen all by myself," a puzzled Hal observes, once the dust has finally settled. "After all, I'm only one guy -- !"
(More likely: he's probably fixin' you with the ol' Hairy Eyeball because of this goldanged "Pieface" business, Mr. Roger Ramjet, sir. Lay off with the @#$%ing "PIEFACE," for the love of God! It's THOMAS, awright? T-H-O-M-A-S! Buy a vowel, f'chrissakes -- !)
Long since fed all the way up to here with this whole I-Am-the-Very-
Model-of-a-Modern-Major-Amnesiac ramdamdoola, an aggravated Ralph latches onto the both of 'em with an elongated limb apiece; dragging the pair into the hangar where Hal's invisible Power Battery sits, awaiting and forgotten.
"Why you bring me in here?" a now thoroughly befuddled Hal inquires of his grim-faced fellows.
"Go ahead, Hal," an earnest Thomas implores. "Nobody can see us in here! Will your Power Ring to restore your memory! Go on... concentrate!"
More out of bemusement than any real belief that these two yo-yo's have so much as Clue Numero Uno what they're babbling on about: Hal closes his eyes; concentrates with that one-in-a-billion will power of his...
... and: bingo.
"As we were passing through the shell of gas emitted by a nebula on your return from outer space," the (quasi-)sentient ring informs the assembled onlookers, in flashback; "... I sensed that the nebula gas was having a strange effect on your brain [...] the gas caused you to have partial amnesia! Being also filled with chronal forces, it warped your time-sense! Time gradually became foreshortened... an hour was like a day to you... and then you forgot completely that you are Green Lantern!"
[UNCA CHEEKS' ASIDE: ... and let the record show, ladies and gentlemen of the online jury, that -- once again -- neither "deduction" nor "logic" had diddley-doo-dah to do with the summary resolution of yet another "mystery." The perceptive Mr. Dibny's observations -- once again -- serve as the fuel for the engine of his intuitions... PERIOD. End of sentence; end of paragraph; end of story.]
"There's one more thing, GL," a contrite Thomas offers, once the veils of mem'ry have been parted for all concerned; "... and I hope you won't be sore at me! But -- in order for the Elongated Man to help you -- I had to tell him your Green Lantern identity -- "
"You did what had to be done, Pie," a gently smiling Hal counters, making a mental note to pound the filthy, misbegotten little quisling like a bloody tent peg the very second no one's around to watch. "Besides, we can trust the Elongated Man with our secret!"
The redoubtable Ralph, however, demurs. "No! For me to discover your secret identity this way is... too easy! I love to solve mysteries!"
[UNCA CHEEKS' ASIDE: Shyeah. Right.]
"I get the message," Hal responds, willing the hastily-conjured Uzi hidden behind him back into non-existence once more. "You want me to Power Ring you to forget my secret identity!"
... and -- once the requested impromptu lobotomizing has been satisfactorily attended to; and Ralph's memory of all things ring-ish has thus been abbreviated -- a quick glance towards a nearby wall clock causes his eyes to widen in sudden alarm.
"The time -- !" Ralph moans. "I'm due in the hotel lobby in one minute! I'll never make it -- !"
A sly, mischievous smile plays at the corners of Hal Jordan's lips; there's a sudden flashing of powerful, emerald energies; annnnnd --
" [...] the Stretchable Sleuth finds himself in the hotel lobby," we are breathlessly informed.
"Ralph, you got here just in time," a blase Sue Dibny observes; not even the least little bit curious, apparently, as to whys and wherefores of her beloved hubby's sudden and inexplicable appearance out of jack nowhere. "Here's your birthday present!"
Said "present" is, in plain point of fact, a brand spanking new costume; the familiar red-and-gold fighting togs which served Ralph Dibny so admirably and well throughout the remainder of the '60's; all of the '70's; and into the earliest portion of the '80's, to boot.
One heck of a sweet little present, that.
DC Comics' Elongated Man was (and remains, to this very day) a pleasant and engaging character, overall. The loving, banter-filled relationship enjoyed by he and his wife, Sue -- with its thoroughly enjoyable undertones reminiscent of that classic cinematic couple, Nick and Nora Charles -- lends him further fannish cachet, as well; and (doubtless) goes no little way towards explaining the reservoir of good will accorded him over the years, in said circles...
... even if pegging him as a "detective" in the classic, Batman-style sense is --
... well... stretching a point, ultimately.
Kent G. Orlando a/k/a "Uncle Cheeks", had one of the most acclaimed comics-analysis sites on the web until he lost his free webspace. Several mirror sites are still online, and Fanzing is proud to help preserve some of his essays.
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This piece is © 2003 by Kent "Cheeks" Orlando
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