The Stretchable Sleuth! The Ductile Detective! These are some of the names used to refer to Ralph Dibny – The World Famous Elongated Man! Or, as he is more commonly known, the third or fourth man you think of when you need either a detective or a stretchy-guy in a comic book story.
Why? That’s a mystery so perplexing even Ralph Dibny would have trouble wrapping his mind around it. Despite a career in the comic books stretching over five decades, mainstream fame has eluded good old Ralph. Even with prominent positions in several comic books and the occasional appearance in various DC Comics animated series, Ralph Dibny has always been a B-lister at best.
To add insult to injury, on the rare occasions Ralph has been given a space in the spotlight, it was usually so that jokes could be made about his status as a second-rate superhero that everyone ignored. Still, no matter what hits him, this rubber man always bounces back and with Ralph Dibny taking on a regular role on The Flash (played by actor Hartley Sawyer), it seems that The Elongated Man could soon be reaching new heights.
Here are 18 Things You Didn’t Know About Elongated Man.
18. He Was Presented As A Villain In His First Appearance
Much like Black Canary, the Elongated Man first appeared in The Flash comic book (The Flash #112 from May 1960, to be exact) and was presented as a new villain out to challenge the Scarlet Speedster. “The Mystery Of The Elongated Man” opened with Barry Allen seeing red, when The Flash was suddenly at risk of losing Central City’s coveted “Man Of The Year” award to The Stretchable Sleuth.
The Flash became suspicious of the new hero when he discovered Elongated Man at the scene of a robbery. After the inevitable misunderstanding-fueled fight, Ralph revealed that he had been using his detective skills to track the real criminals and the two teamed up to bring them to justice. Both heroes were named “Man Of The Year” and Barry and Ralph have been fast friends (pun very much intended) ever since.
17. He’s Not A Rip-Off of Plastic Man or Mister Fantastic
There’s a legend that Ralph Dibny owes his existence to an editor’s ignorance. The story goes that DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz wanted a new hero introduced as a partner to The Flash and hit upon the idea of a stretching hero like Plastic Man. Schwartz asked that a similar but legally distinct character be created, not knowing that DC Comics had bought the rights to Plastic Man a few years earlier!
Both artist Carmine Infantino and Schwartz himself denied that such a request had ever been made. Schwartz did say, however, that he’d never have an awkward name like Elongated Man had he know they had the legal right to use Plastic Man instead!
Ralph has also been unfairly accused of being a rip-off of another super-genius stretching superhero – Mister Fantastic of The Fantastic Four – despite Ralph making his first appearance a year and a half before Fantastic Four #1 was released in November 1961! It doesn’t help matters that both heroes later married women named Sue.
16. He’s a Stretcher, Not A Shape-Shifter
There’s a world of difference between Elongated Man’s powers and those of a full-fledged shape-changer like Mystique from X-Men. Officially, Ralph’s stretching powers are known as Elasticity, whereas shape-shifting is known as Metamorphosis.
What’s the difference? To use a toy-based analogy, Ralph is basically a giant Stretch Armstrong doll whereas metamorphs are a piece of Play-Doh. Metamorphs can take on any form while Ralph has to stick to a basic humanoid shape.
Despite this limit, Ralph is fairly powerful. He can lengthen any part of his body to a range of up to one mile. In theory, Ralph can stretch further than that, but he runs the risk of blacking out or losing the offending limb if he pushes his heart’s ability to pump oxygen-rich blood that far. It’s also easier for him to focus if he can see what he’s doing, so there’s a practical visual limit on his powers as well.
15. He Broke The Post-Crisis Rules Regarding Superpowers
Following Crisis On Infinite Earths, it was decided that DC Comics needed to establish some standards for how superpowers worked. Enter The Metagene – a rare genetic marker that, in times of great stress, might activate and give a person superpowers. The Metagene was introduced in the 1987 Invasion! event, where metahumans were targeted by an alien coalition who feared the danger Earth posed.
Ralph was among those affected when the invaders set off a gene bomb that attacked the nervous systems of metahumans. This proved that Ralph was a metahuman yet for some reason he still needed to take his Gingo fruit elixir for his powers to work. This broke the new rules laid down by DC Comics.
A solution was proposed by Elongated Man super-fan Michael Hutchison on his website Dibny Dirt. Given that most people were allergic to Gingo fruit (the main reason Ralph didn’t market his elixir), Hutchison suggested that Ralph’s metagene activated to save him from accidental poisoning when he first drank his elixir, making Ralph’s stretching powers an unintended side-effect!
14. He Has Limited Powers Of Disguise
Despite not being a proper shape-changer, Ralph does have some limited ability to use his powers to disguise himself. He can make himself appear taller or more muscular than he normally is by lengthening his legs and “blowing up” the proper muscles. He can increase the size of certain features, like his nose or ears. He can even change his facial structure by stretching his skin to give himself jowls or wrinkles!
It’s worth noting that it’s incredibly painful for Ralph to do this and he doesn’t like to do it for very long. It’s also not as effective as a proper disguise since Ralph can’t do anything to change his eye color or suddenly grow a mustache or beard if he needs to look like someone other than himself.
13. He Has Enhanced Senses
Ralph Dibny’s trademark reaction to uncovering a task requiring his detective skills was to elongate his nose and wiggle it, declaring that he smelled a mystery. While this was only a colorful metaphor, Ralph was able to use his abilities in ways that allowed him to increase his perceptive powers beyond those of an ordinary human.
While Ralph couldn’t literally smell mysteries, he could use stretch his nasal passages to simulate the enhanced scent-catching abilities of a bloodhound. He could increase the size of his ears to improve his ability to hear sounds at a distance.
And while he doesn’t have several kinds of vision like Superman, Ralph could, with a little focus, reshape his eyes so that he could see great distances or examine objects in minute detail without a magnifying glass.
12. He gained his powers on purpose
Speaking of Mister Fantastic, it’s an odd point that for all the classic comics did to emphasize the wonders of science, very few scientist superheroes gained their powers through research. Most of them were the victims of improperly shielded spaceships, errant lightning bolts, radioactive animal bites, or other random accidents.
Ralph Dibny, by contrast, is one of the rare heroes who gained his powers through hard work and study.
A skinny, awkward lad in his youth, Ralph became obsessed with contortionists because they were admired for what they could do with their gangly forms. Ralph began researching a common link between professional body-benders and found that all of them drank excessive amounts of Gingold – a soda made from the Gingo fruit.
Armed with this information, Ralph used his skills as a chemist to distill an elixir made up of the essence of the Gingo fruit. Repeated consumption of this amazing formula gave Ralph the ability to stretch himself beyond the limits of any mere acrobat.
11. One Of The First Superheroes Without A Secret Identity
Three months after his first appearance, it was revealed in The Flash #115 that Ralph had made a small fortune doing personal appearances and going on television. He somehow made enough money doing this to retire, allowing him to travel the world and focus on detective work. Shortly after his retirement from show business, Ralph revealed his secret identity to the world, though he continued to wear his colorful costume and mask.
So why did Ralph out himself? Purely for the sake of publicity, which also marks Ralph as something special in the superhero world. After all, you don’t bill yourself as “World Famous” if you’re not out for attention.
10. One Of The First Superheroes To Marry His Love Interest
Ralph Dibny wasn’t just quick to reveal his secret identity to the world. He was also quick to settle down. In fact, Sue Dearbon – the debutante who would become Mrs. Elongated Man – made her first appearance in The Flash #119, as the couple was celebrating their honeymoon!
Naturally, it was not a peaceful event. Ralph got abducted by a race of undersea fish men seeking slave labor, requiring The Flash – who we are told had been the best man at Ralph and Sue’s wedding – to come running to the rescue. This would be the first of many vacations Ralph and Sue would take that would be ruined by the sorts of problems that only seem to occur to young, wealthy couples in the Silver Age of Comics.
9. The Longest Serving Member Of The Justice League
Elongated Man was among those heroes recruited when the Justice League and their Justice Society counterparts on Earth Two teamed to save both their worlds in Justice League of America #100. Ralph so impressed The League that he was awarded full membership in Justice League of America #105 (May 1973). He served through several reorganizations of the team, not leaving until it was dissolved in Justice League of America #238 (January 1987).
Ralph wouldn’t stay idle for long, however, joining the Justice League team stationed in Paris in Justice League International #24 (February 1989). He would remain with that team until Justice League International #68 (September 1994).
While retcons and reboots may have other heroes having served with the League for longer in-universe, Ralph is still the longest-serving Leaguer in terms of real-world time (19 years, 2 months) and issue numbers (201 comics!)
8. His Wife Was Also A Member Of The Justice League
Ralph Dibny would be the first to say that his wife, Sue, is something special. It can’t be denied that there aren’t a lot of East Coast heiresses who would give a second-glance to a gangly geek from Waymore, Nebraska. Even fewer would fall head-over-heels in love with one and agree to live their life in a convertible, traveling from one mystery to the next. Yet Sue is special in one other regard – she’s the only wife of a superhero granted Justice League membership on her own merits!
In Justice League Europe #37 (April 1992), Sue was named as Bureau Chief of the Justice League branch stationed in Paris. She proved more than capable of handling the job, speaking French well enough to handle the local authorities and having nearly a decade’s experience coping with metahuman disasters.
7. He’s Never Had His Own Comic Book
Despite his longevity, one honor has eluded Ralph in his long career – he has never had his own monthly comic book!
This is not as unusual as one might think. In the Golden Age of Comics, only the most popular of superheroes had their own book. Most saw their solo adventures published in anthology series starring several heroes. Even Green Arrow didn’t receive a regular solo series until February of 1988 and then only after the Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters mini-series proved to be a critical and commercial success. Black Canary – another popular hero from the Golden Age – didn’t get her own monthly book until January 1993!
The best Elongated Man has been able to manage is a four-issue mini-series. Published in 1992, with a script by Gerard Jones and art by Mike Parobeck and Ty Templeton, the story saw Ralph and Sue trying to thwart a plot to disrupt the creation of the European Union. Not exactly a timeless classic.
6. He Got Second-Billing In A Lot of Comics
Elongated Man may have been created to be a backup to Barry Allen but Ralph Dibny found a way to stretch his second-string status into a long career as a supporting player across a number of series. Appearing erratically in The Flash from 1960 to 1963, it was decided that Ralph’s mystery-based adventures might be better suited to another series.
Ralph and Sue made the jump to Detective Comics in May of 1964 with an appearance in Detective Comics #327. This led to Ralph’s first team-up with Batman and Robin in Detective Comics #331 and a six-year run as a supporting player with his own regular feature. Ralph and Sue also had major supporting roles in the 1990’s cult-hit comic Starman, with the two electing to settle down in Opal City as part of the series’ conclusion.
5. His Marriage Was A Rare Happy One in Comics
Marriages in superhero comics rarely run smoothly. Consider the problems that most single superheroes have in balancing work, romance and vigilantism. Now factor in the problems involving a shared living space and balancing a schedule together. Heaven help you if you add kids into the equation!
Ralph and Sue Dibny have proven the exception to the rule that marriage in superhero comics is a bad idea. Based on the characters of Nick and Nora Charles from The Thin Man (who were themselves based on author Dashiell Hammett and his wife Lillian Hellman), the two may riff upon each other endlessly but it’s clear their sniping is all part of a game they play to keep things fresh.
4. He’s Portrayed As A Jerk In The Cartoons
Despite a reputation as one of the nicest guys in the DC Comics universe, Ralph has an unfortunate tendency to be written as a jerk outside of comics.
Elongated Man made three appearances on Justice League Unlimited, voiced by famous jerk-playing actor Jeremy Piven. His worst showing came in “The Greatest Story Never Told”, where Ralph’s screen-time was largely devoted to whining to the equally-jerky Booster Gold about being assigned to evacuating civilians from a disaster zone, when he was “like Plastic Man and Batman rolled into one!”
Ralph didn’t fare any better in Batman: The Brave And The Bold. The episode “Journey To The Center Of The Bat!” was entirely devoted to Elongated Man and Plastic Man trying to one-up one another while arguing over who Batman preferred to team-up with. In the end, Batman burst both their bubbles saying that given a choice between the two of them, he’d rather work alone.
3. His marriage was the focal point of Identity Crisis
It’s a grim irony that the story for which Elongated Man is most famous chronicles the worst moment of his life. Written by Brad Meltzer with art by Rags Morales, the 2004 limited-series Identity Crisis opened with a love letter to Ralph’s career as a hero and his marriage to Sue Dibny. Meltzer’s script presented Ralph as an off-beat free-spirit who found his soulmate in Sue despite their differences because, as Ralph put it in an ice cream related metaphor, “every once in a while, someone walks in and orders butter pecan.”
Sadly, that was the happiest part of Identity Crisis for the Dibnys. In a prime example of “fridging” – the phenomena where a female character is killed or assaulted to add drama to a male character’s story – Sue was murdered by an unknown assailant. To add insult to injury, the prime suspect was Dr. Light, who it was revealed in a flashback retcon had assaulted Sue Dibny years earlier!
2. He Killed Himself To Trap Two Villains Forever
Following Sue’s death, Ralph went on a world-spanning trip, seeking a way to bring his wife back from the dead, as part of the events of the limited-series 52. The trail took Ralph to The Helm of Nabu – one of the magical artifacts used by Dr. Fate. A voice, claiming to be Nabu himself, said that he could help Ralph resurrect Sue. It turned out to be a trick, with the sorcerer Felix Faust hoping to use Ralph as a bargaining chip with The Demon Neron to buy his own life back.
Thankfully, Ralph saw through Faust’s ruse, and destroyed the helm with a shot from a magical wish-granting gun. Neron killed Dibny in his anger, not realizing that the spell Ralph had prepared before his arrival was not the resurrection spell Faust wanted but a binding that trapped both villains in The Tower of Fate forever.
1. He Snuck Into The New 52 Universe.
With its more serious tone and a revised timeline that had the Justice League numbering only seven members across five years, there seemed to be no room for Ralph Dibny in the DC Universe following The New 52 reboot. Of course if there’s anyone who has ever been good at worming his way into places he wasn’t expected, it’s Elongated Man!
When writer Gail Simone started a second volume of Secret Six in 2014, she brought back old favorites and introduced new characters for the team’s line-up. One of the new characters was a size-changing, super-strong detective named Damon Wells, a.k.a. Big Shot. Wells proved to be more than he seemed, however, and multiple truths were exposed in the final panel of Secret Six #3.
It was here that we learned that Big Shot was the mole who had been reporting on the team’s activities to the mysterious entity known as Mockingbird. We also learned that Mockingbird was The Riddler… and he addressed Big Shot as “Mr. Dibny.”
Are there any fascinating facts we missed about Elongated Man? Let us know in the comments!
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