The revelation that Barry Allen's (Grant Gustin) return from the Speed Force is the cause of all of the new metahumans plaguing Central City in season 4 of The Flash doesn't come as much of a shock. Twelve metahumans were created by dark matter striking the passengers of a bus when Barry re-emerged, but not all of them would be rogues for the Flash to face. In this week's episode 'Elongated Journey Into Night', we learn that one of them turns out, after some initial doubt, to be not just a hero, but a classic DC Comics superhero character: Ralph Dibny, better known as the Elongated Man (Hartley Sawyer).
The Flash has ramped up its comedic elements this season, zooming away from the angst, doom and gloom that pervaded throughout the prior season where a future version of Barry himself was the villainous speedster Savitar. The lightness of season 4 is palpable, and the addition of Elongated Man to the main cast as a recurring character gives The Flash an added spark of Silver Age comic book shenanigans. Who is this bizarre, stretchable plastic man (who is not Plastic Man, DC Comics' other elastic hero) with the unusual superhero name? Let's take a (not too) elongated journey into the history of Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man:
Related: Where Is Wally West Going?
ELONGATED MAN IN THE COMICS
Flash Fact: The Elongated Man was only created in 1960 because editor Julius Schwartz didn't realize that DC actually already owned the rights to Plastic Man. Nevertheless, DC's second stretchable super sleuth was created by writer John Broome and artist Carmine Infantino, debuting in The Flash #112. Ralph Dibny was born in Nebraska and grew up fascinated with show business and the "India-rubber men" contortionists he watched at local carnivals. Dibny learned that they all drink a soda called Gingold, which was derived from gingo, a rare fruit from the Yucatan. Teaching himself chemistry, Dibny created a highly concentrated version of Gingold, which granted him super elasticity if he drank it every few days, turning him into the Elongated Man. Similar to the mistrust TV Barry showed Dibny, the comic book Flash at first suspected Dibny of being behind several crimes in Central City, until they teamed up to catch the actual criminals. Barry and Ralph would go on to be fast friends, often teaming up as two crime fighting detective superheroes.
The Elongated Man is significant in DC Comics for a number of reasons. He was one of the first superheroes to publicly reveal his identity, which fueled his desire for celebrity. Ralph was also considered one of the DC Universe's greatest detectives. With his wife Sue, Ralph was a happily married superhero and one half of a husband and wife detective duo. The Elongated Man was a member of the Justice League of America during its Silver Age 'satellite years', and he remained part of the League when the team went through its maligned 'Detroit' era (which introduced the heroes Vixen, Steel, Gypsy and Vibe, all of whom are now huge parts of the Arrowverse TV series). Later, the Elongated Man and Sue joined Justice League Europe alongside the late Barry's successor as the Flash, Wally West. (Ralph would tease Wally mercilessly about not being as fast or as good as his uncle Barry, the real Flash).
Ralph's good times came to an end in Identity Crisis, the sordid 2004 mini-series that revealed Sue Dibny had been raped by the super villain Doctor Light and Zatanna subsequently magically mind-wiped Light and several members of the Justice League (including Batman) to make them forget. Sue was murdered in Identity Crisis, and a distraught Ralph sought to solve the mystery of his wife's murder, eventually learning the killer was Jean Loring, the wife of Ray Palmer, the Atom. Ralph died in the 52 series, but he and Sue were reborn as undead ghost detectives and later as Black Lanterns. By this point, DC had contorted the Elongated Man and Sue Dibny characters almost beyond recognition. After the 2011 New 52 reboot, the Elongated Man was revealed to be part of the Secret Six, but his resurgence (hopefully in all of his classic glory) in the current DC Rebirth continuity has yet to occur.