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Elongated Man(pop culture)
The perennial backup character, the Elongated Man, has brightened up numerous DC comics since his introduction in the pages of The Flash #112 in 1960 (by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino). The Elongated Man was Ralph Dibny, who developed a fascination for circus “India rubber men” and eventually discovered that their stretching ability was derived from a soft drink called Gingold. Dibny found that by taking a concentrated drink of the liquid he could alter the cellular properties of his tissue and so stretch any part of his body to incredible length. Gingold’s only drawback was its tendency to lose its effect after twenty-four hours, resulting in all manner of hilarious scrapes.
After his first appearance, reader response was so positive that the Elongated Man became a regular guest in the Flash strip for the next couple of years. Not only was the character unusual in his lighthearted approach to life but he had also, by his third appearance, abandoned his secret identity and married his girlfriend, glamorous socialite Sue Dearborn (who would join him on his many adventures). With a rosy outlook on life, matched by a colossal, fame-seeking ego, Dibny decided to earn his living by making personal appearances across the country. Nearly every story started with the Dibnys driving into a fresh town and coming across a quirky mystery or a robbery of some sort; in a nice touch, his nose would begin to twitch whenever a puzzle was about to present itself.
When Fox and Infantino were recruited by Flash editor Julius Schwartz to help him revamp the flagging Batman titles, the three brought the Elongated Man with them, and for six years the “stretchable sleuth” was a welcome backup strip in Detective Comics (starting in issue #327). The first story set the tone for years to come: When the Dibnys stumble across a diamond-smuggling racket, the Elongated Man uses his special talent to eavesdrop on the hoods, leading to the immortal line “An ear in the fireplace! He must be up on the roof!” As the strip’s run developed, the intrepid duo continued to foil ingenious crimes and to solve complex conundrums, but they never once acquired the lineup of supervillains that plagued other, more serious heroes. In fact, much of the strip’s appeal lay in its low-key charm, which was perfectly complemented by Infantino’s sophisticated line work.
In the 1970s, Elongated Man enjoyed occasional spots in the back pages of The Flash and Detective Comics, and finally joined the Justice League of America; his membership had previously been rejected on the grounds that Dibny exploited his powers for monetary gain. It was as a regular member of the Justice League, and later the Justice League Europe, that he gained his greatest popularity, allowing his constant cheerfulness to brighten up an otherwise somewhat dour group. This exposure culminated in the character’s own solo comic (in a 1992 miniseries), a full thirty-two years after his first appearance; this proved to be a jolly romp through Europe.
But in the early twenty-first century, the fates of the charming, funny, and endearing Ralph and Sue Dibny took a dreadful turn. In the limited series Identity Crisis (2004), it was revealed that Sue had once been raped by the supervillain Doctor Light, and later Sue (while pregnant with Ralph’s child) was killed by the Atom’s ex-wife Jean Loring, who had suffered a mental breakdown. Subsequently, in the series 52 (20062007), Ralph was killed by the demon Neron. The series’ final issue revealed that Ralph and Sue had been reunited as spirits, and operate as a pair of ghostly detectives.
In the Fox/Infantino series in Detective Comics, Ralph and Sue Dibny appeared to be inspired in part by Nick and Nora Charles, the witty married couple in Dashiell Hammett’s detective novel The Thin Man (1934) and the movies based on it. After their deaths, Ralph and Sue seem also to be following in the footsteps of the fun-loving ghosts George and Marion Kerby from another classic novel, Thorne Smith’s Topper (1926), and its film and TV adaptations.
The Elongated Man first appeared in animation in the television series Justice League Unlimited, voiced by Jeremy Pivan. He also teamed up with the similarly superpowered Plastic Man and Batman in an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. —DAR & PS