You all know I like Elongated Man. “Like” being an understatement along the lines of “Chicago’s elections aren’t exactly spotless” or “Marilyn Monroe had some appeal.” I’ve written Elongated Man fan-fiction, ran “Dibny Dirt” until Identity Crisis came out, and still hope that someday Ralph and Sue Dibny will be restored somehow. Were I ever to write a superhero for DC, he’s the one I’d want to write. As in, I would turn down Batman to write Elongated Man.
I’ve liked him ever since I was a kid and I saw a page from Justice League of America #100, where the Flash calls him “Ralph” while they’re fighting bad guys and it merited an editor’s note: “Ralph ‘Elongated Man’ Dibny is the only superhero to make his identity known to the public.” I thought that was awesome because it made him different. I suppose it says something about me that the key to my liking him was an intriguing editor’s note.
There’s an element of rooting for the underdog, certainly. I’m sure it may be simply a contrarian nature, where I have to like the guy that no one likes so that it makes me different. But the plain fact is, I like him. I could read his adventures all day, and I truly enjoy them.
I think it’s because he’s all wrong.
I mean, look at him. He’s not muscular like any cover-space grabbing superhero should be. He’s handsome, I suppose, to the same extent that Keanu Reeves, David Schwimmer or Dick van Dyke are handsome but not hunky, smoldering, “make the ladies throw their panties handsome” a la Brad Pitt. He isn’t even marketable. He has a terribly goofy name that lends itself to double entendre, a secret identity that gets misspelled as “Digby” even by writers at DC Comics, and no logo. You know that JLA meeting table where everyone has a space-age chair with their logo or distinctive icon on the back? I don’t even know what Ralph’s chair has on it. I would bet you it’s an E that looks like it was written with spaghetti, and that’s disgraceful. (Granted, J’onn J’onzz has the planet Mars on his, so Ralph gets the Silver Medal for “worst chair”.) Why would they even create a superhero this bad?
They didn’t. He was supposed to be a supervillain.
Elongated Man was created as the enemy of The Flash in issue #112 of “The Flash.” That’s why he doesn’t have a nice logo, handsome looks or a marketable name that could be the title of its own comic someday. It’s why he has red hair, not blonde (Flash, Green Arrow, Aquaman), brown (The Atom, Dr. Magnus, John Jones) or brunette/dark blue (Superman) like every other superhero on the market. It’s why he has a purple costume, as all of the Flash’s enemies have costumes with secondary colors to contrast with the Flash’s striking red and gold.
Once you realize this, then The Elongated Man makes a little sense. Mr. Element (green), Mirror Master (orange and green), Weather Wizard (green), Captain Cold (white and blue), Heat Wave (white), Golden Glider (looks orange), Captain Boomerang (blue), Trickster (orange and blech) …none of them have The Flash’s color scheme, and the few that have the primary color of blue have a pale blue. None have an iconic logo, and few have names that really sing; they were created to be catchy and distinctive, sure, but not to sell books in the same way that a protagonist is designed. Ralph Dibny is right up there with Len Snart, Digger Harkness, Sam Scudder, Hartley Rathaway, Mark Mardon and Roscoe Dillon as a name that’s distinctive but not awesome. (It’s not alliterative, nor is it two first names, nor is it macho.)
In this story, Elongated Man appears on the scene in Central City, having already made a name for himself in other cities. He rescues cats and stops crooks before The Flash can, and this makes the Flash jealous. Really, Barry Allen gets his nose out of joint like you wouldn’t believe just because another hero steals his thunder, and this makes the Flash suspicious of this new Elongated Man. When some vases are stolen from an inaccessible museum room, he realizes Elongated Man could have done it, and later ends up pursuing EM who tries to trap the Flash as seen on the cover.
It’s at this point in the story that creators John Broome and Carmine Infantino realized they liked Elongated Man as a superhero, and changed their minds about making him an enemy. Although Carmine never said this to me (I met him at FallCon long ago), I am also willing to bet they realized that he had zero potential as a recurring enemy of a guy who grabs bullets out of the air. I mean, really? He’s going to win against the Flash because his upper torso stretched around a tree to grab The Flash from behind? Doesn’t that mean that The Flash can be defeated by two normal people, so long as he doesn’t see the second guy?
So: Elongated Man would have been a member of the Flash’s Rogues Gallery, except that the creators like him as a superhero, but they left all the trappings of the supervillain that they created.
Tomorrow, I’ll further explore more of how Elongated Man is the triple fried egg sandwich with chili sauce and chutney of the superhero set.