Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man, had been a supporting character in the Flash for a while, but as the period 1964 – 1967: the New Look began, he moved into a back-up feature in Detective Comics, with stories by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino. The series featured Ralph Dibny, whose identity was publicly known, and his wife Sue, as they travelled around, mostly in the United States, but sometimes abroad. In most stories they would stumble across a mystery, which the Elongated Man would then solve. While in years to come Sue’s role in solving the cases would become more active, in the early days she was much more of a sidekick. The Elongated Man back-up tales were only 8 pages long, and often there isn’t a lot to comment on, so forgive me if I puff out some of my write-ups, in order to make the pictures fit better.
The Elongated Man story in Detective Comics 327 briefly introduces the stretchable detective, and his new wife Sue, before getting down to business. In this case, it’s figuring out how their car gained ten miles overnight. Investigating, Ralph discovers jewel thieves hiding out nearby, who had used his car for smuggling the gems across the border. These are no ordinary criminals, as is clear from two panels. They have never seen or heard of the Elongated Man, yet when they see an ear in the fireplace, they instantly deduce his existence and powers, correctly theorizing that he is on the roof. While on the surface the Elongated Man and Plastic Man have similar powers, in fact Ralph is far less a shape changer, his stretching simply tends to elongate certain body parts. Even so, his fight scenes remain visually entertaining. And Ralph’s ego, and drive for publicity, set him apart from other DC heroes. Though Sue comes from a wealthy background, Ralph does not, but made a fortune doing publicity stunts, a fact rarely mentioned, but alluded to in a couple of stories.
In Detective 328 Ralph comes across a farmer pursuing a man who stole his barn door, and the oddness of that crime ensures that the Elongated Man gets on the case. This is also the first story to really start playing the relationship between Ralph and Sue. Ralph forgoes anything in his quest to solve mysteries, while Sue longs for lavish resorts and classy restaurants. These touches all are reminiscent of the Thin Man movie series, which I swear was where the character’s name derives from. Nick Charles was a poor but famous policeman, while his wife Nora came from upper class society. Anyway, the story here is simple but diverting, the only really disturbing element is when Ralph grabs a gun from a hoodlum with his nose. Yeah, I would drop a gun if someone’s nose came flying across the room at me trying to grab it.
When Ralph and Sue head out to go see wild horses in the American west, they spot a man painting a pony purple in Detective 329. For a change, Ralph sees nothing worth investigating, but Sue’s curiosity is roused, even moreso when the man refuses to answer her simple questions. Sue goads Ralph into checking things out, and the story winds up involving a lost gold mine and a prophecy that must be kept secret (which is why the man wouldn’t answer Sue’s questions). These first three stories very much set the tone for the run, and I will only highlight significant tales for the remainder of the article.
Detective 331 was the first issue of the book to be entirely devoted to one story, in this case a team-up of Batman and the Elongated Man. The story deals with a camera that has the ability to alter and exchange people’s faces, rendering them amnesiac for the duration of the effect. The story gives some solo action to Robin, and a cameo for Aunt Harriet. The introduction of the clicking on the phone line to indicate that there is a call from the police on their direct line is introduced in this sequence. Before Aunt Harriet, there was no reason for such a deception, but now Dick has to outwit his aunt in order to fight crime. Robin goes into action against some hoods, robbing the store belonging to one of the victims of the face switch, which brings Robin, and Batman’s attention to the museum where the camera is located. Ralph spots the facial change in some candid shots Sue had taken earlier in the day, and heads to the museum independently to investigate. Batman and Elongated Man meet at the museum, and when the bad guys try to use the camera to see Batman’s real face, Ralph dives in front, as his identity is already public. Together, the three heroes defeat the bad guys, and Ralph’s face eventually returns. Not the most amazing story ever, but a well-paced tale.
The Elongated Man gets a wild adventure in Detective 332. In the middle of the night, Ralph wakes up to see Sue leaving with an alien. He follows them, and questions Sue the next day, but she denies it. Re-tracing his steps, Ralph finds himself transported to an alien world. He deals with soldiers in the thrall of an alien queen, who is Sue’s double, but really, nothing it what it seems here. The entire thing was a huge hoax on him. Ralph lets on, at the end, that he had figured it out early on because of Sue’s tan lines from a sun lamp. This story foreshadows the concept of the “birthday mysteries” that Sue eventually starts setting up for Ralph, and which will be one of the most delightful recurring elements to the series.
Because of its peripatetic nature, the Elongated Man series did not lend itself to having supporting cast members, aside from Sue. A rare exception made his debut in the story in Detective Comics 335, Billy Warner. Ralph winds up in need of a spare costume he can bug and use to trail a gang. Billy Warner, a young boy who made an Elongated Man outfit for his schools costume party, comes to his aid. In return, Ralph pays a visit to Billy’s school, making him a local hero. Billy Warner and his parents would return in another story a few years down the road.
The Elongated Man gets to penetrate a house of traps set for the Flash in Detective 336. Ralph and Sue are on their way to Central City to visit Barry and Iris, when Ralph is alerted to a house rigged up by Mirror Master. Sue goes off to lunch with Iris while Ralph navigates through the various traps, finding the man running it while Mirror Master is away. It turns out Flash chose to leave the house to Ralph, rather than dealing with it after he defeated Mirror Master, because he figured Ralph would enjoy it. And, he did. That’s a true buddy. The story ends with the two couples going out for a refined dinner. Stories like this added a playful tone to the series, almost pushing it towards comedy, and giving it a distinctive feel.
The Elongated Man story in Detective Comics 339 is more complex than usual. It starts with Sue being arrested for paying with counterfeit money. Ralph determines that the money was intentionally planted on her, as it has the fingerprints of a supposedly dead con. Ralph tracks down the not-dead man, but runs into another detective on the same case, Hugh Rankin. Hugh planted the money is order to draw Ralph’s attention, as he suspected, because Hugh wanted to solve the case and have Ralph vouch for him to join the Mystery Analysts. Hugh had already tried and failed to join that group a few months earlier in a Batman story in this series. Batman cameos at the end of the tale, agreeing to put Hugh’s name up for membership, and it seems that was what was needed, since the next time we see Hugh Rankin, just over a year down the road in the pages of Batman, he is a member of the Mystery Analysts.
The second book-length team up of Batman and Elongated Man appeared in Detective 343. The story begins with Batman noticing the military precision with which a new gang is committing their robberies. Batman actively seeks out Ralph’s help in this story. It’s a good thing he does, because Ralph knows all about General Von Dort, a Nazi war criminal believed dead, who has a monocle that emits a hypnotic ray, and a desire to build a death ray. Batman and Elongated Man head around the world tracking Von Dort, but when they finally catch up to him, he uses his monocle on Elongated Man, making him fight Batman and Robin. They defeat Ralph, who gets control of his mind again, and they all take down Von Dort.
I really love the final panel, as they all sit down to dinner, and Batman thinks about how wonderful Sue Dibny is. This degree of praise is almost excessive and out of character for Batman, which makes one wonder how strong his feelings for Sue Dibny really were.
In Detective Comics 346 Ralph realizes he is getting flashes of the future. It begins when he knows how much Sue is going to spend on a hat before she even starts shopping. The stakes get higher as the story progresses, as Ralph foresees a bank robbery. He fails to stop it, and gets captured and forced to name the winners of upcoming horse races, but manages to hide himself in ceiling cracks when the bad guys come back, and he rounds them all up. Ralph figures out that the visions of the future were caused by tainted gingold. And it must have been a very rare situation, because there was never another story where he gained this ability again. You’d think he might have kept a bottle or two of the tainted stuff around, to use in case of severe emergencies.
The Elongated Man story in Detective Comics 347 is a bit more clever than usual. A radio disc jockey, and then an artist, both claim to have been robbed by a man who took their money and then tore it up. Ralph decides to make Sue and himself bait for the crook, and they go around town spending lots of money – but the next victims turn out to be a group of poor actors. When Ralph finally does get robbed, it’s by men who simply want to steal their money, not tear it up. Ralph figures out that there really is no money hating thief at all. The crimes never occurred, the victims simply were making it up to draw publicity for their ventures, each using the previous faked robberies to add believability to their own hoaxes.
The Elongated Man comes to the aid of Green Lantern in Detective Comics 350. Realizing the Hal has lost his memory of being Green Lantern, Tom Kalmaku turns to the only publicly known hero, Ralph Dibny, for his help. Ralph stops a robbery at Ferris Aircraft, but that’s incidental to the story. Ralph helps Hal regain his memory, and the loss is explained as the result of exposure to a nebula. I don’t buy that for a second. See, this is Ralph’s birthday, and though Sue presents him with a new costume as a present, I believe this whole tale was a birthday mystery that she arranged.
All it required was for Hal to pretend to lose his memory, and Hal is best buddies with Barry Allen. Sue could easily have contacted Iris, and got her to get Barry to enlist Hal in the deception. No one will ever convince me otherwise when it comes to this story. Not even if Gardner Fox crawled out his grave to deny it.
There is a kind of follow up to the previous tale in Detective 351. Ralph has plans to donate his old costume to the Flash Museum in Central City, but discovers that it has been stolen. It turns out his costume has retained some of its elasticity, and is being used, basically as a giant rubber band, by a clever crook, to facilitate his escapes. So the story winds up building to a battle that is basically between the Elongated Man and his old costume. The Flash has a cameo at the end of the story, as Ralph and Sue present the costume to the museum, where it is presumably kept safely stored away.
The Elongated Man story in Detective Comics 355 contains the penultimate chapter in Zatanna’s quest for her missing father, which had run through a number of DC comics. Ralph gets involved when he sees stolen jewels flying through the air, and is unable to stop the thieves flying with them. It turns out Zatanna was responsible, trying to find the last artifacts she was looking for. Zatanna pretends not to know the thieves are thieves, but she was working with them, and desperate, so I’m pretty sure she is lying about that. At any rate, she helps Ralph round them up. Zatanna then prepares to cast a spell that will take her to another dimension in search of Zatara. Ralph offers to help, but she insists she will do it alone. As it turns out, in her next appearance, in Justice League of America a few months down the road, she does call on Ralph, as well as the other heroes she encountered on her quest, for help.
Elongated Man continues in the next period, 1967 – 1970: It’s a Happening!