Elongated Man, the plucky detective who can stretch to great lengths and manipulate himself into many shapes, has reached his 60th anniversary in comics. A creation of John Broome and Carmine Infantino with input by editor Julius Schwartz, the Elongated Man/Ralph Dibny was introduced in The Flash #112 (May 1960).
When he was a teenager, Ralph was fascinated with contortionists, impressed by their agility. Wanting to emulate them, he learned that they drank a soda called Gingold, containing gingo, a rare fruit from the Yucatán that most people were allergic to, but gave some elastic skin and limbs. Using gingo, he developed a concentrated extract that gave him his elasticity.
He moved to Central City and realizing the potential for his new abilities to stretch his body however he wanted, Ralph decided to become a hero as the Elongated Man. When he is introduced, the Silver Age Flash suspects that he might be the culprit in several crimes before learning that Ralph was trying to stop the criminals. Soon Barry Allen and Ralph became crimefighting partners and since then, he has been a member of several incarnations of the Justice League.
Ralph can stretch and shape his body to fit an endless number of forms, giving him impressive agility and durability. He has excellent deductive skills, which he developed during his early days as a hero, and is an accomplished chemist.
He was one of the first DC characters to share his true identity with the public, which turned him into a celebrity who did public appearances. Ralph was also one of the few to marry his love interest, Sue. They started solving mysteries together as world traveling detectives. The pair have had a stable, happy marriage – which is quite different than most drama-filled superhero romances.
Ralph had a backup feature in Detective Comics, which focused on his detective skills and love of odd mysteries. He and Sue teamed up with Batman, Green Lantern, Zatanna, and the Atom on cases. The feature was printed throughout the ’60s and ’70s then he became a member of the Justice League, appearing in that title through the mid-’90s.
Elongated Man was part of the League when several of their most powerful members left and they moved their base to Detroit. He also joined the European branch of the Justice League International. Once the JLI broke up, he had adventures in Opal City with Starman and fought alongside the new Flash, Wally West. He and JLI team members reformed as the Super Buddies and was even in Doom Patrol for a bit.
In the limited series Identity Crisis (June-December 2004), Ralph was a tragic central figure when Sue Dibny is murdered. Sue’s death and the added horrific fact that she was pregnant at the time, had a deep impact on Ralph. Their relationship and the events that led to her death were used throughout the series as members of the JLA and JSA examined their own relationships.
Ralph returned in the 2006 weekly series 52, in stories that revolve around bringing Sue back. Wonder Girl tells Ralph that she and others stole some of Sue’s clothes and ring to make a Sue clone. Initially, he agrees to the plan, but during the ceremony Ralph disrupts it and he has a nervous breakdown. After hearing a voice from Doctor Fate’s helmet that promises to bring her back, he travels through the afterlives of different cultures, but is cautioned about using magic. He finds his way to Doctor Fate’s tower to resurrect Sue, where he encounters Felix Faust, who plans to trade Ralph’s soul to Neron. The demon kills Ralph, not knowing that Elongated Man had cast a binding spell that traps Faust and Neron in the tower. Ralph is then reunited with Sue, now as a pair of ghost detectives who investigate paranormal cases.
In the Blackest Night crossover event of 2009-2010, Ralph and Sue’s corpses are reanimated as Black Lanterns. They attack Hawkman and Hawgirl then travel to Gotham where they are turned to ash when their rings are destroyed by the Indigo Tribe.
When DC rebooted their continuity in The New 52, Ralph was a rogue member of the Secret Six. He is reunited with Sue and in Secret Six #12, he returns to being the Elongated Man.
The Elongated Man was introduced to the Arrowverse in season four of The Flash, played by Hartley Sawyer. In this version, Ralph was a police detective turned private detective who got his power when dark matter transformed him into a metahuman. He joined Team Flash as the Elongated Man and continues to work as a PI, including searching for the missing Sue Dearbon.
He was introduced to DC’s animated shows through Justice League Unlimited, voiced by Jeremy Piven. Elongated Man has also appeared in Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Young Justice: Outsiders, as well as in Justice League animated movies.
Ralph’s journey has been one twisted into great highs and painful lows. He’s been happy and silly, the subject of heartbreaking loss, and even a ghost. What the future holds for the Elongated Man is unknown and likely worth his smelling a mystery.