New fans may be getting a glimpse of Ralph Dibny for the first time as he is now a recurring character on THE FLASH, but the character has a long history in comics that doesn’t really reflect the character that’s now appearing on television.
Ralph Dibny – the Elongated Man – was created by writer John Broome and artist Carmine Infantino in 1960, as a supporting character in THE FLASH (vol. 1) 112. Much like the similarly-powered Reed Richards over at Marvel, Dibny has the ability to stretch his body parts with enhanced durability. He’s also a world-renowned detective, whose nose will twitch at the sign of a mystery.
The creation of the Elongated Man was really something of a happy accident. Editor Julius Schwartz directed Broome and Infantino to create a new character with the ability to stretch. The editor, though, was unaware that DC Comics had acquired the rights to published the character Plastic Man when the company made a deal with Quality Comics for its characters in 1956.
Dibny’s chemistry skills are also nearly unmatched, as he crafted the Gingold serum that gives him his powers, after learning that the contortionists he loved as kid used an extract called Gingo to gain their stretchiness. He has to drink the serum regularly to maintain his powers. Despite his skills as a detective, Dibny used his abilities to enter show business, becoming rich from his appearances and meeting socialite Sue Dearborn. The two fell in love and got married, and Ralph and Sue Dibny became one of the most beloved couples in the DC Comics universe.
The Elongated Man finally became a member of the Justice League of America during the team’s time headquartered on an orbital satellite, though his role was mostly comic relief. He stayed with the League even when Aquaman took over and required a full-time commitment from its members, which excluded big names like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and pretty much all the big guns the company published. During the Detroit era, Aquaman and Dibny were joined by heroes like Vibe, Gypsy, Steel and Vixen (anyone else see a trend here?). He stayed with the team until it disbanded in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths and its follow-up, LEGENDS.
Ralph and Sue Dibny are probably most associated now with the Giffen-DeMatteis JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL era, as the couple joined up with the United Nations’ Justice League Europe – mainly because they both spoke French and the headquarters was in Paris. Again, the couple stayed with the League through a couple incarnations until it again disbanded before the big guns came back in Grant Morrison’s JLA. The couple would stay largely under the radar until Giffen and DeMatteis returned to the team with the I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League story.
This is, unfortunately, where their story takes a pretty tragic turn.
In writer Brad Meltzer’s 2004 miniseries IDENTITY CRISIS, Ralph is out on a mission, leaving Sue home alone to prepare for Ralph’s birthday. Sue is murdered by Ray Palmer’s somewhat deranged ex-wife, who meant to incapacitate Sue to help bring everyone back together. To make matters worse, Sue was pregnant and was getting ready to surprise Ralph with the news. And even worse… it’s revealed that Sue was raped by the villain Dr. Light, which caused members of the team to start wiping the minds of villains, and other heroes. The murder pretty much destroyed Ralph – and set in motion a fairly grim period for DC Comics in general – and the Elongated Man was next seen as a featured character in the 2006-07 weekly miniseries 52, where he sought to reunite with his beloved wife. In the end, he did, as he was killed by the demon Neron with his own wedding ring. Before his death, though, he managed to trap Neron in Dr. Fate’s tower.
Outside of some appearances either as ghost detectives or as undead Black Lanterns, that was the last fans saw of Ralph and Sue for quite some time. They returned unexpectedly – and without much fanfare – during the New 52 era in Gail Simone’s Secret Six. Dibny was undercover as an agent of Mockingbird named Big Shot. Mockingbird, though, was really just the Riddler, who had Sue Dibny by his side, seemingly turned against her husband. The pair finally got another happy ending, though, as Ralph and Sue reunited and the Elongated Man returned to his more traditional appearance.
They shockingly have still not made their debut in the Rebirth era. Fans have to settle for coming in on the ground floor of the hero’s journey during the fourth season of THE FLASH.