Not every member of the Justice League has been a huge hit. Heck, a number of them have appeared in this column.
What makes the Elongated Man unique in this case is he wasn’t so flash-in-the-pan hero who disappeared after a brief tenure with the team. No, he stuck around for quite a while and just hasn’t really been seen much since.
The Elongated Man first appeared in The Flash #112 in May of 1960. Though his very first appearance depicted him masked and attacking the Flash, that was all a bit of a trick or a misunderstanding as he really wanted to be one of the good guys, and by story’s end he was not only the Flash’s new best friend, he’d also unmasked and revealed his true name to the public as one Ralph Dibny.
Damn Autocorrect keeps wanting to name him “Disney”.
Ralph, as he was more generally known, was enamored with contortionists as a lad and discovered that every last one of those guys drank some stuff called Gingold. What was Gingold? Well, some sort of herbal extract or some similar silly made up thing that made contortionists naturally limber. In Ralph, it made him stretchy. As it was, Ralph also loved a mystery. His nose would start twitching in the most noticeable way possible when he sensed a clue.
Now, there is some speculation that creator John Broome and Carmine Infantino only came up with Ralph due to uncertainty over the rights to Plastic Man. I’m not 100% sure how true that is, but regardless, what does DC have against stretchy heroes these days? Heck, Ralph wasn’t even treated as a comic relief character. He drove around the country with his wife, Sue, solving mysteries.
So, that was another difference between Ralph and most Silver Age DC heroes. He was happily married. When the Flash met him, he was a bachelor. A couple appearances later, and he’s married to a socialite who can probably support their “drive around the country solving mysteries” lifestyle. Ralph would eventually join the Justice League, and Sue even would later in a support capability. But really, a happily-married superhero? With no marital tensions whatsoever? How did that happen?
Quite frankly, given how long Ralph was on the JLA, the closest we have to a member like him is actually Aquaman. Aquaman didn’t have a secret identity in those days. Near as I can make out, they treated him as if his name really was “Aquaman”. He was also a married man, though his marriage was a lot rockier as time went on due to unfortunate events involving his son and some other things I won’t get into right now.
And that mystery thing was actually a mainstay. While many DC heroes had nicknames that suggested detective work, Ralph was the Ductile Detective, and he really did solve mysteries in his solo appearances, often in the back of other, more established hero’s magazines like Batman. So, really, Ralph earned that title.
That was something else he had in common with Aquaman. Aquaman was sometimes called the “Sea Sleuth”. And I am not making that up.
Ralph was something of a League mainstay. He was there for the Detroit period and the humor period.
But then someone decided the Silver Age wasn’t rocky enough, and we got Identity Crisis. What happened there? Sue died. In the first issue. And for Ralph’s birthday, she had a wrapped home pregnancy test that came up positive, so no kids for those two. And as much as that was awful, the Dr. Light backstory for Sue that followed was much, much worse, and the creative team didn’t even give super detective Ralph the right to solve the case on its own, letting someone else do it as he faded into the background.
The 52 yearlong series that followed tried to fix that by having Ralph try to get his life back together. Someone made it look like Sue was resurrectable, but when Ralph checked it with a chance encounter with Dr. Fate’s helmet, he went around and eventually revealed that flask he was drinking out of wasn’t alcohol but the Gingold stuff he hadn’t touched in a long time, and he knew full well Felix Faust was setting him up because that Fate helmet is awfully shiny, and the thing any good detective does first is dust for prints. Ralph died at the hands of Faust and Neron, but not before setting a trap that had the two stuck in the same old house for a period as punishment for dicking him around. He and Sue came back as a pair of ghost detectives after that, but that didn’t seem to go anywhere, and Black Lantern versions of the happy couple killed Hawkman in Blackest Night, but Ralph and Sue were not among the lucky 12 to get resurrected when that story ended.
There was apparently a brief appearance of the Elongated Man after the New 52 started, but seriously DC, what happened to your stretchy heroes?