Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Elongated Man's Undersea Trap!

Title: "The Elongated Man's Undersea Trap!"
Issue: The Flash No. 119
Date: March 1961
Format: 14-page second and main feature.
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Writer: John Broome
Penciller:Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella
Main characters: The Flash (40th appearance, last seen in The Flash #119 / 1), the Elongated Man (3rd appearance last seen in The Flash #115).
Supporting Characters: Sue Dibny (1st appearance), Iris West.
Villains: The Bredens (1st and only).
Setting: Central City, somewhere at the Caribbean coast of a Central American country, Breda.
Stolen Item: Ralph.
Mystery: Where's Ralph?
Method: Mere searching. 
This is the first time:
  • The Elongated Man is established as a World-famous celebrity.
  • Sue appears.
  • Ralph and Sue are seen as a married couple.
  • Sue meets the Flash.
  • It becomes apparent that the Elongated Man gave his secret identity away.
  • The Flash saves the Elongated Man.
This is the last issue I consider essential to understand Ralph's background and, again, a key element is only read between the lines. In the first panel of the story (second page), we see a news papper with the header "Elongated Man marries debutante Sue Dibny". We have 6 messages, 3 of them are developments and 4 of them are hidden between the lines. Let's see the image:

So, we have that:
  1. The Elongated man marries Sue Dearbon.
  2. Sue is upper class.
  3. Sue is a young adult.
  4. The Elongated Man is famous enough for his wedding to make it to banner newspaper headliners. The caption indicates that's he's one of the country's most distinguished celebrities.
  5. His friendship with Flash grew to the point of making him his best man.
  6. Ralph gave away his secret identity (he cand marry with his Elongated Man identity as the news papers show.
      NOTE: This is Sue's first appearance.

I think it's interesting that a character that would evolve to be DC's top detective after Batman has some "mysteries" in his origins.

This story makes Ralph the first superhero to marry as well as the first to give up his secret identity (he probably did both things at the same time, which would also make him the first to do so). Various superheroes like the Flash, Hawkman, Batman (Earth-2),  the Atom, Red Tornado, Wonder Girl, and eventually, Clark, Ollie would follow his example.  The Atom follows it to the point of giving up his secret identity as well (this happens right after the Crisis). Additionally, the fact that this is Sue's first appearance, also makes the Elongated Man the first superhero to break the formula of keeping a troubling and endless romance on the side.  They will also remain a relatively drama-free marriage for the rest of their adventures.

The past issue also established him as the first superhero to make a living out of his super powers, to do so as an entertainer, and to make a fortune out of it.

I think all of what has been shown in these 3 stories makes him a pretty assertive guy: he goes for the super powers, he gets them; he goes for the fame and fortune, he gets it; goes for the debutante beauty, he gets her. Vini, vidi, vici. Compare that with poor repressed Barry and you won't wonder why he felt so jealous at first.

There are some factors to Ralph giving up his secret identity:
  1. His civil identity wasn't developed (we don't get to see his job or daily life).
  2. Barry was constantly giving it away.
  3. He earned more money as the Elongated Man.
  4. He enjoyed more being the Elongated Man than Ralph.
  5. As established in future stories, he dated Sue as Elongated Man, not Ralph.
The goofiest one is Barry repeating his real name in public (special thanks to Indiaink for helping me notice):
"Wait, did I thought that or did I say it out loud?! Ahhhh"
If you're a superhero, whatever you do, never, never tell your secret identity to Flash! I mean, it's almost deadpan comedy! The great and late Leslie Nielsen couldn't have screwed Ralph secret identity better. And to think Ralph didn't even tell Barry's identity to his own wife (who lived years among superheroes)!

Barry will keep repeating Ralph's name like and oblivious goof during this and the following stories until the secret identity status is clarified by Julie. This was all obviously writing and editing mistakes (there are a lot of  clear thought balloon/speaking balloon mistakes in these issues), which leads me to believe that giving up his identity was a happy accident. This is Elongated Main's 3rd appearance; the status of his secret identity won't be specified until the 6th (and the specification is repeated in most of the stories after that). My theory is that the creative team realized that there was no secret identity anymore 3 issues after writing Barry as a clutz and after the Elongated Man married in his superhero identity. Again, stuff that somebody should be rushing to ask Carmine Infantino.

I think what we missed would have made some dynamite pages; Flash and Elongated Man crashing Sue's debut, and a showman stealing her from the high class elite juniors would have been really cool to see. Deciding to give up his secret identity in his wedding would have also been a nice shock. 

Interesting thing abut Sue: thanks to Infantino she had a great fashion sense even in her first panels (note that she changed clothes in the same scene).

Oh, and I almost forgot! there's the rest of the story after that panel. Another "alien" story (the second of the "alien phase"). This time is the Bredans, a sub aquatic civilization that kidnap people to use as "kotas" (slaves). In this one Ralph doesn't do detective work of any sort, the story is basically about rescuing the Elongated Man from them (somehow, by no merit of his own, Barry doesn't lose his memory). I like that it's very "Twilight Zone" with a lot of pulp sci-fi vibe; a world in which fish fish men. The art is awesome as always. I love the Bredan's design and their tech (funny thing, they look aquatic, but they don't breathe water), too bad they don't become recurring characters after this story.
The Bredans.

 This issue defines Ralph's stretching speed as rocket-like, which helps explain how come he did some stuff faster than flash in his first appearance.

FINAL NOTE: The final caption of the story got me thinking about what might have been the Elongated Man's popularity like. I did a little researching in The Unofficial Guide to the DC Universe and it turns out that up until he left Flash to get his own Detective Comics feature, he was the most recurring character after Iris and Wally. Not even the most recurring villains (Grodd and Cold) appeare as much as him.  


  1. The gaps in Ralph's history are both good and bad.

    Obviously, it's kind of annoying not to have all this detail filled in. What we see indicates there's lots to tell and it's kind of bothersome that John Broome doesn't go into more detail. Although, in those days, writers didn't feel the need to fill in everything. They gave us just enough detail that we would need. Which is kind of a virtue now, in this day and age when writers seem to fill in too much detail.

    But it's good, in the sense that this allows the reader to make up his own story.

    I know I did this with a lot of the back story for Ralph. In fact, I assumed such stories must exist, when I started reading Detective and I was kind of surprised--years later, when i had finally gotten all the EM stories from these early days--and there was no story where Ralph reveals his identity to the world, no story where he courts Sue Dearbon, no story where Ralph and Sue get married with Barry as Best Man.

    However, because I and others filled in these bits with our imaginations, when later stories came out that filled in some of Ralph's back story--they seemed not right. Because it was never how I had imagined it.

    =>India Ink, aka "An Ear In The Fireplace"

  2. In my head, there is a wonderful story of how Ralph courted Sue. I see it as something like one of those old Hollywood movies--like "It Happened One Night" or "The Philadelphia Story" (or the musical remake of that last movie, "High Society").

    Ralph is a bit rough around the edges. He's strictly working class. But his money and fame allow him access to New York high society. Where he meets debutante heiress, Sue Dearbon. But though he has money, he doesn't have breeding. And Sue is pressed into marrying another. Relentless, though, Ralph doesn't give up. And in the end there's a big splashy marriage, with Barry in attendance as The Flash.

    Of course, this kind of stuff was evident to readers--even young readers back in the day. It didn't need to be explained that Ralph and Sue were an odd match. The few clues we get would have been enough for readers of the day to intuit the story of their romance. Sue has married beneath her, so to speak.

    Maybe Julie and John just assumed the story was obvious and it didn't need to be told.

    As for Barry's tendency to give away Ralph's identity--this probably is simply an error, as you indicate. It seems like letterers made this mistake quite often--rendering thought balloons as dialogue balloons in error, and the other way around, as well.

    But the comedy of a name like Ralph (maybe not apparent now, but back in the day, if a character was named Ralph he was probably meant as comic relief) probably was irresistible to John Broome (whose Flash stories are all quite funny, you know). His sense of humour probably couldn't resist using that name "Ralph" as much as possible.

    =>India Ink, aka "An Ear In The Fireplace"

  3. I agree that Ralph stealing the debutante must have been outrageous. However, specially with what was established afterwards, I think Ralph didn't have much trouble once he broke through (keep in mind he's a really nice midwesterner, which already makes him nice) and I doubt Sue's parents really disliked him. Sue is a very optimistic yet spoiled yet generous person, so I think that she most likely had generous parents with abundance mentality, who wouldn't really frown upon Ralph. I also think that Ralph probably made smart investments with his fortune, which probably was well seen by the Dearbons. But keep in mind these are all conjectures that I'm making.

  4. I just read your first three posts, and I enjoyed the synopses. Ralph was the first newlywed (and what an odd decision that was,) but I believe the married Hawks beat this in print by a few weeks. Schwartz sure loved his domestic heroes. Regardless, he was quite the trailblazer!

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  6. I discovered just that after doing the Silve Age Timeline posts. I think Ralph is still the first to debut single and get married later.

    I should go back to do more posts like this one. The first two 'tec stories are also key to the character.