Monday, March 14, 2011

Mystery of the Elongated Man!

I'll start this blog talking about the first debut story of the Elongated Man, "Mystery of the Elongated Man", published in Flash #112 (May 12, 1960). The character is introduced as the Flash's new mysterious rival, beating the world's fastest man to stop every crime. The situation reaches its peak when Flash's reporter girlfriend tells him that he's not getting the "Man of the Year Award" -- because the Elongated Man has been nominated in his place.  

Title: "Mystery of the Elongated Man!"
Issue: The Flash No. 112
Date: May 1960
Format: 13-page main feature.
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Writer: John Broome
Penciller:Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella
Main characters: The Flash (24th appearance, last seen in The Brave and the Bold #28), the Elongated Man (1st appearance).
Supporting Characters: Iris West. Ken Dibny and the Dibnys (unamed, 1st apperance, flashback).
Villains: Perry Veto and his gang.
Setting: Central City, Waymore (unnamed, in a flashback)
Stolen item: XV century Ming Dynasty vases.
Mystery: Who is the Elongated Man and how is he beating the Flash to every crime scene?
Method: Flash sets up the Elongated Man, while he's using detecting. 
This is the first time:
  • The Elongated Man appears.
  • Flash teams up with the Elongated Man.
  • The Elongated man reveals his secret identity (to Flash).
  • The Elongated man is associated with the word "mystery".

An interesting aspect of the story is that it shows that the ever altruistic Flash is very capable of feeling jealousy and vanity, to the point that he'd rather believe that the Elongated Man is a criminal than accept that there's a more capable crime fighter.  
Barry Allen, what a jealous b**ch!

Funny thing about silver age stories: they often present big deals as if it was nothing. One would think that Ralph never acted as detective before he got his own feature in Detective Comics, but read between the lines here, his detective talent was so great, he managed to solve crimes before a detective who can move at the speed of light. It's the Flash who has trouble keeping up, not him!

As you can see, the arrival of the Elongated Man was a nightmare for the jealous Flash.
Sadly, this is the only story in which the Elongated Man is the arch-rival of Flash. I think it would have suited both better to keep the relationship like that for a few more stories before moving on to friendship and collaboration. However, the character was a success and became one of the earliest recurring Flash characters. It's worth noticing that Flash #112 is actually just the 12th appearance of the title character (24th if you count issues with two features). Before that, the title used to belong mostly to Jay Garrick, the golden age Flash, and was suspended during most of the 50s.

The issue was written by John Broome and Carmine Infantino, which is why they are normally credited as the creators of Ralph; however, I think he actually was the brainchild of Julius Schwartz. I can't find a source confirming so, save the legendary statement that if he had known that DC owned Plastic Man, he wouldn't have used the name "Elongated Man", which might be a hoax, since Carmine said that Julie never talked about Plastic Man while plotting and, according to Murphy Anderson, he'd have also deny any connection between the characters.

Infantino has mentioned that Elongated Man was never meant to be a famous character (which is why he didn't joined the Justice League during the 60s, even though he was created before Atom and Hawkman), but he got an unexpected popularity and enough fan mail to give the character hi own back up series. Talking about Infantino, the art is just awesome. The guy really catches the modernist spirit of the 60s. He has a great sense of fashion, at design and even architecture. The poses and angles of silver age stories are never that impressive, but modern artist should still take a look at Infantino's stuff and learn a lesson or two.

The story is good, but it has a problem that is very common in Broome stories, he reveals the mysteries way too early (Gardner Fox did it less often). Even Scooby-Doo writers knew that the masks have to come off until the end. I think it could be easily rewritten from a postmodern view, making nod to the golden age of detective fiction. Just narrate it from Barry's perspective. We'd learn about the "mystery of the Elongated Man" from Flash, a jealous detective trying to figure out his deal because he believes he's the culprit of the wave of robberies. The Elongated Man would reveal his history, his identity and the real culprit after Flash mistakenly apprehends him, then they team-up and catch the criminal. See? We have a mystery wrapped in a mystery and the suspect turns out to be the detective. How postmodern is that?!


  1. part 1: Bear with me, there's a character limit on how long comments can be, so I will break this up in parts:

    This looks like a good idea for a blog. I'm looking forward to seeing you go through all the Elongated Man tales.

    And I like the graphics. Where does the image at the top come from? It looks familiar, but I can't place it.

    "The Mystery of the Elongated Man" is a type of story that appeared a lot at DC. Even well into the 70s and maybe beyond, there were these kinds of stories where a rival hero came to town and showed up the local hero.

    Batman and Superman both had their share of these kinds of rivals.

    And most likely, this story was just meant to be another one of those. Ralph like so many others would simply fade from memory as soon as the story was done.

    I doubt there were any big plans for him. So the 20/20 hindsight on the character needs a reality check. Some people talk about Ralph as a low rent Plastic Man--or that Julie would have used Plas, if he realized DC owned the character--but why would they have thrown away a property like PM for just one story about a rival?

    No. I believe that Ralph was meant to be a one-trick pony. Which is why not a lot of time was spent on developing the character.

    Yet once the character was met with positive reaction from the fan community, Schwartz knew enough to order more stories produced. So, I think, Ralph's considerable back story and attributes accumulated over time, as more was added to the character to flesh him out.

    (to be continued)
    => India Ink (aka "An Ear In The Fireplace")

  2. part 2:

    I don't want to get ahead of you, because I'm looking forward to your review of "The Elongated Man's Secret Weapon"--but I remember when I read through all these stories a few years back, that the point about Ralph's secret identity gave me a lot of confusion.

    You say that Ralph will give up his secret identity at the beginning of the next story, but I think this is never really made clear to the reader--one way or the other. We might assume so, but maybe our assumptions are wrong.

    At the end of "Mystery of the Elongated Man," at the Man of the Year Awards, Ralph stretches out his arm to shake hands with Flash. And the Scarlet Speedster says--in a room full of people--"Ralph, I'd sure like you with me at all the banquets..."

    Now it seems like Barry gave away his friend's secret identity right there. But maybe this is just a gaff. And anyway, nobody would probably know which "Ralph" is the Elongated Man. It's not like Ralph Dibny, at this point in time, is a well known news journalist or a famous millionaire playboy.

    But then, at the beginning of "The Elongated Man's Secret Weapon," Flash is in the audience, at the Central City Arena, as EM gives his final performance. And this time the Fastest Man Alive says out loud, "Ralph Dibny is a sensation..."

    But then Barry thinks to himself "Of course, I'm the only one who knows his real name! It's a secret between us!"

    So it seems that Ralph's secret is not known. Barry doesn't do a very good job of guarding this secret, saying Ralph almost every time he meets the World Famous Elongated Man--but nevertheless, I don't see a moment where the secret is actually given out.

    (to be concluded)
    => India Ink (aka "An Ear In The Fireplace")

  3. part 3: conclusion

    Through all these adventures, EM continues to wear his mask and he's addressed by the public as "Elongated Man." After his final performance, he goes to the Yucatan with Flash in full costume. Including that mask, which must be hot and sticky.

    Even when he marries Sue Dearbon, the newspapers report that the Elongated Man got married. There's nothing about Ralph Dibny. And the photo in the paper shows him wearing his mask.

    So I'm not sure just when the identity really is revealed. Although it's clear that it has been revealed, by the time Ralph and Sue appear in Detective Comics 327, because at the beginning of that issue's story he appears without his mask and he expects everyone to know who he is--and the Editor's Note says: "The Elongated Man is the only super-hero who has publicly revealed his true identity!"

    So as we go through these stories again, we might want to pay attention to these little details. It seems like there's a lot missing in the early adventures and we as readers are left to conjecture about exactly what is what. Ralph's courship of Sue being another case in point. That's never really dealt with either.

    Thanks for the blog and good luck with it!

    =>India Ink (aka "An Ear In The Fireplace")

  4. I think you're on to something (as always). In fact, I'd say that Schwartz might have not even expected the early villains to return, but everything added to the Flash mythos in those early issues became gold. I think people do not realize that Ralph was one of the earliest Flash characters (including villains).

    I searched for the moment in which he gives away his secret identity some months ago, but I didn't take notes. I think it's somewhere between the last pages of his first story and the first pages of the third story. I remember noticing Barry's thoughts during Ralph's performance before he retires. My conclusion was that it's the wedding. I'll mention your observation about the man of the year award in my next post. In fact if you don't mind, I'll quote you.

    I'm not finding much behind the scenes information about a. the reason for Ralph to become recurring, then getting a series and then getting it cancelled; b. the reason he only joined the league years after his peak of fame and c. Schwartz position about him and Plastic Man (the "he didn't know" thing is an hoax). I think it's urgent to ask this kind of things to Carmine Infantino while we have him among us. Do you think that there's something in the letter's columns of Flash #113 - 140 that might answer those matters.

    By the way, if you want, and as often as you want, you can write articles to publish here. Obviously with proper credit and all. Or you might write it in the blog you created and I'll make an entry here to direct you some traffic.

  5. I think that the early readers of The Flash were really enthused by the return of super-heroes. This title was one of the few new revival comics around at the time. So everything that happened in it must have felt so much more important.

    And they probably responded to the appearance of a new costumed hero with great support.

    I don't have a lot of early Flash comics, but I'll look through the letter columns in the issues I do have.

    Maybe Julie considered Ralph to be part of Flash's large family of characters--and he didn't want to put the character in the Justice League, for that reason.

    Once Ralph appeared in Detective, there would have been a good argument for giving him membership (over someone like Green Arrow, who didn't have his own regular feature by then). But the League's numbers were already getting a bit unwieldy.

    Also, I think Schwartz used the early League to promote the new titles he was introducing. Green Lantern was about to get his own title, so he got a place in the League. When The Atom and then Hawkman had their own features, they were also given membership.

    If there was no plan to give Ralph his own comic, giving him a place in the League would not have helped promote any title.

    =>India Ink (aka "An Ear In The Fireplace")

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I'm hopping to get a reply from you here, India Ink. You didn't leave me any contact information. I miss you, buddy.

  6. From what I've been reading, Elongated Man had all the fan support he needed in the 60s, even to join the JLA, but Julius was holding back. The support was enough to get him the membership, even though it was a bit after his momentum.

    Back in the 60s Ralph also have the advantage of not having to compete with so many super heroes as there are today. No Tim Drake generation, no golden agers, no Quality, Charlton or Fawcett characters, no bronze agers and not even half the silver agers. Consequently, silver age debuts must have been a big deal and fans must have craved for returns.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.