Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Showcase Presents: The Elongated Man, vol. 1

Believe it or not, there was no Elongated Man trade until 2006's Showcase Presents: The Elongated Man, vol. 1 (don't wait up for the color version). The good:
  • 559 pages of Elongated goodness in 52 stories.
  • The lack of coloring Joe Giella, Sid Greene and Carmine Infantino's wonderful ink work.
  • You get the full Elongated Man 101.
The bad:
  • The lack of color is a bit tiresome. The impact is not the same.
  • The Table of contents is a mess.
  • No foreword, articles, annotations.
  • The cover is ruined with the "Over 500 pages of Comics!" crap.
  • It's missing about 30 stories and we have not seen volume 2 after 5 years.
Since I didn't get JLE, I only new Ralph as the stretchy guy in the superhero crowds of the early 90s. After the Super Buddies miniseries, Identity Crisis and 52 I was hooked on Gingold. Europe '92 was mostly a disappointment, and even though there was no color trade I decided to give Ralph a second chance with Showcase Presents and I've never regretted it. I have to admit that it's a decent introduction that doesn't go hard on the pocket. After that I've been collecting the rest of the Elongated Man material issue by issue.

When it comes to Carmine Infantino's art, I always say the same: flawless. By the different art styles, you can tell how much was up to the inkers back then. save for the last 15 stories, all the art was done by Infantino, and yet, some of that look really different. Joe Giella is really neat, Infantino (who did some inking) is very scratchy (but not any less appealing) and Sid Greene is somewhere in between. Carmine's sense of fashion and design is something most artists, including modern ones could only wish to have (Cooke and Sale come close to it, though). When Sid Greene does the pencilling as well, the stories look a bit funnier. Other artists include Murphy Anderson (who also did some of the inking in the Carmine issues), Irv Novick,  Neil Adams, Gil Kane and Mike Sekowsky (recognize any names?).

Same artist, different inker. Note: this images are from the original publications, the Showcase doesn't have color.

The writing and editing in all is done by the guys who revived the super hero genre in the late 50s: John Broome, Gardner Fox and editor Julius Schwartz. Back then stories were mostly for kids. They are very naive, might present huge deal events as if it was nothing and introduce every single aspect (nowadays editors do the opposite, which is a lot worse). It's not the type of trade you read in a couple of hours, but something you calmly enjoy during 10 minutes every day. The great and now late Dwayne McDuffie once told me that, since younger generations are only trained to read post modern comics, we're bound to have some troubles with silver and golden age stuff. If you are not used to silver age story telling, be patient, you'll get there at no time. And it's really worth it, these guys are the source of many mind-blowing stories by Alan Moore and Grant Morrison.


  1. As you can tell by my user name--the name I use on some comic book message boards (my other user name being "An Ear In The Fireplace")--i'm a fan of comic book inking. Especially classic comic book inking.

    So for me the Showcase Presents volume was a real treat--in that the black and white allows one to better observe the skills of the inkers. And EM was an inking feast.

    My favourite inker is (and always will be) Sid Greene--thanks in part to these stories. I love his shading and modelling. He defined the DC style for me.

    Now granted--his inks totally change Infantino's pencils--but I'm fine with that.

    On the other hand, I love to see Carmine inking his own work. His peculiar style didn't go down so well with the average readers back in the day. But genius is seldom appreciated in its own time. Some of his Elongated Man works are masterpieces worthy of continued study.

  2. The downside of black and white reprints--as you say--is the lack of colour. And as I've said a few times on message boards, classic comics reprinted without colour are like classic movies without their musical sound tracks. Like the music in movies, the colour sets the tone for the story in comics--it tells us the mood of each scene.

    Colour wasn't used back then like it is now. Now colouring almost usurps the inker's role in shading and modelling. And for the most part, classic colouring didn't do that. But it did quite clearly set the tone of stories.

    As most classic Elongated Man stories are upbeat, the vibrant colours signal how the stories are to be read. But there were a few stories where the colouring was muted or dank--signaling that some scenes were to be taken a little more seriously.

    That's the problem with the Showcase. When everything appears in this grey mood, the readers might miss the fact that this stuff is supposed to be fun. Just as they might miss the moments when the mood shifts to a darker tone.

  3. The interesting surprise about the original Detective run is that the bulk of the stories are by Gardner Fox. Allow me to explain what I mean.

    When I was first reading those issues, most of the time, the writer was unknown. Sometimes Fox or Broome was identified in the letter column. Eventually I came to understand that Fox was probably the writer for a lot of the stories I enjoyed. And I think I even assumed at one time that Fox must have created Ralph and Sue, because he was the writer who understood them best.

    But now we know that John Broome was the creator (with Infantino and Schwartz) of the world famous Elongated Man. And that Broome wrote all of the initial guest appearances by EM in the Scarlet Speedster's stories.

    I also know that Schwartz tended to let writers claim certain characters. It therefore stands to reason that Julie wanted John to continue writing Ralph when the series began in Detective.

    I believe the reason this didn't happen was owing to Broome cutting back on his workload. At that time, John Broome and his wife were spending half of their time in France--because their daughter worked there. So Broome was only in New York for half of the year--when he would write all of his scripts for Julie.

    So Schwartz increasingly relied on Fox for most of his scripts--not just on Elongated Man, but on other features, as well. But both Broome and Fox were good at writing male/female relationships--Alanna and Adam Strange, Iris West and Barry Allen, Carter and Shiera Hall, Ray Palmer and Jean Loring, Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris. Strong women and strong men. Sometimes in loving, supportive relationships. Sometimes in feisty, complicated relationships.

    So Fox was more than equal to the task of developing the Dibny marriage. One of the most mature relationships ever seen in comics (in my own opinion).

    However, it's probably because Broome was spending so much time in France that he gave Ralph a back story in that country--making l'Homme Etendu one of the nation's most celebrated heroes.

  4. The important thing to remember when reading reprints of the Elongated Man feature is that this appeared at the back of Detective. There was always a Batman lead feature. And one issue per month. In a time when Batman wasn't overexposed (even during Batmania, the number of Batman stories was minimal compared with today's surfeit of stories).

    The Batman stories varied widely in quality (although I always was happy with them--being desperate for as much Batman as possible)--but it was reassuring to know that there was going to be an Elongated Man story to follow--and this story would always be of great quality and entertainment value.

    It made Detective a sure thing, when one was trying to calculate where to spend their hard earned allowance. 12 cents was never wasted on one of these comics.

    Ralph was a second banana hero. One of the greatest second banana heroes, but still a second banana. It wasn't his job to hog the stage or do encores. He was just there as back-up. So the stories got to their point quickly, did what they had to do, and wrapped up efficiently.

    For those who are knew to these comics, they should probably read across lines. Read reprints of different characters, like trying out different dishes on a buffet. Don't over-indulge in any one flavour.

  5. Hey, I just noticed your comments I was wondering where you were, pal.

    What do you think about the new blog logo and title?
    I'm not sure "Ralph Dibny, the World-Famous Elongated Man BLOG" makes sense (if my butch writing doesn't remind you constantly, remember that English is my second language).