Way back at the beginning of my time on this site, I waxed rhapsodic about ‘The Elongated Man’, but I think it’s been long enough that it’s worth repeating: The old ‘Elongated Man’ backup strips in the Silver Age ‘Flash’ comic, which have been collected in DC’s ‘Showcase Presents’ series of big black-and-white trade paperbacks, is absolutely brilliant.
For those of you unfamiliar with the “classic” version of the character, The Elongated Man was a contortionist who discovered a secret plant extract called “gingold” that amplified his natural abilities to Plastic Man-level powers, and proceeded to become a super-hero. At first it seemed like his primary goal was to show off how much better he was than Barry Allen, but after a few stories, he settled into a nice guy, revealed his secret identity (which, since this was the Silver Age, did not result in his gruesome death at the hands of a well-organized band of ruthless supervillains) and married Sue Dearbon, a rich heiress. The two of them settled into a regular back-up feature in which they traveled the world, bumping into strange and unusual mysteries that they solved a la Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, or Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles.
The mysteries are not “fair play” mysteries, but they are clever and they always have inventive hooks. One story, for example, opens with them going to a sold-out play…only to find out that they’re the only people in the audience, and yet the sound of laughter and applause rings through the room and the actors play as though to a whole crowd. (The solution to that one involves an eccentric billionaire, but I won’t divulge more.) Ralph and Sue are both clever and charming, and clearly in love, and they use their wits together to solve the mystery and find the culprits.
At which point a fistfight usually ensues, because this is a superhero comic, and it’s here that you understand why Carmine Infantino is such an amazing and legendary artist. His solid draftsmanship makes every scene look good, but his pencils in the fight sequences really make you understand how a character with super-stretching powers can be less of a cerebral thinker or a whacky comic-relief character and more of a bad-ass one-man whirlwind of flying fists and feet. Ralph uses his stretching abilities to launch villains into walls, punches six guys at once, or twists like an unwinding rubber band to literally hit everyone in the room at once. I never thought of Ralph Dibny as a tough guy, but after reading this I’m seriously convinced hat he could take Batman in a fight.
Every story is charming, funny, and casual-reader friendly. Each mystery is fun to read, and while it’s not a “fair play” mystery (one in which you could reasonably deduce the ending from the clues provided by the author), it isn’t one that out-and-out cheats, either. The collection is 500 pages of pure fun, and now that all of the mistakes that made the character unworkable post ‘Identity Crisis’ have been undone by the reboot, DC could do worse than revisit the character…assuming they did so in the same spirit as the original, of course. Which, in the interests of staying positive as I always try to do for these entries, I will not discuss here.