A Long Talk
Fanzing: Hello, I'm Michael Hutchison, editor of Fanzing Magazine. Today I have the enormous pleasure of interviewing, for the first time, my favorite superhero. One of the things I like about him is that he IS one of the most approachable superheroes in America, and he has readily agreed to be interviewed. He is that "Ductile Detective" Elongated Man, alias Ralph Dibny, who revealed his real identity to the world almost ten years ago. Now, my tape recorder is going, if that's okay with you, Mr. Dibny.
Ralph Dibny: Ralph, please. Or Ralphie Boy. Or Dibster. Just anything except "Ralph Digby".
Fanzing: A little "dig" at James Robinson, I take it?
Ralph Dibny: Ouch! Bad pun. Hey, Jim's a great guy, who I understand has been working hard to get me some attention in your world, so I can't stay mad at him. I think he said I'm going to be featured in Starman in a month or two, right?
Fanzing: I should explain to our readers that I had to cross the dimensional barrier between our world, where you're just a fictional character, and the world which we call "The DC Universe." And our writers are just people who've "picked up on the wavelength" of what's actually happening in your world?
Ralph Dibny: Right. And because it takes a long while for them to pick up on the events, turn them into comic books and get them drawn and published, you're actually reading stuff that's happened one or two years in our past. That time in Opal City was quite a while ago. Since then, Sue and I have been traveling
Fanzing: and mystery-solving sorry, I'm jumping in here and mystery-solving as you go, I might add. I caught up with Ralph in Blue Lake City, Indiana like many of your destinations, a town that doesn't even exist on our world and you've just solved another mystery!
Ralph Dibny: You betcha! "The Puzzle of the Presbyterian Pretzel Poacher" I call it. Hardly a world-shattering story, I'm sure, but a crime nonetheless. These pretzels for the local Presbyterian Church Bake Sale all disappeared while they were cooling
Fanzing: You mean fat, doughy pretzels like vendors sell, not beer pretzels.
Ralph Dibny: Eh exactly, yeah. The Presbyterian Women's Club had made them this morning and then they all disappeared from the cooling racks. Sue and I, always willing to help local charities, had arrived to purchase a few of them and got there just as the police were leaving. The local cops had written it off as petty theft. Hardly petty, as a few hundred pretzels at $2.50 a pretzel was a lot of money for the church. I didn't think a few local kids could have carted off that many huge pretzels, but who else would want them and why? So Sue went shopping while I investigated. The cops told me they couldn't devote any time to it because they were tailing a gang of criminals and they couldn't spare the resources for this. I finally found out that the church secretary, one of the women who helped in the baking, was actually part of this crime ring! She'd hidden the location of their loot, etched into a metal plate, by baking it into a pretzel and had planned to sell it to the boss, thus passing him the info right under the policemen's noses! When the pretzels got mixed up, she had to steal all of them to prevent the info from being found. We arrested the woman and when the hoods made a run for it I helped grab the five of them. We recovered the instructions and the jewels, and the reward money was donated to the church!
Fanzing: If you're going for an alliterative title, why not add "Pedestrian"?
Ralph Dibny: I don't get you.
Fanzing: It seems like every single podunk town you enter always has some bizarre crime which is five times more complicated than it has to be and always involves some anonymous hoodlums with whom you duke it out in your own inimitable fashion. These stories are fun but they tend to all be the same after a while.
Ralph Dibny: Well, excuse me, but I don't write this stuff. It just happens to me!
Fanzing: Understood. Let's talk a little about your background. A lot of modern readers have trouble believing that a kid would spend his lifetime obsessed with becoming an Indian Rubber Man!
Ralph Dibny: Hey, a lot of readers in 1960 thought that was dumb, too. But for the most part, readers are forgiving of eccentricities. Eccentrics are the spice of life and of your comic books! Consider the supervillain. There are few pros and a lot of cons to dressing up in bright costumes, giving yourself a name and grandstanding if you're trying to pull off a crime. Our criminal psychologists still haven't figured out why people take this option instead of working quietly and getting away scott-free. But would people still be reading Batman if all he ever fought were mobsters in fedoras and hoodlums in street clothes?
Fanzing: Good point.
Ralph Dibny: And look at your villains. You have guys like Roy G. Bivolo and T.O. Morrow who would never embark on their careers if their parents had named them something sensible. Compared to them, wanting to be a rubber man is as good a career option as being a Harvard professor! And may I say something in my defense?
Fanzing: Talk all you want.
Ralph Dibny: Thanks. I just need to clarify that I wasn't OBSESSED with being an Indian Rubber Man. I thought it was cool and bizarre, and at that age all kids are into cool, bizarre stuff. I'd just started freaking out this classmate of mine named Lori Gunderson you know, turning my eyelids inside out, folding my ears inward, bending my fingers really far back, stuff like that and this just seemed like an extension of that. Plus, I was this wiry little stringbean with no aptitude for sports, so showing off and grandstanding for my classmates was the only way I'd get any attention. I figured I'd talk with this Rubber Man and see if he could give me any pointers. He brushes me off with this "trade secret" stuff and that just made me determined.
Fanzing: Did you see the Gingold then, even when you were a little kid?
Ralph Dibny: I think I only remembered it because I was thirsty and my dad couldn't afford the pop at the circus. You know, they give you a little lukewarm gulp for a buck! And it's probably even more expensive now. So it just looked good. But I didn't recall that until later.
Fanzing: Years later.
Ralph Dibny: Right. And this is where your comics are unfair. They don't show anything else from my life, so it just looks like I spent every day of my childhood yearning to be a rubberman! That's stupid! I did a lot of normal kid stuff. I played pinball with my friends and later, video games when they arrived in our little Nebraska town of Waymore. I took theater and choir. I tried to participate in sports and I did learn enough exercises to get in shape, but I was never going to be a quarterback like my older brother. And I swam a lot! That helped out later when I needed strong arms!
Fanzing: Yeah, you have a swimmer's build.
Ralph Dibny: Thank you!
Fanzing: Your background is one of the things I've always identified with. I went to school in this little Wisconsin town and I wasn't any good at sports. At our school, you were either a member of the football team or you were nothing! [Ralph's nodding his head knowingly.] I really wished I'd gone to a larger school where the student body was big enough to support other things like the arts and theater and music. Instead, being so unpopular, all I had were books and comics.
Ralph Dibny: Books! I can't believe I forgot that. I never got into comics, but I was a world class bookworm! I don't think I went anywhere without some books in my hand. I read everything I could get my mitts on, from literature to science.
Fanzing: You read science books for fun?
Ralph Dibny: Well, not really fun but, as if you couldn't tell, I read a ton of mystery/crime novels. Every single Sherlock Holmes book, of course. And over the years I added Agatha Christie, Encyclopedia Brown, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Mike Hammer, Sam Spade all those "Web of " books by Jonathan Law "The Thin Man" movies and TV shows, too. I must have had the biggest crush on Myrna Loy who played Nora Charles I'm sure that's reflected in the woman I ended up marrying! Anyway, all this mystery reading not only emphasized studying and detail, but also made it clear that you HAD to have accumulated a lot of knowledge. Thus, I ended up trying to absorb every fact I read. I'd probably be a "C" student if not for detective novels that showed what a man can do if he knows a lot of facts.
Fanzing: So you wanted to be a detective like The Thin Man?
Ralph Dibny: That's a misnomer. It's like Frankenstein being the creator, not the monster, or "The Pink Panther" which described the diamond central to the first movie's plot but came to mean Inspector Clouseau to the general public. "The Thin Man" wasn't a description of Nick Charles, it was the description of the murder victim in the book and the original film!
Fanzing: Right, I've seen the first movie.
Ralph Dibny: Oh, you have to see them all! The first one's a great one, though, with the classic lines like "I read you were shot five times in the tabloids."
Fanzing: "Not true! He didn't come near my tabloids!"
Ralph Dibny: [Laughing] Or that joke about the Sullivan Act. Geez, now I need to watch that again.
Fanzing: But did you want to become a detective?
Ralph Dibny: Sorry. Um yeah and no. I mean, I don't think I was seriously planning to get a private eye office and a grey flannel suit and a door with a big eyeball on it. It was more of a dream that I had no plans to make reality. I just liked the idea.
Fanzing: What else did you do in school?
Ralph Dibny: I read and read some more. I mean, I was still trying to get people to notice me at talent shows and other events and I did get on the school council because of my grades but I didn't have more than a couple close friends. The few girlfriends I had were just passing fancies that didn't last beyond a couple dates. I wasn't a pocket-protector, Star Trek nitpicking geek though my extravagent dress sense didn't help me blend in with the cool kids. I was just an introvert who wanted to be an extrovert, if that makes any sense.
Fanzing: Were you a "brain" by then?
Ralph Dibny: Hmmm not a stereotypical one, but I was definitely better than most public school students. I just read a lot and took comfort from the truth that brains can take you far. My favorite book isn't even a mystery. It's "A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court!"
Fanzing: Because of the fantasy escapism?
Ralph Dibny: Please. "Yankee" has never been adapted well into films, which center on knights boogying to rock music and King Arthur misinterpreting modern slang. You have to read the book. Mark Twain wrote this wonderful novel which centers on an American engineer who, only through the power of his mind, manages to reshape the entire Arthurian kingdom. Because he possesses 19th Century knowledge in the 6th Century, he suddenly realizes that he's the smartest man in the world and proceeds to amass power through a combination of science and showmanship. Gol', I think if I hadn't read that book ten times when I was a kid, I probably wouldn't be the man I am today. I always try to think my way out of a situation, even when I could probably win through fisticuffs.
Fanzing: Okay, so we've covered reading and your other activities. What about this Indian Rubber Man business? Did you really travel around the country seeking Indian Rubber Men to interview?
Ralph Dibny: Yes and no. I did travel around the country. I did seek out contortionists whenever I got to a circus, hoping to learn more about their secrets. But I DIDN'T travel the country for that purpose. Again, the writer, John Broome, had to summarize my entire life in just a few panels and it doesn't really present me in a level-headed light.
Fanzing: So how did the discovery of Gingold happen?
Ralph Dibny: Well, after I left Waymore, I went to the University of Michigan
Fanzing: OH! That's why you said you used to live there when the JLA moved to Detroit!
Ralph Dibny: Right. It wasn't my hometown but I lived there for a while. I couldn't afford to go to a great school, as my family was strictly middle-class. So anyway I bounced around majors for a while. I couldn't decide between chemistry and English lit. Finally I decided on Chemistry as a major, since I wanted to be employable.
Here's what happened. I have to do a senior thesis for chemistry and I'm drawing a complete blank for ideas. It's September, my senior year, and I need to start working on it then if I'm going to have it finished in time. After three hours of brainstorming in the student union, I decide to take a mental break and go forth in search of entertainment. There are about 500 handbills pasted up for this circus that's come to town, so once again I spend a couple hours relaxing amongst the greasepaint and sawdust and well, animal stench. Sorry, spoiled the romance. Anyway, I check out "The Great Zuggi", the circus' Indian Rubber Man erm, he's actually not an Indian, but whoever heard of a Jewish Rubber Man? and I catch him heading back to his trailer. He tells me, "As far as I know, kid, there's no secret to it." But I start working on my detective skills. I keep idly talking to him while I'm glancing over his tent, committing everything to memory. And I see his recycle bin is overflowing with Gingold bottles. That sparks the memory! Suddenly, I think back on all these other rubber men and they ALL drank Gingold!
Gingold's not a mainstream drink from a major bottler. It's a little more obscure about as popular as "Jolt Cola" or that diet cola that tastes like chocolate. You can't find it at just any store and when you do find someone who stocks it, IF you like the stuff, you buy it by the case. I deduced that it was too strange a coincidence that all these men, apparently big fans of the stuff, just happened to also have rubbery joints and limbs. So I immediately grab a bottle of the stuff and analyze the contents, comparing it to other soft drinks. The only major difference in the ingredients is gingo fruit juice from gingo trees, a rare tree that only grows in the Yucatan peninsula, Ecuador and a few other regions. The gingo juice is what gives Gingold its kick and makes it more expensive than other soda pops.
Fanzing: You're saying that all these India Rubber Men went out and found something to make them more flexible?
Ralph Dibny: Other way around. Most likely they were lifetime consumers of the stuff. And when they find out that they can freakishly twist their limbs around, they get on "Ripley's" or the local news and from there get recruited by circuses. There aren't many rubber men around; I've probably met them all. Most circuses don't even have sideshows any more. Freaks are now considered a political interest group; you have to refer to them as "the abnormally abled" now.
So I came up with my senior thesis. I spent months getting my hands on some gingo fruits, isolating the enzymes into a concoction of gingo extract elixir. I tested it on a few lab rats (and NO, they weren't harmed you can't harm an animal by making it drink fruit juice) but I couldn't see any difference. Frankly, lab rats have no reason to try twisting their limbs around. So I needed a human subject. I downed a good-sized beaker of the stuff and waited. No effect, aside from a slight head rush. I drank more of it on a regular basis, hoping for a cumulative effect, but my powers didn't manifest until I saw a falling flower pot above a busy sidewalk. I was on the other side of the street and I started to run towards it, but as my arm shot out to run it suddenly stretched across the street!
Fanzing: What was your reaction?
Ralph Dibny: Shock would be putting it lightly. I had anticipated, at the most, an increase in flexibility. How far back I could bend a finger or some such. But suddenly my arm was hundreds of feet long! It was eerie. People gaped and gasped. I deflected the flowerpot so that it didn't hurt anyone, then I willed my arm back to its normal length and ran.
Fanzing: Ran? I thought you wanted attention.
Ralph Dibny: On my own terms, sure. But I didn't want to be arrested as a freak or something. So I raced back to my little off-campus bachelor pad and analyzed the results. After a lot of experimenting as to what my powers could do, I began to have reservations about my experiment. I didn't want criminals and ne'er-do-wells misusing this super-stretching ability. So I switched majors again and did an essay on "Connecticut Yankee" for my senior thesis, graduating as an English major. Meanwhile, I cobbled together a basic purple uniform from an experimental stretch nylon I'd read about in my studies. After graduation, I began traveling the country as Elongated Man. I found that I could keep the stretching powers as long as I continued to drink the Gingold (as I called the gingold elixir) on a daily basis.
Fanzing: I have some questions about that, if you don't mind stopping your mini-bio here. See, your need to use Gingold daily makes you the only metagene superhero whose powers are temporary. Rex Tyler, the late Hourman, didn't have a metagene; his miraclo pills would work for anybody. But you have the metagene. Can you explain that?
Ralph Dibny: Well it's complicated. I'll try to keep this as simple as possible.
First of all, I quickly discovered that Gingold elixir didn't work for other people who got a hold of it. Some thieves who stole my suitcase quickly assessed what it was for but after they all drank a bottle, some of them were sick and others were unaffected, but none of them could stretch. The reason some of them got sick is that many people are allergic to gingo fruit in large quantities! The small fraction of it in Gingold, the bottled soft drink, is too minimal to matter. For instance my wife, Sue, is allergic to gingo, but she can drink a bottle of Gingold without any problems.
I did some more analyzing of the Gingold elixir and came to the conclusion that its effects must have interacted with some X factor in my type O blood. In a way, I was totally wrong and in another, I was on the verge of discovering the then-unknown metagene!
Years later, a lone Dominator scientist exploded a metagene-bomb which nearly wiped out the vast majority of superheroes. Our scientists then discovered that all the affected superheroes were human beings who possessed a "metagene" which would be activated by adverse stimuli. Getting hit by lightning, standing at ground zero of an A-bomb explosion, being doused in chemicals, etc. The ratio of humans with latent metagenes is about 1 in 7 for Caucasians and probably less for some ethnic groups. That's just a fact, by the way, I don't mean to offend anyone. It's the only explanation our researchers have come up with for why there weren't hundreds of superhumans after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for example.
Anyway I was amongst the people knocked out by the bomb. At the time, that didn't make sense, because I get my powers from the stretchiness-imbuing properties of gingo elixir. So Sue and I spent some time with Dr. Ben Medved at S.T.A.R. Labs and he ran a battery of tests on me. Here's what he found: I'm allergic to gingo too! I didn't notice during my studies because I was dealing with such small amounts. All the ingesting of gingo samples allowed me to build up some immunity to it. But when I downed that huge beaker of it my body had a massive allergic reaction which would have killed me on the spot if my metagene hadn't been activated! My physiology was then transformed to handle gingo. I still need to have the gingo enzymes in my body for my powers to manifest.
Fanzing: How did you make your money? I've always been told you made it in the circus, but circuses don't make all that much money. I find it hard to believe you made millions in the circus!
Ralph Dibny: You're right. I only made one million in the circus. A financially troubled circus managed to raise a quarter million from backers if I'd do exclusive shows with them. People paid admission to get in and had to pay extra to see me which is a bit of a racket, but there weren't many complaints. It got the circus up on its feet and by the end of the month I had most of a million dollars! Then I got an offer to leave the circus and do a magic television special at Madison Square Garden with Zatanna. That's how we met; later that year she sought me out to help her find her father, Zatara. Zee taught me a lot of slight-of-hand and illusions. When the show was televised, we raked in the money. I still get royalty checks from all the videos of that show. From there, I would occasionally do stunt work in Hollywood; they paid me well because I could do amazing stunts without getting hurt. I continued to do that over the years, since it doesn't take long and keeps me financially secure. And when a toy putty company licensed my name well, from then on I had a steady source of income.
Meanwhile, I did start my superhero career. That wasn't really intentional; I planned to just be a celebrity. But it starts with catching falling kittens and saving drowning kids and pretty soon you're foiling bank heists. The Justice Leaguers, with the exception of my buddy The Flash, tended to pooh-pooh me for using my powers for monetary reasons. I got passed over for JLA membership several times because of that. But I was a celebrity who became a superhero, not a superhero who cashed in on his status. It's the other way around. Anyway, by the time I met Sue I'd already accumulated about three million dollars. That, plus all the millions she's inherited from relatives have kept us financially secure. We put all those millions in the bank and just live off the interest. As long as we stayed on an ample budget and didn't touch the principle, Sue and I could live life like it's a nonstop vacation.
Fanzing: Sue Dearbon, who became your wife. You met her at her debutante ball. Was she really only 18 at the time?
Ralph Dibny: No, 20. She'd fought her mother's desire to throw a debutante ball for several years. Sue's funny that way. On the one hand, she IS a typical upscale New York WASP, with her desire to be seen amongst the glitterati wearing the latest Versace creation. But she also rebels against the stuffy, crusty upperclass. Partly to annoy her parents, but mostly because of her strong belief in America being a land of equality. Sue's just as comfortable wearing a t-shirt and overalls to paint a porch as she is wearing an eye-popping dress to a charity event.
Fanzing: So Sue was 20. That's still young. And right away you started globetrotting. She didn't complete college, then?
Ralph Dibny: Oh, she did. Sue was educated in private schools and with private tutors. She studied at home and abroad. She studied so much that she was only 16 when she went to college for her business degree. That's another reason that Sue had her debutante ball at 20.
Fanzing: How did your relationship start? Gerard Jones stated in "Secret Origins" that you crashed her debutante ball.
Ralph Dibny: Hold on! Crashed it? I had a legitimate reason for being there! I was preventing some jewel thieves who were planning to hit that party as their next target. I was hiding in a planter, waiting to spring on the hooligans when they arrived, but one of the partygoers spotted me and shrieked. With my hiding place ruined, I made my presence known and admitted that the thieves were probably scared off. Then I stayed to party. This idea that I'd fake the story just to attend a party is a real slur.
Fanzing: Glad we could set the record straight. How did you and Sue meet, then?
Ralph Dibny: Sue thanked me for livening up the party! There she was, this stunning young woman, gliding up to me so smoothly that I thought she was on a conveyor belt. She looked like Audrey Hepburn, Myrna Loy and Karen Allen all rolled into one. At first she was demure and proper and then she flashed this smile that just snagged my heart.
Fanzing: What was your reaction?
Ralph Dibny: Um trying to maintain my composure. I mean, I'm wearing skintight stretch nylon so I didn't want to have a physical reaction, if you know what I mean! I was a little taken aback when she took my hand and shook it. I mean, in my head I'm still this gawky carrot-top from Backwater, Nebraska, and this gal was WAY out of my league. Even though I'd been hanging around celebrities and beautiful people for the last few months, and women were after me left and right
Fanzing: Yeah, right!
Ralph Dibny: No, seriously! But not in a good way. [Ralph blushes and appears hesitant] See, it didn't take long for this talk of "a man who can stretch any part of his body" to get people wiggling their eyebrows and making nasty remarks. I mean, the late night comedians were merciless! Night after night, I'd be the punchline for a dirty joke. My name may as well have been Buttafuoco. And all these women who started hounding me were all thinking the same thing. But none of them wanted ME, they just wanted Elongated Man. It was all very superficial and humiliating. I didn't date at all. It's funny, now but I was just as lonely surrounded by panty-throwing women as I was back in Nebraska in a school where girls would just as soon step on me as look at me.
Fanzing: I can imagine.
Ralph Dibny: But Sue seemed to see me in a different light. We just connected and I could tell that no matter what she said next, she wasn't going to start throwing her panties and screaming. We bantered a bit, talking about the party and the people there. We were trading quips as fast as Nick and Nora Charles, and I was having a ball. We went out on her terrace and she began talking about the horrid party and it hit me that we were so much alike. We were both, in our own way, trapped by society surrounded by people who loved us but didn't know anything about us. She was expected to be a carbon-copy debutante, dating Kennedys and getting drunk at trendy charities and making the gossip columns until she had a string of divorces behind her. Me, I'd finally managed to get all the attention I'd wanted but only as a superficial showman with some cool powers; no one really cared who I was.
Fanzing: What was your first date like?
Ralph Dibny: Well, I could relate the whole story to you, but I'm sure it would be just as easy to read it in one of your comic books!
Fanzing: Huh? Uh I don't think that story has been told. See, in our universe you first appeared in a couple issues of the Flash as a back-up character. It kind of skips from your first appearances to your honeymoon, where you got kidnapped by the underwater aliens.
Ralph Dibny: Are you kidding me? Well, wasn't there ever an "Elongated Man: Year One" mini-series or maybe just a Year One tale in the Elongated Man Annual or something?
Fanzing: No. Only ongoing series get annuals.
Ralph Dibny: WAIT! You mean I don't have an ongoing series?
Fanzing: Ah no. Sorry. I hate to be the one to break this to you.
Ralph Dibny: Oh, jeez. I can't believe it. I figured, since I'm such a household name
Fanzing: Well, you're not a big household name in our universe. You started off as a minor character in "The Flash" and then you had a pretty successful run as a back-up mystery series in "Detective Comics". You appeared in several hundred issues of "Justice League of America", then "Justice League Europe." You did get your own mini-series in 1992 and since leaving the JLE, you've pretty much vanished. You were seen in a few cameo appearances, and now it looks like you're going to be in several issues of "Starman". But you've never really been a a BIG character.
Ralph Dibny: I can't believe it. You must be missing out on a lot of my adventures. Like my first date with Sue! THERE's a story that deserves to be told. It's got action, spies, corporate espionage, gunplay, car chases, some sad scenes between Sue and her parents when they forbid her to date me, a cameo appearance by Bruce Wayne, lots of humor, romance, dancing, swordfights, a huge battle and a happy ending! It would make a fantastic comic book. Heck, it would make a hell of a 1980's movie with songs by Billy Ocean and Lionel Richie!
Fanzing: While we're on the subject of your early days, I need to ask you about your public identity. Unfortunately, that isn't so unique these days, when there are a dozen heroes with known identities Wally West and the entire Infinity Inc. team, just to name a few. But back then, it was unheard of for an active superhero to make his name known to the public.
Ralph Dibny: And it was a bad decision on my part.
Fanzing: Whoah! I wasn't expecting that.
Ralph Dibny: Well, I've had nine years to regret it. It seemed a great decision at the time. After all, I was single, I could handle myself in a fight, I didn't have any enemies and who was going to put out a contract on a rubber-band man, right? At the same time, revealing the identity of the circus performer and minor hero "Elongated Man" catapulted me into the spotlight. Even when I got married, I did it thinking that I'd never be more than a celebrity and amateur detective.
My years of detective work as you say, everywhere I go I find a mystery to solve and criminals to apprehend as well as encounters with other superheroes all of that elevated me to superhero status. And my time with the JLA put me amongst the world's most prominent heroes, getting threats from some major league baddies. My marriage was made into a weak spot, as a lot of enemies would kidnap Sue as a way to stop the whole JLA or catch me off guard. When Queen of the Royal Flush Gang posed as Sue and said the Gang had taken her prisoner, I didn't even think it suspicious because it happened so often!
Ever since Aquaman re-formed the JLA, Sue has been at my side as an honorary member and a part of the League support staff. She filled that role again when I joined the Justice League Europe, and she even grew into the team's manager for a while. But all of this placed Sue in jeopardy time and time again. She's been kidnapped 35 times since we got married. After the last time, I left the JLE and have been a limited player ever since. If you haven't seen me much aside from Hal Jordan's funeral and the few times that the current JLA has called in the reserves, that's why. I wasn't asked to join the current JLA but that's fine. I think most of the members knew I'd have to decline for Sue's sake. As Superman used to say, "I'm there if the League needs me, but I can't make a commitment to the team."
Fanzing: Then you've no problem with Plastic Man filling your role?
Ralph Dibny: Well, it's not like we're interchangeable. I'm a detective and a skilled hand-to-hand combatant. He's a shapechanger. I know he claims to be a detective, but let's face it, his detective skills consist of hiding as a hideous streetlight until the crook comes walking by. When it comes to shape-changing and malleability, he wins hands down. But if the team needs someone to think their way out of a situation, no one goes running for Plastic Man.
Fanzing: Well, they have Batman as the brainy detective of the team.
Ralph Dibny: Like you only need one? That's like the military recruiter saying, "No thanks, we already have a guy who fires a gun." I know people tend to think that a team needs one brainy guy, one muscle-bound giant, one sorcerer, one woman with telepathy, one guy who runs fast but would you really turn down the chance to boost your team's overall effectiveness? There are times that the League splits into pairs and fights several problems at the same time and if you only have one smart detective, what happens when the other group runs into a problem that needs skulling? In the old days, Batman and I were both on the team and there wasn't any redundancy. In the same way, if I joined the current team, Plastic Man wouldn't have to go. We're very different.
Fanzing: Aside from personalities?
Ralph Dibny: Quite. Yeah, I used to be a little light-hearted, but I wasn't a clown. He makes me look like Batman! But there are more basic differences. I'm a stretchable human, whereas he's been transformed into a non-human ball of putty. Physically, I have a lot of limitations. If I'd been shot in the head posing as the Joker, as he was when he infiltrated the Injustice Gang, I'd just be dead. I still have brains, muscles, bones, a vascular system they just stretch. I can't open holes in my body or close them if I'm shot. I need to breathe, and I can't stretch so thin that my blood can't circulate. Granted, my physical strength and endurance have been heightened, but I have my limits. Plastic Man, however, is just a wad of goo with a consciousness who still takes human form. He doesn't even have hair, just a big solid plastic coif like you'd find on a Lego man. If he ever refers to his physical self in terms of bones and stuff, it's mostly due to his need to think of himself as human. But the difference between Plastic Man and me it's like the differences between a rubber band and a wad of gum.
Fanzing: Most people don't think of you as a "hand-to-hand combatant."
Ralph Dibny: I don't see why not. Well, maybe because I don't just use my hands, I use everything! I can tackle about eight or ten guys simultaneously. There are few people in the world who can do that. I've got some proper martial arts training from Black Canary and Batman during my League days, but mostly as a means of self-defense in case my gingold wears off. My combat moves are customized forms of judo, karate, jujitsu, boxing, etc. I really had to invent my own fighting methods. A lot of people say that watching me in action is like watching Jackie Chan if he was able to stretch all of his limbs 100 feet!
Ralph Dibny: Which is why I'm puzzled that there aren't Elongated Man comics in your universe. You'd think they'd really appeal to the "Batman/Nightwing/Robin/Black Canary" crowd.
Fanzing: Getting back to the subject of your public identity and the problems it caused you're now officially semi-retired from super-heroing, right?
Ralph Dibny: Yeah. Being a superhero is a rough calling. You probably don't see the nastier side of the business. The hospitalizations, the broken bones and muscles, the deaths. You see some of it, but I know the comics don't focus on it. For me, the last several years have been rough. Barry Allen, my best friend in the world, died a few years back. Since then, both Hal and Ollie gave their lives, too. We've also lost Tora and Crimson Fox. And Rex. It's weird to be only 31 years old, yet so many of my friends are dead. I think you need to be a war veteran to really understand what that's like. Between that and the threats on Sue's life I just began to think that there was too high a cost to being a superhero. You begin to see why some people like the Shining Knight and Stripesy choose to live a quiet life.
Fanzing: Are you trying to stay out of the limelight?
Ralph Dibny: Prrrrrrretty much. It hasn't been easy. We live in such a rude, crude age, that it isn't even fun being a celebrity. From the paparazzi to the Internet snoops there's no privacy. People think that once you've done anything in the public eye you've invited the public to nose into every aspect of your private life. Ask Uma Thurman and Cameron Diaz, who try to get some sun and wind up with topless pics of them floating around the Internet for ever and ever. Ask all the couples like Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee who've made a "private home video" and then had that footage mass-produced. Heck, ask Mark Waid and Devin Grayson, who aren't even public figures in the traditional sense!
Remember what I said about dirty jokes? It just got worse when I got married. People now say stuff in public that transcends all bounds of broadcasting decency. I mean, this is my wife. I could understand if we were exhibitionists inviting criticism, but we're just an ordinary married couple who don't do more than give little pecks in public and keep our other endeavors confined to the bedroom. Nonetheless, there are grown men who say stuff about us in front of millions of listeners and viewers things that are more representative of snickering 13-year-olds and, and it's just no one's business! For crying out loud, our families are watching TV and hearing this stuff!
Fanzing: Yeah, I've heard endless jokes about why it is that you and Mr. Fantastic are the only two happily-married comic book characters.
Ralph Dibny: I wish that was the rudest people got. Even before that Pamela Anderson footage started circulating, there were porn companies trying to bug our hotel rooms with video cameras. The more up-and-up "adult entertainment" studios openly offered me millions to star in some features. I turned them down, but they then blabbed to the press and got more dirty jokes circulating. One studio finally did made some 40 rip-off movies before I found out!
Fanzing: How'd you discover it? [Mock horror] You weren't actually IN an adult bookstore, were you?
Ralph Dibny: NO! Thank you VERY much! I'll have you know I found out about it at a Mensa meeting.
Fanzing: Mensa being that group for people with high I.Q.s. How the heck did you find out THERE?
Ralph Dibny: I was attending a yearly major meeting and ran into porn star Asia Carrera. She asked if I minded that she was playing Sue in all the "Eschlongated Man" movies and my blank stare must have informed her that they hadn't been approved! So I call my lawyer and we investigate. Oh! They're so awful. No plot, bad sound, horrid music and lame special effects. I sued to have them removed, but you and I know that once produced you can never destroy all the copies. Mr. Miracle and Big Barda told me about some similar hassles they went through.
Fanzing: Sure. Let's get away from the lewd and profane
Ralph Dibny: Gladly.
Fanzing: and talk about a much more pleasant subject. Your wife, Sue. Are you still so happy after what is it? It must be going on ten years in your time.
Ralph Dibny: Unfortunately, we got married after Superman first appeared, so we'll never ever have a tenth anniversary according to the Zero Hour timeline!
Fanzing: That's too bad.
Ralph Dibny: And yes, we're still blissfully happy. We hope to grow old and grey together, providing one of us isn't killed by a supervillain. Knock wood.
Fanzing: Does Sue fear for her life?
Ralph Dibny: Sue's been kidnapped too many times to NOT worry that one day she may not survive. I'm not comfortable with it myself, but Sue's started carrying a firearm. Her dad, who's a real right-winger a big time G.O.P. contributor who pals around with Schwarzeneggar and Chuck Heston and those guys he's always had a practice range in the Dearbon backyard. Well, I say "backyard" it's like 100 acres. Sue grew up learning about shooting, so her marksmanship's good and she knows safety and security procedures. Once she got to be a woman well, she's not as conservative as her parents, and for a while she was a card-carrying Democrat just to tick them off, but now she's joined the N.R.A and buys "Guns and Ammo" and goes off to the shooting ranges. Like I say, I'm not comfortable around guns but we can't all hit a guy with our fists from 600 yards away, so I guess she's justified!
Fanzing: I'm surprised she's gone to that extent.
Ralph Dibny: Well, if a woman who gets grabbed off the street by thugs every two months like clockwork isn't entitled to carry a gun, who is? Sue and I have had some very long talks about this. So far she's always been brought back to me alive and uninjured, but who knows whether the next guy is going to cut off her ear and mail it to me or rape her or slit her throat? There are a lot of sick people in this world, and each time an unmarked black van slows down behind her could be the last time! She says that the next guys to try it are going to report back to their boss in fewer numbers.
Fanzing: She'd kill in self-defense?
Ralph Dibny: I think she would. I can't blame her.
Fanzing: Would you?
Ralph Dibny: I've never had to kill before, and I'm really not a bloodthirsty person. But if I had to in self-defense, I would. If it was to defend Sue yes, in a heartbeat. What husband wouldn't?
I'm hoping it doesn't come down to that, though. For Sue, I mean. She HAS the gun, but she doesn't have to kill someone for that to be a deterrent. Thousands of crimes are prevented in America because the victim had a gun and threatened to use it. I sometimes wish I carried a gun for that reason.
Fanzing: Oh, now that's ridiculous! A gun-toting Elongated Man??? Are you trying to get grim and gritty?
Ralph Dibny: No, no, just a scientific observation. If you're holding a gun, the other person knows how deadly it is and exactly what it will do to him if it goes off.
My powers could be just as deadly as a gun if I was inclined to use deadly force. I could stab my fingernails through a person's eyeballs and clear through their brains. I could twist a person's head around five times in two seconds. I could hit a guy with a body-sized fist and shatter every bone in his body. All these and hundreds of other lethal possibilities exist. But they aren't obvious! Look at me! I'm a tall piece of string cheese in purple nylon. No criminal takes the time to imagine what I could do to him. So I just shout "Freeze" and they always, always, ALWAYS make a move. If I had a gun, they'd probably stay put. But I could never carry one.
Fanzing: Any regrets about discovering Gingold in the first place? If you had to do it over again, would you?
Ralph Dibny: Absolutely. I'd have to, because it's affected other people.
Fanzing: How so?
Ralph Dibny: When I was doing the processing, I reached a step that required equipment we didn't have at the University. My lab prof recommended a scientist friend who might be able to get the work done for me. So we shipped it off. A little later, I got a note requesting another sample. It seems that my prof's friend, a police scientist, had the bottle sitting on a shelf when lightning destroyed all the chemicals
Fanzing: Oh, you're kidding!
Ralph Dibny: no, seriously and he needed to get more gingo juice. So if it hadn't been for me and that sample sitting on that shelf, there'd be no Flash!
Fanzing: This is an incredible revelation! Why have we never heard this before?
Ralph Dibny: So THEN I send a sample to Professor Bruce Banner, who's about to test the gamma bomb, a weapon of his own devising
Fanzing: AARGH! You ARE pulling my leg! Okay, I fell for it. Hey, I notice you're wearing your latest purple costume the one you had designed when you were a member of the JLE. In your more recent appearances, you've been donning several of your older costumes. Why is that?
Ralph Dibny: Simple. Laundry. I wear them under my clothing, as I never know when I'll be called into action. And I don't wear the same one two days in a row any more than you'd wear the same underwear! I rotate through all my costumes and if I get called to go into action, I wear whatever suit I'm in that day.
Or at least, that's how it was for me a while ago. As I said, the stuff you're reading is way in my past. Now, I'm stuck wearing this outfit because Sue's wearing my old ones.
Fanzing: SUE has elongated powers?
Ralph Dibny: No, no no. She just wears them underneath a big baggy sweatshirt because they stretch. It's cheaper than buying all new maternity clothes every few
Fanzing: HOLD THE PHONE! Sue is pregnant???
Ralph Dibny: Oh! You're not even up that far, are you?! Sorry. Didn't mean to ruin that surprise. Yeah, a LOT has happened lately. Sue's having a baby, so we decided to move to a little town called Fort Broome, Colorado, out of the spotlight and away from superheroing altogether. Of course, it didn't turn out like that. I ended up having to fight costumed criminals same as always. And since we bought a house for the first time ever, we actually needed a steadier income so I opened a detective agency. I'll take any case as long as it's weird. The weirder they are, the more I'll lower my fees. In the case of something totally bizarre, I do the work gratis!
I had run-ins with MetaWise, the organization which collects data on all the superheroes, and several of its agents: The Thinker, The New Bug-Eyed Bandit, Paragon and Small Fry. I have my own little Rogue's Gallery, including the nasty Happy Homewrecker and Melt. Melt's a guy who has Gingold powers, but they're externalized. But more than the gaudy supervillains, what I really love is when I get called in to help on a big case by the local police. I have a good friend on the force, Eduardo Vasquez, and he's invited my help on several important missions like when we busted up a national child pornography ring. That's more satisfying than tackling guys in long johns or investigating purple ponies.
And worst of all I told you we bought a house, right? Well, we got it dirt cheap. A really nice chalet on an otherwise-deserted mountainside. It seemed too good to be true and it was. Turns out that the place was just a front for a paroled supervillain's subterranean headquarters and he got tired of paying taxes on it, so he sold it to us for a song. Under the legalities of the deed, he's entitled to share the place with us. I'd tell you who it is, but I really should leave some surprises for when you read it!
Fanzing: But you don't have your own comic book. How will anyone read these adventures?
Ralph Dibny: They won't unless you start sending that proposal in to the editors at D.C., Michael!
All characters are DC Comics
This column is © 1999 by Michael Hutchison.
All artwork is © 1999 by their respective artists.
Fanzing is not associated with DC Comics.
All DC Comics characters, trademarks and images (where used) are DC Comics, Inc.
DC characters are used here in fan art and fiction in accordance with their generous "fair use" policies.
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