From the Archives:
by Michael Hutchison
Elongated Man vs. Plastic Man in the JLA
This is a reprint of "Elastic Wars", one of the first columns I ever did for Fanzing. Back then, Editor Marc Campbell converted everything to graphics, so the actual text of my column wasn't on the Internet. This was written in 1997, when Plastic Man was just joining the JLA in place of Elongated Man. Also, at the time the current timeline from Zero Hour actually had Elongated Man debuting before Plastic Man...which even I thought was wrong, but I went by that proclamation anyway. In other words...this is a bit dated, but enjoy!
Have you ever contemplated how differently you'd think if you actually lived in the DC Universe? A world of invasions and prominent aliens, where Booster Gold appears in cologne ads and the All-Star Squadron merits an entire chapter in World War II history books.
For one thing, there'd be no such thing as a UFO. Captured Khund ships would rest in the Smithsonian. The X-Files would have died in its first season. Laser guns and jetpacks would be common items for the police and military.
And whenever somebody asked, "Who's that guy whose arms stretch?", everyone would know the answer was Elongated Man.
About nine years ago, at the same time as the JLA is first forming and gimmicky villains start running amuck in Missouri, a man appears stretching his body to amazing lengths. He tracks down museum thieves in Central City, earning a citizenship award with the Flash. Calling himself the Elongated Man, he solves several prominent crimes; unlike other heroes, he adores the spotlight and stays behind for autographs and interviews. He start performing in a circus and becomes the star attraction, then appears in his own tv specials and acquires a minor fortune. Then he does the unthinkable: he becomes the first active superhero to reveal his real name to the world.
The papers go crazy and soon all of America knows the name Ralph Dibny. He marries debutante Sue Dearbon, and the tabloids give the wedding the most attention since Chuck and Di. In a little over a year's time, he's invited into the JLA and joins the ranks of the world's greatest heroes. He stays with the team to the very end. On his vacation, he risks his life to save the Royal Family (and all of London) from being nuked. After the Invasion, Ralph joins the JLE and stays with that team for most of its existence, becoming France's favorite superhero in the process. He also liberates a European nation from Sonar's despotic rule and saves Moscow from a nuclear device.
After Ralph's been famous for several years, some guy in a bright red uniform shows up calling himself Plastic Man. He solves a couple crimes.
Of course, we don't live in the DCU, with all of its retroactive continuity. In our world, Plastic Man was created years before Elongated Man, albeit by a different company (like Captain Marvel and Blue Beetle, Plastic Man was bought by DC). Plastic Man's had a cartoon series that's remembered by many people who never read comic books. When the greatest heroes of the DCU played baseball against the supervillains in a '70s special, it was Plastic Man who was invited, not Elongated Man.
Thus, when Grant Morrison decided that his new JLA would return to the iconic characters known to most comic readers, he chose Plastic Man. His exact words were, "[Since JLA fans] are definitely used to the Elongated Man, I thought, 'Well, let's get the real guy in.'" It shouldn't upset me as much as it does. After all, few of Grant's choices make sense in the comic book reality. Superman and Wonder Woman (in current continuity) only have recent connections to the League, Batman's membership depends on whether you listen to Denny O'Neill's post-Zero Hour proclamations or not and the current Green Lantern was never a member.
I guess I always "lived" in the DCU in my mind. People were invited to join teams either due to long-standing relationships (such as the friendship between Ralph and then-member Barry Allen) or impressive performances with the team (Red Tornado saves the team from Queen Bee and TO Morrow). In the current DCU, Plastic Man's standing is almost nil. He's never done anything big or impressive. He's hardly participated in any "events," nor does he have ties to any other superhero. And his skewed, cartoony view of reality would seem to another person to be...well, unhinged! For him to be invited into the "World's Greatest Superheroes" doesn't make sense at all.
Elongated Man, on the other hand, is one of the last remaining "Silver Age" characters. He hasn't been killed off, replaced, revamped or retconned. His wife hasn't been killed (yet) just in an attempt to make him driven and "gritty." He is in many ways a "classic," so it's surprising that the nostalgia-driven Morrison should relegate him to second-fiddle status. His only flaw is a name which just isn't as catchy as Plastic Man.
Elongated Man has a sense of humor; this is different from being a total loon, which is how Morrison himself sees Plastic Man. For a more detailed comparison of their characteristics, see the sidebar.
Within the universe of the JLA, Elongated Man makes even more sense. He's got a great service record with several of the Leagues; in fact, in this age of ret-cons, his length of service may be second only to that of J'onn J'onzz himself (rivaling Black Canary and Aquaman). His wife knows the workings of the League, having served in a support position for the JLE and ultimately assuming the liason duties for the team. He can be serious when he has to be, he's a superior combatant when using his powers, and his detective skills would come in useful during Batman's many absences from the team (I have no doubt that in a few months, Denny will declare Batman unusable and state that Batman was never a member of the new JLA).
One could even make the case that Ralph is ALREADY a member. You see, Grant never did show us the old teams being disbanded, and EM was only on a leave of absence from the team. Unless there was an official cancellation of all previous memberships, characters such as EM, Fire and Blue Devil would be perfectly within their rights to show up on the transport pad demanding to attend the next meeting.
Finally...boy, I hate to mention this, but...Plastic Man is something of a deviant. I've seen several occasions where Plas opens holes in his body (an ability EM does not possess), and the insides of the holes are also colored red! Now, no cloth costume could possibly do this. I don't know how he does it, but...that costume is actually HIM! It's just his body, colored to look like clothing! He's actually naked with some kind of weird body paint! Ewwww! I mean, at least Donald Duck has the decency to wear a shirt.
Aspersions aside, I don't really care that Ralph Dibny isn't in the JLA. He won't go anywhere without Sue, and he's been keeping a low profile ever since the last time her life was endangered. If Flash invited him to join, he'd probably refuse. But as a respected League member, he should be extended the opportunity...at least, that's how I'd feel as a citizen of the DCU.
Of course, if I lived in the DCU, I'd be having too much fun tooling around in my hovercar to care.
is Editor-In-Chief of Fanzing.com. He is the world's biggest Elongated Man fan
and runs the only EM fan site.
He lives in Rochester, MN.
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This piece is © 2003 by Michael Hutchison
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