Thursday, March 15, 2012

Book review: Showcase Presents The Elongated Man

Time to pull out another reprint volume to review. This time, we've got an interesting choice, in the only reprint collection of DC Comics' Ductile Detective.

Showcase Presents is the DC Comics equivalent of Marvel Comics' Essential line of trade paperbacks: thick, books of newsprint featuring usually about 20-25 issues of continuity in a particular character or title. They're often referred to as "phone books" by both fans and detractors. The only disadvantage is that they stories are reprinted in black-and-white. But if you get that many issues of a comic for a relatively low price ($9.99 to $19.99), I personally think that's a small price to pay.

This particular edition features the lead stories from four issues of The Flash and the back-up feature from FORTY-SIX issues of Detective Comics. Most of these stories have not been reprinted anywhere before, and probably never will again.

For the uninitiated, the Elongated Man was a super-hero who gained his ability to stretch any part of his body from drinking a special elixir he concocted called Gingold. At the times of these stories, he was first based in Central City (the home of the Flash) and then roamed around the world with his wife, Sue. In sharp contrast to most super-heroes of the day, the fact that he was amateur sleuth Ralph Dibny was public knowledge. His shtick was that his nose wiggled every time he found himself on the track of a good mystery.

The character has always been one of my personal favorites, ever since I first read about him in Justice League of America #100. In these early appearances, Ralph is a happy-go-lucky kind of person, just enjoying a good mystery with his wife. He was wont to stretch odd parts of his body, like an elbow to hit a thug, or an ear down a chimney to get the goods on a crook. Heck, sometimes he even stretched parts of his body that didn't move, like a knuckle. It was goofy, but it was all good fun and great comic book reading.

Most of the artwork in this volume is the work of Carmine Infantino, who was one of the major artists who helped Julius Schwartz create DC's Silver Age of Comics. The Elongated Man is among his most memorable work, right up there with Batman and, of course, The Flash. Most of the stories in this volume were written by comic legends Gardner Fox and John Broome. Fox's name should be said in the same breath as Stan Lee, given the creative force he exerted on the media in his forty-some years as a writer and creator. Don't expect a lot of angst-driven drama in these stories. For the most part, these are just fun little five-minute mysteries that just happen to feature a guy who stretches all over the place.

Sadly, the Elongated Man and his fun-loving attitude are no longer with us. For a while, Ralph and Sue were mainstays in Keith Giffen and JM DeMatteis' Justice League Europe. Then they made an excellent guest-starring appearance in the pages of James Robinson's Starman (which if you haven't read by now, go do so now; it is the single best comic book of the past twenty years). With a promise of a new career as a protector of Opal City, things looked good for comicdom's best married couple. Unfortunately, then Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis came along. Mind you, I think it is an excellent tale. But killing a pregnant Sue Dibny was over the line. From there, Ralph made a steady fall into insanity and death, culminating in his appearance in the year-long Countdown series, where he was at least reunited, even just in death, with his wife. The current revamping of the DC line with the "New 52" books have yet (after six months) to mention anything about the Dibnys.

Still there's always hope. Elongated Man appeared in several episodes of Justice League Unlimited and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and even has a few action figures to his name. So you never know what might happen.

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