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Could The Flash Season 4 Give The Elongated Man His Due?

by  in CBR Exclusives, Comic News Comment
Could The Flash Season 4 Give The Elongated Man His Due?

WARNING: The following contains SPOILERS for Season 4 of “The Flash.”

The Flash‘s Season 4 promises a few departures from the series’ status quo, especially early on. With Barry Allen trapped in the Speed Force, Wally West will be trading in his Kid Flash gear for the headliner’s scarlet suit. The season’s main villain won’t be yet another terrifyingly-fast speedster, but the cerebral Thinker. Perhaps most intriguing, though, is the addition of the Elongated Man.

Created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino and debuting in April-May 1960’s The Flash #112 – just a few months after Kid Flash – Ralph Dibny simply wanted to stretch his body like the contortionists he saw at the circus. To that end, he studied Gingold, the performers’ favorite soft drink, and created a concentrated version which gave him the power of super-elasticity. After several appearances in The Flash, Ralph moved over to his own backup feature in Detective Comics, where from May 1964’s issue #327 to January 1969’s issue #383 he solved crimes with the help of his true love, Sue Dearbon Dibny. Ralph joined the Justice League in April-May 1973’s issue #105, and appeared frequently in League titles (including the Detroit edition and Justice League Europe) from the 1970s into the 1990s. After that, he became an occasional member of Starman‘s supporting cast late in that book’s run.

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The Elongated Man has three main traits: he’s stretchy, he’s married and he’s a detective. His flexible nose also twitches when it “smells” a mystery. As one of the few Silver Age DC characters to forego a secret identity, he would often introduce himself as Ralph Dibny, the “world-famous Elongated Man.” These elements all combine to make Ralph both endearing and enduring. Today we’ll see how they might translate to his new TV role.

AN ELASTIC ENSEMBLE

World-famous, indeed

The “World-Famous Elongated Man” battles Copperhead, from the “Elongated Man: Europe ’92” miniseries

Barry’s departure at the end of Season 3 wasn’t the only major shakeup for Team Flash. H.R. Wells took the fatal blow that Savitar intended for Iris West. Caitlin Snow left to continue her Killer Frost career, although perhaps with a little less malice than before. Physicist Tracy Brand and Barry’s colleague Julian Albert joined the team (maybe temporarily), and Cisco Ramon freed Jay Garrick from the Speed Force.

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This leaves Team Flash with a core of Wally, Cisco, Iris and Joe; and it seems likely that the team will include some version of Wells (we’re guessing Earth-2’s). Jay and Jesse Quick have their own Earths to patrol, but they might also stay on Earth-1 in Barry’s absence. We’re not sure about Tracy and Julian’s status.

While Team Flash’s exact membership remains TBD, it is still mostly speedsters and scientists, with Iris and Joe offering lay-person perspectives. That suggests a rather closed group, at least as far as skill sets are concerned; and it has definite implications for the Elongated Man. Either his focus stays on detective work, which would keep Ralph true to his comics roots as a stretchable sleuth who only dabbles in science; or he gets a full-on science background to help him fit in better with the rest of the team. The latter wouldn’t necessarily be bad, since Ronnie Raymond went from a moderately-smart jock in the comics to a STAR Labs engineer on TV. Furthermore, Ralph’s background in chemistry could help him both to substitute for Caitlin and to inform his amateur-detective underpinnings.

Either way, we’re hoping that Ralph’s detective abilities will come into play throughout Season 4, since Team Flash will no doubt be dealing constantly with the Thinker’s schemes. Joe West might be a great detective, but he spent much of Season 3 worrying about his children’s safety. Pairing him with Ralph might be a good way both to bring Ralph into the fold and to highlight Joe’s own deductive prowess. Joe could even be Ralph’s mentor.

ANY FLEXIBILITY HERE?

Ralph vs. robot

The Elongated Man defeats the Lord of Time’s robot guardian, from “Justice League of America” #160

Certainly “The Flash” will make room in its budget to depict Ralph’s super-stretches, but we’re not holding our breath for the Ductile Detective’s twitching nose. That’s the kind of thing which works once or twice on a monthly basis, but might become annoying on TV every week. Although we got used to H.R.’s drumstick antics, we’re not sure we could take something similar (with an added touch of body horror) for very long. Even so, we want to see Ralph’s nose twitch at least once.

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Along the same lines, we hope “The Flash” gives Ralph a simple outfit which can accommodate his powers. We understand the practicalities of modern superhero-costume design, but this is one instance where neither the actor nor his costume need to look especially tough.

Most importantly, we’re looking forward to meeting the TV version of Sue Dearbon. Since we’re guessing that “The Flash” will show a rookie Elongated Man, it makes sense that he would meet his future wife in the course of Season 4. As much as Barry and Iris have been built up to be a romance for the ages, Ralph and Sue should be no less inseparable. In the comics, the Elongated Man always seemed simply happy to be doing what he loved. He loved solving mysteries and fighting supervillains; he loved his friends; and indisputably, he loved Sue.

BOUNCING BACK

Sue and Fire fail the Bechdel test

Sue Dibny and Fire compare notes, from “Formerly Known As The Justice League” #2

We all have the benefit of hindsight when it comes to these adaptations. Specifically, we know to avoid what happened to Ralph and Sue in the comics, starting with 2004’s blockbuster Identity Crisis (written by Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Rags Morales and inked by Michael Bair). Not only was Sue murdered, but a dark secret involving her threatened to rip apart the Justice League and unite the supervillain community against them. Neither the reality-warping Infinite Crisis nor the zombified Blackest Night set things straight. Both of the Dibnys ended up as “ghost detectives” at the end of 2006-07’s 52; and were revived as Black Lanterns in 2009-10’s Blackest Night. Although the New 52 offered a fresh start, it took a while for anything to materialize; and that came in the pages of a 2015-16 Secret Six revival written by Gail Simone and drawn by Dale Eaglesham, Ken Lashley and Tom Derenick. While it left the Dibnys on a better footing, so far they haven’t been seen in the Rebirthed titles.

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For us the lesson is simple: Ralph and Sue don’t belong in dark places. Romantically-inclined detective couples have been a standard trope for decades, and the Dibnys are no exception. Even on his own Ralph gives TV’s “Flash” a comic-relief character to replace the departed H.R., as well as an extra brain to train on the mystery of the week. (Of course, it goes without saying that we’re looking forward to Ralph’s interactions with Green Arrow, regardless of the latter’s new attitude.) Since The CW has spent the past season dwelling on Team Flash’s more dour tendencies, we’re hoping that the Elongated Man returns the mood to Season 1 levels of lightness. If Season 3’s focus on Iris’ looming death really did flush the darkness out of “The Flash’s” system, maybe that bodes well for a faithful take on Ralph and Sue.

The CW’s call sheet gives Ralph a “misguided sense of truth and slobbery,” which suggests a broader characterization than the comics’ confident-but-not-hypercompetent hero. We hope that won’t make The CW’s Ralph into an oaf who lets his “politically-incorrect” mouth get ahead of his brain – including going on inappropriately about the stretchiness of certain body parts. The comics’ Ralph wasn’t always debonair, but he could hold his own with the likes of Batman and J’Onn J’Onzz. “The Flash’s” cast has fine comedic chops all around, and the show’s humor has been pretty high-minded. Making Ralph a “Ryan Reynolds or Chris Pratt” type shouldn’t also involve making him overly coarse.

Finally, we hope Ralph’s TV iteration leads back to more of the Elongated Man in the comics. Ralph’s solo adventures were frequently tidy affairs (mostly because they happened in short backup stories), but his time with the Justice League also established him as one of DC’s more valuable team players. Whether you consider them to be timeless archetypes or representatives of a certain era, Ralph and Sue Dibny’s mystery-solving partnership fills an important niche in superhero comics. Don’t look at their happy marriage as being boring, just enjoy their witty banter. We can see the speedsters putting the weight of the world on their shoulders, but Ralph’s more modest power set should give him a healthy amount of self-awareness. After all, the Dibnys’ main power is that they’re both real smart.

We shouldn’t expect Ralph to be the only comedic character in “Flash” Season 4. We’re just hoping that he (and Sue, we presume) can point the way back to the show’s original tone, which was about a guy who just loved being a superhero. It bears repeating: Ralph Dibny loves Sue, loves solving mysteries, and loves being a superhero. If that carries over onto the small screen, we hope it leads to more exposure in the comics.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published July 18, 2017.

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