As an adult, I kept a fondness for them, because the stretchable heroes also seemed to be the more stylistically distinct characters – Bob Haney’s imaginative ensemble stories for Metamorpho, likably illustrated by Ramona Fradon, or Jack Cole’s dynamic and pan-to-the-face absurd Plastic Man, or even the subsequent followups to Plastic Man by Pasko and Staton, and Kyle Baker. As superheroes go, stretching heroes seem to have a little more liberty to act up, be odd and engage themselves in the genuinely unusual.
Even Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man, who ranks in general stodginess a little below Mister Fantastic and in forced humor a little above Jimmy Olsen – the obvious allusion to The Thin Man in his character was appealing enough, but the built-in partnership with his wife Sue made the character pretty charming. Charm – that’s what he had going for him.
So imagine my dismay when I read the downright Cronenbergian body horror which The Elongated Man exercises in this backup story from Detective Comics #380, “Fortune in a Flower Pot”.
|Oh, that is ... that's too much, there, man, that's overdoing it.|
The Elongated Man’s backup stories were typically the realm of Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson, and were daffy little mysteries dotted with clues which Encyclopedia Brown could shake out in a heartbeart. The last few backups, however, were illustrated by Sid Greene, who managed to render Ralph in truly toxic distortions of his body.
The Elongated Man’s stretching power is limited precisely to that – stretching (a weird stint in Justice League Europe notwithstanding). This usually manifested itself in drawn-out limbs or torso, possibly the neck, and at least once an issue in the “mystery-sniffing nose” wherein Ralph’s nose would do gross paroxysms because he’s a dick – although I had never before seen it go as wild as it does in the above image, windmilling like a plane’s propeller in front of his face. Imagine the sound that must be making.
But it gets worse…
|The little motion lines around his butt don't help.|
I guess when his hands and feet are occupied, Ralph has no choice but to elongate his … elbows and knees … and use them as bludgeons. Merely glancing at this panel gives me uncomfortable sensations along all my joints.
Luckily, for the majority of the rest of the story, Ralph keeps the elongating to his limbs and neck as he solves the case of why two guys are putting gold coins in a flower pot – the answer (turn away now if you don’t want to know!) is that these two fellas are looking for a handful of buried coins on this plot of land, and rather than digging up the whole shmear they’re getting a chemical analysis of soil which is covering gold. Apparently they’ve got a machine that lets them detect places where soil has touched gold, providing they get this data, and I can think of a better use for such a machine right off the bat but they didn’t ask me.
Ralph ends up trailing a lead on some possible crooks to a coin dealer’s establishment, where gun-toting baddies shove him up against a wall. Ralph responds the only way possible, by putting his eyes on horrifying stalks, beating people with his hair and … shoulder … shoulder blades … sh ….
As a palate cleanser, though, here’s the letters page for this issue wherein Harlan Ellison basically proposes shooting Mark Evanier into the ocean to die: