Secret Origins #30: Elongated Man and Plastic Man

Ryan Daly and Bradley Null review the origin of Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man, from Secret Origins #30. Then, Ryan and Max Romero cover the origin of Plastic Man.

Secret Origins Podcast Facebook page:

Secret Origins Podcast on Stitcher:

Let us know what you think! Leave a comment or send an email to:

This podcast is a proud member of the FIRE AND WATER PODCAST NETWORK.

Subscribe via iTunes as part of the FIRE AND WATER PODCAST:

“Premonition” (Theme for Secret Origins Podcast) written and performed by Neil Daly.

Additional music: “Plastic Man” by the Kinks; “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher.

Thanks for listening!

27 responses to “Secret Origins #30: Elongated Man and Plastic Man

  1. This was an issue I didn’t find on the stands. Seems I picked it up in a quarter bin somewhere. I can see Bradely’s point on this story. It seems an odd way to promote a bookless hero, by portraying him as kind of a loser jerk. Jones does nail the Ralph/Sue dynamic, which I always loved. Their relationship reminds me quite a bit of mine and Cindy’s…which makes Identity Crisis all the harder to swallow.

    I know Jones had done quite a bit of writing on comics history in both magazines and books by this point. I seem to recall he had a creator-owned series published by Eclipse or one of those late 80s b&w publishers before hitting it big at DC.

    As for Plastic Man, I seem to recall Thomas explaining the odd costume in the letters page section, but I don’t recall what the story was. I think you hit the nail on the head Ryan, Plas COULD be DC’s Deadpool, but they seem to have no idea how to work any character that isn’t dark grim and gritty these days. Hell, look at what they’ve done to Superman! Sorry, getting off soapbox. Nice recap by Max.

    A fun episode. I like the cover, and always loved Templeton’s stuff, but Ralph’s vegetable-like stare has always perplexed me too.


    1. Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones were the creators of The Trouble With Girls. at Malibu (under the Malibu umbrella and their Eternity sub-brand). The series featured a secret agent, with women throwing themselves at him, who longs to live in the suburbs and work a boring 9-5 job. It was a lot of fun. They also wrote an excellent history of comics, The Comic book Heroes, about the Silver and Bronze Age, from a fan perspective. They later did a revised edition, in the 90s, which was more of a behind the scenes and rather tabloidy, like The Untold History of Marvel.

  2. I was really looking forward to this episode because I love both characters and knew that Plas = an appearance by Max Romero.

    Not sure what cover Ryan and Bradley were looking at, it’s awesome! I love Ralph’s deadpan face, myself. He’s bored because this kind of thing has happened before.

    Other than your wrong opinions about the cover, Bradley did a great job on the EM segment. That Em mini was fabulous, I was really sorry it never developed into anything past that. Parobeck was a great choice to do the art, as is Ty Templeton here.

    And of course I loved the Plas segment, Max does not disappoint. I think SDe’s work added a nice bit o’grit to all the silly proceedings.

    If memory serves this issue kicks off a particularly good run of SO issues, looking forward to what you and the guests have to say about them.

  3. I don’t have particularly strong feelings about Elongated Man, who was probably the third or fourth stretching hero I encountered growing up (likely placing behind Coil-Man of The Impossibles.) As with Zatanna, if I didn’t see him in a house ad earlier on, I certainly spotted him no later than the cover to 1983’s Justice League of America #217, and read him by 1984’s Blue Devil #4. I had a strong dislike of Plastic Man and was indifferent toward Mr. Fantastic, so I guess you could say Ralph Dibny was my favorite by default (though I still have to spellcheck whether he has an “e” in his last name every single time I write his name.) Aside from guest appearances, I had little contact with him in my formative years, so Elongated Man was relegated to also-ran status to my mind. He didn’t become anything like a going concern until the formation of Justice League Europe, I book I dismissed after one issue and only read during crossovers with Justice League America. This reinforced my impression of him as the spare stretcher on satellite teams. Also, he was used in the early ’90s as something of a retro character through his lighthearted, lightweight mystery stories & mini-series, whereas I was still as enraptured in the Chromium Age as any other purchaser of Wizard Magazine (though not monthly and with supplementation by less obviously mercenary industry magazines.)

    When I became more interested in DC Comics history late in the ’90s, I went back to read Ralph in the Satellite era and Detroit Justice Leagues. In the former he was part of a sub-posse of self-consciously underpowered members, and in the latter he carried the attitude of having run with the big dogs but now settling for alpha status among mutts. I liked that Ralph was a bit of a jerk with some reasonable proximity pretensions coupled with an awareness of having never legitimately been A-list despite his past company. Truth is, he was a Flash supporting player with a minor solo strip who might be more fondly remembered today if he’d been tapped earlier to join the Justice League, but he showed up way too late in both Detective Comics and his team book to leverage his Silver Age flavor into a substantial career. He’s the decent enough fellow who filled out more liberally inclusive incarnations of an only sometimes elite League. He’s a detective and a mixer and a class clown and a reliable team player and stretchable super-hero, but not an avatar of any of those four color disciplines. Everything he does, somebody else does better. The best thing about Ralph is his marriage to Sue, and even in that they’re nowhere near the power couple of Reed and… umm… also Sue. Man, Sue Dibney isn’t even the best Sue married to an elongated hero with a keen intellect.

    All that having been said, as troubling as Identity Crisis was, they could have gotten away with much of it if they lowered the echelons. Instead of using Dr. Light as a mentally handicapped rapist, pick a villain that doesn’t appear in children’s cartoons, and have less pure iconic heroes involved with the conspiracy. It’s not enough for things to happen outside Superman’s earshot– you have to take it outside his sphere. The Key catches Sue while the pre-Legends team is at the Bunker or bumming around New York, and his “treatment” leads to Ralph’s sabbatical and Ivo killing much of the then-active team. Sue is murdered and the absentee icons uncover the dark underbelly of lower tier supers. In fact, that could be used to explain the escalation of aberrant behavior in the ’80s, as part of a back-and-forth between overreaching heroes and villains terrified of a meta police state, instead of Brad Meltzer No-Prizing a simple kid-friendly ’70s body-swap yarn through prison sex. Also, don’t kill Jack Drake and maybe come up with a more plausible culprit. The gross stuff wasn’t Identity Crisis’ only problem.

    By the way, the ghost detectives did appear in the early Chuck Dixon issues of Batman & a The Outsiders, while Ralph is a member of the New 52 Secret Six.

    I once had a pet Elongated Man relaunch in mind where an older black firefighter living on disability would uncover Ralph’s case files, using them to concentrate Gingold, become an initially amateur private investigator, and overcome his physical trauma. However, his activities would also attract the ghosts of Ralph and Sue, intent on “helping and mentoring” a grown ass man in his adopted role, leading to racial, class and age tensions. Since I discovered Elongated Man in the satellite era, I had a hard time seeing him switch out of his super-hero standard red & blue outfit, but a variation on that purple number would look so good on a brother…

  4. Good show. Enjoyed it very much.
    Point of Parliamentary Procedure: The one black arm (with black boots, no less) was how Cole first drew him in Police Comics #1 in 1941. Red highlights on the black in the first appearance. He switched to the two equal red arms in Police Comics #4.
    I totally agree that part of Cole’s genius with Plas was that Plas plays it straight while the world is wacky, which might be why I am never happy with how DC does Plastic Man in the past ten years or so, when he does show up. The whole Plastic Man is wacky must be because the rest of the heroes are all so serious, but that’s selling the character of Plastic Man short.

  5. An evil Plastic Man? Be careful what you wish for, Ryan. The Flashpoint universe had just such a thing. He would enter your body through your nose and mouth and blow you up from the inside.

    Someone must’ve been proud of that one.

  6. I’ve never really been an Elongated Man fan. My favorite part of the whole thing being the relationship with Sue. While I would crave a Thin Man riff, I don’t know if the market could support it. I mean, how many TCM-loving, Myrna Loy fans are there walking into comic stores these days? Of course, Identity Crisis took all that away. Thanks Brad Metzler!

    As for Plas, like many I first met him in the cartoons. But I also liked his stint in Adventure Comics. I didn’t mind the lunacy of the Morrison one in JLA. That book needed some comic relief now and then.

    Anyways, great discussion as always.

  7. Another terrific episode, great work from yourself, Bradley and Max. I like that cover too – Rob got there first, Ralph isn’t so much dead-eyed as nonplussed. Maybe he’s remembering their Elastic Four adventure in DC Comics Presents #93 a couple of years previously!

    It was funny hearing Gingold pronounced with a soft G – I always assumed it was sounded as in ‘Hermione’… the gin bit makes it sound so much naughtier!

    Has Ralph been on the Flash telly show yet? Think of the fun they could have with stretching sound effects.

    I always liked Ralph more than Plastic Man because Eel just seemed so two-dimensional. Were people in his world colour blind that they couldn’t make the connection between a previously absent red, yellow, black and pink object and a stretchable superhero? And that thing about him being insanely powerful, I don’t see it – one blast of heat vision and he’s melt-ingggggggg.

    I thinks Plas’s constant zaniness these days is one reason he doesn’t click with me in modern stories. I do like the originals a lot, but put him in JLA and I’m, ‘he’s nicking Ralph’s place’. Maybe you could ‘explain’ his bonkersness by saying the acid affected his mind along with his body. Actually, I suppose that’s what those ‘reality breaks’ were about in the mini-series. I wasn’t keen on them, if a story wants to be wacky, just be wacky, don’t make excuses.

    If I had to choose, I’d go for Ralph over Plas, Susie or Woozy. Heck, Plas never sent his ear down a fireplace…

  8. I always love this podcast while I’m not a huge DC Comics fan I’m starting to become one through back issues. I was a Marvel Zombie and sadly I even bought the first few years of Image. Yeah I was the blame for Youngblood given Rob Liefield a pay check. Any way I love Plastic Man and this podcast delivered once again please continue the awesome work.

  9. Still listening but I feel like I have to ask, why the hell does the DC fan comics community care so much about Ralph and Sue? Is it SOLELY because of the emotional components of ‘Identity Crisis’ and the fallout/death with regards to Ralph in ’52’? Because I highly doubt the JLD and JLE eras for the character were a cornerstone in his history. Not because they’re bad comics, but because they’re action based TEAM comics, not traditionally associated with earth shattering character development (though, of course, I know there was some good characterization in those titles).

    I hear your passion when talking about the romance potential that could be brought back into the comics with the two of them. However, from your recap of EM’s history, it doesn’t seem like there was enough there (in the publication history) to warrant the near ravenous desire DC fans seem to possess when it comes to resurrecting Sue and Ralph (think the end to ‘Blackest Night’ when people were disappointed that they weren’t among the resurrected.)

    I’m a classic DC fan myself, as you well know, so I can understand a passion for bringing back classic characters. It seems to me though, that these same people never actually cared about Ralph and Sue until they were gone. (Of course, I could be wrong, I never read EM specific comics. I’m just going off of your episode content.)

    1. Chad, I don’t think the number of stories featuring Ralph and Sue is key to the ‘ravenous desire’ to see Identity Crisis undone so much as the unpleasantness of the whole thing. They may not have been huge, but an awful lot of us grew up with them always around. I first came across them in Flash, then Detective, JLA and so on and found them all-out charming. I’d love to have been able to read about them monthly. If there were no affection for them, Brad Metzler wouldn’t have sacrificed them (she dead, he broken) at the altar of an event comic. YOU don’t have the connection, but you don’t know that no one else cared for the Dibnys.

    2. We feel the loss of Ralph and Sue because of their rarity in the DCU. They were a functionally effective, lovingly partnered superhero couple. James Robinson used them with great affection in the later half of his Starman run, so it wasn’t like we didn’t notice how special they were until they were gone.

      That said, the character work in Identity Crisis #1 is so well done that it encapsulates all the good things about Ralph and Sue in one concentrated burst before their decimation. The weekly 52 was actually a great rehabilitation and I was always pushing for their ghostly resurgence until Flashpoint blew away any chance of that.

      Rebirth THAT, DC!

    3. Ralph and Sue had a nice dynamic in their Silver Age adventures and it was one of the more interesting elements of Ralph, in the JLA. Sue was used to good effect in JLE and the subsequent Giffen/Dematteis/Maguire reunions and, as mentioned elsewhere, in Starman. They were a loving couple, whereas Reed and Sue were at odds more often than they were romantic. Identity Crisis was built upon that affection for a massive gut punch (well, more like a kick lower down). Without that relationship, that story doesn’t even get off the ground.

  10. It was a pretty fascinating thing to listen to somebody’s opinion evolve and change over the course of the conversation in the Elongated Man segment. It shows an open mindedness for one thing but it’s just a flat out interesting process to hear. I’ve actually had a couple of occasions on 90s Comics Retrial (part of the Council of Geeks podcast on iTunes and Stitcher, subscribe now and beat the rush…. I have no shame.) I haven’t talked about it but there have been a few times where I’ve had guests and I came in having already decided to go one way on a comic only to end up with the opposite conclusion by the end of the conversation.

    As for these two characters… yeah, I got nothing. I was actually kind of stunned to realize that Plastic Man never has become DC’s answer to Deadpool (in terms of irreverence at least.) I had always assumed that must have happened somewhere along the line. I think in a way it speaks to an across the board consistent tone that DC seems to have favored ever Crisis on Infinite Earths mashed everything together. I may be speaking out of turn, as I’m not nearly as well read or up to date as many of the listeners are, but my perception as a more casual reader is that Marvel allows for more outliers or niche products while DC seems to just be aiming for mainstream appeal on almost everything they put out.

        1. More’s the pity and why I say DC/Warner needs to look beyond the Big 2 for their media ventures. Though, Ambush Bug did turn up in Batman The Brave and the Bold (voiced by Henry Winkler, no less). You could do a seriously awesome animated series with the character.

  11. Another great episode Ryan. I am a sporadic commenter (mea culpa) but I always enjoy the Secret Origins podcast – time just gets away from me to comment on a regular basis.

    I first encountered Elongated Man on the JLE title and fo0llowed his adventures from there. Would echo the comments on the mini-series being a very good series to read, as well as its follow up in JLE 45-50 “Red Winter” (well, the bits involving Elongated Man – there was a subplot involving Power Girl and Hal Jordan that was a bit over the top!) Would echo the comments in the podcast about the great stories in the Showcase Presents volume and the characterisation of Ralph and Sue’s relationship in issue 1 of Identity Crisis.

    One other thing to mention – it was said that Elongated Man has not turned up in the new 52. In fact, there is a character in Gail Simone’s Secret Six called Big Shot who has been revealed is Ralph Dibney and that Sue is alive also in the New 52 universe.

    I was introduced to Plastic Man in Morrisson’s JLA run. Some stories I would recommend include Ty Templeton’s Plastic Man Special – this was a really fun book. There was one story showing Ty Templeton in a comic book store extolling the virtues of his Plastic Man Special but being set upon by comic book nerds, who he wouldn’t fight back against, as they potentially represented a 4 cent royalty if they bought his Batman book! It also included a secret origin of Woozy Winks, which is absolutely hilarious.

    Another good Plas story is JLA 51-54 where a cosmic being splits the superheroes into their two identities. Some very good characterisation on Eel O’Brian here, as he struggles to avoid sliding back into criminality once seperated from his Plastic Man identity, and it is he who gathers the civilian identies of the split superheroes together to help save the day.

    One trivia point on Plastic Man, which I picked up on reading the Showcase Presents volume Dial H for Hero – Plastic Man was the only existing hero duplicated by Robby Reed, as opposed to creating a totally new hero from the dial.

    You were mentioning on the podcast the demise of Showcase Presents. There was a 6th volume of Showcase Presents Batman published this year; however, the previous one before that was Blue Beetle and Legion of Superheroes Vol 4 and that was in early 2015. Looking at Amazon, there doesn’t look like any more are being published which I think is a shame as it was an easy way to access a great number of silver and bronze age stories. Would love if they could have continued printing more of the JLA, Batman, Superman and Legion volumes, as well as bringing in the likes of Firestorm. There was going to be a Who’s Who volume but unfortunately that never came to be.

    Anyway, great podcast Ryan, keep up the great work!

  12. Loved this issue, particularly the Elongated Man segment. Ralph and Sue have been one of the few truly mature married couples in comics. They weren’t the first; but, they were a couple who loved each other and weren’t presented as dysfunctional. The other Sue and her stretchable husband often had a pretty messed up relationship. This relationship is why they were targeted by Brad Meltzer for his mayhem. Theirs was a relationship that had endured and Sue was an innocent. We had already lost Iris (she got better) and most of the other JLAers were single, super, or tangental.
    I first met Ralph in the JLA, in the satellite era, where he was the only hero with a publicly-known identity. he was also one of the few married ones (along with Barry, and Hawkman, at that point). Ralph was an under-used character in those stories, other than his detective skills and the odd stretching stunt. I always felt that, aside from the mini-series, his best post-Silver Age use was by James Robinson, who both got the Ralph and Sue dynamic; but, also respected Ralph’s physical abilities and skill as a detective. Sue was used well in JLE and in the subsequent Justice League reunions (I Can’t Believe It’s Not Justice League, etc…).
    Gerard Jones has a nice touch with Ralph and Sue and captures the Thin Man aspect. Mike Barr (Maze Agency) and James Robinson are the only other writers I can think of who could have done equally well with this. I do have to say it is odd that a Nebraska boy would be a Cardinals fan, rather than the KC Royals.

    This is not Gerard Jones’ first comic work. It may be his first DC book; but, he had already published The Trouble With Girls, at Malibu (with Will Jacobs) and he had produced one of the excellent comic book histories, The Comic Book Heroes (also with Jacobs, from Crown Books)). The Trouble With Girls began in 1987, a year before this. The Comic Book Heroes was published in 1985. The book shows that Jones knew his comic history and he talks about Ralph and Sue in the book, in one chapter, so I doubt he needed any help from Mark Waid. By the by, anyone who came after; but, wants to know what was so great about the Silver and Bronze Age comics will find their answers in that book. It’s a very loving look at some great stories and history.

    Plastic Man I first met on the Super Friends, of all things. He makes a guest appearance in the GEEC episode, where a supercomputer controls mechanical devices and vehicles for subscribers; but, goes haywire after a mouse gets inside. Plas is called in to aid the JLA get to the bottom of things and stretches his hand inside, while guided by Superman’s x-ray vision. Funny enough, when I was a kid, because of the way his face was animated, I thought he was Superman, in disguise. It was only after I saw the episode again that I realized that Superman is standing next him; so, that was obviously impossible.
    I’ve always wanted to enjoy the character; but, the original Quality stories are so much better than 99.99% of what DC has done with the character. I wasn’t a big fan of the cartoon, though it was okay, at the start. It was a little too juvenile, to me (I was a bit older when it debuted). It could have been the Tick, before the Tick existed, had they played it a bit straighter (like the comic). Jack Cole was so amazingly inventive and fun on that series, especially once he finds his groove on the character. Kyle Baker did a decent job; but it still didn’t feel right. There isn’t much else that holds a candle to Cole.
    The story here is fine and Roy does a decent job on the comedic aspects; but, it feels more like he is trying to be Cole, rather than telling a great story. Stephen DeStefano’s art goes a long way in carrying the story.

    Jack Cole was one of the really great creators of comics, in the Golden Age. He worked at MLJ/Archie, on the Comet, before working for Quality. Aside from creating Midnight, so Busy Arnold had his own Spirit, he also created Ghost Patrol, as a counterpart to Blackhawk. Cole was also a favorite of Hugh Heffner and produced a lot of great gag cartoons for the glory days of Playboy. Unfortunately, he had a very sad ending, taking his own life. No one was ever sure why he did it.

    Funny enough, one of the better riffs on the Plastic Man came as an homage: Splash Branigan, from Alan Moore’s Tomorrow Stories.

    ps. I know the Bobby Fuller Four version of “I Fought the Law” is the definitive one; but, I always preferred the version from the Clash (used to great effect on the BBC’s Ashes to Ashes).

  13. Fantastic episode! Great podcast debut for Bradley Null, and always wonderful to hear Max talk Plastic Man!!

    I haven’t read this issue, but the Elongated Man story sounds like something I’d enjoy. I LOVED his mini-series (the art team alone on the mini-series is worth the price of admission).

    And for what it’s worth, to me Elongated Man is far more interesting than Plastic Man. I understand that people love Plas, but he leaves me cold. I didn’t care for him as part of Morrison’s JLA and just felt he was taking up space until they could bring Elongated Man back. Maybe it was the 1970s cartoon that ruined me for Plas, not sure. But I’ll take Ralph and Sue any day over Plas (and even Penny).

  14. Of all the Secret Origins stories across the life of this podcast, I have the biggest problem with Plastic Man! And that problem is that I’ve already written lengthy consideration of The Pliable Paladin in blog form and in comment forums over the years, I discussed him in a recent podcast, and I don ‘t see that there’s any major points I can make now that haven’t already been covered by other commentators. I hated Plas as a kid, but was reeducated about him by art spiegelman and Jack Cole as an adult. I now realize that he’s one of the greatest comic book characters from one of the best strips in the medium’s history, and DC Comics have never come close to reflecting that since acquiring the him. Also, I want to draft him for my DC version of The (original 70’s un-team) Defenders of important heroic icons that don’t belong in the JLA. One paragraph, and out.

  15. I’ve been out of town, so I’m just now catching up on things — what a great discussion!

    In spite of the occasional shade I throw Ralph’s way, I actually don’t have a problem with the Elongated Man character (though I obviously prefer that other stretchable hero). But for some reason, I was never really able to connect with him. Most of my exposure to Ralph was as a hand-wringing member of the JLA who was constantly worried that he wasn’t good enough. And then when I dug into his history, I was a little turned-off by his attention-seeking origin (it didn’t seem “heroic” enough, I guess?).

    All that said, I really enjoyed his characterization in “Identity Crisis,” and finally found that connection I’d been looking for — Ralph suddenly made more sense. I just wish DC had actually done something with the “Ralph and Sue Dibny, Ghost Detectives” concept; I would’ve bought that each and every month, and think it serves the characters better than the super-heroics.

    I’d also echo what Frank said, and encourage anyone who wants to know more about Plastic Man to check out his Golden Age stuff. (The Digital Comic Museum has them all, both the Police Comics issues, as well as his own title.) It’s really great, and shows what makes Plastic Man special. If most of your impression of Plas is from the cartoon or later, more daffy characterizations in comics, give Jack Cole’s original intent a try. Recently, Tom Taylor managed to Trojan Horse a great Plastic Man story onto the stands in “Injustice: Gods Among Us, Year Four Annual” — more than anyone in a long while, Taylor just nails it.

  16. Did anyone mention the brilliant JLU moment with Elongated Man getting snubbed in favor of Plastic Man? Then Elongated Man saved the day! Too funny!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *