Friday, August 17, 2012


Why We Love Detective Comics

The Dibnys

The Dibnys - Ralph and Sue - are a couple of FREAKS!

I love them. I adore the Dibnys.

But they are FREAKS!

I can imagine one of the other super-hero married couples - for example, Hank and Janet - discussing having the Dibnys over for bridge or fondue or something, and I'm sure somebody - in this case Hank - would say: "Are you crazy! The Dibnys are a couple of FREAKS!"

Ralph Dibny is The Elongated Man, a stretchy guy with powers much like Mister Fantastic or Plastic Man. He first appeared in the early 1960s as a guest in The Flash series, and he soon got his own backup series in Detective Comics, starting with #327 in 1964. (Our old buddy J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, got booted to make way for the Dibnys.)

(For more on The Elongated Man, here's the link for his entry at the Comic Book Database.)

He does stuff like this:

He doesn't just stretch. He does things like STRETCHING HIS ELBOWS and hitting people with them.

Sue Dibny appeared very early on in The Flash series. I don't think Ralph and Sue were married when they first appeared, but they were married within Sue's first few appearances and they were a famous happily married couple in the comics for a very long time. Way into the 1980s. Maybe even longer.

(Something very bad happened to them eventually. But we won't get into that.)

Here's Ralph and Sue together:

See, he uses his stretchy powers to make his eyes pop out to look at her ...

Well, here's another panel of them together:

The Elongated Man series ran in Detective Comics until #383, when the Dibnys were pushed out in favor of Robin and Batgirl. (But they did appear in Detective Comics every once in a while for years after that.)

I have a few of these comics with the Dibnys and they kind of trip me out. Ralph and Sue end up in the oddest situations. Mostly Ralph, of course.

Most of the time, I can't figure out where they are or what they are doing there. They're at a hotel (for some reason) and they're going to a costume party (for some reason) and they (somehow) stumble on an incredibly complicated mystery of some kind and Ralph (who seems to have OCD for this kind of stuff) has to solve the mystery.

And that's what the Dibnys did for thirty years. For an awful lot of that time, they did it every month in Detective Comics. And I can pretty much pick up any issue at random and find something bizarre or silly to write about.

Let me get Detective Comics #333, the one I wrote about last week. In addition to the elephants' graveyard story, #333 also contains an early Ralph and Sue adventure, "The Robbery that Never Happened." (Nice art by Carmine Infantino, by the way. The Dibnys always have nice art.)

Sue goes to a jewelry store near the hotel where they are staying. (They always stay in hotels. And the stories never explain why. I suspect Sue is independently wealthy and they just like to travel.) The proprietor is obsessed with a $100 bill that was given to him by a man who claimed it was a $10 bill. When the proprietor looked again, it was a $10! But when the guy left, it was a $100 bill again!

Sue mentions it to Ralph. She quickly realizes she's made a mistake:

Oh, dear! I knew I shouldn't have said anything about this -- at least not before dinner! Your nose is twitching --

When his nose twitches, it means Ralph smells a mystery! And that means that the next 10 or 12 or 13 pages will make no sense!

It seems that the jewelry store proprietor was the victim of an elaborate scheme by the bad guys, who hypnotized him to rob his own safe! The bit with the $100 bill was just a test to make sure he was really hypnotized. And Sue Dibny, The Elongated Man's wife, just happened to be the next person who walked through the door.

And after a few pages of unbelievable coincidences and weird fisticuffs - Ralph likes to hit the bad guys with his knees or with his head - it's all cleared up and Ralph and Sue are safely back together.

The story in Detective Comics #369, "Legend of the Lovers' Lantern," has some gorgeous art by Neal Adams. We find out that Sue is "an avid auction-goer," and she bids $70 on a lovers' lantern, a curio from the Middle Ages - "hung by wives in a window -- to ensure the safe return of a husband when he went off to battle!"

She barely gets out the door when somebody steals the durn thing right out from under her arm! (This kind of thing happens to the Dibnys all the time.) Ralph shows up at that moment and gives chase, but he runs into a gang of thieves who have chosen this very moment to rob the auction house. While he rounds up these evildoers, the original thief escapes.

When Ralph doesn't immediately go after the original lantern thief, Sue gets kind of snitty with him:

As far as I'm concerned, I'm out seventy dollars -- of my own money -- spent for your safety! So you're perfectly willing to leave it like that! Your own wife -- a robbery victim ...

(And you should see her posing for the press when they show up after Ralph gets the auction house thieves. What a diva!)

(I hesitate to go into the rest of this story. I picked it because of the Neal Adams art. (Murphy Anderson also drew some of these stories.) But it just ...

Well, let's give it a go.)

The lantern thief gets cold feet when he finds out that he robbed The Elongated Man's wife. (He doesn't want to get head-butted by a guy with a neck that's 20 feet long, I guess.) So he mails the lantern back to Sue. But Ralph tracks the guy down using clues from the package:

I know that sneak-thief is left-handed -- that he's a race-horse follower -- that he smokes cigars -- that he was once a sailor --

Sue goes into Dr. Watson mode and asks how he could possibly know all that, but it seems to be correct, and Ralph is soon on the trail of the thief.

Meanwhile, a woman shows up who wants to talk to Sue. You see, her husband is an archaeologist who has been missing - kidnapped by bandits - in Central Europe for almost a year. She really feels that if she has the lantern, her husband will return. Sue, who was just a few pages earlier making a big deal about the lantern - after all, she paid seventy dollars of her own money! - responds in this manner:

Mrs. Hanlon, I'll gladly GIVE it to you -- if I ever get it back!

What a FREAK!

Well, Ralph does get it back, and Ralph and Sue take the stupid lantern to Mrs. Hanlon, and guess what happens! Right then! While the Dibnys are still standing there!

The archaeologist shows up safe and sound!

Geez ...

I got one more. This is from a few years later, from Detective Comics # 436, from 1973, with some very nice Dick Giordano art.

"Sign of the Two Fingers" starts off with Ralph in a hotel lobby with a puppy for Sue. (Yes, they're staying in a hotel again. Maybe they lived in the hotel. I'll have to start to paying more attention to see if it's one hotel or a different hotel each time. The Dibnys are FREAKS! Not as bad as the Langstroms (Mr. and Mrs. Man-Bat), but they are freaks nonetheless.)

The puppy turns invisible in the elevator, for some reason, and the empty leash leads him to a dude who has kidnapped Sue to force Ralph to steal some plans for a super-strong carbon thread. (The kidnapper is a hardware tycoon and the thread has been developed by a competitor. All clear? Let us proceed.)

The kidnapper lets Ralph and Sue see each other over closed-circuit television and Sue holds up two fingers, with the nails turned toward Ralph. They can't hear each other, but as Ralph leaves, Sue cuddles the puppy - called Frazier - and says:

Now wasn't Ralphie nice to spend the whole morning looking for little Frazier? We'll be out within the hour just as soon as Ralphie finds us!

Ralph quickly deduces that Sue's hand signal was a clue and he quickly routs the kidnappers and rescues her - and the puppy! With Sue safe, he explains how he figured it out ...

Flashing the V-sign over the TV with your fingernails facing me ... instead of the normal way ... was brilliant ... and sneaky! It took time to figure out the word-association -- nails -- hardware store! So I deduced you were in Alvarez' nearby store!

 What a team they are! Totally in sync! Nearly unstoppable!

Oh, wait. Sue has a thought bubble ...

Clue? I didn't give him any clue ... It'd ruin Ralph's ego if I told him I was only signaling him to find me by two o'clock!

What a couple of FREAKS! I love how Sue basically just takes this all in stride. So she's kidnapped. So what!? Oh, but she has to be rescued by two o'clock! (She wants to watch "All My Children," most likely.) "Here's my chance to let Ralph know he'd better rescue me by two o'clock! 'You see that, Ralph? You better rescue me by two or you'll be sleeping in the living room, er, the lobby tonight!'"

Oh, those crazy Dibnys.

What a couple of FREAKS!


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