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Monday, July 10, 2006

The Rubber Band

With the recent release of DC Showcase Presents: The Elongated Man, I noticed a few very interesting things that could easily tie the three major stretching heroes together. And it all started with Jack Cole and India Rubber.

In 1941 Jack Cole was given the task of creating a new character for Police Comics #1. As the story goes, Cole was fascinated by the properties of India Rubber and wanted to call his hero India Rubber Man. A forward thinking editor suggested that instead of India Rubber, they should use the name of this newly found material, plastic. From there Plastic Man was born. Eventually Quality Comics was bought out by DC Comics and their stable of characters along with Plastic Man moved over but Plastic Man was no longer published.

In April of 1960, The Flash #112 appeared on newsstands with a new supporting character, a costumed hero with the ability to stretch to ‘infinite lengths’ called Elongated Man. In the telling of Elongated Man’s origin, it is said that young Ralph Dinby became obsessed with the stretching ability of a circus sideshow act called… India Rubber Man. Ralph then spent most of his youth trying to track down the secret of his stretching ability as well as finding five other men called India Rubber Man. Ralph made the connection finally that all of them were drinking a special soda called Gingold that contained the juice of a rare fruit (I couldn’t make this stuff up folks). Using the Gingold Ralph found he too could stretch and immediately became a costumed hero (like you do).

Julius Schwartz, the amazing DC editor who shaped most of the DC universe we know today later admitted that had he known that Plastic Man was available to him, he would have used him instead. This in a way tells us that Elongated Man was created as DC’s version of Plastic Man (even though they now owned him).

Now the Elongated Man appeared twice in 1960, but the interesting part is that two times in his first appearance his powers are referred to in an interesting way. Iris West interviewing him says “stretching himself to FANTASTIC lengths” (and the look on her face tells you she curious just stretch he could be). Two pages later Barry Allen says “stretch himself so FANTASTICALLY”. In his second appearance one of his acts is referred to as “the FANTASTIC performance”. I think you might see where I’m going.

Stan Lee tells the story of how the publisher of Timely comics went golfing with the publisher of DC comics and heard about the sales figures for the Justice League. He then returned and told Stan to make a superhero group. Now I’m not suggesting anything… but less than a year after the Elongated Man’s fantastic debut, the Fantastic Four appeared with the stretching Mr. Fantastic.

The similarities between Mr. Fantastic and the Elongated Man don’t just end there. They both are open about their real identities. They are both constantly with their wives. And they are both known for their intelligence. Was Stan reading the Flash when it came time to create his super team? The world will never know… and really, it doesn’t matter because we’ve gotten to enjoy the adventures of Plastic Man, The Elongated Man and Mr. Fantastic for over 40 years. That’s what I call stretching a good idea.


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