Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Because you're RICH!

Where was I? Oh, yes; making the point that the Dibny's --the sainted sacrificial goats of the Silver Age -- were terrible people.

Did you know Ralph was the only super-hero who publicly revealed his true identity?


And why?  Because he wanted to use it to get fame, and money, and a rich and famous wife.

"I WON you! Like the lottery!  And, like the lottery, you come with a lifetime supply of MONEY!"

Ralph was a vain, self-centered jackass.  Sue was an air-headed heiress who spent all her time shopping and laughing at Ralph's pretentions to fame.  This is not some later interpretation by a cruel, crude writer; this is how they were created.  All these panels are from 1964. 

Sue can barely contain her laughter at Ralph making a fool of himself.
"Sure, honey; tell 'em who you are. THEN we'll see what they say! *snort*"

Sue may not have a superpower (that she drinks from a bottle) but she does have Olympic-level passive-aggressive emasculation and derision skills. She trained with Iris West.

"I'm sure SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE must have heard of you!"
Holy crap, these two make Diana and Ching look like a mutual admiration society.

"Maybe you can HIRE someone to tell people who you are, so that I don't have to listen you to do in 24/7!"  Sue, born into fame and wealth as the heiress to the Dearborn fortune, is always amused by Ralph's bourgeois pretensions.

You think they were some kind of crime-solving duo, don't you?  Ha. Think again.  Sue has little time for Ralph's grubby field work, and would go shopping or to the theater while Ralph was doing his goofy, stretchy detecting.

"Here's a wad of cash that was in the glove compartment; knock yerself out."
"ooo! Great, honey! Hey, wait...! WHO'S GOING TO DRIVE MY CAR??!"
Because that's what matters most, Ralph.

World-famous elongated douchebag.

The Dibnys were terrible people, and your memories of them are false.

Here's a little haiku for Haikuesday. I call it, "Because You're Rich!"


What haiku can you compose condemning the Dibnys, the heralds of our current culture of fame-seeking?


Bryan L said...

Alas, poor Dibnys
They missed the reality
TV mania.

CobraMisfit said...

She trained with Iris,
And learned how to screw her man.
Only verbally.

John said...

Devious Dearborn
Eggs on her husband with a
Villainous smile.

"I am Ralph Dibny,
The famous Elongated
Man," he writes: Moron.

She waves the cash and
Sits in the car. Does she e'en
Know what antiques are?

Gingold can never
Be nearly as good as a
Wealthy trophy wife.

Hoosier X said...

If what you were describing were our memories, then our memories would be false.

But I think you've changed "the Nick and Nora Charles of comics" into "a crime-solving couple." And Nick and Nora weren't a crime-solving couple.

And if you think Nora didn't poke fun at Nick a lot of the time, your memories of them are false.

Chad Walters said...

After reading these columns, I've never wanted the Dibnys to appear on The Flash more.

Anonymous said...

There's false memories
And then there's false memories.
The Dibnys improved.

People focus on
the good years, when the Dibnys
were fun and loving.

Barry Allen, though:
"Iris was his one true love"
was sheer retcon.

Barry couldn't wait
a single issue before
pursuing Ms Webb.

cybrid said...

No haiku here, but I think we should keep in mind that during the 1960s and 1970s, comic books were forbidden from alluding to allude to what many (not all) women would consider the best part of being married to the Elongated Man, the part that would make it worthwhile to put up with quite a bit of crap indeed.

He can stretch any part of his body that he wants to. If he wants to, he can make any part of his body several yards long.

Any. Part.

And I'm not thinking of his nose-twitching...

cybrid said...

"Ralph was a vain, self-centered jackass"

Who regularly risked his life to save others. But that's not as important, I guess. After all, what worthwhile person wants to become famous?

John said...

I blame the Crisis.
Ralph and J'Onn made like bandits.

Shoddy haiku aside, the more I think about it, the more I think the Crisis on Infinite Earths is a core issue. Elongated Man and the Martian Manhunter started out as fairly obscure sad sacks, the nobodies of the JLA.

But as the timeline rebooted to make the A-listers less prominent and more independent (yes, I'm calling Aquaman an A-lister), these two became the big beneficiaries, sudden "hearts and souls" of the community without earning it, starting with the Detroit League, when they became the "legitimate" faces of the team Aquaman built.

Since then, they could do no wrong and were pushed as almost central figures of the DCU, the guys you had a chance of getting on the phone now that Superman and Batman were mysterious loners.

I wonder if the different histories is at the root of the problem. But, then, I also wonder if J'Onn was actually the Anti-Monitor and arranged it all and then framed Batman for all the secret file/OMAC stuff and Hawk and Captain Atom as Monarch, so maybe don't go by me...

Scipio said...

" these two became the big beneficiaries, sudden "hearts and souls" of the community without earning it, starting with the Detroit League, when they became the "legitimate" faces of the team Aquaman built.

Since then, they could do no wrong and were pushed as almost central figures of the DCU,"

That's a very astute observation.

Mark said...

Is it Crisis or just good old-fashioned nostalgia?

The Detroit League predated the Crisis and wouldn't have survived long regardless. There's no reason to think there still wouldn't have been some variation/version of a Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League that included Ralph, Sue and J'onn even if COIE never happened.

I think for some fans the JLI has become as emblematic for a certain approach to comics as Miller's "Dark Knight Returns" is for a different approach. That division is still a (tiresomely) recurring theme in comics with complaints of "grim and gritty" battling demands for "realism". And as with all symbols, fans begin to substitute an idealized view and mythic significance for reality. Thus Ralph and Sue becoming paragons of humor and lightness.

I'm not, BTW, arguing the point that DC helped the process along by overreacting in their reboots of Batman and Superman (and Wonder Woman); in their desire to address perceived problems, they went all the way to the opposite extreme. Very short-sighted.

I don't see Crisis as the source of J'onn's success. He's really the beneficiary of timing and luck.

Timing in that he was there at the beginning of the Justice League. In the mythology of superhero teams, being first in can give a 3rd or 4th tier character real longevity within a franchise (think of the Wasp over in the Avengers). Origination is pretty powerful mojo.

J'onn's also been lucky that writers have chosen to use him. And after being included over and over (Detroit, JLI, Magnificent 7 league, DCAU etc), he developed some cache. But I don't think the decision to use him was some kind of abstract conceptual thing related to the "heart and soul" pablum. Those choices were more likely driven by practical considerations. He's a visually distinct character (good for comics and animation) who is recognizable but also can be freely reinterpreted without sending fanboys into "out of character!" seizures. He doesn't have continuity baggage and has hardly ever had his own book so there is no competing for control of the character with other writers. All that worked in his favor right up until it didn't and he didn't make the cut in the New 52.

I'll concede that Crisis benefited J'onn in that as a purely Silver Age creation, he was untouched by the continuity complications that ensnared potential rivals like Hawkman.

I do think sometimes when we talk about COIE, we conflate distinct things. In my mind, I separate the problems that came directly from COIE (the problems of integrating characters and histories; storytelling decisions in the immediate post-reboot time frame) from changes in the marketplace and culture of comics. The latter issues are much bigger - they have to do with changing expectations among creators and buyers regarding style and content. That stuff would have still blown up the Bronze Age DC regardless of whether had COIE or not; rebooted or not; merged earths or not.

John said...

Mark, I think you're missing my point.

I'll start with the Detroit League, even though it's technically Pre-Crisis. Aquaman dissolved the League and created a new team of people who were "going to take it seriously" (presumably a nod to Marvel's idea of heroism), and then wandered off to hang out with his wife, leaving Elongated Man and the Martian (and Zatanna) as the "legitimate heroes" on the team and implying (though never really showing) J'Onn was a mentor to young heroes.

Crisis plowed through, and Superman and Batman were retroactively no longer JLAers by fiat, even though most Pre-Crisis history was supposed to be intact. The solution was that J'Onn never left to search for his people, something that happened in-story because the writers had no use for a "spare Superman," but now Superman was the "spare Martian."

JLI ran with that (more because he was more disposable and represented Earth-1 better than Superman--we do agree that the early JLI was meant to show multi-Earth diversity, right?) and repeatedly referred to him as the "heart and soul of the team." Then Ostrander's Martian Manhunter series dug into how J'Onn was the disguised inspiration and mentor for most of the major heroes (a role once held by Superboy, but never needed; Wildcat also got a share of this, training anybody who uses martial arts) and had faced off against Darkseid repeatedly. Somewhere in there, he also became a "global" hero, fighting crime around the world, with the not-so-subtle implication that other superheroes can't be bothered.

Compare that with the character in the stories Scipio posts. The two versions of the character are almost mutually exclusive, and the newer version is--from an in-universe standpoint--insanely important.

(And that doesn't even touch the fact that Batman's "secret files in case heroes go rogue" was initially J'Onn in JLA: Year One. The idea has been recycled for both Monarch and Batman, and is still driving stories, because the rebooted OMAC concept won't go away.)

Elongated Man (thankfully) didn't get that kind of treatment. But he was downright obscure Pre-Crisis, and spent the years following being "the JLA's detective" (remember, no Batman), and becoming a prominent fixture, rather than a background character. And his money-grubbing days have been dismissed, which you might say is a sign of the times, except that Booster Gold still carries the stigma (in story) of using his heroism for money and publicity. So, there's no reason to think that DC is against that idea.

So, while I don't doubt the characters would have still been in use somewhere, without Crisis wiping the slate clean and the sudden need to retroactively fill the roles of Superman and Batman, they would have remained minor leaguers, no pun intended.

At least, that's the way I see it: People remember the characters differently because they're almost entirely different characters.

Mark said...


As was our pattern the last time we discussed an issue, I think I see the extra-story factors as having a bigger impact than the in-story factors. Not saying I'm right in doing so; just a matter of assumptions and perspective.

The JLI did show multi-earth diversity but I think over time the true defining feature of that series has been its tone and how that tone contrasted with other trends in the industry. Even without Crisis, I think a similar series would have happened (though clearly the cast would have been different).

The Ralph & Sue fixation seems to me to be the result using characters who were part of the perceived archetype of lighter storytelling (JLI) and ruining them in "Identity" Crisis (an egregiously sub-par example of the opposite kind of storytelling). That contrast and those trends seem bigger than/incidental to COIE.

I don't think we're disagreeing about the evolution of J'onn post-crisis or even that the absence of Superman in that pater familias role post-Crisis created a new opening for the character. But while the "heart and soul" thing is good characterization, I'm not sure writers actually feel compelled by it to use the character. I just think there are more practical reasons writers have chosen to use J'onn, which is why he has thrived as a League mainstay when, for example, Ray Palmer has not.

John said...

The reason it fell to J'Onn, is because the heart of the JLA and the DCU was previously Superman. Like I said, it used to be that Superboy inspired young Bruce Wayne, Arthur Curry, and probably dozens of others, and everybody in the JLA looked to Superman as the de facto leader. Since the search for New Mars never happened and J'Onn was the "adult" in Detroit surrounded by young heroes, it made more sense than Black Canary founding the Justice League...

As for JLI, I don't think it would've been possible, myself, without Crisis. As I (vaguely) remember from interviews, the Justice League name was considered damaged goods after half its former members (especially big names) were allowed to even guest star. So, Giffen was allowed to play with the franchise and given one "real" character and a selection of minor guys that DC didn't care if they got "ruined," because the combined timeline left them with so many also-rans.

Keep in mind that the first year had very funny moments, but it wasn't primarily a "humor" book. So, if the JLA hadn't been problematic or if DC didn't have characters it considered "surplus" or if they didn't hit it out of the park for the first year or so, I don't think there would have been the shift towards sitcom-type humor of later years or the expansion to JLE.

In hindsight, it was a good business decision to diversify the line, but sitting in the DC offices in 1987 with Tim Burton's Batman in production and Marvel selling strong with mopey heroes...? I doubt anybody involved saw it that way.

I object to calling Identity Crisis storytelling, though. A shocking moment followed by a series of incoherent red herrings to suddenly declare that everybody was wrong isn't a story.

Scipio said...

" because the heart of the JLA ...was previously Superman"

OH, that is simply not true. Batman and Superman were the first people to be omitted from adventures precisely because the overshadowed the others.

The JLA didn't have a 'heart'. At all. READ THE STORIES

Anonymous said...

I fear I may be too dull to grasp the issue here. We know that CoIE undid a lot of history -- from the quantity of Black Canaries to whether the Kents were killed by pirate filth -- so I have no problem saying that, post-Crisis, the Dibnys were a well-adjusted couple and the Martian Manhunter had been the heart of the JLA from its beginning. There were comics in the 1970s that portrayed Ralph and Sue as horrid horrid people; that's fine. But as of CoIE, those portrayals were no longer necessarily binding.

Mark said...

"I object to calling Identity Crisis storytelling, though. A shocking moment followed by a series of incoherent red herrings to suddenly declare that everybody was wrong isn't a story."

Hey, on that point, we are in complete agreement!

Bryan L said...

"A shocking moment followed by a series of incoherent red herrings to suddenly declare that everybody was wrong isn't a story."

Indeed. That's actually the best summary of IC I've ever read. Certainly far more coherent than the actual series.

John said...

Scipio, that was true in the '60s, but the Bronze Age at DC could easily be characterized as establishing Superman and Batman as extremely important. Their absences from the JLA were really only when their JSA counterparts were showing up, and each one got an entire series dedicated to them teaming up with everybody from civilians to the Guardians of the Universe to showcase how interesting they were.

Superman also had several story arcs explaining how he was some sort of prophesied savior, from the Guardians' wacky eugenics experiment to Einstein's involvement to the weird pseudo-Excalibur bit. I don't think they did that to Batman, thankfully.

But that's all to say that, by the time of Crisis, Superman had slowly progressed from Weisinger's wallflower to Schwartz's...schmoozer, who was as popular in-universe as he was in ours.

Hoosier X said...

I've yet to see any evidence that the Dibnys were horrid horrid people in the Silver Age.

Nobody has ever argued that they were perfect. Ever.

(And if they HAD been portrayed as totally absent from all human weaknesses, I'm sure we would be hearing that they were a couple of Mary Sues.)

Slaughter said...

Lottery Tickets give you money, but do they warm your bed?

So Ralph >>> Lottery Winners.

Also, as José Delgado found out, you can lose a lottery ticket only for it to be found by another guy (who will open a bar with it), but its harder to misplace your trophy wife!