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When we talk romance in comics, there are three or four relationships that are bound to come up. Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. Reed Richards and Sue Storm. Maybe someone will throw in Barry Allen and Iris West or Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor if they want to get deep into the talk. One couple that rarely comes up, though should easily be at the top of the list, is Ralph and Sue Dibny, arguably the greatest couple in comic book history.
Ralph Dibny made his debut in Flash #112 by saving a cat that fell out of a window. This pissed Flash off because, as the Scarlet Speedster saw it, falling cats in Central City were his to protect. I’m not joking, Barry literally sits at home and stews over the press that Elongated Man gets. Really not the best look for our hero.
Soon enough we learn that the Elongated Man is actually Ralph Dibny. While at a carnival with his family when he was a kid, Ralph saw a “Rubber Man from India” who could seemingly stretch his limbs and contort himself into shapes no other human could. Seeing the Rubber Man, Ralph became obsessed with learning how to stretch himself out. Ralph spends years of his life going to carnivals all around the country begging other Rubber Men to teach him the trick, but none of them will do it. In truth, this is a sad way to live a life. I mean, how much of his teen years did Ralph miss because he wanted to elongate his body?
Still, after a decade of trying to figure out the secret, all Ralph had deduced was that these Rubber Men all drank the same soft drink - Gingold Soda. Digging into Gingold, Ralph found that the main ingredient of the soda was a little known tropical fruit called gingo (not to be confused with the ginkgo biloba seed or the poem Gingo Biloba by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe). Ralph came up with a terrible theory - that the gingo fruit was what allowed these contortionists to stretch out their limbs. Instead of just buying some gingo, Ralph purchased hundreds of dollars of Gingold and extracted the fruit from the drink. This being 1960, Ralph did what every scientist used to do, he distilled the essence of gingo into a super-concentrated form and drank it down. You can guess what happened next…
By the end of the issue, Barry and Ralph become... fast friends. Sorry for the pun, but I didn’t even have to stretch to make it!
While he started off wearing a mask when fighting crime, Ralph really didn’t hide his identity from the world, choosing instead to use his Elongated Man fame to make a living. He also wasn’t above using his celebrity to meet women, like Sue Dearbon, the socialite from Westchester County, New York. Ralph and Sue met at Sue’s debutante ball - Ralph crashed the ball claiming that jewel thieves were planning to rob the party but in truth he just wanted to meet Sue. The two quickly fell in love and married.
It was Sue who pushed Ralph to take his superhero work more seriously, and the two became a team. They used Sue’s family money to do what they loved most - traveling from town to town solving mysteries like the “Anselmo Case” where Ralph and Sue found a wish-granting gun that they kept as a souvenir. In time, Ralph and Sue would become known by the superhero community as the best detectives after Batman. Their work was so impressive that Ralph was offered membership to the Justice League of America (I don’t know why Sue wasn’t given League membership, but that would get fixed later on).
Ralph and Sue became Barry and Iris’ closest married couple friends. They were there for Barry when Iris was murdered, and they helped cover the costs of Barry’s funeral when he died saving all of existence.
When the Justice League became a United Nations-sanctioned team and split into two parts, Ralph and Sue joined the Justice League Europe division. Ralph would join the other superheroes on the field while Sue stayed at the base and helped them come up with plans as well as kept a watch on the monitor for new threats. Between missions, the happy couple would solve weird murders or diamond heists in France or Germany. They became the toast of Europe, the elegant Sue Dibny and her funny stretchy husband. They were, as readers and writers would often point out, the Nick and Nora Charles of comics, and the DC Universe was all the better because of their unending love and equal partnership in a medium that doesn’t tend to reward such things.
Which, I suppose, is why novelist Brad Meltzer, with the approval of DC’s higher-ups, created the loved by some readers but actually terrible Identity Crisis.
In Identity Crisis, Sue Dibny is horrifically murdered, and her murder reveals a series of sins committed by the Justice League back in the pre-UN days, namely that they would mindwipe their villains (and Batman) from time to time. In the end, it was revealed that Jean Loring, ex-wife of the Atom, had killed Sue - doing so because she believed that if the old League got back together, maybe Atom would fall in love with her again.
Such utter garbage.
Identity Crisis was the start of a long and overall pitiful decade for DC Comics that culminated in the whole New 52 debacle. Taking these much loved characters and destroying what readers love about them just to get some quick sales is the worst way to run a comics company.
Anyway, with his wife dead, Ralph Dibny sat around in the dark and continually considered killing himself for a few years, but when he learns that someone has desecrated Sue’s grave, he jumps on the mystery. Ralph discovers that there is a cult going around trying to resurrect dead heroes, namely Superboy and Sue. Ralph, with the help of a few other heroes, tracks down the cult and stops them, but not before they bring a version of Sue back. This version lives for about a minute before it burst into flames and crawled its way to Ralph, screaming his name until she died.
Don’t worry, it gets worse.
Having lost his one and only love twice, Ralph Dibny was made an offer by God itself. The Spectre, the literal vengeance of God in the DC universe, came to Ralph and offered to bring Sue back to the land of the living. All Ralph had to do was murder Jean Loring. Ralph, being a true hero, refused.
A few weeks later (this all happened in a weekly series called 52, by the way), Ralph ended up in Dr. Fate’s tower where he used the helmet of Nabu to try and bring back Sue. Instead he brought back the evil Felix Faust who had been secretly toying with Ralph the whole time from beyond the grave. Faust had made a deal with the demon Neron that he would get him Dibny’s soul and now the time had come to make the trade. Ralph, being one hell of a detective, had already figured that out though. Neron, pissed that Ralph had played him and Faust, killed Ralph.
Remember way back when I weirdly brought up the Anselmo Case and that wish granting gun? Well like Chekhov said, don’t introduce a wish granting gun in the first act and not use it in the third act. Turned out that Ralph had indeed used the gun, making the wish that he would be reunited with Sue in the afterlife. Now spirits who walked the Earth, Ralph and Sue became ghost detectives who investigate the paranormal.
Then came New 52 and one of the few good bits to grow out of it - Ralph and Sue’s deaths were gone - the two were alive again, solving crimes and being the best married couple in comics. Ralph and Sue haven’t shown up since Rebirth came out, but we’re sure to see them sooner or later. Hopefully when we do, they’ll still be the shining beacons of love that we all need.