The fourth season of The Flash has added another classic DC hero to its ranks, as it’s been announced that Hartley Sawyer will play Ralph Dibney – also known as the Elongated Man.
Ralph is one of DC’s most beloved mainstay characters, having actually made his first appearance as a Flash supporting character in 1960. Due to drinking an elixir known as “gingold”, he can stretch all parts of his body to outrageous proportions – although unlike another DC character, Plastic Man, he can’t turn into the shape of objects.
It was in 1970s Detective Comics – where he starred in his own backup strip – that Ralph was established as one of the DC universe’s foremost detectives (in fact, there are those who’d say he’s that world’s greatest detective, overshadowing even Batman). His wife Sue also became an integral feature in Justice League stories when Ralph joined the team later that decade. The fact that he’s generally referred to by his own name rather than his superhero sobriquet, meanwhile, is reflective of the fact that he was an early example of a hero going public with their identity.
In the 1990s, he starred in the superb Justice League International/America/Europe stories, and he and Sue also made a notable guest appearance in James Robinson’s Starman, settling briefly in Opal City. Things took a darker turn in 2004 when Sue was killed off in the infamous Identity Crisis miniseries (which also contained an even darker retcon concerning her past in the League); and during the brilliant 52 in 2006, Ralph was one of the series’ rotating leads before being killed off himself and then returning with Sue as ghosts (no, seriously).
Ralph’s presence in the series is part of a concerted effort to lighten the show’s tone after a somewhat grimmer third season – something that’s welcome news to people like me who actually didn’t get around to finishing the last year’s run. Whether or not his powers can be successfully portrayed on a small-screen budget remains to be seen (it’s notable that the character has never appeared in live action before); and while we don’t know all that much about Sawyer, it’s notable that a casting call reported by Bleeding Cool included the phrase “think Ryan Reynolds or Chris Pratt”, giving an idea of the direction they intend to take the character.
The Flash returns to The CW on 10th October, with Neil Sandilands playing this year’s “big bad”, The Thinker.