Destroying the Atom, Shredding
the Elongated Man
Are Ray “Atom” Palmer and Ralph
“Elongated Man” Dibny, ditto their respective spouses Sue Dibny
and Jean Loring, the most shoddily treated members of the DCU?
July 7, 2005
By Avi Green
“You know, the Atom is one of the DC comics characters
I've always thought could be the medium for some really trippy
stuff: I mean, the man can shrink below the subatomic plane and
enter whole new universes, explore the cellular, and harness the
power of white dwarf star material. I'd love to see a story
where Ray Palmer decides to explore 'microspace' in more detail,
or gets involved in an adventure against a cancer invasion or
From a comment on Dave Fiore’s Culture Blog
thought they really missed the boat with the Atom when they
de-aged him. I forget how it happened; I think it happened
during Zero Hour. Regardless, that was a hell of an idea; to be
18 years old, with all the memories of your former life. What do
you do differently? Do you even want to be a scientist this time
around? Do you want to avoid becoming the man you used to be?
But they never really dealt with it, just stuck him in the Teen
Titans and re-aged him a couple years later.” – From another
comment on Dave Fiore’s Culture Blog
once thought Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern were some of the
most shoddily treated characters in the DCU. But then again, a lot
of characters in the DC Universe, and even in the Marvel Universe,
have been subject to cold-shoulder misuse over the years, and it’s
The Elongated Man first appeared in The Flash #112 Vol. 1 in 1960, and Sue Dibny
debuted a few issues afterwards, in The Flash #119 Vol. 1 in 1961. The second Atom and
Jean Loring first appeared in Showcase
#34 in 1961, and the Atom’s own series began shortly
afterwards in 1962.
As a lead character, Ray got his own solo series soon after his
first appearances, and despite having some good storylines by
Gardner Fox and artwork by Gil Kane, in the end, the series never
proved as successful as it could’ve, and after even a merge with
Hawkman proved unsuccessful, was cancelled in late 1969. Later on,
his adventures continued in backup stories published mainly in
Action Comics, and even some Detective Comics, during the Bronze
Age, for 9 years. Sword of the Atom was a breakthrough in the 1980s,
as a way of offering both Ray and his co-stars a way to develop
themselves, as both he and Jean first became estranged, then got
divorced, in the process of one 4-part miniseries and three specials
over a period of five years. Following that, Power of the Atom built
upon what was established in Sword, as Ray returned to Ivy Town
after being targeted by evil government agents who wanted to recruit
him as a member of the Suicide Squad.
Elongated Man never had a real solo series at
the time, but did get his very own segment in Detective Comics for
17 years in 1964-81 (with 4 stories published in The Flash and one
in Justice League of America), in which he and his lovely wife Sue
(who looks so adorable with both long and short ‘dos, which she
alternated between for many years), went on many lighthearted
adventures in crimefighting together, in a Thin Man-inspired
concept. Even after Detective stopped carrying their feature, they
still turned up in backup stories in various other books until the
late 70s, and Ralph got his own miniseries during 1992.
Both characters, sadly enough, never got their fair share of
treatment over the years, and, come to think of it, neither did
their respective spouses, as evidenced by the quotes above.
It’s nothing new that Ralph, Sue, Ray and Jean have been subject to
character degradation/assassination in Identity Crisis, by only so
many knee-jerk, politically correct advocates who claim to enjoy
comics, but decidedly don’t. But what really shocked me was that
some people who’re supposedly knowledgeable about the characters,
including Wizard magazine, Movie Poop Shoot, and Andrew Smith,
writer of the "Captain Comics" columns for Scripps-Howard News and
the "Dear Captain" columns for the Comics Buyer’s Guide, seemed to
either ignore a lot about what many appreciated in all these
characters, or to distort/trash them altogether. And worst of
all…they didn’t seem to have much affection for the characters. Not
genuinely anyway. Mr. Smith never seemed to like Ralph Dibny much,
and certainly didn’t seem to care about him as a character. On
Silver Bullet Comics, there was even a column by someone who pretty
much showed why the miniseries was an artistic failure: he said that
Ralph was lame(!). What's the use of praising the miniseries if the
opiners don't even care about the characters, nor how they were
being reduced to minor players in a book built upon their deaths and degradations? And
even with the Mighty Mite, they didn’t seem to really care.
My assumption is that it has something to do with the two
superheroes and their spouses being “minor” characters. In other
words, if they’re not Spider-Man, Mary Jane Watson, Hawkeye or even
Scarlet Witch, then they don’t care what’s done with them. Is that
This is, of course, a very ludicrous and insulting psychology to go
by. Does being a minor character mean they’re 100% worthless? That
they have no potential whatsoever? That they’re literally unlikable,
and that it’s 100% okay to subject them whatever degradation the
company pleases? I don’t think so.
But one thing’s for sure: by trivializing Atom, Elongated Man, Sue
and Jean, all that people of the above news sources' standing are
doing is insulting every Mary Jane Watson and Scarlet Witch out
there too. Because isn’t it obvious that, if Mary Jane and Wanda
were minor characters too, or even DC owned characters instead of
Marvel owned ones, that they might very easily have had an entirely
different opinion upon them as well?
Which is a shame of course, considering that, while they might not
have come even close to the popularity of Marvel’s own leading
ladies, both Sue and Jean have both got some really good qualities
and potential waiting to get out. As a respondent to this
entry on Howling Curmudgeons said about Sue:
“Grant's column was excellent - and he's exactly right.
And, thinking it over, it's probably also why the murder of Sue
Dibny seemed extra-terrible in its way. Here was a woman who had
been written as an actual strong female character, not a
Claremont strong female, but like a real person. And she's
killed for what seems to be some cheap shock and pathos. And the
way they layered it on - first she's murdered, then she'd been
retroactively raped, then she was pregnant when she was
murdered. It was like she'd been such a strong woman in the past
that they needed to pile the degradation onto her post-mortem,
just to make sure we all got the point and that the male
characters around her would get their vengeance on.
afraid there may be something even more disturbing going on
though. Superhero comics are often described as "escapist
fantasy," and they largely are. Is this kind of rape and
degradation of female characters part of some folk's escapism?
Is that part of what is driving this in the marketplace? I'd
like to think not, but I don't know that I have that much faith
in my fellow man anymore.”
On Sue: I fully agree. She was real and believable
in ways that most Marvel women couldn’t hold a candle to. Due in
part to the fact that DC, when creating their female characters,
didn’t usually try to flood them in the kind of melodramatics that
Stan Lee was doing with some of Marvel’s own leading ladies when he
created them (Gwen Stacy, Lady Dorma). They were pretty strong in
characterization, didn’t just follow after the leads like they were
some lost puppy dogs, and most importantly of all: they stood up for
And as for Sue's stretchable sleuth husband, while he may not have
rated a favorite to every reader, he most certainly did have his
qualities in the department of slapstick and adventure, and a very
likable personality to boot, so it's an utter shame that DC would so
callously think to even sell out on poor Ralph as badly as they did.
The same goes for Ray Palmer, who, with the exception of two
specials and a two-part story in Legends of the DCU published in the
late 1990s, has never had another series or even a miniseries
spotlighting him since. Because little superheroes just aren't
workable, is that it? Gimme a break, DC.
And, as this
on the Atom from Cheeks the Toy Wonder points out in
discussion of Jean Loring:
"Having been referenced in the paragraph preceding, the
Ray Palmer/Jean Loring relationship merits some further
explication. As the leading criminal attorney in their mutual
home town of "Ivytown," Ms. Loring was portrayed (long before
such things became "politically correct" and de rigueur) as
being in the putative "driver's seat," re her romantic
involvement with Ray Palmer. (A characteristic she shared,
incidentally, with -- among other notable comic book women of
the day -- Carol Ferris [GREEN LANTERN] and Iris Allen [THE
FLASH]) In THE ATOM, it was Ray Palmer who continually "pushed"
for marriage, while the career-conscious Jean repeatedly avowed
that "my work comes first." "Old hat," today, to be sure... but
as a recurring leit motif throughout the DC titles of the 60's
and early 70's, ground-breaking in the extreme.
you will with the Marvel comics women of the period; even when
legged in spandex, such ostensible "action heroines" as Sue
Richards [FANTASTIC FOUR] and Marvel Girl [THE X-MEN] were just
as likely to spend the bulk of their "face time" mooning like
lovesick calves over their respective romantic idee fixees as
they were demonstrating actual Competence or Self-Sufficiency.
"Point," in this instance DC.)"
That right, even Jean Loring
qualified for many of the points I made about the DC women too. She
both stood up for and thought for herself, and knew what she wanted.
So it was truly insulting when Mr. Smith, as I discovered some time
ago, seems to entirely misinterpret Jean’s character, and took her
characterization, or whatever was implied by just one mere panel in
her debut, far too seriously, as shown in the quote below from
“Jean Loring kept turning down Ray Palmer's proposals until
she had made her name as a lawyer. As a genre convention it
makes sense, but from a real-world perspective, it had a number
of uncomfortable elements -- such as the implication that as
soon as Jean married she had to stop being a lawyer, and Jean's
cruelty in keeping Ray on a string.
a later writer had Jean cheat on Ray, it actually didn't strike
me as a clumsy writer's fiat -- in context of the character, it
made an uncomfortable amount of sense. She had always taken Ray
for granted, and her lawyer life (she slept with another lawyer)
had always been more important.
perspective, I thought Ray was better off without her.)” –
Andrew Smith, March 22, 2004
I have to vehemently disagree
with how he distorts all this.
To say the least, Mr. Smith, know-it-all journalist that he sadly
is, is apparently taking what she said in that one, single panel
there, about her wanting to prove herself as a lawyer before giving
up her career, much too seriously. Worse, he’s certainly confusing –
and obscuring – something there.
First off, there were some women at the time Jean first appeared in
the 1960s, feminists and such, who were trying to prove themselves
capable of earning a living for themselves without having the men in
their lives be the ones to earn their bread. It was an expression of
independent decision that they were making, considering that up
until that time, many men expected their fioncees to give up their
jobs upon marriage. And while Ray, as far as I know, may not have
asked, and certainly didn’t tell her, that she had to give up her
job after they married each other, there were still some women who
would nevertheless hold out on a confirmation as an expression of
their personal independence in making a personal choice. And one
sure thing – when they did marry eventually, she DIDN’T give up her
job. She just kept working onwards, not just for her own living, but
also for Ray’s too, and for the sake of justice, and Ray, in his
alter ego as the Atom, would often try to help her in some of the
cases she was investigating as a lawyer.
If anything, Jean’s positions at the time weren’t all that different
from many early women’s libbers, and that Mr. Smith went and
obscured that part was particularly insulting.
Second, what’s this about an
implication that she had to stop being a lawyer, as if that was
required by law when getting married? Whatever she said there, that
doesn’t mean that she literally, flat-out meant it seriously, that
she would actually give up her career upon marrying him, nor was she
ever required to. Whether or not she would was her own personal
freedom of choice.
My parents lived through the sixties, and from what they told me
about feminists of the times, it's not hard to figure out that she
was just telling him, in as polite a manner as she could, that she
makes her own decisions, and is her own girl, just like Mary Jane
Watson told it to Harry Osborn back in 1971 when she was mad at him
for the jerk he’d become, and how, because that was the time that
the late son of the Green Goblin had become addicted to drugs. And
that if Ray thought that she, Jean, was going to give up her career
when marrying him, that he was quite mistaken. I’m sure that by no
means did she ever assume that Ray was the kind of guy who’d want
her to do that, but nevertheless, like I said before, her response
wasn’t all that far removed from how some pioneer feminists could
think during that time.
I will admit that from a modern-day perspective, it probably doesn’t
have all that comfortable a ring to it, but, isn’t that why today, a
lot of that no longer stands as relevant? In fact, I’m not sure if
it ever did remain relevant after just a few years, and by the time
they’d agreed to marriage, it had already become irrelevant.
But in any case, what Mr. Smith does here is to take a simple
“reflection of the times” about feminists out of context by not even
mentioning it, distort it almost entirely, and he certainly seems to
be mouthing off at both ends here. And which certainly puts in doubt
his genuine feelings about the characters.
Add to that the shocking belittling of all these characters,
superheroes and spouses alike, and is it any wonder that Atom and
Elongated Man have ended up becoming as badly trashed as they have
over the years? As
out when reviewing the last issue of that horrorfest last year on
his store’s weblog at ComixExperience:
“What this means is that the HORROR of the story, the
slaughters of Sue and her unborn child, the orphaning of Robin
(which dramatically works against Tim -- HE became Robin out of
belief of the mantle, not rage at loss like Bruce or Dick or
even Cassandra), the absolutely bewilderingly so
out-of-character destruction of Jean (and thus functionally Ray,
the single most s[p]at upon of all of DC's "icons"), not one of
those things had to have happened in order to tell the MAIN
story, the brainwashing plot. And that to me, is repugnant.”
Hibbs is absolutely correct
there. None of this had to happen, and for both Ray and Jean, this
served as nothing more than horrific character assassination,
furthered even more by just about every distortion the biased
members of the comics media wrote. And the going-ons in Day of
Alive last April, certainly don’t help matters. Judging from
how much money DC made in publishing IC, I guess they couldn’t care
less though, and seeing how much superfluous laudings they’ve put
out, backed by such an awful magazine as Wizard, they must really be
proud of it.
I haven’t stopped reeling in disgust at how such PC lunatics as
Wizard magazine, Captain Comics, The Comic Fanatic, Movie Poop
Shoot, Hero Realm, and Newsarama, went and gushed, fawned, and
apologized over DC’s ghastly debacle. Or shaking my head in
disbelief at how others such as Four Color Explosion, and even
Comics Fairplay went and took double-stances by panning other
execrable jobs as Amazing Spider-Man: Sins Past, and Avengers
Disassembled while at the same time praising Identity Crisis in
superficial terms with both items, and one of the aforementioned
websites even – gasp! – expressed distaste in how Robin was going
the dark route, and yet went along and praised IC at the same time.
Gee! Isn’t that very miniseries what’s lead to and advocated the
problems recently experienced in the new Teen Wonder’s own solo
book? What’s the world coming to?
Is the woman seen in the following pages, from Power of the Atom #9, what they
think is a woman who deserves this kind of treatment?
I’m going to be 100% crystal clear here now:
Copyright 2005 Avi Green. All rights reserved.