Stretching Things: an extended article by: GF Willmetts.

October 29, 2017 | By | 4 Replies More

One of the most drastic types of super-humans are the pliable ones. They are also in small number with the most famous being Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic at Marvel, at DC Comics, Ralph Dibney aka The Elongated Man and Patrick ‘Eel’ O’Brian aka Plastic Man still around. Rita Farr aka Elasti-Girl, in her original reincarnation didn’t survive the explosion in the original Doom Patrol storyline although demonstrates it more for enlarging than stretching. As such, she falls in an odd category between pliability and size-changing super-humans.

Mr. Fantastic

The categorisation of this particular branch of super-humans is the ability to stretch their bodies into any shape they want. There are grey areas where the likes of the late Kevin Sydney, the possible real name of the Changeling in the Marvel Universe could manipulate his features to stay in one shape but metamorphic super-humans such as the Hulk will be dealt with in a future article although there are some similarities.

The research of these pliable super-humans tends to show very few are born that way which is odd considering the radical differences in their bodies. After all, their entire bodies have become totally flexibility allowing the easy flow of blood circulation, no heart damage by such distortions or with any of their other organs. If anything, it’s more remarkable that they can maintain a ‘normal’ humanoid shape than be a shapeless mass on the floor. Then again, their muscle structure and skin is also radically different to support this and I doubt if any of them really look their real age. Despite their resemblance to humans, they are clearly the most radically changed of them all.

The Elongated Man

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t some grey areas. The likes of the Elongated Man and Jimmy Olsen as Elasti-Lad relied on a serum to get this effect. Ralph Dibney’s gingold serum has been attributed to activating his latent metahuman ability. Olsen’s source is more confusing. Rita Farr was exposed to volcanic fumes I doubt if had any similarity to our terrestrial volcanoes. Marvel’s Bruce Dickson aka Thin Man’s origin is equally vague. It would be easier to ignore some of these claims of elasticity but that would only confuse issues. Reed Richards was affected by cosmic radiation but his three companions all had metaphysical changes and were probably amongst the few who would have beneficial effects from over-exposure to radiation even if they don’t appreciate it. After all, none of them received toxic radiation poisoning or any cancerous effects.

Thin Man

If anything, it is more surprising that when you consider the larger number of metamorphic super-humans, how tiny the number of pliable super-humans there are. Only the Skrulls seem to share a similar ability in the Marvel Universe and the Durlans and Proteans Beasts of Antares whose normal form was literally formless in the DC Universe and both only really became prominent in the 30th century.

There are more questions when it comes to physiological issues. It’s a whole different ballgame when the entire organs can stretch and distort with no damage to the heart and lungs although it would be safer not to have a heavy meal before performing. The muscles can become taut and if the diaphragm acts like a spring, they are likely to involuntarily vomit their stomach’s contents prior to digestion, although this has been avoided in visual representations.

The real problem comes from how far they can stretch. Most of these pliable super-humans can be compressed into a small size or stretch to indeterminate lengths. This does tend to suggest that their bodies exist within two states than purely of one. A cross between silly putty and rubber. More often they are depicted stretching their limbs or even their necks way beyond normal tolerances which is akin to fluid than physical matter. In that light, there are similarities to the likes of William Baker aka Sandman and Morris Bench aka Hydroman from the Marvel Universe, although unlike these two, they do not sub-divide at a molecular level or resemble these substances.


When this range is extended, you would then also have to look at the likes of Carl Creel aka the Absorbing Man who can absorb and copy the properties of the matter around him who shows similar properties but does widen the scale that they can be compared to.

When this is taken into account, instead of having to consider Hooke’s Law Of Elasticity and the limits of stretching like a spring, we have instead fluid dynamics which is a whole different subject.

This would have to revise any thoughts on pliability being purely being like rubber. The super-human frame resonates between being purely human-like and in extending to reach and doing other similar feats. If they were truly rubber-like, then they would snap back to their original form. The human body is over 60% fluid and then ability to carry the remaining matter can therefore be accounted for that. Indeed, a lot of the problems I was having otherwise are suddenly no longer there.

The benefits of such an ability does present some levels of invulnerability. This doesn’t mean they are impossible to stop. In their more fluid states, they also absorb gases easier and, as shown occasionally, can be rendered senseless. Being confined in a small space with no exit also prevents the use of their abilities although does explain how early in his career, Reed Richards seeped through a gap in a rivet and under a door.

Sometimes these solutions come together and make perfect sense. Again, the mutation is somewhat radical and hence affects such a tiny proportion of the population with this ability. It is also a telling lesson that just because someone looks like rubber or plastic doesn’t necessarily represent what they really are.

© GF Willmetts 2017


Category: Comics, Science, Superheroes

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

Comments (4)

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  1. Julian White says:

    You mention compressability as one of the attributes… That surely poses a problem with the high proportion of water in the body. (I sometimes wonder why I fret about these things when the whole subject of, in this case, superhuman abilities is a fiction… )

    • UncleGeoff says:

      Hello Julian
      You’ll notice I was careful enough not to specify how small compressions were taken. I was trying to find a picture showing the Thing where he compressed Reed Richards and placed him in a box which looks like it was about 20 square inches. There are limits. Something else to consider is that although the body is mostly water, there is also a lot of free gases in there as well, filling the lungs and gut so you can remove at least another percentage of body mass.

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