Explaining a gag is like dissecting a frog; you can do it, but the frog tends to die in the process.
The man on the left whom you might not recognize (depending on your level of intimacy with the heroes of the DC Universe) is Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man. As his name suggests, his power allows him to stretch all of his body parts to a fantastic (pun intended) extent, subject to a fairly nominal distance limit that's never been explored all that much.
If that sounds familiar, it's because the character borrows a riff or two from other stretchable types from comics past, most notably Plastic Man, Elastic Lad, and Mr. Fantastic. As you've probably surmised by now, Ralph got stuck with the Elongated moniker because the other good names were taken.
So how did Ralph get his powers? It wasn't anything quite as dramatic as being given an alien space weapon, or being rocketed to Earth as a baby, or being chosen to be the planet's plastic elemental.
Tangent: since the DC multiverse boasts an earth elemental (Swamp Thing), a fire elemental (Firestorm), an air elemental (Red Tornado), and a water elemental (someone whose name I'm forgetting), why not a plastic elemental? Anyhow.
No, Ralph gets his abilities by drinking the extract of a fruit called gingold. As his origin story put it, as a teen he had noticed that all of the contortionists that he hero-worshipped drank soda that contained gingold juice. One junior chemistry set later, Ralph guzzled down a concentrated extract of the stuff, setting him on the path towards being a latter-day Stretch Armstrong.
He scored decent numbers overall, teaming up with the Flash fairly regularly and showing some acumen as a detective in a string of back-up adventures. He also managed to finagle himself into the Justice League, along with a mini-series or two. That's not too shabby for a guy who has to rely on an occasional nip from a hip flask to keep his powers going.
This necessarily leads to speculation about quality control, of course. The gingold that Ralph drinks isn't exactly available at the local supermarket, so Ralph pretty much has to run his own distillery apparatus. Now, I have a degree in chemistry, so I can guarantee that despite the best precautions and diligence you throw into your lab work, sometimes you make mistakes. Maybe you forget to calibrate that scale. Maybe you inadvertently contaminate your reactants. Maybe you sneeze into your Erlenmeyer flask. Sometimes you manage to set your asbestos mat on fire. (That's a true story, by the way. The friend of mine who pulled that one off also managed to crack a metal retort stand once. He's remarkably talented in the finer arts of lab destruction.) Anyways, whatever the source of error, sometimes the results just aren't what you expect.
Now, sub-par gingold wouldn't have much of an effect. Instead of being able to stretch an arm from the living room couch down to the convenience store on the corner, he might only be able to reach (just barely) into the kitchen for a beer.
Super-concentrated gingold, well, that's something different altogether. Complete lack of control, perhaps? Impossibly stretched-out limbs without any possibility of motor control? Big puddle of goo, maybe? Forget the notion of a plastic elemental and think more in terms of a taffy elemental.
What about the effects of mixing gingold with other medications, for that matter? Every time that I see a television ad for a new prescription medication, it's accompanied by a speed talker listing a litany of side effects, potential complications, and other disclaimers.
What about operating heavy machinery while under the influence of gingold? The JLA satellite would certainly qualify as heavy machinery, wouldn't it?
Speaking of being under the influence (figuratively and literally, if you'll follow along), there's a fairly new comic store that's stretching the limits of just how good a comic store can be. It's called 'Isotope the Comic Book Lounge', and it's one more solidly good reason to visit San Francisco sooner rather than later. It's pretty rare that I plug specific stores in these pages (The Outer Limits in Waltham, Mass., and the Comic Book Shoppe in Ottawa, Ontario, are the only other two so far), but James Sime and his co-conspirators at the Isotope are pulling out all the stops to engage people in the medium.
For the most recent Free Comic Book Day, James went the extra step of mailing, at his expense, free comics (yes, plural) to anyone who sent him an email asking him to do so. No contest, no conditions, no begging or pleading required. Forget about no rain or no sleet or no snow, James didn't even let a trivial thing like borders get in the way of my receiving copies of Pop Gun War and Scurvy Dogs (both of which I recommend highly, by the way).
That effort pales, though, compared with the range of events held at the Isotope, events that collectively sound (and look, judging from the pictures) to be more fun than your average blender party. Show me another comics store where you can participate in watermelon racing, attend a wine, cheese and comics tasting experience, join in a tiki party, and taste scotch with Warren Ellis. Heck, show me any kind of store where you can do stuff like this.
The bottom line is that if you're in the Ottawa area, hit the Comic Book Shoppe; if you're in Boston, visit the Outer Limits; and if you're visiting the town that Emperor Norton used to call home, check out the Isotope.
Getting back to Elongated Man, here's a final thought to ponder. What do you suppose would happen if Plastic Man were to drink the gingold? Now that's a plot for Ty Templeton if I've ever seen one...