Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Pied Piper's Double Doom!

Title: "The Pied Piper's Double Doom!"
Issue: The Flash No. 138
Date: August 1963
Format: 14-page main feature.
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciller:Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella (Murphy Anderson did the cover).
Main characters: The Flash, the Elongated Man (7th appearance, last seen in The Flash #134).
Supporting Characters: Sue Dibny (3rd appearance, last seen in The Flash #124), Iris West, Miss Twist.
Villains: The Pied Piper (3rd appearance, last seen in Justice League of America #14).
Setting: Tower City, Central City.
Stolen Item: The Star of India.
Mystery: What is making Lical, the super computer of the Central City University, give the wrong answers? and later, what is making the Elongated Man act against his will?
Method: Coincidence and association of ideas.
This is the first time:
  • We see the Elongated Man's detective method.
  • Ralph uses a magnifying glass.
  • The Dibnys have a double date with the Allens.
Other notes: The Pied Piper has the ability of making people forget events; just like Zatanna in identity crisis. Barry drinks gingold, this makes him one of the rare people who is not allergic to it.

It's the first time we see Ralph method as a detective and the first time we see him with a magnifying glass and his first mystery story - a howdunnit or howcatchem which would become the trademark of  the Columbo plots. The reason for this might be that it's also the first Flash/Elongated Man story Gardner Fox, who might have taken the idea from Ralph's curiosity in most of the previous stories by John Broome.
This story is also the first to present the friendship between the Dibny and the Allen couples is established (they all know who Ralph is, but nobody knows that Barry is the Flash).
This is the second time that Ralph declares that his hobby is solving mysteries and the last time Ralph teams up with Flash and appears in his title before his Detective Comics run. It's also the last of the four consecutive stories featuring Ralph against a Flash rogue.
Plot: Without any witness, the Pied Piper uses the Elongated Man as his plundering puppet to steal the Royal Jewels of an European Kingdom, located at the colonial tower fortress of Tower City during its tricentennial.
When Flash goes to the crime scene to investigate, the Pied Piper subdues his mind to steal from the Tower City Bank. Then, each hero deduces that each other was the author of the crimes, so they resolve to put invisible ink in their shoe soles and Flash drinks gingold.
Right away they deduce that they just committed another crime, and they follow their footprints to the Pied Piper's hideout, who uses a double flute to make each other fight.
Flash defeats him by using the gingold effect to stretch his arm to reach and break the flute.

Review: This story is a lot of fun. They don't make a mystery out of the villain, which makes sense since it's hard to make mysteries with supervillain culprits, but out of the way Ralph and the Flash deduced that they were used by him. And then, the way they set him a trap was quite clever.

Here's a fun fact: this story, published in August 1963, starts with the theft of the Star of India, the "World largest emerald", and The Pink Panther the movie about the theft of the eponymous diamond, also meant to be the World's largest, was released in early 1964. I think it's very unlikely that this story inspired the movie; however, I think both might have been inspired by a common source. By the way, there is an actual real-life "Star of India", only it is a sapphire not an emerald.


  1. I have this comics and I agree that it is a good early example of Ralph as detective. In fact, I think it might have been intended as a dry run for Detective Comics--since Schwartz probably knew he was taking over the Batman books soon and he was probably considering what should be the back-up feature.

    Infantino's layouts are quite clever in this story and it shows that he sees how he can use Ralph's body inventively in the composition.

    Now that you mention it, the theft of exotic gems or idols was probably a recurrent plot point in a lot of Fox stories dating back to the Golden Age.

  2. Yes, it's way too much of a jumping point: It's the first Gardner fox story, Ralph reaffirms his love for mysterious crimes and then shows his method and works more intensively than in any of the Broome stories.

  3. Gardner Fox characters are pretty much all detectives of some fashion. No surprise he applied that to Ralph, but perhaps a surprise that it stuck so resolutely.

  4. I'm not that familiar with other Fox characters. I'm aware that Flash and the other heroes did some detecting of their own on a regular basis, but I'm not sure why Ralph became more asociated with the profession than the rest. I atribute it to his nicknames (ductile detective, stetchable sleuth), his early and repeated ties to the word "mystery", his feature in Detective Comics, and the fact that he repeats that he loves mysteries at least twice in every 'tec story (repeating that was half his lines in JLoA, even if he only got to solve a few ones there).