Wednesday, October 19, 2011

An ear -- In the Fireplace!: Reviewing "Ten Miles to Nowhere!"

Title: "Ten Miles To Nowhere"
Issue: Detective Comics No. 327
Date: May 1964
Format: 10-page backup feature.
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciller and inker: Carmine Infantino
Main character: Elongated Man (8th appearance, last seen in The Flash #138)
Supporting Characters: Sue Dibny (4th appearance, last seen in The Flash #138)
Cameos: The Flash, Kid Flash, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Captain Boomerang
Villains: Al and other thieves (first and only appearance for all).

Setting: Lake Champlain, Montreal (flashback), Central City (flashback).
Stolen item: 2 million dollars (60s dollars) in diamonds.
Mystery: Who drove the Dibny's car for 10 miles while they were sleeping and why?
Method: Tracking and spying. 
This is the first:
  • Elongated Man solo story (before this, he only appeared as a guest star in The Flash).
  • Elongated Man appearance in Detective Comics.
  • Elongated Man backup feature, which starts a series in Detective Comics.
  • Time Ralph is called "the Ductile Detective".
  • Time Ralph doesn't wear a mask as the Elongated Man.
  • Time Ralph gets obsessive about his fame.
Before this issue we say Ralph's interest in mysteries in Space Boomerang-Trap! (Flash #124) and Kid Flash Meets the Elongated Man! (Flash #130) and do some clever detecting in The Pied Piper's Double Doom! (Flash #138). This story has a stronger focus on him as a detective.

The feature starts with a recap of the Elongated Man. The teaser indicates that he used to be a Flash character, then, we have a cool indication of how his powers work.
The Dr. Jekyll comparison is a bit too much (Ralph changes his physiology with Gingold extract, but he's mind is pretty much the same), however, it is pretty cool and a great pretext for Infantino to go wild. It's also great to know that Jekyll exists in the DC Universe.  
Then the story starts. The Dibnys are returning from eastern Canada and they are stopped at customs in the frontier. The officer explains that there was a robbery of two million dollars in diamonds in Montreal. Gardner goes almost straight to the comic relief aspects of the story:
This sets the tone of the rest of the story and the rest of the series. There is mystery, but there's also humor and the tone is very lighthearted (even more than The Thin Man). 
Right after that, Ralph gets involved in a mystery:
It is important to notice that the third page, which features the last 6 panel that I have shown, define a lot about Ralph; he's a bit of a goof and a very methodical man. He's constantly watching for things out of place, which makes him notice that somebody has been using his car. This, of course, gets him obsessed.
This is the pattern that will be followed by 99% of the rest of the series, just as sending Sue to do some shopping while he investigates. By now, we also got a sense of the kind of woman that Sue is: easy going, witty, and a bit hedonistic and frivolous.
In this story we see one of the most commons methods that Ralph uses to find the culprit, tracking and spying, which is only logic, given the nature of his super powers.

Oddly enough, he arrives just in time to hear the villains recap their crime (this happens a lot in his stories). Which results in one of the most memorable lines of the silver age.

That has to be one of the most surreal panels of the 60s, and it lead to the first of many weird fights that the Elongated Man had with lots of nameless thugs. "An ear -- In the fireplace!" Ha, ha, ha. The first time I read it, it flew under my radar, but I instantly recognized it when I read it as the title of the blogs of a couple of other Elongated Man fans. Great superhero movies tend to make a big deal out of the simplest uses of superpowers. They don't take them for granted. Think of Superbaby lifting Pa Kent's vehicle. Even dodging a punch from local high school bully, Flash Thomson, can be awesome if properly told. I think that, before any of those flicks, this is what Fox and Infantino captured in this panel. We have those thieves, talking about the secret details of their last hit, and they see a freaking ear hanging from the fireplace! Next thing they know, something that seems like a person comes out of it and start throwing punches from everywhere, like some sort of super fast rubber octopus.
With the case solved and the villains out of the picture, the story goes back to Ralph's silly obsession.

This first issue is great for Ralph in that Schwartz finally let him shine. There is a lot of focus on his abilities, the kind that was never seen while he was second fiddle to the Flash.
I also feel that Carmine Infantino was also let shine with this story. He didn't pull that kind of dynamism with Flash. I think it also features the prettiest pics of Sue.

To me, this is one of the greatest Elongated Man stories. Yes, it has some silly, far too coincidental aspects, but there's a lot of great characterization. I believe that Ralph was one of the earliest heroes to develop a personality (back then, heroes used to be distinguished just by uniform, hair color and powers).

It's a shame that current comic writers think they need to open every mystery with a very graphic and grotesque murder scene. Being the greatest detective doesn't require to solve the darkest mysteries. Sherlock, himself, had some pretty silly cases (look it up). I have nothing against murder cases for detective superheroes, but there's a lot of potential in thefts too; The Pink Panther was all about them.
One of the highlights of the Elongated Man is how entertaining his fights were. Only stretchers can pull that kind of stuff, and it's not like there's many of them.


  1. I direct a lot of vitriol at Red Tornado for sitting in J'Onn J'Onzz chair's aboard the Justice League Satellite throughout the Bronze Age. For some reason, I hold no serious ill will against Elongated Man for taking Martian Manhunter's back-up slot in Detective Comics. Dead Wives Club, maybe?

    I like the way you format the post. It makes for an easy opening reference for the who-what-where of the story. The tale looked like fun.

    What's That? An Ear in the Fireplace?

    I was inspired to calculate the inflation, and came up with $13,905,411.45

  2. Well the official substitute of J'Onn is EM; however, Reddy is the non-human, bald guy with weird skin color who has never been part of the League at the same time with him. When it comes to Detective, you have to keep in mind that J'Onn gained a couple of pages in House of Mystery and that he became a title character.

    I didn't get the dead wives club reference.

    I'm no stranger to that feeling, though. My stomach twitches every time they treat Reddy as a classic leaguer over the longer-staying and more constant Elongated Man. I believe that, for some reason, he's being blocked from comics and other media. Maybe we should start a Red Tornado hate club.

    I came up with this format because the Flash stories took a lot for granted and because I loved those annotations for Morrison stories. Gardner Fox plays a lot better than Broome with the abilities and possibilities of both Carmine Infantino and the Ralph, so the format looks a lot better with his stories. The only problem is that I didn't leave out many panels of the feature, and the same is going to happen with the next couple of stories. The early 'tec features introduced a lot of changes, which I always wanted to annotate.

  3. I think part of the "ear in the fireplace" absurdity is that the crooks immediately accept that this thing they can have had no more than a fleeting glance of IS in fact someone's ear.

    And when they rush to inspect the fireplace and find nothing, they then conclude "he must be on the roof", as if people stick ears down chimneys every day. Remember, at the end of the story they all admit they'd never heard of the Elongated Man. So what exactly DID they think had happened?

    Then THEY ALL RUN OUTSIDE, leaving no one behind to guard the fireplace that they now KNOW FOR A FACT has been compromised. Yet it all seemed perfectly logical at the time.

  4. It's a bit like watching Bewitched or My Favorite Martian. The theme is not a magic lady (that would be Zatanna) but a ductile detective. Just like those shows, you have to ignore the sillyness of the premises and just enjoy the lovely characters (which is way easier to with lighthearted stories).

    In this case, the silliest bit seems to be that single panel, right after the one with the "An ear -- In the fireplace!" line. Now that I think about it, the story could have perfectly done without it. Actually, Ralph would have looked more as a fast thinker if his first reaction after being spotted was surprising them with that octopus-like, punch-throwing storm.

    By the way, there's a nod there, but the title of this post is an homage to the homage you made in the first place. Although I'd have never pay that much attention to that particular scene without your blog.

  5. Both J'Onn and Ralph lost their wives prematurely. Tacky, but true.

  6. Duh. I feel silly now.

    Don't worry, I like tacky jokes.

  7. A subsequent issue of Detective Comics printed a letter from some young women in college. They all thought the "An ear in the fireplace! He must be on the roof!" sequence was a hoot. One of them made an ear from clay or putty in art class, and they had fun placing it around their dorm room. "An ear on the dresser! He must be under the bed!" "An ear! On the mirror! He must be in the bath tub!"

  8. Hmmm... How fun, like an Elongated Man meme of sorts. I'look into that.