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Detective Comics 327
"Ten Miles to Nowhere"

Script: Gardner Fox
Art: Carmine Infantino
Editor: Julius Schwartz

This issue not only introduced the New Look for Batman but installed Elongated Man as the backup feature as well. This event unseated J'Onn J'Onzz, the Manhunter from Mars, who'd been on view in 'Tec since #225, possibly a record for a backup spot. Artist Joe Certa may hold some sort of record as well. He drew all the Martian Manhunter stories in Detective, and stayed with the feature as it relocated into House of Mystery for another 30 issues. For that matter, before Manhunter, Certa drew the seafaring detective Captain Compass since circa #203, and it sure looks like him on Robotman as far back as #176, where my collection stops. Or, more properly, where it begins.

On the splash, our hero's bona fides are established as he steps off a Flash cover mockup (from which Flash and Kid Flash wish him luck) into a symbolically unbordered page."He can stretch his body to any length--twist into any position--take fantastic strides and reach across a room by moving only his arm! More elastic than a rubber band! More resiliant than a bounding ball! This is the Elongated Man! Yet he is all too human, for as Ralph Dibney he likes acclaim and recognition, which he does not receive when he sets out to solve the strange case of...TEN MILES TO NOWHERE!"

After a recap establishing that his stretchability comes as a result of sipping a rare elixer called Gingold, we're told that Elongated Man is the only super-hero who has publicly revealed his true identity. The story opens as he and his wife Sue, returning from a trip through eastern Canada in their red Thunderbird convertable, are stopped at customs. It seems there'd been a big diamond robbery in Montreal, two million dollars' worth. The crossing guard reads Ralph's passport aloud, but to the stretchy one's chagrin the guard doesn't recognize the name. Sue chides him for his vanity, but Ralph replies, "It's evident my fame hasn't reached this far. Remember, most of my publicized cases have been in and around Central City, with the Flash!" As they check in at their motel, Ralph's at it again: "The name's Ralph Dibney. Now, please--no need to make any fuss over us..." The desk clerk is puzzled: "Should I? You a big shot or somethin'?" As the couple walks to their cabin, Sue razzes him again, and asks if he'd ever considered a press agent.

The next morning, Ralph checks the odometer in preparation for their 300-mile-a-day routine, and notes it's ten miles further along than when they checked in. As they drive away, Sue's affects mock surprise that he isn't investigating this "tantalizing mystery." Ralph replies that whoever used the car may still be around, watching to see if they suspect anything, so he drives a mile, pulls off the road, and stops. "And what am I supposed to do while YOU try to solve the case," she asks. The dutiful husband hands her a stack of cash and suggests she check out the antique store in the next town. "Fine! You talked me into it!"

Changing into his stretch-nylon outfit, Ralph takes 100-yard steps, estimating it will take him 18 steps to walk the mile back to the motel site. Then, crouching behind one of the cabins, Ralph finds his car's tire tracks and follows them to a dirt side road that leads to a farmhouse. He springs to its roof, and stretches his ear down the chimney. Below, three mugs are grousing to their boss, wishing they'd just left in the middle of the night, but the boss has held firm. It was best to clear traces of themselves from the farmhouse, as even a single clue could upset their scheme of smuggling gems from Canada into the U.S.

The gang had overheard Ralph and Sue while on the Canadian side, planning the night's lodgings while their car was being serviced. The boss proceeded to pay the mechanic to spot-weld a metal box full of gems to the underbody of the Dibney's car, knowing that it would escape a routine search while they themselves, as known gem thieves, would have their car torn apart. The next night, while the Dibneys slept on the U.S. side, the thieves "borrowed" their T-bird, removed the metal box, and returned the car. As he speaks, the boss flicks his cigarette toward the fireplace and right into the elongated ear! As Ralph screams in pain, a thug utters the immortal line, "An EAR--in the fireplace!" The line is blown as it's followed illogically by, "He must be on the roof!" But, anyway, Ralph had retracted his ear, so they don't see him as they peer up the flue. Then, as they run out of the house, Ralph slips down the chimney, so that as they dart back into the house he knocks them silly and stretches their guns up onto the roof, out of harm's way. They recover quickly, but his exaggerated stretching moves are completely unexpected and he takes them out in moments.

Ralph drives them in their car to the cop shop in the nearest town. One of the mugs picks up his point that they should have left the previous night. The boss snaps back, "Where'd I go wrong? How'd this India Rubber Man tumble onto our scheme?" Ralph smirks to himself that he'll keep the odometer reading as his own little secret. A cop asks if he's with a circus. Ralph says yes, he had been, but is now utilizing his talents to solve mysteries. "Guess you never heard of me--Ralph Dibney--the Elongated Man?" The boss replies, "WE never heard of you either--otherwise we'd never have picked your car to smuggle those diamonds in!" Walking away, Ralph muses, "There's one thing I'm determined on! Before I leave town my name will be on everyone's lips!"

Later, as he walks over to Sue at the antique store, a citizen exclaims, "Look! That's Ralph Dibney--the Elongated Man!" Another replies, "Imagine! An Elongated Man!" Sue congratulates him for finally getting the attention he deserves, while wondering how he managed it. In reply, he turns his back to her, to show a sign pinned to his jacket. He's taken her advice and become his own press agent, as it reads, "I am Ralph Dibney--the famous Elongated Man!" The end!

House ads: Atom #13: The world's smallest super-hero battles Chronos in "Weapon Watches of the Time-Wise Guy!" Green Lantern #29 (?): "Half a Green Lantern is Better than None!" And a full-pager for P.T. Boat Skipper Captain Storm #1! (Doubtless, this was to cash in on JFK's fame as a war hero on PT 109.)

The story is inked by Infantino himself, a rarity. His energetic pen technique, balanced by an attractive dappling of blacks, suggests a minimum of pencilling. It does look as though he was having a good time of it. An easy comparison would be to Alex Nino's work, or Bill Sienkiewicz'.

It's been noted that Gardner Fox tended to write husband and wife teams. He should get a nod as well for developing characters who were not only cerebral but who didn't identify with their costumed identities. Ralph, Adam Strange and Katar Hol were quick to adapt to their situations while remaining true to themselves. For some reason, Barry Allen didn't strike me as having such a strong individual ego, perhaps because his speedy reflexes led to a rebuilding of his life, while the rest were adventuring on their well-honed wits, augmented by gimmicks. Wally West's Flash, on the other hand, seems to have been developed to follow in the Fox tradition, perhaps because he's had his speed power since puberty and didn't have to develop a shell identity during its use.

Were the two million dollars is in U.S. funds, or Canadian? The difference could be meaningful, as when I was doing zines in '68, the Canadian dollar was worth $1.02/U.S.

The gang boss demonstrated how thoughtless some smokers can be with their butts as he tossed it into the fireplace. The butt would have carried its brand name...a clue!

Tom Orzechowski