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Detective Comics 338
"Case of The Curious Compass!"


Story: Unknown Art: Carmine Infantino

When a compass' needle begins to point in every direction but north, it also leads the Elongated Man in search of a gang of thieves aboard an ocean liner, and turn their smuggling plans into a foolish one! On the splash page, Ralph Dibny shows off his patented three-in-one punch on the trio of smugglers, who are each struck by the Elongated Man's right elbow, and knuckles...

Ralph and Sue Dibny are boarding the ocean liner Poseidon, docked at Amsterdam... Sue wonders why they aren't flying back, and Ralph gives her just one guess... She knows that there's some sort of strange mystery onboard -- and he wants to solve it! Having met the ship's captain on the night before, Ralph learned about a curious compass on a ship model in the lounge which went crazy the second day out at sea! Instead of pointing north -- the needle pointed to another direction! On the third day, it went back to normal! Sue watches her husband's nose twitch and knows that Ralph won't rest until he solves the mystery! She wonders what she'll be doing while he's working on the mystery, and he introduces her to Big "Bob" Wilkes, the activities director. Seeing the handsome crewman, Sue knows that the cruise won't be as boring as she had thought. While his wife is on deck, Ralph meets with Captain Emerson on the lounge... They look at a model of one of the earliest steamships, exact in every detail -- including a working compass! The captain first noticed the unusual compass two crossings ago...

He was showing the model to some passengers when the captain saw the compass pointing south by southeast... and wonders if this is due to some defect... The next day found the compass back to normal -- and the captain thought no more about it until the return trip from Amsterdam to the United States... the compass was again askew on the second day out of port... The night finds Ralph changing to his Elongated Man costume... and he is determined to find who is responsible for tampering with the compass. Sue tells him that Big Bob has arranged a masquerade ball for the following evening, and she hopes that Ralph solves the case by then -- so they can both have a ball! Having hidden himself in the lounge, the stretchable sleuth watches... the crooks make their move with the compass... they carry off the model ship, with the Elongated Man on their trail... towards Cabin 23A!

Ralph stretches a leg around a ship's rail and lets himself down the side of the ocean liner... he had studied the ship's plans and knows what porthole belongs to that cabin. Hanging upside-down, he looks through to Cabin 23A... he watches as one of the men produces an axe! Within the cabin... the axe-wielder asks his two cronies why they should waste time when they could find the diamonds by smashing the ship! The red-haired man tells him that they heard from their contact in Amsterdam that the ship's model is being used somehow by diamond smugglers, and this doesn't necessarily mean that the jewels are concealed within the ship! They must return the ship undamaged or risk an investigation! Ralph has learned what he needed to know by lip-reading! A super-thin finger slips through the porthole vent... and next, the porthole swings open... Seeing the Elongated Man, one crook refers to him as a human snake... and Ralph isn't about to put up with such petty name-calling!

Three guns come into view as the ductile detective's right arm reaches out towards them... The silenced guns and the hands which hold them are caught in the grip of three elongated fingers... and Ralph's left hand encircles their ankles... Not even half in the room -- and his left hand yanks their feet from under them, and his right hand shakes their guns loose... He smiles and tells them to remember how they were caught!

The three crooks hit the cabin floor, and the Elongated Man enters the room... using his special three-in-one punch, which consists of two knuckles and an elbow striking them on their jaws! With the robbers placed in the brig, the ductile detective returns the ship model to its rightful place in the lounge... He tells the captain that there were no diamonds inside the model! He had elongated his eyes to peer inside it! With the compass pointing north, the captain figures that the night's adventure was a false alarm! The second day finds Sue insisting that Ralph play in a shuffleboard contest... He stretches an arm to push the marker, and when she chides him for it, Ralph claims that there's nothing in the rules about it! Passing through the lounge to their cabin... Sue is proud that her husband disqualified himself from the shuffleboard contest, and that she won first prize! He sees that the compass needle is again off-course!

Thirty minutes later, another man enters the empty lounge and stares at the erratic compass... He sees that the needle is pointing to the hidden diamonds -- inside an urn! No one has seen them placed there, no one will see him take them! It is a foolproof scheme! Two years ago in Amsterdam, he had organized a gang -- to steal three sets of rare and expensive diamonds! A year has passed since the theft, but now the heat is off... To enact his smuggling scheme, he got a job as activities director and earned a good reputation... On the past two crossings, his contacts brought the diamonds onboard and hid them secretly in the lounge. On the second day, they tinkered with the ship model's compass -- to have it point at the hiding place! He then recovered the diamonds, fixed the compass -- then smuggled the jewels into the United States because customs never searched his baggage! As he retrieves the green sack, the activities director sees a hand -- coming out of the urn!

Big Bob Wilkes shakes hands with the Elongated Man, who suddenly yanks him forward... CLUNK! Big Bob has taken a urn for the worse! Having learned about the diamond smuggling and the connection with the ship model, Ralph was able to figure out why the compass needle was pointing to the hidden diamonds! Seeing the compass point to the urn, the stretchable sleuth curled his body up inside of it! When Wilkes reached for the diamonds, he let him be caught red-handed with them! As he begins to make a "citizen's arrest"... two men rush into the room and towards the Elongated Man!

A thrown flowerpot drops Ralph... and the three crooks begin to run, with the boss being assured that he'll have an alibi in case he's grabbed again! Big Bob has to ditch the diamonds over the side -- so that there will be no evidence against them! Even though he is groggy, the Elongated Man manages to stretch his legs and a foot -- which sends the urn rolling towards the doorway... and the next second finds the three diamond smugglers stumbling into the massive urn! Ralph uses the urn to iron out his differences with the now-unconscious crooks.

In the captain's cabin, Ralph tells the captain and Sue how the smugglers used a small magnetic device hidden in the ship model to move the compass needle! Big Bob removed it as soon as he found where the diamonds were hidden. It will be the authorities who will recover the diamonds smuggled on the two previous crossings. The captain presents him with the ship's model -- as a reward for a job well done! The case is now wrapped up and he figures that he and Sue can have fun! She doesn't see how they can have fun with the activities director in the ship's brig! Ralph volunteers to become activities director! Having been in show biz, he reminds her that this was how he earned the fortune they have to be able to travel around the world! On the deck, Sue Dibny thinks to herself that Ralph is too good of an activities director! With many female passengers hooked on his every word, she wishes that he were out solving a mystery!

If the Elongated Man were a '60s program, I'd like to have seen Dick Van Dyke as Ralph and Barbara Feldon as Sue.

I wonder if the creators were influenced by the Thin Man movies when coming up with the character of the Elongated Man, who would travel to many places with his wife, and solve mysteries.

Ralph certainly "urned" his keep on this case, and everything is now ship-shape aboard the ocean liner.

Steve Chung
"Review of The Curious Compass!"