In the entire library of superpowers, the ability to shrink is one of the more esoteric powers. It doesn’t get used that much, but there are a pretty select core of superheroes who are known for their ability to change their size.
That’s not to say that it’s a bad superpower. After all, the Marvel Ant Man movie showed that it wasn’t just useful, it could tell a great story as well.
Plus, one of my favorite episodes of the Justice League cartoon centered around the Atom destroying an alien hive mind from within using his powers.
But where did the idea of a shrinking hero come from and who was the first hero to use this power? Well, the answer can be found in a fairly obscure Golden Age hero from Quality Comics called Doll Man.
Origin and Career
Doll Man made his first appearance in the Quality Comics’ anthology Feature Comics #27 in December of 1939.
While the name of creator was given as “William Erwin Maxwell” it was really a pseudonym for Will “I literally wrote the book on comics as an art form” Eisner.
As for origins, Doll Man goes the scientific route with the heroic scientist Darrel Dane (alliteration for the win) developing a special serum that will allow a human to shrink down to the size of a doll. Why he wants to do this I have no idea. Also, his fiancee Martha Roberts is being blackmailed by a man named Falco and she’s keeping this a secret for some reason.
Since this is the early days of comic book science, Darrel must have not gotten the memo on lab safety and self experimentation and decides to test the serum on himself. This act also makes Darrell one of the first comic book scientists to go crazy after said self experimentation.
I like to think that Eisner wanted to take Doll Man and turn him into a tortured villain driven mad by the result of his experiment, which would have made for a very interesting story. However, I’m willing to bet that some editor in the Quality Comics offices squashed that idea because in the very next page Darrell is okay and decides to become a superhero.
It’s a good thing that Darrell decided to be a good guy, because he uses his powers to save his fiancee from the blackmailer to end the story.
Doll Man would later become a fixture of Standard Comics and would often appear on the covers as well.
His stories were all over the place. In one issue he would be fighting gangsters trying to rob ships on the docks, in the next issue he would be helping rancher friends in a land dispute. In all of them he would use his size and relative strength to his advantage.
His stories must have made an impact because Doll Man would later become a pretty popular hero. He appeared in over 200 comic book issues and was even given his own quarterly title.
Some fun facts: his fiancee Martha would eventually become a super heroine known as Doll Girl, who had the same powers as her fiancee.
Also, several of Doll Man’s covers had him tied up and placed in a position of helplessness.
It’s nothing special, just an interesting idea during a time when male heroes generally didn’t show that kind of weakness.
So what happened?
The Feature Comics title stopped publication in 1950 and Doll Man’s solo issues stopped publication in 1953. Quality would go out of business three years later and Doll Man wasn’t seen for two decades.
It was probably Will Eisner’s reputation that kept the memory of Doll Man alive because he wasn’t really used that often. During the middle of the 20th century DC decided to create a “multiverse” for their characters to avoid continuity mix ups. Doll Man was placed on “Earth X”, a universe where the Nazis won the Second World War, and made an appearance in the comic title Freedom Fighters.
He’s at the bottom of the page.
He was also a guest character in the All Star Squadron on “Earth-2”, the place where DC put most of its old Golden Age heroes.
The separation of these two groups would be erased in the DC comic event Crisis on Infinite Earths where the entire DC continuity was streamlined and simplified for new readers.
The Freedom Fighters would be relaunched in 2006 by writer Jimmy Palmiotti.
The team got a modern makeover, including Doll Man. The new hero was named Lester Colt and he was a more hard ass, military minded, “end justifies the means” kind of hero who proves this in the first issue after he disguises himself as an action figure and kills a drug lord in front of his son.
Darrel Dane still existed, but it was revealed that he was suffering from mental problems due to shrinking so often and was committed to an unnamed mental institution.
Doll Man would have his most recent reworking in 2012. This time it was part of another company wide reboot event known as “The New 52”. The hero was a scientist named Dane Maxwell who was the romantic partner and scientist friend of the heroine Phantom Lady. He was shrunk to the size of an action figure during a lab accident and became her partner in crime fighting as well.
In many ways Doll Man’s impact on the superhero world was a lot like his power set. Sure, it was relatively small and often unseen by many fans and readers, but he was the first hero to use the ability to change his size as a superpower which made him a trailblazer for some of the most popular and well known heroes today.
Have you ever noticed that bookstores tend to put fantasy and science fiction books on the same shelves?
I mean, I can understand why. Both genres talk about the human condition using fantastical elements and worlds. The difference is that while science fiction tends to focus on how technology changes society, fantasy tends to focus on how people change society. The point is that while they share quite a few similarities, they are just different enough to warrant their separation.
Comic books are interesting because the medium has no trouble combining the two genres together and it’s gotten really good at it. In fact, it’s gotten so good at it that not only is it possible to combine aspects of fantasy and science fiction together, it’s possible to spawn a billion dollar franchise out of it.
While the Golden Age of Comics did have a heavy focus on supernatural and fantasy elements, it also had its fair share of science fiction heroes.
One of these heroes was a creature called Bozo the Iron Man and before you laugh at his name and appearance, you may be shocked to learn that he was actually a pretty interesting hero.
Origin and Career
Bozo the Iron Man made his first appearance in Quality Comics’ Smash Comics #1 published on August of 1939.
While that is Bozo on the cover, he doesn’t fight a gorilla in his story.
He was created and drawn by an editor at Quality Comics called George Brenner,
Brenner is also known for creating what is arguably the first masked superhero in all of comics in 1936 as well as the hero 711, who is actually one of this site’s favorite heroes.
The origin of our titular hero actually bucks Golden Age tradition and gives us something that this blog hasn’t really seen: a morally ambiguous and surprisingly deep origin.
The comic starts with a mysterious robot terrorizing the citizens of the unnamed city.
It turns out that the robot is actually under the control of evil scientist cliche #421 and despite the police trying their best they don’t want to go near the giant killer robot. In order to put an end to this case the Commissioner calls in a special consultant named Hugh Hazzard, who winds up being the actual main character of the story.
The comic then goes through the standard motions. The good guy finds the bad guy, defeats him, and the robot is scrapped. However, in an interesting twist, Hugh decides to find the robot and use it to fight crime without the knowledge of the police.
Sure, the design of the robot doesn’t exactly inspire feelings of dread and terror, but the ending of the first issue actually sets up a surprisingly nuanced and interesting premise for a superhero story. Seriously, in a time where comics weren’t known for a whole lot of creative complexity, the creative team behind Bozo had the main robot hated and feared by those he was trying to protect.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at the bottom of a page from the second issue below.
Sure, titles like the X-Men would make the idea of heroes protecting the very people who feared them a comic book staple, but considering that this was being written in 1939 it’s a pretty interesting setup.
Unfortunately, they really didn’t do anything interesting with this setup and the rest of Bozo’s adventures were pretty typical “villain of the week” affairs.
So what happened?
Usually the old Golden Age heroes would either be revived by one of the major comic book companies further down the line or find their way into the works of writers and creators who were fans of the original but sadly, that isn’t the case for Bozo. This is going to be one of the shortest “What happened?” sections ever written.
Quality Comics folded in 1956 when the comic book market contracted. They were eventually acquired by DC and many of Quality’s heroes would survive in reprints, but sadly Bozo didn’t make it into any of them.
The only legacy Bozo would have is a brief re imagining by comic book legend Grant Morrison.
For those who don’t know, Grant Morrison is considered to be one of the great modern wizards of comic books and is responsible for some of the greatest modern comics ever written, including the greatest Superman story of the past 20 years.
Sadly, Bozo didn’t make it into any of Grant’s works, although another creator by the name of Justin Grey said in an interview that his creation of a robot named “Gonzo the Mechanical Bastard” was inspired by Morrison’s redesign.
I would go into more detail into Gonzo’s origin but for the casual fans all I am going to say is that he’s nothing like the source material and for the more hardcore fans I’ll say that the Anti Life Equation was involved.
Bozo the Iron Man was a pretty goofy hero with a well thought out backstory and an interesting hook to his character. Instead of being loved (or at the very least tolerated) by the police and the public at large, he was feared and mistrusted so much that his existence had to be kept a secret. He was one of the more complex characters of his time and should be remembered as such, even if he looked a bit ridiculous.
Last week we talked about a robot made entirely of rubber, and he appeared in the anthology title Mystic Comics #1.
I’ve been noticing that a lot of the superheroes that have appeared on this blog series actually got their start on this title so it got me a bit curious, who’s the man on the cover?
He’s clearly a superhero and capable of handling himself in a fight. It appears that he’s incredibly strong and fearless if he’s able to hold all those monsters at bay and from the bullet striking him in the chest it appears that he’s practically bulletproof. Also, it seems that he really likes the color blue and sadly, that costume isn’t very original or exciting.
So who is he?
Well, it turns out his name is the Blue Blaze and, bland costume aside, he’s actually pretty interesting.
Origin and Career
The Blue Blaze’s real name was Spencer Keen and while his date of birth isn’t known it’s established that he was a young adult in 1852.
His father was Dr. Arthur Keene of Midwest College
who had discovered a mysterious “blue blaze” that had the power to bring dead animals back to life.
Spencer had been visiting his father while on his way to a costume party, where he had chosen to wear the blue suit that would eventually become his superhero outfit.
Unfortunately, they were living in the Midwest of America where tornadoes are incredibly common.
Sadly, this was before advanced early warning systems were in effect and the tornado destroyed most of the town, killing Arthur Keene, most of the town, and shattering the container that contained the Blue Blaze and spilling it on Spencer.
In the wake of the incredible tragedy the town tried to recover. However, in the confusion of the disaster, nobody bothered to check and see if Spencer was dead. In a rather horrific twist of fate he was buried alive and remained buried until the 1940’s.
Fortunately for him, the strange substance of the Blue Blaze didn’t just keep him alive, it gave him “strength a thousand fold by means of substrate dermatic rays” (whatever the hell that means) and in 1940 he arose from the grave because he “was made conscious of the slow dominion of evil”.
His subsequent adventures would reflect his rather grisly origin. His first opponent was a mad scientist named Dr. Drake Maluski
The Doctor’s grand scheme was to reanimate corpses into an army of zombies in order to take over the world, proving that our fascination with zombies is nothing new and will probably never die.
It should be noted that on the spectrum of violence in early Golden Age comic books the Blue Blaze took the “I have no trouble with using lethal force” approach and the evil doctor was killed when his lab exploded.
In his second adventure the Blue Blaze confronted another mad scientist named Karl Barko.
Barko was an inventor and in his story he was attempting to run a protection racket where he would blow up mine shafts filled with people if the mining companies didn’t pay up for his inventions.
While Barko attempted to use gadgets such as “freeze rays” and special explosives to combat the Blue Blaze but was quickly defeated and shipped off to a mental institution.
His third adventure was a battle against another mad scientist called “The Star Gazer”
who was using star rays to create monsters that fought for him.
I bring this up because this adventure was the cover story of Mystic Comics #3, and his home to what I think is one of the greatest comic book covers ever.
The Blue Blaze would go on to have one more adventure where he traveled to Eastern Europe in order to stop the Trustees of Hate from provoking a war between the fictional countries of Borsia and Gratzia.
While the Trustees of Hate were headed by the awesomely named “Dr. Vortex”, the Blue Blaze defeated them fairly easily.
So what happened?
His battle with the Trustees of Hate would be his last and Blue Blaze would disappear from comics in August of 1940.
However, the writers must have thought that they should leave a backdoor open in case the Blue Blaze would make a comeback because in his last adventure they make it known that every time he defeats evil he travels back to the grave in order to wait for the next crime to solve. For some reason there are strange cosmic forces at work that move his body around to “new centers of crime” and when he is needed he will wake up to do battle with the forces of evil again.
To date the Blue Blaze hasn’t had a modern incarnation or revival like some of his other Golden Age companions. Looking back it is easy to see why, his costume is kind of boring and while he does have a cool origin story and fought some pretty interesting villains it is easy to assume that he simply got lost in the crowd.
Which is a shame because when you consider all the other mythical/demonic/undead heroes and villains Marvel has in their library:
I think the Blue Blaze would fit right in with the right writer and costume change.
Today we’re going to talk about another member of the 2007 Marvel Comics series The Twelve called the Fiery Mask.
What’s interesting is that out of all the twelve Golden Age heroes that were in the comic book series the Fiery Mask is a hero with one of the longest and most interesting Golden Age careers out there. He had pedigree and he had some pretty interesting Golden Age stories. Let’s take a look.
Origin and Career
The Fiery Mask debuted in the Timely Comics book series Daring Mystery Comics #1 in January of 1940.
That’s him on the cover of the book, so he already had much more exposure than most of the heroes we’ve talked about on this blog. This makes sense considering that the hero was actually created by comic book legend Joe Simon,
who helped create a little known superhero named Captain America (you’ve probably never heard of him, he’s really obscure).
His origin story was titled The Fantastic Thriller of the Walking Corpses.
Jack Castle was a doctor who worked with the police and one day he was called in to investigate a strange case where corpses were coming back to life thanks to a mysterious beam of light.
So right off the bat we have zombies and weird science fiction, a good start.
Jack investigates this strange phenomenon until he is eventually kidnapped by the zombies and dragged before their leader. Side note: it should be noted here that at this time in pop culture history a zombie was a creature who was a mindless slave to a single person, not the brain hungry hoards we know and love today.
The leader of the zombie hoards was a twenty foot tall monster of a man who simply called himself “The Zombie Master”
who was using the ray to turn the city’s homeless population into a zombie slave army.
Unfortunately for the Zombie Master the ray didn’t work on Jack and in his rage the villain cranked up the power causing a massive explosion that killed him and gave Jack super strength and the ability to control fire. Naturally being the noble spirit that most superheroes of the Golden Age were Jack Castle decided to use his powers to become a superhero.
So after a pretty awesome origin story The Fiery Mask’s next appearance was in The Human Torch Comics #2. Here he faced the villainous Dr. Simon Sendach, a scientist obsessed with creating artificial organs to transplant into humans.
He had even had success in creating an artificial stomach that could sustain the human body on a diet of blood. However it had the side effect of turning the recipient of the device into a bloodthirsty maniac similar to a vampire.
The Fiery Mask would go on to have two more solo adventures where he would fight an evil scientist named Dork
who sought to take over the world by creating a strange blob like creature that ate human flesh.
and in his final battle he fought a demonically possessed baby,
and traveled to Hell where he fought and beat a demon who was committing a string of gruesome murders in out world.
So what happened?
Sadly the Fiery Mask was much to awesome to last for very long. I guess the flame that burns brightest burns half as long (pun very much intended).
The hero would fade into obscurity until 2007 when he was featured as an important character in J. Michael Straczynski’s The Twelve.
Like the rest of his teammates the Fiery Mask was captured by the Nazis and placed in stasis, only to be forgotten until they were rediscovered in 2007 and returned to the United States where they were slowly reintroduced to society.
The Fiery Mask wouldn’t play much of a role in the beginning of the series. Around the middle of the series it was revealed that his origin story was simply made up. Instead of gaining his powers from the science of the Zombie Master he had actually been granted the ability to control fire by a man who had been killed by a mob hit.
To that I say…BOOO! BOOO! They had the gall to change one of the coolest and cheesiest Golden Age origin stories to a man gaining his powers thanks to a simple set of circumstances?! Poor form Mr. Straczynski! Poor form!
Sadly this new revelation, that the Fiery Mask’s powers could be transferred to other human beings, would prove to be integral to the plot of the story. At the very end of the series all the heroes confront each other over the death of the Blue Blade at the hands of Electro. The Phantom Reporter reveals that it was one of their own who committed the crime: The Dynamic Man. Fiery Mask attempts to keep the peace.
But he fails and the Dynamic Man is revealed to be a half crazed android who attacks the group.
Dynamic Man manged to crush the Fiery Mask’s windpipe but just before the Mask died he managed to transfer his powers to the Phantom Reporter.
Who then proceeded to use his new gifts to end the fight and destroy Dynamic Man for good.
The Fiery Mask had one of the longest lasting Golden Age careers ever enjoyed by his colleagues from The Twelve. Granted, that may not be saying much but the stories he was a part of were some of the strangest and most interesting stories in an age where strange characters and events ruled comic book.
It’s just a crying shame they all turned out to be lies.