Shrinkage: The History of Incredible Shrinking Superheroes
Ant-Man isn't the only shrinking superhero out there. There's a veritable swarm of the little buggers...
Between Scott Lang’s cinematic debut in Ant-Man and the inclusion of Brandon Routh’s Atom on DC’s Arrow and The Flash, it is truly the golden age of shrinkage as far as super heroes are concerned. Shrinking super heroes have been around forever, and while Ant-Man (all of them) and the Atom (all of them) have long been the most iconic examples of comics’ tiny titans, there have been a huge number of diminutive crusaders.
So join us as we journey to the Golden Age and back into the contemporary era to find the coolest, strangest, and silliest shrinking super heroes of ages past…
…and no, we didn’t forget Ant-Man, it’s just that Ant-Man and his bizarre history needed an entire article all to himself. Selves. Whatever.
First Appearance: Feature Comics #27 (1939)
Created by Created by Will Eisner
Scoff at the name if you will, but Doll Man, the first shrinking super hero, was created by Will Eisner so that automatically makes him awesome. Doll Man was secretly chemist Darrel Dane. When Dane created a formula that allowed him to shrink down to doll height while retaining his original strength, he decided to use his newfound abilities to help fight blackmailers and crooks.
Doll Man wore a costume that looked like a hastily rendered, non detailed version of Superman’s famous union suit, but despite his silly name and non-descript outfit, Doll Man’s adventures were filled with Golden Age innovation and fun. First off, judging from many of Doll Man’s covers (drawn by some of the finest Golden Age creators who ever lived I might add), Dane sure liked getting tied up. Most covers featured the original tiny titan bound, gagged, crucified, or hog tied. So if your kink is seeing a tiny man without pants tied up, here you are.
Secondly, Doll Man has staying power. Both his own solo title and the anthology in which the character first appeared, Feature Comics, were both published by the now owned by DC Quality Comics for most of the Golden Age. Throughout the run of the title, Doll Man ended up with a crime fighting canine partner named Elmo the Wonder Dog. There is just something about a tiny caped man battling Nazis and crooks on the back of a Great Dane that really proves the timeless awesomeness of comics.
Doll Man’s career didn’t end in the Golden Age as he was a founding member of DC’s Freedom Fighters, a group of former Quality heroes who lived on Earth X, an Earth that was ruled by Nazis. All of a sudden, one of the lightest and breeziest characters of the Golden Age was shunted into one of the darkest realms in the DC Universe. Doll Man remained associated with the Freedom Fighters until the New 52 reboot.
There have been a few other heroes who used the name Doll Man, one right before the reboot and one right after, but none of them rode on the back of a Great Dane which is darn shame.
First Appearance: (as Martha Roberts) Feature Comics #27 (1939) (as Doll Girl) Doll Man #37 (1951)
Doll Man’s fiancé Martha Roberts got in on the shrinking action in 1951 when she sprung into action as Doll Girl. Martha Roberts was a constant part of Doll Man’s adventures, in fact, in his very first adventure, Doll Man initially donned his costume to save Martha from blackmailers who were threatening to expose love letters she was wrote a college professor (oh Martha, you doll size scamp!). Now as far as origins go, saving your girlfriend from slight embarrassment over a teenage sexual fantasy isn’t exactly bitten by radioactive spider-death of Uncle Ben/great power- great responsibility level stuff, but Doll Man’s origin kick started his career and Martha was a constant presence in that career.
Her presence grew when she shrunk and became Doll Girl. At first, Martha technically took the name Midge, the Doll Girl but literally no one but me and Roy Thomas remembers that. When Doll Man returned to DC in the Bronze Age, Martha was along for the ride as a supporting character in the Freedom Fighters but never again shrunk down to fight crime withr her pocket boyfriend.
First Appearance: Captain Marvel #2
Created by Carl Burgos
Tinyman appeared in MF Publications’ Captain Marvel. This short lived, obscure series did not star the classic Shazam version of the character nor did it star one of the Marvel heroes that use the Captain Marvel moniker. No this Captain Marvel was some rube that was able to fire his limbs off when he screamed the word “split” and reform when he screamed the word “Xam.”
“Xam,” huh? First off, Xam? Could they be any more blatant? And secondly, what kind of douchebag hero willingly makes himself a quadruple amputee in battle? But this Captain Marvel isn’t what we are here to discuss, no, we are here to discuss Tinyman!
I think MF (which doesn’t stand for what you think it stands for but it should) spent exactly .17seconds thinking up a name for Tinyman. Hey, he’s tiny-and he’s a man-he’s Tinyman. More confounding is that Tinyman started out as a villain. He appeared on the cover of Captain Marvel #2 wielding a gigantic raygun-I mean if that thing had any sort of kick, Tinyman would have found himself orbiting Saturn. Anyway, in his next appearance, Tinyman was suddenly a hero and helped Captain Marvel fight the Ray who an issue previous was called the Bat. I guess DC’s lawyers were having none of that noise.
The Atom (Ray Palmer)
First Appearance: Showcase #34 (1961)
Created by Gardner Fox and Gil Kane
From Tinyman to the icon of all things shrinkage. The Atom was DC Comics’ first tiny super hero. In the halcyon days of the Golden Age, DC published the original Atom, a super hero who was a short stout fellow but did not have the power to shrink.
Using the name and some of the color scheme of the original Atom, the great Gardner Fox and Gil Kane created Ray Palmer. Modern day fans are very familiar with Palmer thanks to the character’s appearance on CW’s Arrow, but the original Atom didn’t wear a Tony Stark like suit nor was he a billionaire. The original Atom was a college professor who used a chunk of a White Dwarf star meteor fragment to shrink down to sub-atomic sizes.
Since his first appearance, Palmer has been a DCU power player appearing in many books throughout DC history and even appearing on the Saturday morning staple- the Super Friends. The Atom has one of the most eye pleasing costumes of the Silver Age and his subatomic adventures allowed Fox and Kane to get really sci-fi crazy throughout the run of the Atom’s original title. The character is experiencing something of a renaissance thanks to Routh’s likability factor on Arrow but Ray Palmer has been a DC constant ever since Kane and Fox dreamed big and created the universe’s smallest hero.
First Appearance: Action Comics #276 (1961)
Created by Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney
The same year the Atom became the most famous microscopic hero of them all, Shrinking Violet became the smallest member of the Legion of Super Heroes. Since her introduction, the shy Shrinking Violet (wordplay!) has been a constant, albeit tiny, presence in the Legion mythos. She has had an on again off again relationship with Colossal Boy (hilarity!) over the years and writing this little section makes me realize how much I freakin’ miss reading a monthly Legion of Super Heroes book and now I am going to nerd cry in my Legion headquarters blanket fort.
First Appearance: My Greatest Adventure #80 (1963)
Created by Bob Haney, Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani
Elasti-Girl (not the one from The Incredibles, the other one) is one of the many shrinking heroes who also have the ability to grow really big. Rita Farr was once a leading Hollywood starlet who, when exposed to volcanic gases, was able to control her size. Farr could grow to hundreds of feet tall to a few inches high. This power ended her Hollywood career but it made Farr an outcast super hero as a member of the Doom Patrol.
Recently, on an episode of The Flash, a Central City film marquee advertised The Rita Farr Story, making many generations of Doom Patrol fans delirious with the thought of this size changing beauty debuting on TV one day.
First Appearance: Tales to Astonish #44 (1963)
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
The early ’60s were a shrinking woman renaissance for DC, but Marvel would not be outdone. When Janet Van Dyne first appeared in the Ant-Man strip in Tales to Astonish, she came across as a vacuous heiress and vapid fashion maven. Little did readers of the day realize that the Wasp would become one of the greatest Avengers of all time. The Wasp served as a member of the Avengers long after her ex-husband Hank Pym went cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and she even served a stint as chairperson.
Wasp is one of the brightest lights in the Marvel Universe and is known for rarely wearing the same costume twice. She participated in most of the Avengers most legendary battles and despite her diminutive size, has gone toe to tiny toe with some of Marvel’s biggest badasses. You’ wouldn’t think being a woman the size of a Midge doll would be able to go up against the likes of Thanos and Ultron without blinking, but not our winsome Wasp, a hero who is usually first into the fray with her debilitating wasp stings and flight powers.
Those little wings may be adorbs but Janet Van Dyne is one of the toughest champions in Marvel’s pantheon of heroes. Let’s not lie, while Hank Pym was going crazy and building robot Hitler, the Wasp became the backbone of the Avengers.
First Appearance: Justice League of America #87 (1971)
Created by Mike Friedrich and Dick Dillin
Besides being the least intimating Justice Leaguer ever ‘ol Blue Jay shows that the legend of Ant-Man is so big it even has insinuated itself into the DC Universe. Blue Jay is one of the few survivors of a world where the heroes are DC analogues of the Avengers (kind of like the Squadron Supreme are analogues of the Justice League in the Marvel Universe). Blue Jay is clearly meant to be analogous of Hank Pym and was a member of the Champions of Angor.
Blue Jay, Silver Sorceress (who was analogous to the Scarlet Witch and strangely didn’t even wear silver) and Wandjina (think African Thor) arrived on Earth after their world was wiped out by the villains known as the Extremists. Blue Jay ended up joining the Justice League and the Justice League Europe and spent most of his heroic career being plagued by self doubt.
You ever see a tiny guy in a blue jay costume consumed with self doubt? It ain’t pretty. Anyway, Blue Jay is part of DC’s legacy of shrinking heroes even though the poor little guy was usually just a grief stricken nervous wreck.
First Appearance: as Karen Beecher: Teen Titans #45 (1976) as Bumblebee: Teen Titans #48 (1977)
Created by Bob Rozakis
Karen Beecher, a proud member of both the Doom Patrol and the Teen Titans, didn’t start her career as one of our incredible shrinking heroes. No, Bumblebee started out as a brilliant and brave young woman who dressed like a bee and blasted nogoodniks with the stingers of her high-tech bee suit.
Yeah, she might have started life as a bit of a rip on the Wasp, but Bumblebee has the honor of being DC’s first costumed black female superhero and that’s pretty awesome. In later years, Bumblebee got trapped at a tiny size and joined the Doom Patrol as one of the world’s strangest team’s resident freaks. She may be tragically trapped at the size of an action figure, but Bumblebee still kicks ass at any size. The modern day Bumblebee lives in a dollhouse and is just a very cool, if underused, character.
First Appearance: Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #12 (1983)
Created by Roy Thomas and Scott Shaw
Of course the shrinking member of DC’s Amazing Zoo Crew is a mouse named Little Cheese…why wouldn’t he be? And of course Little Cheese’s real name is Chester Cheese and his father’s name is Dr. Edam Cheese because life is awesome.
Anyway, Little Cheese pretty much has the same powers as the Atom but is a mouse and hangs out with a bunch of anthropomorphic heroes. Despite all this wonderful silliness, Little Cheese’s origin is actually kind of tragic. After Chester found his father murdered, poor Little Cheese was trapped in a lab with his dad’s corpse, to keep from starving, poor little Chester ate a piece of radioactive cheese that was found on the moon. The cheese gave Chester the power to shrink to tiny size.
And no, he never opened a chain of subtly creepy pizza joints for kids.
First Appearance: Avengers # 264 (1986)
Created by Roger Stern and John Buscema
The legacy of Yellowjacket continues with Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross in Marvel’s Ant-Man. But Cross wasn’t the first villainous Yellowjacket. After Hank Pym gave up the Yellowjacket identity, career criminal Rita DeMara stole one of Pym’s suits and joined the Masters of Evil.
DeMara quickly reformed and fought side by side with the Avengers before being shunted into the future and joining the pre-billion dollar film franchise version of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Because the ’90s sucked, Marvel quickly killed off DeMara but in the brief time she wore the Yellowjacket suit, DeMara did the Pym legacy proud.
First Appearance: DCU: Brave New World (2006)
Created by Gail Simone and Grant Morrison
Ryan Choi was DC’s third heroic champion to use the name The Atom and followed in the footsteps of Ray Palmer. Choi was a brilliant scientist protégé of Ray Palmer. After Palmer’s disappearance at the end of Identity Crisis, Choi took Palmer’s place at Ivy University. There, Choi followed a series of clues to find Palmer’s size changing belt and became the All-New Atom.
Choi’s short running solo comic was brilliant, with such talents as Gail Simone, John Byrne, and Rick Remender guiding the newest Tiny Titan’s adventures. At some point, DC lost its collective minds and had Choi brutally murdered by Deathstroke the Terminator, thus ending the career of a very promising legacy hero. Choi recently returned in the pages of Convergence and we can only hope that this Atom will soon appear again because the legacy of shrinkage that began with Doll Man proudly continued in the form of the brilliant and brave Ryan Choi!
First Appearance: Aquaman Vol 7 #16 (2013)
Created by Geoff Johns and Jesús Saíz
For a brief period of time, Rhonda Pineda looked like she was going to become the fourth bearer of the Atom legacy- until it was revealed that Pineda was actually a member of the Earth 3 Crime Syndicate. She makes our list because Atomica did fight evil as a member of the Justice League but soon was revealed to be a debasement of everything Ray Palmer and the Atom stood for.
Atomica showed readers just how dangerous someone with ill intentions could be if they shrunk to sub-atomic size and the name Atomica still profanes DC’s legacy of shrinking heroes.