Sunday, March 25, 2012

Just Why WAS Doll Man Popular?

                                                                  click for a larger view

Doll Man was one of literally hundreds of costumed mystery men, women and superheroes that sprang up from 1939 to 1941 after the success of Superman at National Periodical Publications (DC Comics).
His super ability was, after drinking an untested formula, the power to concentrate and shrink to only 6 inches in height while maintaining his full size strength, or gaining the strength of 20 men, the details kept changing over the years, perhaps it was that having the strength of 20 men and being only 6 inches tall meant he just had his regular seized might, it’s not like comics were ever a media good at setting parameters and staying with them.

Whatever the case Doll Man, written mainly at first by Will Eisner, with art by Lou Fine, (there would be many others over the years) entered the market place to vie for the dimes of the comic book buying public and compete against all the other superheroes out being published at the time from Batman, to The Challenger and Dr. Mid-Night to Wonder Woman and Zero the Ghost Detective.

And for some reason the adventures of Darrell Dane Doll Man "The World's Mightiest Mite,” his girlfriend Martha Roberts, her father Dr. Roberts and occasionally Elmo the Wonder Dog, where a hit.
                                               From Doll Man's first adventure in Feature Comics # 27
While most of the other masked and super-powered characters quickly faded from the scene, Doll Man hung on, outlasting even characters that are better known today, such as Captain America and the original Green Lantern, both of whom had lost their audience after a seven or eight year run and who would not regain their popularity until being retooled in the 60s, as the hundreds of other super-doers went away Doll Man, and later Martha Roberts as Doll Girl, stayed on for 14 full years of continued publication in two different comics.
So what was it what put him in a league with such other long lasting characters as Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Captain Marvel, and Plastic Man? The only others to remain popular for more than a dozen years, I have no earthly idea.
Many psychiatrists, who do it seems dearly love to reduce genres to appallingly simplistic secret meanings for their popularity, i.e. `people read science fiction because they are afraid of the future,’ (bunk! What about the sense of wonder? But I digress) lump the superhero genre into being about power fantasies.
I would have to say that Doll Man pretty much knocks that one down. His power is the ability to shrink down to 6 inches in height, at which point he dashes out in a costume that look like gym togs with a cape and pixy boots! His mainly weakness being the possibility he might get trod on? Seriously Ant-Man and Bouncing Boy come off with more of their dignity intact.
And yet for 14 years people bought his adventures while ignoring or dropping other more conventionally macho super men, and he would have perhaps continued for even longer if Doll Man’s publisher Quality Comics hadn’t stopped publishing in 1954.
                                             Good for you, now shut up, set down and calm yourself.
I’m hoping the reason for that longevity it was not one of the subtle, but still noticeable, things that set Doll Man apart from other comics on the stands at the time. The fact that Doll Man, and later Doll Girl, seemed to spend a lot time on the covers tied up.
Sure, what superhero or superheroine didn’t spend at least a little time hogtied and under treat from some villain?
Doll Man seemed to make a specialty of it, at least on the covers, and the covers were the only advertising comics got back then. I’m not saying it might mean that a large percentage of our grandparents and parents  were budding adherents of the B&D scene, I’m just saying he spent a lot of time conspicuously tied up, and the sales were good, otherwise the adventures were all pretty innocuous, though his co-feature in Doll Man Comics, pin-up artist Bill Ward’s Torchy Todd the Blonde Bombshell, did at times push the boundaries, but as at the time at least one third of all comic sales were in Army PXs they were perhaps just selling to the audience they perceived themselves to have.
Whatever the reason for Doll Man’s popularity, he was gone in 1954, while the rights to the character where brought by DC Comics they never really found a use for him, and while versions have appeared here and there in their comics over the years, his heyday is long gone, it’s reason for being perhaps lost in the alternate world that was the 1940s.  

Monday, March 19, 2012

Silver-Age Image Miscellanea

A random pick of some images from some Silver-Age comics.

From Superman # 282 Dec. 1974, after being depicted for around 20 years as always wearing what looked gray prison garb they gave Lex Luthor his own costume, this is its first appearance. This however would only last until he was remade into the uber evil businessman in the 80s.

Have to admit the Silver-Age drab wear did seem to show he came into the game expecting to lose, showing up already dressed for a return to jail and all.

The Atom vs. the Bat Knights

From The Atom # 22 Dec. 1965, with pencils by Gil Kane and inks by Sid Greene, I’ve altered the picture taking out the dialog balloon to emphasize the art more.

How sharper than a robot serpent’s fang
Scene from Magnus Robot Fighter 4000 A.D. #28 Nov. 1969, again with dialog removed, Magnus has to fight Free Will Robot 1-A, the robot that raised him from a pup and taught him all his robot kung-fu skills, 1-A attacking was like Alfred coldcocking Batman after bringing in lunch to the Bat-Cave. Magnus still kicks his titanium tookus breaking him, good thing for 1-A he also taught “man-child”  robot repair so he was able to bring him back and fix the evil machinations of the villain who hacked him, it, 1-A, whatever.

All Your Bases Are Ours!
Makkar the Ancient from Hawkman # 12Aug. 1966, Who seems to have the Earth on the ropes in a story by Gardner Fox, with art by Murphy Anderson that really impressed my 11 year old self.

The Horror, the horror...
And something from the Adventures of Jerry Lewis that really frightened my 13 year old self two years later. Part of a series one page items that someone thought was a good idea.

Lastly from the first appearance of Hawk & Dove from the Jun. Showcase # 75, 1968.
Seriously I don’t think Ditko could come within a thousand miles of depicting the mindset of a conscientious objector if they let him have 600 issues to try and pull it off, and not just the 7 these two appeared in. His `war hawk’ Hawk wasn’t much better, perhaps if he had made both them self-righteous Objectivists it would have come across better… no… probably not.

Whatever the case, it kind of looks like Don Hall here is secretly enjoying his fall a little too much! (note super-underoo partial mishap)
Auto-erotic getting tossed off a roof by a bad guy, Is that a thing? I hope not.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The 6 Long Lasting Originals

In the Golden Age there were a LOT of superheroes and mystery men introduced, hundreds really, and they almost all went just as quickly away.

Even some still around today (mostly in other forms,) such as Green Lantern, The Flash, and Captain America, only lasted 8 or 9 years.

There were a few they tried to revive in the 50’s, such as the Commie fighting Cap and Sub-Mariner that lasted for all of 4 issues, but for the most part even the famous fell by the wayside before they could make it to 10 years.

Many of these characters that were introduced, or remade and reintroduced in the Silver Age of the 60’s, such as the space traveling version of Green Lantern, and the red suited Flash are still around today after more than 40 years, but despite the same names these were really new characters.

However of the originals from the Golden Age starting the 40s there were only six who generated the interest to last 13 years or more, still published even with the bottom falling out of interest in the superhero genre in the mid 40s, and the rise of Horror, Western, War, & Romance comics, and anti-comic campaigns at the start of the 50s.

Those six were Superman & Lois, Batman & Robin, Wonder Woman, The Marvels, Plastic-Man and Doll-Man & Doll-Girl.

I imagine some deep psychological truth can be discerned from the reason those six stayed so popular for so long, I’ve read speculation that Superman was so popular because he was somehow perceived by the public on a subconscious level as the embodiment of the New Deal Era in one persona, at the time heroic female figures in popular media were thin on the ground so that explains Wonder Woman, and Batman… well is Batman, Plastic-man ran on the power of Jack Cole’s creativity, the Marvel family was fun, and back then superheroes were allowed to be fun. As for Doll-Man… you tell me, I guess it was something in the era he was sailing along on, and whatever that was seems to be gone now, because while they have half-heartedly tried to bring him back, they just can’t bring themselves to really try.

Today of course Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are still going and doing quite well, and there are versions of Cap, Cap Jr. Mary Marvel and Plas at DC, but more out of sheer stubbornness on their part than real popularity, as for Doll-Man and Doll-Girl? Well sure, what’s not to love about two people whose sole ability is being able to shrink themselves down to six inches in height so they can go charging into battle on the back of a Great Dane? I mean it worked from 1940 to 1953.

I guess you had to be there. 

Why do the giants stay so small?

In the 70 + year history of the comic book there have been a lot of superheroes and heroines and as such superpowers tend to get reused at lot.

And yet for some reason we see few who have the ability to increase their mass and height, which I think is a little odd what with giants being such a part of myth and fairy tales, two cousins of the comic book, and yet when it comes to star characters they are few and far between.

In the Golden Age there was the Green Giant, which lasted for all of one issue before he left the business and got into frozen peas, while in the 60’s we have Elasti-Girl in the Doom Patrol, who is one of the few supers to die and not come back, Colossal Boy, lost among the crowd of other supers in the Legion of Superheroes, and then there is the whole Hank Pym / Ant-Man / Giant-Man along with all the Goliaths that came after him to be ignored and forgotten quickly at Marvel.

Not an A or B list hero in the bunch.

I wonder why that is.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Lately it seems you can’t go to the theater to see a movie without having to deal… err enjoy… no I’m going with deal, with it being in 3-D.

Love it or hate it, and I personally am one who hates that trend, but that’s not what this is about.

This is not the first era to contract that particular contagion. There was a short flirtation with it back in the early 50s that at the time even roped in such people as Alfred Hitchcock (Dial M for Murder), who really should have known better, and John Wayne (Hondo), which explains why in it’s now exclusively 2-D prints the Duke spends so much time throwing punches directly at the camera, and why so many of the actors playing Indians do so much time jumping right at us.

At the same time this was going on in the movie houses, the comics also produced their share of 3-D comics, with the Three Stooges and Mighty Mouse being two of the first character so treated.

The problem was that in comics the red / green separation needed for the 3-D effect used at the time meant those were the only colors that could be used making the comic, so that when viewed without the glasses they looked just horrid. So that died out even faster than it did at the local Bijou.

However there was one company that made a try at striking balance and producing something like 3-D, but without the glasses and with the full color that American comic book fans demanded.

The company was American Comics Group, or ACG, most noted, along with the distinct style given their comics by their main contributors Ogden Whitney, Kurt Schaffenberger, for publishing `Adventures into the Unknown’, the first comic book devoted to the horror genre, and one of comicdoms oddest characters, Herbie Popnecker.

Their experiment was something they called Truevision “3-D effect No Glasses - Full Color!”

Appearing in seven issues of Adventures into the Unknown, and two issues each of teen comedy comics The Kilroys and Cookie in 1953, this consisted of letting characters and objects slip out of the restraints of the then universally restrictive comics panels and out into the area surrounding them, which instead of being white was now died black, at the same time they had the artists render the background less distinct, like something seen at a distance, while the colorist saw to it that only the close-up main characters were in full color, while the hazy backgrounds where rendered mainly in pastel blues, yellows and off whites.

Compared to the other comic on the stands at the time it was unique, the 50s however was not a time that very much welcomed “unique” and Truevision was gone before 1953 was, leaving it an interesting experiment that made so little impact that the few comics that feature it aren’t even all that more collectable than the average ACG comic of the time, that is to say, not very.

                                           Click pictures to enlarge for that full 3-D effect!

Still at the time it was a bold move by the small company, and was perhaps rather too ahead of its time. I mean just pick up some of the comics today, and there you have limbs and objects flying hither and yon all over the black based backgrounds. Truevision it seems, even if no one would call it that, lives on. 

                                Justice League Dark #6, copyright DC Comics 2012

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Challenger

From the very start of comic books there have been ones that had a theme, detectives, romance, funny animals, science fiction, horror, etc, in 1948 however a rather unique one came on the scene.

Called The Challenger, it was the only thing published by The Interfaith Committee Of The Protestant Digest, Inc and it's mission statement, as spelled out in the first issue, was that it would be “a magazine pledged to fight race prejudice, discrimination and all other forms of fascism in North America."

Featuring artwork by the likes of E.C. Stoner, one of the few African-American comic books artists at the time, Bob Fujitani and a 19 year old Joe Kubert, the comic featured the adventures of Bill Day, who Having, along with thousands of other Americans, participated in taking down fascism in Europe is dishearten on returning home to find that it is alive, well and active in the States.

Deciding to do something about it he calls himself the Challenger and travels the nation fighting American Fascists, race haters, union busters, and hate mongers. He also creates the Challenger Club to bring like minded people come together for his cause. Having no special skills or abilities The Challenger just shows up where he finds himself needed and keeps at it until he makes a difference. At the conclusion of which he makes a speech.

As was the case with other prejudice fighting heroes of the time (see DC comics Johnny Everyman and Fawcett's Radar the International Policeman) The Challenger shunned a superhero type costume and instead wore a snap-brim fedora and trench coat, however unlike many mystery men of the time he was not adverse to carrying heat, with his adventures usually featuring at least one running gun battle with the forces of bigotry.

Along with The Challenger each issue also featured at least two or three general non continuing character stories about understanding overcoming hate, such as `Prejudice' by Bob Fujitani, found in issue # 3 which dealt with Japanese Americans encountering bias in post World War II America, and in a story by Joe Kubert a downed American solider behind enemy lines being told the story of the Golem by the Jewish family hiding him, along with some run of the mill humor strips about nothing much in particular to fill out the rest of the four issues that made up this unique experiment in comics.

                   Typical Challenger villains plot their evil

Having murdered a union organizer they frame a black member of the union, but The Challenger is having non of it

Meanwhile the job creators are creating jobs by hiring thugs to stir up trouble

The Challenger however, having figured out what's really going on goes looking for the real murders, having found them he shows that he as yet is not an adherent of passive resistance.
The real murder caught, he confesses, (the rich guys behind it all however are not arrested, giving this comic book fantasy an odd touch of reality) and The Challenger challenges the towns people to stay away during his speech in the final panel.

As for how many kids joined the Callenger Clubs of America, if any did, that I am afraid is a stitistic that will have to remain lost to history.

Monday, February 20, 2012

He ain't heavy, he's a guaranteed boost to sales this month!

The fireman's carry is one of the easiest ways for a person to carry another person without assistance, the superhero carry however is something else altogether.*

The earliest example I can find is in Batman 156, ever the iconoclast Bats does it with the head of Robin, the Is He Dead Again? Wonder, facing to the right.

It has been used a lot after that, from the 50s to I don’t… next week?

Some we have here are

Sergeant Rock in an unusually touchy feelie mood while DC’s Go-Go Check of the time watch on.

Superman practicing with Lois in the 70s with Lois as a stand-in for Supergirl in the future.

Marvel’s Captain Marvel (not be confused with the REAL Captain Marvel!) in a pose I’ve seen somewhere else. Oh yeah, I know, on the cover of an early graphic novel, but I used this one as the earlier version was a little to cluttered for my taste.

See… that practice from the 70s paid off.

Worked so well that it keeps rising from the ashes like a phoenix. Ah heh

They killed Robin again? You bastards!

Still there is just something familiar about this pose… have I seen it somewhere before?

Ooooooh yeah.

* by the way, just for the record, carring someone in the manner above is bad both their and your back.