1. The Atom
Ray Palmer, DC’s “biggest” shrinking superhero, debuted in Showcase #34 (cover date October 1961), just a few months before Dr. Henry Pym’s first appearance in Tales to Astonish #27 (January 1962). Given the time it took to put together a comic in those days, it’s unlikely Lee and Kirby were inspired by the Atom when they created “The Man in the Ant Hill”… though it’s very possible the Atom’s early success encouraged Marvel to stick Dr. Pym in a superhero outfit eight months later. It’s kind of a shame the Atom didn’t get his own movie first; right from the start, it was obvious Marvel’s staff didn’t really know what to do with Ant-Man, while the Atom had Gardner Fox and Gil Kane — a writer-and-artist combo that was never short of innovative ideas — in his corner. For instance, Fox got around the inherent limitations of a tiny superhero by going all the way with the concept, granting him the ability to shrink to the size of a literal atom. This proved to be handy when he wanted to, say, ride the electrons in a telephone call and give someone on the other end a surprise visit. For his part, Kane (who designed the hero’s Silver Age look, as seen above) said his work on the Atom’s first title offered him opportunities to experiment with perspectives and composition that he didn’t get with other titles — and Silver Age fans everywhere were grateful for that.
2. The Atom Detective
Believe it or not, Palmer wasn’t the first pint-sized protector over at DC. Appearing in “The Atom Detective,” a 1959 story from DC’s House of Mystery anthology title, Vic Randall was a private eye reduced to a quarter-inch in height by strange chemicals while trying to avoid gangsters. It doesn’t take him long to acclimate to his new height (and it’s darn handy his clothes were affected in exactly the same way by the chemical shower), and he’s soon swinging around on rubber bands and window shades to avoid capture. It’s anyone’s guess if he was an experiment to see if there was an appetite for a shrinking superhero in DC’s growing Silver Age stable, or if Fox and Kane were inspired in part by this one-off character that (as far as I know) was never seen again after this eight-page story. It’s more likely the name and timing were just coincidences; everything was “atom” this and “atomic” that in the 1950s, and it’s not a huge leap to believe that more than one shrinking character in those days would be compared to an atom.
3-4. Doll Man and Doll Girl
Oh, sure, have a good laugh at his less-than-impressive superhero name. But understand this: he was one of the first Golden Age superheroes and one of the last ones left standing, first appearing in Quality’s Feature Comics in December 1939 and (aside from a three-year hiatus) closing his own title in October 1953. What was his secret? Top-notch talent, for a start; created by Walt Eisner, he was fortunate to have artists like Lou Fine and Reed Crandall in his corner. And why wouldn’t they be there, since working on him meant they got the chance to create fanciful images from the perspective of a six-inch-tall man. Like Dr. Pym, research chemist Darrel Dane invented a formula that allowed him to shrink to a height of six inches, as well as one to bring himself back to normal. A criminal attack on his fiancée convinced him to use his formula for good, and the rest is riding-in-toy-airplanes history. Speaking of his fiancée, Martha Roberts got in on the crime-fighting action by becoming Doll Girl in 1951, presumably in an attempt to revive interest in Doll Man’s book. It didn’t help. From her Who’s Who bio: “She was stronger in her reduced size than she was normally.” And a big shiny Nobel Prize to anyone who can figure out how that works.
5. Shrinking Violet
Like all people on her home planet Imsk, Salu Digby had the natural ability to shrink in size from inches tall to microscopic. That was enough to gain her entry into the Legion of Super-Heroes, where she carved a tidy niche for herself in the group’s espionage and infiltration team. Why she agreed to a codename based on an impolite Earth expression that likely meant nothing to her is anyone’s guess. She didn’t get much of a character arc beyond “the one who gets teeny” until a story in the 1980s revealed she had been kidnapped and held prisoner for a year while a Durlan shape-shifter took her place in the Legion, even marrying Colossal Boy while wearing her face. Though she was eventually freed by her comrades, the experience had clearly left its mark on her, and her shrinking was often used as a metaphor for her feelings of alienation from the rest of the Legion. She later became one of the first DC heroes retconned to be gay; she probably still is, I stopped checking in on the franchise about three reboots ago.
Various sources cite her as DC’s first African-American female superhero, and who am I to argue? First appearing in the Teen Titans’ book in 1976, her initial exploits were less than impressive; she secretly made herself a bumblebee-themed super-suit and attacked the Teen Titans as a way of making her boyfriend look good in front of the team. That wacky misunderstanding cleared up, she joined the team and turned her engineering skills towards developing non-lethal weaponry. Years later, an accident involving space rays left her permanently trapped at six inches in height and resembling her animal namesake. This proved problematic in ways other than limiting her wardrobe options; her tiny form caused her heartbeat to speed up, and it was only the efforts of the Doom Patrol’s scientist leader that prevented her from going into cardiac arrest. So think about that the next time you think it might be cool to live in a dollhouse.
Speaking of the Doom Patrol. Not to be confused with the superheroine mother in The Incredibles, Rita Farr was a Hollywood actress whose exposure to a strange volcanic gas caused her to grow and shrink in size. At first, these shifts in sizes were involuntary, but she eventually learned to control her powers, even gaining some other useful ones along the way (like shrinking or growing other objects, or regenerating damaged parts of her body). Recent updates to her character profile saw her (1) change her name to Elasti-Woman (2) not be dead and (3) collapse into a puddle of goo when she sleeps because she isn’t able to maintain her malleable form while unconscious. You can guess which one I’m not entirely in favor of.
8. Blue Jay
Bucking the trend that most shrinking superheroes tend to go down to six inches in height, here’s a fellow who shrinks down to seven inches. Like Bumblebee, he also grows wings when he shrinks downs, enabling him to fly like a… well, you know. First appearing in Justice League of America #87 (February 1971), he’s a hero from an Earth in another dimension that — along with Silver Sorceress and Wandjina — survived the nuclear destruction of his own world, and then runs afoul of our own governments while trying to prevent the same thing from happening here. The three heroes were intended as homages to Yellowjacket (one of Ant-Man’s later identities), the Scarlet Witch and Thor, in response to Marvel creating its own “Squadron Supreme” as an homage to the Justice League. As far as I know, Blue Jay’s only powers were shrinking and flying, and he didn’t have the ability to control blue jays in the same way that Dr. Pym could control ants. Just as well, since it’s hard to imagine blue jays bringing much to the party.
9-10. Minimidget and Ritty
This teeny duo appeared a few months before Doll Man’s 1939 debut, in the pages of Centaur Publishing’s Amazing Man Comics, but never quite managed to reach his level of fame. The shrinking agent in their case was a shrinking ray developed by a mad scientist, who shrank a young man and his girlfriend to six inches in height and ordered them to murder the scientist’s relatives so he could cash in on their family fortune. No, it’s never explained what inherent advantage there was in sending doll-sized assassins after his family members, but perhaps you missed the “mad” part in his job title. (It’s possible the scientist was also a film buff; the 1936 horror film The Devil Doll starred Lionel Barrymore as a prison escapee who uses shrunken people as “dolls” to assassinate their owners.) A convenient suicide-by-explosion takes care of the scientist, and Minimidget (sometimes called Miniature Man or Super-Midget) and Ritty are free to join the forces of good. Minimidget carried a tiny sword and rode a trained rabbit named Bucky — and suddenly I want a Captain America story in which his sidekick is replaced by a trained rabbit.
11. Mighty Man
Like Minimidget, Mighty Man made an early appearance on the superhero scene, debuting in the same first issue (actually numbered #5) of Centaur’s Amazing Man Comics in 1939. Unlike Minimidget, Mighty Man was no one-trick pony: he could shrink, grow to more than 100 feet tall, and change his features. The explanation for his super-powers was “born in a valley of giants,” and that seemed to be enough. There must have been something about shrinking that really spoke to Centaur’s readership, as Mighty Man and Minimidget were the longest-lasting heroes to appear in Amazing Man, both of them appearing in issues up until #25 in 1942. After that, though… pfft.
Remember Harvey Comics, the guys who gave us Casper and Richie Rich? Well, in the 1940s they were also into the superheroes. First appearing in Spitfire Comics #1 (August 1941), professional heavyweight boxer Clip Foster was helping his scientist father work on a device that could shrink people to the size of a fly (all scientists had to say back then was “it’s for the war” and the Pentagon just showered them with money, no questions asked). The experiment was a success, in that Clip was shrunk down in size, but as often happens in these kinds of stories their moment of triumph was interrupted by criminals who kill the old man and spill acid on Clip’s face for good measure. Of course, he swears vengeance and sews an itty-bitty costume for himself, including a working set of wings. Alas, readers never got a chance to find the answers to questions like “Where did he find a needle his size?” or “How exactly did he expect to fight crime while being the size of a fly?” because his book — an experiment to see if a smaller-sized, 100-page comic would sell on newsstands — only lasted two issues.
13. Tiny Tim
Not to be confused with a certain Dickensian moppet, this Tiny Tim was the star of a newspaper strip that first appeared in 1933. Created by Stanley Link, Tim Grunt and his sister, Dotty, were originally depicted as only two inches tall, allowing the orphans to get into all kinds of pint-sized predicaments and use everyday objects in new and fun ways. Their height was later adjusted to eight inches tall, and later still Link introduced a Gypsy woman who could magically turn them into normal-sized kids (though they were still depicted as small for their size). Then Dotty disappeared and all kinds of hair-raising adventures involving kidnappers and evil foster parents came into play… really, after a while you got the sense Link was just winging it from one episode to the next. In 1941, presumably to grab a piece of the growing superhero craze, Link introduced a magical medallion (given to Tim by the same Gypsy woman who had embiggened him before) that gave Tim the power to shrink and grow at will. The strip continued on for a dozen or so years with Tim in the role of a plainclothes superhero, but the one nefarious force he couldn’t overcome was his creator’s passing; Link died in 1957, and the final Tiny Tim strip appeared in March 1958.
14. The Miracle Man
There have been other superheroes who tried to cash in on their fame, and others who were specifically created as marketing mascots for their corporate overlords. But Miracle Man was in a class by himself. He didn’t use his shrinking and teleporting powers to fight crime or hassle America’s enemies; no, instead he used his abilities to pitch “miraculous” products like Sinclair Oil’s RD-119 fuel additive. Quoth the Public Domain Super-Heroes wiki: “He was so zealous about selling products, he couldn’t activate his magic powers without shouting the name of the product. He’d also force innocent bystanders to do humiliating and dangerous things like swim around inside the gas tank of their own car, so he could ‘educate’ them.” He also flew around on a magic carpet with a steering wheel and the front end of a car attached to it, because if you’re going to sell out to The Man you might as well score a sweet ride. No word on how many innocent victims died from inhaling gasoline fumes after he transported them inside their gas tanks, but you can bet someone at Corporate was involved in the cover-up.
15. Little Cheese
He’s a mouse! In a world of talking funny animals! Who’s the literal size of a mouse to the other talking funny animals! His name is actually “Chester Cheese” and his father’s first name is Edam! Are you laughing yet? From what I wrote earlier in one of my Who’s Who recaps: “Even through they don’t mention it in his bio — which points out that Chester Cheese has an aunt named Chedda and got his shrinking powers from eating actual moon cheese — I happen to know he is the first member of the Zoo Crew to join the team after the original six, who were all affected by meteor fragments sent their way by a giant space starfish. The fact there is space in my brain devoted to retaining that information fills me with a deep sense of shame.” He was later killed by an upright-walking cat, which someone really should have seen coming.