Size themes during the Golden Age when Super Hero Comic Books were Born

Good morning everyone,

This article will take a look at comic book super heroes and size themes from the so-called Golden Age. This was when Superman was born. Afterward, a plethora of super heroes came into being within the comic book format. Following Superman were Captain America, Captain Marvel (a.k.a. Shazam), the Human Bomb, and many, many others.

Technically, other super heroes preceded Superman. Earlier examples include 黄金バット “Golden Bat,” who first appeared in Japanese street theater, “Hugo Hercules,” who first appeared within American newspaper comic strips, and “Spring-heeled Jack,” who first appeared in a British “penny dreadful,” a mass-produced booklet. Spring-heeled Jack began as a villain based on 19th century folklore, but became a hero in later depictions.

Box cover for a Golden Bat model kit.

However, none of those older characters achieved the widespread appeal and commercial success of Superman. Nor were they in comic books. Superman wasn’t the first, but in my opinion he was the most important because he made the concept very popular. Therefore, for today’s purposes, I define the Golden Age as beginning in June 1938 with Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman, and ending in October 1956 with Showcase #4, the first appearance of Barry Allen as the new Flash. (NOTE: For those wanting more clarification, I recommend The New Ages: Rethinking Comic Book History by Ken Quattro, which further subdivides the eras and is a rewarding read for aficionados. Ken would disagree with my dates for the Golden Age, but I had to draw the lines somewhere and the traditional begin and end dates worked best.)

The Golden Age is when DC Comics leading figures Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, were created. (NOTE: Initially what would become DC Comics was two sister companies called All-American Publications and National Allied Publications.) This is also the time when Marvel Comics (then known as Timely Comics) created Captain America, the original Human Torch, and Namor the Sub-Mariner. (NOTE: As well as Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat, who despite being only a relatively minor role has surprisingly persisted until today.) Other characters from this era include Blue Beetle, Phantom Lady, Plastic Man, etc.

The first use of the term Golden Age was from April 1960 in the Comic Art fanzine. This November 1963 comic also referenced the Golden Age on its cover.

Why examine these first super heroes? Because numerous modern artists and writers use their motif. To provide examples, here are some pertinent works:

Check out my review of Starlet Stripe here. It’s basically Captain America’s early days, but with giant-sized female soldiers 🙂
These three series were produced by BotComics, parent company behind the Breast Expansion Story Club and Giantess Club.
These three series were produced by Interweb Comics, parent company behind Giantess Fan and Shrink Fan.
These were produced by AC Comics (formerly Americomics and before that Paragon Publications), a company which directly based many of its publications on public domain Golden Age characters. Read my post on the Giantesses of AC Comics here.

Additionally, some size-changing characters cosplay:

This preview pic was taken from “Comic Con Part Two,” by artist Bojay and writer DreamTales.

Lastly, even the humble SolomonG has contributed:

Okay, we’ve established that many erotic stories feature super heroes who can grow, shrink, or both! Now let’s examine where this idea first began.

This pint-sized hero first appeared in Feature Comics #27 and was published in December 1939 by Quality Comics. DC Comics bought much of Quality Comics in 1956.

Doll Man, a.k.a. Darrell Dane, invented and drank a serum which reduced him to six inches in height! After that first test, Doll Man was able to shrink merely by concentrating his will power. He was arguably the very first super hero with size-changing powers. Doll Man also preceded many more famous figures such as Catwoman, Hawkman, and Batman’s sidekick Robin.

(SIDE NOTE: Personally, as a growing fan, it feels like it’s always the shrinking stories that are told first. Growing heroes such as Elasti-Girl (a personal favorite), Giant Man, and Stature would not appear until after Doll Man. Although, the ancient epic poem Gilgamesh included a giant and I’m not aware of any older stories featuring shrinking characters. So take that shrink fans! 😛 )

The Doll Man series was in continual publication from 1939 until 1953. This was longer than Captain America’s initial run as the Captain’s comic transitioned to horror in 1949. That switch was part of an industry-wide trend as scary tales became more prominent and most super hero comics were cancelled with the exceptions of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Perhaps unknown to most people, Doll Man was still appearing in comic books after Green Lantern, the Flash, Namor, and the Human Torch had disappeared.

This image was taken from the aforementioned The New Ages: Rethinking Comic Book History.

Technically coming before Doll Man, but not a super hero per se, was “Minimidget.” He first appeared in Centaur Comic’s Amazing-Man #5, a September 1939 issue. However, Minimidget’s run was much briefer than Doll Man and the series ended in December 1941, right before Centaur went out of business. Since then, Minimidget has fallen into public domain.

Contributor Taedis mentioned that Minimidget borrows his origin from the 1930s film “The Devil Doll.” I’ll have to review The Devil Doll someday. Also, for the sake of completeness, I should mention that the same issue which introduced Minimidget also debuted “Mighty Man.” He was a Paul Bunyan-like character. He didn’t change size, but he was a giant.

Returning to Doll Man, I’d like to highlight a few of his awesome covers. Notice that they involve bondage:

Spring 1943 edition
May 1944 issue.
July 1948 issue.

Doll Man was joined by Doll Girl, a.k.a. Martha Roberts, in December 1951, toward the end of his first run. She gained her powers by previously hoping to have mental power, practicing to develop her will power, and then being knocked out. Easier explanation than just giving her some of the original Doll Man serum, I suppose? <shrug> So, yeah maybe not the best origin story, but that’s how it happened!

This panel is from Doll Man issue 37.

Since that introduction, Doll Girl became a regular addition to the “Doll Man: The World’s Mightiest Mite” series.

I kinda love how the spider was drawn with only two eyes.

Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed “Giants of Crime” on that last cover. That story involves Darrel Dane’s discovery of growth vitamins! A trio of thugs abscond with his vitamins, become huge, and then steal expensive furs. Not for nothing, but stealing furs is certainly the first thing I’d do if I ever became “grotesquely large” 😉 Alas, for those hoping to procure growth vitamins from Mr. Dane, be advised that its side effects ultimately proved tragic.

Before moving on, let me share this in which Doll Girl gets her own bondage-themed cover:

Next, let’s look at some super heroes who did not possess shrinking powers, but occasionally turned tiny. The first super heroine can be included in this group. Fantomah initially appeared in Jungle Comics #2 in February 1940. That’s more than a year before Wonder Woman! (NOTE: Some consider “Sheena: Queen of the Jungle” to be the first super heroine. Sheena first appeared in 1938, but didn’t have super powers. I’m sidestepping the issue of whether non-powered vigilantes who use gadgets, like Batman, Blue Beetle, Green Arrow, Hawkeye, etc. should be considered super heroes. Personally, I don’t think they should, but in this post I do mention Batman and Blue Beetle since many folks call them super heroes.) Fantomah was made by Fiction House and possessed supernatural powers. She fit the “jungle girl” archetype, albeit with mystical abilities. When using magic her entire body would become a skeleton or her face would become a skull:

In Jungle Comics #19, from July 1941, Fantomah was shrunken by Guluba, an evil wizard. With a flick of his whip, Guluba shrinks her black panther Fury and then does the same to Fantomah herself:

I rather prefer the following bit after she was restored to normal and towered over a trio of small people:

Other shrunken characters include DC stars such as members of the Justice Society of America and Wonder Woman:

This cover from summer 1943 is slightly misleading. Most of the figures did shrink in the actual story, but Wonder Woman did not, even though she was tiny on the cover.

Before looking at tiny Wonder Woman, I’ll take a moment and mention that super villain Giganta, a regular foe of Wonder Woman, was created in 1944, but at that time she was “merely” a circus strong woman, and a former gorilla! Decades later, in 1978, she acquired the ability to increase her size during the “Challenge of the Superfriends” TV show. Now that I’ve crushed expectations that fans could see an earlier version of the world’s most famous (at least I think so) comic book giantess, let’s instead see examples of the beloved Amazonian princess becoming tiny!

That has to be one of the ugliest hands I’ve ever seen. This was taken from Wonder Woman issue 31 with a cover date of September – October 1948.
I thought shrunken women (SW) fans would enjoy the panel from Sensation Comics #55 which shows Wonder Woman sitting on Steve Trevor’s palm 🙂 The second panel’s reference to “submitting to loving authority” was a reoccurring theme from Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston (pen name Charles Moulton).

Okay, we’ve gone on about shrinking long enough, now’s time for the “good” stuff (IMHO). Time for some growing! To manage expectations, it must be noted that growing super heroes really took off in the Silver Age with Colossal Boy, Elasti-Girl, Giant Man, and others. That wasn’t the case for the Golden Age. Nonetheless, growing did appear:

DC Comic’s Spectre is technically a “spirit” and seems to have whatever powers are needed for the narrative. Thus, I don’t consider him a “growing” super hero per se, but he definitely grows on occasion. However, growing is merely one of many undefined capabilities. These panels were taken from the May 1940 issue of More Fun Comics No. 55.

Turning away from those with growing powers to those who do so only occasionally, we have Captain Marvel’s sister Mary Marvel:

The above panels are from Mary Marvel #1. That comic was made by Fawcett Publications and released in December 1945. The plot of “The Growth Epidemic” revolved around the Larch brothers spiking the city’s drinking water with “Hormone of Growth” and becoming rich by selling oversized goods. No way that could backfire! 😉

Earlier in that same issue was “Trouble for Teacher” in which Mary Marvel taught a group of young adults who never progressed beyond kindergarten because the “truant officer never kotched [sic]” them until now. One was unruly and the World’s Mightiest Girl had to dispense some discipline:

After straightening out the backwoods ne’er-do-wells, Mary Marvel gives a makeover to a young lady called Becky who is subsequently propositioned by a classmate. The last page sees the new couple happily seeking a preacher to officiate their wedding. That story wasn’t size related of course, but I wanted to mention it ’cause I enjoyed its random nature. And also because I’d like to misbehave during Mary Marvel’s class, but I digress… 😉

Of course, it’s not just good guys that grow, bad guys do too:

The above images were pulled from “The Brain of Cyrus Smythe,” a Plastic Man story in Police Comics #11, September 1942. And yes, the giant is walking on his hands. Did I mention that Golden Age comics could be weird? If I didn’t, then perhaps I should.

Golden Age comics were often dark and violent when compared to modern age equivalents. For instance, Plastic Man was swallowed by the evil giant in Police Comics #11. To escape, Plastic Man forms his body into a ball and lodges himself into the giant’s windpipe to choke him to death! At least, Plastic Man *believed* that the giant had died and buried the body. In actual fact, there’s an undying brain involved and truth be told death might have been preferable… readers will have to check it out for themselves if they’re curious. However, they can read Police Comics for free, as well as many of the previous comics, at Comic Book Plus and elsewhere online. I do recommend reading these for their creativity and historical value, but will warn that racist stereotypes abound and that many stories are darker than today’s renditions. This was before “Batman never kills” was a thing, and in fact several Golden Age heroes regularly killed their opponents.

Before closing out this article, I’d like to point out that size themes also appeared in horror and science-fiction lines during the Golden Age, such as those published by Charlton Comics and EC Comics, as the industry moved away from super heroes. One example was published in April 1952 within the pages of The Thing issue #2 from Charlton Comics.

Another example, “Lost in the Microcosm,” was published during 1950 in “Weird Science” issue 1 (also called issue 12, the same cover can be found with either number!). You can read a full review of that particular issue here.

Similar works from EC Comics include the following:

I may review this story someday 😉 It is taken from Weird Science #4 published at the end of 1950.
This tale is from Weird Science #6 published during the spring of 1951 and it featured a continuous process by which a victim divides into two smaller halves, somewhat akin to the reproduction of a single-cell organism. However, the duplicates did not grow to the size of adults, but instead continued to divide into ever smaller halves.

Of course, it wasn’t just EC Comics, other publishers, like Fox Feature Syndicate (a.k.a. Fox Publications or Fox Comics) the creators of Blue Beetle, had previously dabbled with size stories:

This was published in August 1940. (NOTE: That’s only a few months after the similarly themed film “Dr. Cyclops” hit theaters!) Due to a printing error, the shrinking story shown on the cover was not actually inside this issue, but was in the next issue, No. 6, instead.

That’s it for today folks. Hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the Golden Age and learned that size in comic books appeared less than two years after Superman himself first showed up. Of particular note, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Ms Taedis for her assistance and the wealth of information she provided while I wrote this!

Next week will commence with a look at another new creator making “sizey” videos. I’ll leave you with the following comic book cover, teasing folks with a giantess that never appears in the book, from the tail end of the Golden Age and after the (accursed) Comics Code Authority manifested. Until next time, keep growing!

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10 thoughts on “Size themes during the Golden Age when Super Hero Comic Books were Born

  1. Doll Man’s tight shorts have always intrigued me. Tiny male superheroes are always going to be in for some emasculating humor, so I wonder if the creators were trying to compensate for something.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That certainly could be true. Creating Doll Girl might have also been an attempt to make him more “manly” by giving him a potential romantic interest.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The contrast with Ray Palmer/Jean Loring is instructive. Of course, it was an eventful two decades between Dane and Palmer.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Very true! I plan to tackle Silver Age size in late May and will dive into Ray Palmer’s story. Can’t say that I was happy with what was done with Jean Loring in Identity Crisis, but that’s a different issue.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m reminded of something I saw on a Tumblr blog devoted to Wonder Woman. When asked who Diana’s greatest nemesis was, the blogger replied, “Editorial interference.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d love to read Marston’s unedited drafts and see what could have been without editorial interference.

      Like

      1. I’m pretty sure the blogger was referring to later editors, including her “mod” period.

        Like

      2. Ah, so a long time after Marston’s involvement. Was the implication that the writers, during the end of the Silver and into the Bronze Age I assume, had more experimental ideas, or a more progressive stance, than the editors wanted? To be honest, I’m not very familiar with her “mod” period, beyond knowing that she lost her super powers and learned martial arts.

        Like

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