Monday, November 12, 2007

The Worst Shrinking Superhero

It’s easy to see the appeal of a superpower like growing larger. It taps into children’s desire to grow up and gain more control over their own lives and their own destiny about as directly and visually as possible. When you’re a kid, you equate power with size, so seeing a surrogate character able to grow bigger than your older siblings, your classmates, your bullies, your parents, your teachers, and, of course, even his or her villains and the biggest monsters you can imagine, well, that’s pretty cool.

But growing smaller? What kind of cockamamie superpower is that?

Well, it’s actually a pretty common one, as lame as it is. And while each and every shrinky superhero has some understandable popularity problems, one stands head and shoulders above–er, below all others in his lameness, and he’s the subject of tonight’s post.

No, I’m not talking about Doll Man, a character I actually like a lot, despite never actually having read any of his original adventures. I mean, sure, his name is “Doll Man” and his costume resembles what Superman’s might have looked like if Superman were a little pixie more likely to help a cobbler finish up that last order of shoes than punch our a giant robot, but he came from a simpler, more innocent time (1939), when dressing funny and having a funny name was more a badge of honor than a black mark for a superhero. Besides, have you seen any images of Golden Age Doll Man? They’re really well drawn (Lou Fine, I think). (For a weekly dose of Doll Man, check out the blog, where every Monday is Doll Man Monday).

Nor am I talking about The Atom, who might have stolen the shrinking schtick and color scheme from Doll Man, but boasted one of the best of all Silver Age costumes, the ability to take shrinking to a whole new (smaller) level, taking it to the extreme furthest extremes. He also boasted a nerdy/cool secret identity of a college physicist that allowed his adventures to take on the sort of science fact-fueled fun that punctuated DC Comics of the era like The Flash, Metamorpho and Metal Men, and had a long life as a supporting player in the pages of Justice League comics. Also, he was always getting tied to grenades or stuck in light bulbs or finding himself in some similarly deadly but visually interesting predicament (Often drawn by Gil Kane, which sure goes a long way).

Nor am I talking about Ant-Man, who has one of the most complicated fictional histories of any superhero (although when he was still just plain old Ant-Man, it wasn't quite so complicated yet) and one of the ugliest of the pre-‘70s Marvel costumes (although he kept the red and blue color scheme which seems to be mandatory for shrinking superheroes). Despite these deficiencies, Hank Pym has the benefit of an unusual side power (he can control ants!) and a long, successful-(ish) history The Avengers and Marvel Universe in general. Plus that wacky helmet gives him a unique (although not all that ant-like) look, and an usual mode of conveyance—flying ants that don't really look much like ants at all.

No, I’m talking about Tinyman.

Yes, Tinyman.

Debuting in 1966, years after both The Atom and Ant-Man, Tinyman’s power was the ability to become tiny. Not doll-sized, nor ant-sized nor atom-sized, just, you know, tiny. He was one of the super-characters from MF Enterprises, starting out as a villain in the other other Captain Marvel’s comic.

That’s him in the upper right hand corner. The tiny one with the “giant ray gun.” (Does it shoot a giant ray? Does it shoot a ray that turns people into giants? Or is it just giant compared to him because he’s, um, tiny?).

His costume’s not so bad. I mean, it’s not good or anything, certainly the worst of the shrinky heroes mentioned, but much better than the rest of the Marvel rogues around him (Check out “Dr. Fate” there). He definitely has a decent, individual look. I particularly like his lack of mask and his reverse skunk hairstyle.

But still, his name is Tinyman. When your codename makes “Ant-Man” and “Doll Man” sound like cool codenames, you’ve got problems.

Jack Baker’s ability to shrink didn’t have a comic book science explanation, like experimental chemicals, or white dwarf star radiation or Pym particles, he could simply will himself to become tiny, although he retained the strength of a full-sized man, his street clothes disappearing in the process.

Baker’s crime career was pretty short (Ha ha! Short! Get it?), and the other other Captain Marvel tossed him in the clink. Perhaps realizing that shrinking-themed supervillains are even lamer than shrinking-themed heroes (I’m looking at you, Wonder Woman rogue Mouse Man), he turned his life around, not only becoming a good guy, but eventually becoming a district attorney.

Soon he was fighting alongside his former foe against his former foe’s foes, like The Ray (Who looks suspiciously like another other other Captain Marvel villain, The Bat).

Of course, that career was pretty short too, as Tinyman quickly disappeared into comic book obscurity.

Probably because his name is Tinyman.

1 comment:

greg said...

Did Tinyman ever fire that Giant Ray Gun, cause I imagine it would send him into orbit if he did.