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Posts tagged ‘Quality Comics’

Doll Man (Early Golden Age)

You get the distinct impression Doll Man could not wait for World War 2.  Throughout 1940 and 41 there are numerous stories that pit Darrel Dane against foreign spies and troops, and once the US enters the war the series shifts into high gear.  Pretty aggressive for a character whose only power is to shrink to six inches in height.

I should mention that, likely because Doll Man was the first shrinking hero, he is really the only one who cannot alter his height to any other size.  Six feet, or six inches, those were the only two options.  That being said, the writers and artists cheat a fair bit on this.  There is no way a six inch tall man could get inside a model airplane, for example.

Darrell starts wearing a costume in his second appearance, in Feature 28, a blue top with matching shorts and a cape, although at first he sometimes just wears the shorts and cape, which frankly looks a little odd.

There are really three distinct periods for Doll Man in this era: the pre-war stories, 1942, and 43 and after.  In the pre-war stories Martha Roberts barely appears, but her father is constantly around, occasionally kidnapped, but as close as Doll Man gets to having a sidekick.  Many of Professor Roberts friends come to him for help when threats, thefts, or murders occur, although apparently they do not know about his connexion with Doll Man, and just feel like telling the Prof their troubles.  The police seem to know about Darrel though.  He gets sworn in as a special detective by the Chief of Police in issue 38, though that is never mentioned again.

Doll Man also uses some creative methods of transportation in this first period, riding in a model plane in issue 31, a rat in some story I forgot to note down, and riding a bald eagle to French Guyana in issue 48.

Feature Comics 41, which still pre-dates WW2, sees Darrel enter the army, and though he is still clearly in the forces at the end of that tale, he is never again shown as a soldier.

The US enters the war just as Darrel spins off into his own quarterly comic, and the 1942 stories are in some ways the best of the run.  That being said, in almost every story Professor Roberts and/or Martha get kidnapped.  The art, often by Lou Fine or Reed Crandall, excels at capturing the pulp comics feel, though a bit toned down for children.  Fine’s art is so delicate, and so precise on anatomy, that it lends huge credibility to the visuals, while Crandall’s extravagant detail and gorgeously caricatured villains making reading his stories a delight.  That being said, the racism is truly over the top.  Anyone who is not white barely looks human (and is likely a foreign agent anyway)

The most awkward thing about these stories is that Martha somehow loses her knowledge of Darrel’s identity.  There is never any hint of explanation of how that happened.

As the war dragged on into 1943, the stories change again.  On the whole, they are better written, more whodunnits and clever (if not recurring) villains, but the art is no longer as spectacular.  Professor Roberts is now the one who barely appears, but at least Martha is only getting kidnapped in about every third issue.  Still, “The Tiny Terrors” in Doll Man 6 has great visuals of him fighting giant insects.

In Feature 77 Martha gains the ability to shrink as well, in a very peculiar way.  Darrel is wishing he had help as Doll Man, as Martha wishes she could help him.  The two minds having the same thought somehow causes Martha to shrink in size.  Now, Darrel wears no mask as Doll Man, so it’s always been a little far-fetched that anyone close to him would not recognize him, but in this story not only are we supposed to believe that, when shrunk and facing Doll Man, Martha still does not recognize him, but also Darrel does not realize who she is!  She is not even wearing anything unusual, just calling herself Midge.

Doll Man continues in the Late Golden Age

Doll Man:  Feature Comics  28 – 80  (Jan 40 – July 44)

Doll Man Quarterly  1 – 7  (Fall 41 – Fall 42)

Invisible Justice (Early Golden Age)

The series Invisible Justice, starring Invisible Hood, serves as an excellent example of why heroes whose primary power is invisibility do better as members of teams than as solo characters.  Kent Thurston really needed a sidekick, at the very least.  As it stands, in virtually every story we are introduced to one of his old friends, who winds up in some sort of trouble.  As the Invisible Hood cannot actually be seen by any of the characters (and many times not by the reader either), we are left watching everyone except the hero.

Nor does it help that Thurston never gets any sort of background or characterization.  He has no job, apparently, no recurring friends, romantic interests or family.  The fact that this series consists exclusively of five-page one shot tales is no help, but even still the repetition is almost overwhelming.  In case after case Kent dons his costume, follows or tracks the bad guys without them seeing, and then beats the crap out of them.

In a number of the stories the reader is lead to believe Invisible Hood will be pitted against someone or something else invisible, but this rarely pans out.  The invisible ghosts on the tropical island in Smash 14 are just a legend promoted by enemy spies, based on the toxic fumes emitted from a volcano.  The Ghost Rider is simply the nickname of the racing car in issue 20, and the disappearing planes in issue 28 are just being captured by an enemy blimp.

But I don’t want to make it seem as if there is nothing redeeming about this feature.  The art is decent, and some of the stories are fun.  Invisible Hood pretends to be a ghost in a few of the stories, and in Smash 15 wraps himself in bandages while fighting thieves who pretend a mummy has come to life.  He confronts them as another mummy, and when they unwrap him they see nothing under the bandages, which makes them freak out.

Invisible Hood does get one recurring villain, the White Wizard.  He debuts in Smash 27, enslaving people to work mines in his underground city.  After Hood frees the men and destroys his base, the White Wizard vows revenge, and in issue 30 manages to steal his costume and replicate the invisibility formula, creating a band of invisible raiders.  Invisible Hood manages to retrieve his outfit and kill all the raiders, and the Wizard.

His series ends abruptly with issue 32, but in 80s All-Star Squadron we learn that Invisible Hood was part of the first Freedom Fighters line-up, who perished in the attack on Pearl Harbour.


Invisible Hood:  Smash Comics 6 – 32 (Jan 40 – Mar 42)

Doll Man

Doll Man debuted in the Quality Comics book Feature Comics 27, in a four page story.  His character was one of the longer running in the Golden Age, but all I’m going to talk about in this post is that one four-page story, cause it’s the only one in this era.

Darrel Dane is a young scientist, working with Professor Roberts on a shrinking serum.  The only ingredient we hear about is aqua regia, which is an acid, but Darrel decides to test in on himself, drinking it and shrinking down to 6 inches in height.  He briefly goes violently crazy, but the Professor talks him down.

The Professor’s daughter, Martha, is being blackmailed, though she doesn’t tell either her father or Darrel, her boyfriend, about it.  But Darrel suspects something is up and tags along when she goes to meet the man, and then trounces him, all while 6 inches high and wearing blue shorts.


Doll Man continues in the Early Golden Age


Doll Man:  Feature Comics 27  (Dec 39)

Invisible Hood

The Invisible Hood is the earliest character from the Quality Comics stable that has been integrated into the DC Universe.  Kent Thurston wears a long red cloak and hood, with a mask, and carries a gun that fires sleeping gas, as he aids police inspector Bill Blake when sacred Indian sapphires get stolen.  In this first outing, he is not hugely different from the Shadow or the Crimson Avenger, and one has to wonder why he calls himself Invisible Hood.

This gets addressed in the second issue.  Kent laments that he is only “invisible” because no one knows the identity of the Invisible Hood, and wishes he had true invisibility.  Fortuitously, at the point he gets a call from Professor Van Dorn, a friend who has just perfected an invisibility serum.  Kent douses his costume with the serum, and gets to play super-hero.

In issue 2 we see Kent, in costume, fade to invisibility in the way that would become standard in comics – dotted lines for the outline of the figure, pale colouring of the figure itself, a see-through effect.  But once he gets into the action, battling thieves who want the formula, he is simply not drawn at all into the panels.  We are meant to imagine him there, just seeing the effects of his actions.

Not a good idea.  It just looks strange.  And this was obvious enough that by issue 3 the dotted line, pale colour, see through effect would be used consistently.

Hood deals with pirates, gangsters and a blackmail ring lead by the Green Lizard, who turns out to be Inspector Blake’s servant.

We learn almost nothing about Kent Thurston in these five issues, only that he used to be a private detective, which just makes you wonder what his day job is now.


Invisible Hood continues in the Early Golden Age


Invisible Hood:  Smash Comics  1 – 5 (Aug – Dec 39)

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