His name was Darrell Dane and, by an immense effort of will, this easy-going research scientist could compress his molecular structure until he transformed himself into a miniature human being, all of six inches in height. It doesn't sound like a very promising premise for a super-hero, one of the crowd that could "bend steel with his bare hands" and out-race a speeding bullet, but Doll Man outlasted most of his fellow super-heroic crime fighters, stretching out his career for 14 years, debuting before another vertically-challenged crime fighter, National Comics' Al Pratt (The Atom) by a few months and DC's Atom (Ray Palmer) by 22 years.
Darrel got his start as a "half-pint" (his words) in Quality Comics' Feature Comics #27 (December 1939), a comic so rare that collector's prices range from $300 to ten times that amount for a copy in good condition. And small wonder, considering that Doll Man got his start scripted by Will (The Spirit) Eisner and illustrated by Lou Fine.
Will Eisner's story has been retold in the comics press many times, but Lou Fine may be unfamiliar to some, having passed on in 1971. Born in Brooklyn in 1915, like many another artist, the young man learned to draw as the result of a long illness - in his case polio. After joining the Eisner-Jerry Iger shop, he won immediate praise from his contemporaries for his exquisite draftsmanship and ability to accurately portray the human body in motion.
Prolific and creative, his work appeared in Fiction House's Jumbo and Sheena Comics as well as Quality's Smash, Hit, Uncle Sam, Police, and Blackhawk Comics, and Fine is perhaps best known for a character of his own creation, The Ray (Smash Comics #14 - #22). Fine's art on Doll Man ensured the new feature's success, propelling "The World's Mightiest Mite" to stardom and a magazine of his own. Of Fine, who often drew under the pen name "E. Lectron," Eisner has said that the artist was "the epitome of the honest draftsman. His work was in the style of the old classic heroic painters and sculptors." After his tenure in comics Fine left the field and spent the next 25 years as a commercial artist and magazine illustrator.
Doll Man graduated to his own series and eventually a sidekick, Doll Girl. All in all, Quality Comics was a fitting place for Fine and lived up to its name. Founded by Everett M. "Busy" Arnold in 1939, the new imprint line launched Feature Comics #21 (formerly Feature Funnies, purchased from Harry "A" Chesler) in June 1939, which was followed by Smash Comics (August 1939) and Crack Comics (May 1940). By 1944 the company had expanded to ten titles. Thanks to Arnold's good reputation as a fair publisher who paid good rates, the company had little trouble attracting the cream of the industry. In addition to Eisner and Fine, other creators to work for Quality were Reed Crandall (Blackhawk) and Jack Cole (Plastic Man).
Like many other comics publishers on the dawn of the Golden Age (1940), "Busy" Arnold wanted as many super heroes as he could get. Eisner obliged by coming up with the Doll Man concept, a costume design, and an origin story for Fine to begin with.
Some have said that Eisner's inspiration for his diminutive character might have been the Lilliputians from Max Fleischer's 1939 feature-length cartoon Gulliver's Travels. Unlike Jonathan Swift's characters, born that size, Eisner's Darrell Dane acquired his new stature by ingesting some chemicals in order to rescue his girlfriend, Martha Roberts. Able to expand or contract by an act of will, Dane had the advantage of stealth, able to hide in pockets, purses, and even pie pans. As for transportation, the scientist relied on roller skates, car bumpers, and birds (during wartime the patriotic Dane frequently traveled via an American Bald Eagle).
Later Dane acquired a small "Dollplane,"(disguised as a model airplane in his study) and towards the end of his long comic book career, he came to depend on a canine steed, Elmo the Wonder Dog. Martha Roberts, Darrell's fiancée and a resistance fighter during the war years, was regularly featured in the series as his research assistant, and eventually took the shrinking formula herself, becoming Doll Girl in December 1951. She helped Dane tackle villains like the Vulture, the Undertaker, the Phantom Duelist, the Phantom Killer, Tom Thumb, and the Black Gondolier (who made his getaways in a gondola).
Doll Man survived longer than many other superheroes, until 1953. After Fine left Doll Man, other artists handled the character, including Mort Leav, John Cassone (who drew the first issue of Doll Man), John Spranger, and Al Bryant. Most agree that the only artist who measured up to Fine's work on the feature was Reed Crandall, who also worked on Blackhawk (turning the comic into a classic collector's item, with some issues valued at as much as $2600) and later went on to become a leading artist for more highly collectible titles at E.C. Comics. Crandall drew Doll Man for a year, from 1942 to 1943, and the series' writer Bill Woolfolk commented that Crandall was "the out-and-out best artist I knew at the time. I don't know anybody who drew more dimensional figures with more realism than he did."
The world's smallest super hero enjoyed a 10-year, 112 issue run in Feature Comics, which folded in October 1949. His comic, Doll Man, was finally discontinued in 1953, after 47 issues. The diminutive Darrell Dane had outlasted Captain America, Flash, Green Lantern, the Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, and a host of other powerhouses, perhaps proving the old adage, "great things come in small packages."