Great things come in small packages
A treasure from the John Ryan Comic Collection
8 December 2014
Each month when I go upstairs to the Manuscripts Reading Room to get a new box of comics from the John Ryan collection to catalogue, it feels like Christmas to me. I am just so excited at finding out what’s in the box, and waking up all the titles that have been lying dormant for nigh on thirty years. It is so hard to walk the length, then breadth, of the Library building in a calm and orderly fashion, back to my desk, when what I really want to do is barrel down the long corridors as quickly as possible.
Going by the cinematic releases of this year alone, superheroes seem to be a quite a popular theme at the moment. While cataloguing some Popular Yank comics, I came across a superhero I had never heard of before, called the Doll Man. Due to his small stature, I immediately began wondering what his back story was, and what his superpowers were. I had to find out more!
Doll Man was created in 1939 by American cartoonist, Will Eisner, and primarily drawn by American cartoonist Lou Fine. Doll Man was the secret alter ego of Darrel Dane, a life-sized man whose occupation as a scientist enabled him to invent a formula that allowed him to shrink down to the size of a doll at will when the situation called for it, while retaining the strength of a fully grown man.
What I particularly love about the Doll Man, are his inventive modes of transport. In the strips I’ve read, he has travelled by pigeon, party balloon, and the Dollplane!
It was hard to choose which story to feature in this post, as they’re all so good. I eventually decided to go with “The Hag”, seeing as she stars on the cover at the beginning of this post.
Prison inmate Patricia Wentworth is serving a life sentence. Due to good behaviour, she is excused from regular prison duties so she can audition for a role in the prison’s production of Macbeth. The warden and prison guards overseeing the production, aren’t aware that Patricia is the Hag, and allow her to audition for the role of one of the witches. Unbeknownst to them, Patricia adds phosgene to her cauldron of boiling water. The resulting poisonous vapours kill the warden and guards, allowing Patricia to escape.
Back in civilised society, the Hag goes off in search of fame and fortune. Meanwhile, back at the prison, the riddle the Hag left in her cell before escaping, hinting at her plans, has been found. The remaining guards are unable to decipher the note, so a public plea for help is made over the radio, and none other but Darrel Dane, aka the Doll Man, just happens to be listening. Within seconds, Darrel has deciphered the riddle, and heads off to the American Authors' Society as the Doll Man in his Dollplane, to prevent the Hag from stealing Edgar Allen Poe's original manuscript of The Raven.
Unfortunately, the Hag gets away with the valuable manuscript, as she sets off magnesium flares which momentarily blind the Doll Man and prevent him from pursuing her.
With sight eventually restored, the Doll Man finds the Hag’s next riddle. He works out that the Hag’s next plan is to gate-crash the funeral of wealthy banker, Morris Frame, and steal the $50,000 his business partners plan on donating to charity in his memory. By the time the Doll Man arrives at the funeral, the Hag's plan is already underway – she has saturated the crowd with nitrous oxide, reducing them to a laughing rubble and allowing her to effortlessly take the money from them without resistance.
Once again, the Doll Man does his best to stop the Hag and her evil cronies, but she is one step ahead of him, and programs mechanical bats to attack him while she makes yet another clean getaway.
The following day, there's an ad in the personal columns addressed to the Doll Man. It's the Hag's riddle for her next lot of mischief. The Doll Man works out that the Hag is planning to steal the jewelled tiara that's being given as the prize for the best ice skater at that night's Ice Show at the indoor skating rink. What the Doll Man doesn’t know though, is how the Hag is going to go about this latest exploit.
That night as the show is under way, the Hag and one of her cronies are up in the roof of the rink, pouring dry ice all over the rafters. Due to the moist atmosphere in the skating rink, the dry ice reacts, and soon it begins raining inside. This causes the Ice Show to be brought to a premature close, and the tiara awarded early. This time, the Doll Man intends to be one step ahead of the Hag and her dastardly plans.
While the Hag thinks she has made it away scott free with the jewelled tiara, she is soon proven wrong when the police arrive at her residence to take her back to prison. The water the Doll Man had poured on the skating rink contained phosphorus, which made the Hag's footprints glow when she ran through the liquid. All her pursuers had to do, was follow the tracks.
That night, with the Hag safely back in prison, Martha Roberts, Darrel's fiancé, wonders why he hasn’t spoken a word all evening …
'The Hag' featured in issue 58 of Popular Yank Comics. It also features another Doll Man story, called 'A million dollar corpse'. To find out why the body in the story is worth a million dollars, when all other bodies are estimated at only $31(!), visit the Pictures and Manuscripts Reading Room.
Almost a dozen more Popular Yank Comics are held in the McGee Comic Collection. While I haven't read them as thoroughly as the ones in the John Ryan Collection, they do look great, going by the pictures alone. Visit the Petherick Reading Room if you would like to view them.