Mighty Mites

The Atom, Ant-Man, the Wasp, Shrinking Violet, Doll Man, Bumblebee, Atom Ant, Blue Jay, Dr. Elvin "El" Lincoln, Chip Frye, Young Heroes in Love's Junior, Nun the Less, the Incredible Shrinking Man, Elasti-Girl, Stature, the Micronauts... Countless others too, since most superhero and SF franchises have attempted the shrunken hero meme and spent at least a day in the footsteps of an action figure, ant or microbe. Still, I find little respect for the littlest heroes from creators, despite my love of the premise. More often than not, the Mighty Mites have had trouble keeping solo series afloat, and even in teams, have at times been also given the power to enlarge their bodies (some on the list above were designed like that) as if writers found the power to shrink less than useful/dramatic. And perhaps that's why a lot of shrunken hero stories are one-offs, a fun idea to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.

Are they doing something wrong? Or is there an actual appeal they're just not seeing? To me, the shrinking hero's appeal is the same those one-offs are tapping into - the chance to look at our world from a different vantage point, a perspective and scale that makes it seem strange and new. Sure, it's hard to see that when a lot of the available imagery has a hero caber tossing pencils, but shrink down even more and they're standing on top of dust particles, like Saint-Exupéry's Little Prince, or visiting electron-sized planets. These stories can have the thrill of looking through a microscope, or seeing pictures of the micro-world that's right under your nose every day, if only you could see it. But many balk at the notion that a superhero could be menaced by a fire ant or an alley cat, and even critically successful Atom and Ant-Man series in the past few years have played up the comedy and quirkiness of the concept.

Another reason to like the shrinking hero (or even the simply diminutive hero like the Golden Age Atom who was an unpowered brawler standing a mere 5'1"; now Al Pratt is another Giant-Man, sigh), is that they are natural underdogs. And who doesn't like an underdog? Young readers are likely smaller than the world around them, smaller than their bullies, too short to reach those high shelves and their parents vices and secrets. The shrinking hero deals with that all the time and prevails. One should feel a certain elation at their exploits, and at the larger bully's humiliation when he loses to "the little guy". It's even easy to play at shrinking heroes, since their usual fighting size is that of an action figure. I used to explore my house and back yard from that POV all the time.

But perhaps the kids today have been taught that bigger is better and no one cares about the diminutive hero. Or maybe the trope just needs a boost, like Edgar Wright's Ant-Man movie. Even so, I fear the Mighty Mites will never truly get the respect they deserve, always be filed in the silly column, never be cool badasses. But I'll keep pulling for them.


Matthew E said...

I'm with you. Also, among your "countless others, too": Little Cheese, Mary Jane and Sniffles, Mighty Man, George Shrinks, the Littles, the Borrowers, Stuart Little, Tom Thumb, Thumbelina, Lemuel Gulliver (sort of)... it's great stuff.

Martin Gray said...

Yeah, I wish there was a regular Atom strip or similar. I even love heroes fighting pencils.

What I don't like is when a small hero stays somewhere everyone is small >cough Sword of the Atom<.

Siskoid said...

And any microverse stories over at Marvel.

Anonymous said...

I like the Atom (my favorite version is the short-lived Adam Cray from Suicide Squad) but shrinking in and of itself is not a very intimidating power. The writers and artists have to get extremely creative in order to make such a power useful (e.g. the Atom getting in Darkseid's brain during "Rock of Ages"). Gil Kane could pull it off, but he's the exception.

I've never been convinced by the "retains the power of a fully-sized human" trope common to shrinking heroes. If a fly hits as hard as a 180 lb man, would it knock a person out? I doubt it. At least the Atom can shift his mass as well.

That's not to say shrinking heroes automatically suck, but they're almost always less impressive or interesting than their teammates.

- Mike Loughlin


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