In June 1963, in Batman 156, DC Comics decided have a little joke at the expense of that upstart superhero publisher, Marvel Comics.
In Batman’s absence, writer Bill Finger and artist Sheldon Moldoff had Robin team up with the shrunken superhero Ant Man. What th--? This was months after Marvel’s diminutive superhero Ant Man first donned his shrinking super-suit in Tales to Astonish 35 (Sept. 1962).
DC’s Ant-Man was a one-off, a fraud, a cheap crook who posed as a hero but failed to fool the Boy Wonder.
Maybe DC regarded the joke as a justifiable act of revenge. After all, in Showcase 34 (Sept.-Oct. 1961), DC had introduced its real shrinking superhero in Gil Kane’s elegant feature The Atom. Of course, Marvel could claim to have introduced Hank Pym at virtually the same time — Tales to Astonish 27 (Jan. 1962) — albeit in one of their “monster” stories, The Man in the Ant Hill, and not a superhero story.
In any case, it’s interesting to compare the static art of Sheldon Moldoff to the dynamic art of Jack Kirby on the same idea. Marvel was on the way up, while Batman was on the way out. Threatened by cancellation, the Batman title would only be saved by Carmine Infantino’s “New Look” in 1964 and the popular TV show in 1966.
The sudden resurgence of the shrinking man concept in comics in the early 1960s certainly owes something to the fact that the long-running Quality superhero Doll Man had ceased publication in 1953, leaving a popular gimmick unused.
But the talented writer Richard Matheson probably also deserves some of the credit. Matheson’s innovative 1956 science fiction novel The Shrinking Man had become the critically acclaimed 1957 hit film The Incredible Shrinking Man. So we can probably thank Matheson for, among other things, Ant-Man, the Atom and the current popular culture plague of zombies (all direct descendants from his 1954 novel, I Am Legend).
People always wonder where a writer gets his ideas. In this case, we know. Matheson said he found the spark of The Shrinking Man in the film Let’s Do It Again, a 1953 remake of the stage and screen comedy The Awful Truth.
“I had gotten the idea several years earlier while attending a movie in a Redondo Beach theater,” Matheson recalled. “In this particular scene, Ray Milland, leaving Jane Wyman's apartment in a huff, accidentally put on Aldo Ray’s hat, which sank down around his ears. Something in me asked, ‘What would happen if a man put on a hat which he knew was his and the same thing happened?’”