Secret Origins #8: Shadow Lass and Doll Man

Ryan Daly and guest Kyle Benning review the origin of Shadow Lass from issue #8 of Secret Origins. Then, Diabolu Frank joins Ryan for the story of the incredible shrinking superhero, Doll Man.

Listen to Episode 8!

Subscribe to Secret Origins Podcast on iTunes!

Sample pages from Secret Origins #8, written by Paul Levitz with art by Tom Mandrake (Shadow Lass), and Roy Thomas and Murphy Anderson (Doll Man), and a cover by Steve Lightle.

#8cover #8page1 #8page5

#8page11 #8page21 #8Bpage1

#8Bpage7 #8Bpage14 #8Bpage16

Plus, a sample from Doll Man’s 1939 debut in Feature Comics #27, art by Will Eisner.

Doll Man page

Check out Kyle Benning on King-Size Comics, Giant-Size Fun Podcast

Check out Diabolu Frank’s Martian Manhunter podcast, the Idol-Head of Diabolu

And his DC Bloodlines Podcast at:

And his Diana Prince Wonder Woman Podcast at:

And the Marvel Super Heroes Podcast at:

“Premonition” (Theme for Secret Origins Podcast) by Neil Daly.

Additional music this episode: “Shadows of the Night” by Pat Benatar; “Gigantic” by The Pixies.

Leave a comment, Secret Admirers!

22 thoughts on “Secret Origins #8: Shadow Lass and Doll Man

  1. I haven’t gotten a chance to listen yet, but I have to correct one gigantic error on my part. I incorrectly listed my intro the Legion. I cited an issue of Adventure Comics that doesn’t even have the Legion in it! I realized it as soon as Ryan and I got off the call! What I meant to say was Superboy & the Legion #242. Had the 2s and 4s down, but wrong order & series!!!

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  2. Great episode with great guests!

    I am a big Legion guy so I can hopefully fill in some of the gaps here. As you say, this reads more like a mystical story that science fiction. I have always liked the idea of the Mallors as being a legacy family of heroes. And I think Mandrakes moody inky art worked well for this character’s story and powers.

    Some points-
    1) Grev does indeed become a part of the Legion lore, acting as ‘Shadow Kid’, joining the Legion Academy, and eventually becoming the ‘hero’ of Talok VIII. I always wondered how Shadow Lass could join the Legion, in essence abandoning her post as the world defender she was meant to be.

    2) One of the defining parts of her character is her relationship with Mon-El and how they are chummy with the Ultra Boy/Phantom Girl couple as well. I would have liked just a bit more of that stuff to fill in newer readers. At the end of the Levitz/Giffen run, she marries a dying Mon-El. In the 5YL stuff, she takes off into deep space with ‘Valor’ to explore. Grev is seen on Talok.

    3) I wonder if the ‘grandaughter vs niece’ thing was a way to clear up some stuff about her relationship with Grev. As far as I know they have always been cousins. But if in early issues he was said to be her brother, maybe Levitz wanted to comment on some muddy lineage stuff.

    4) I do find it interesting that she is the first of the Legion to get a Secret Origin. Was the world clamoring to hear her origin?

    As for the Doll Man story, you guys hit on most of my points – the beefcake, the undercurrent of sexual energy, and the insanity of taking the potion himself. For me, the high point is the art. I don’t know how old Murphy Anderson was when this was published, but he could still bring it.

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    1. I’ve often wondered about point #4, myself. Though I love the character, Shady has always been a 2nd tier Legionnaire, & I’d have thought a more marquee member like Sun Boy or even Dawnstar would sooner get the S.O. treatment.

      Strangely, Shady (or Tasmia Mallor, at least) has gotten 2 solo origin stories, the 2nd coming a dozen years later in Legends of the Legion when she went by the name Umbra in the Legion’s second incarnation. Umbra was written with an edge and a greater emphasis was put on her warrior nature, which made her much much more interesting, IMO.


  3. This is the first issue of Secret Origins I purchased back in the day. While I’d like to think it was the Steve Lightle cover which persuaded me to pick it up, if I had to be honest it may have been the Doll Man origin which sealed the deal.

    Doll Man has always intrigued me ever since a much younger me at the beginning of his comic book obsession read Action Comics 437, a 100-page giant, with a Doll Man reprint at the end of the book. Doll Man may have the first size changing costumed hero I had encountered and since the concept of back issues or comic shops were completely unknown to me, it took a couples before I encountered him again in an issue of Freedom Fighters.

    Looking back at this issue, I’m sure I was disappointed the Steve Lightle pencils didn’t continue into the interior of the book; However, thanks to his work on Spectre, I think prefer Tom Mandrake’s pencils to Steve Lightle’s these days.

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  4. Ah ha, “Shadows of the Night,” Shadow Lass, I get it!. I suppose it fits a little better than Van Halen’s “Running with the Shadows.”

    My first Legion issue was Superboy & the Legion of Super-Heroes #229, the issue following the death of Chemical King. This was during the height of the Mike Grell era. As luck would have it, my cousin had the preceding issue and I got to check it out. The whole concept of a sci-fi series, with young super-heroes was a big hit with me. I read sporadic subsequent issues, all the way up to the Great Darkness Saga, and would periodically stop back in to read. I loved the epic nature of the Levitz and Giffen stuff; but, I still prefer the more swashbuckling space opera of the older stories, especially when Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell were the artists, and the series oozed with 1970s sensibilities. Well, except for Corset Boy, I mean Cosmic Boy’s costume. The thing that cemented the Legion, for me, was the Limited Collector’s Edition, with the wedding of Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl.

    Shadow Lass was never a big favorite, though she had one of the sexier costumes and made a nice couple with Mon-El, who was a favorite. I do tend to agree that the Legion worked best with Superboy or Supergirl. This story is okay; but has a very generic fantasy feel to it, which doesn’t really grab me. The Legion was always sci-fi, to me, and I think I would have preferred something more along those lines. It’s a decent little tale, though.

    Touching on Ryan’s comparison to the X-Men, there would be no modern X-men, without the Legion. It was Cockrum’s work on the series that helped inspire and inform his work on those formative “all-new” X-Men issues. Heck, Nightcrawler was originally conceived as a character for a Legion spin-off book, the Outsiders (not Batman’s team).

    Yeah, I remember life before Google, when the internet was called things like a bibliography and an index. Let some of these young whipper-snappers drag out volumes of encyclopedias when they have to write a paper, instead of copying and pasting a wikipedia article (which is lacking proper citations). We also had to haul those encyclopedias uphill, through snow, while fighting polar bears. You kids had it so easy!

    Meanwhile, i first encountered Doll Man in the Freedom Fighters just as the series was coming to an end (I bought the last two issues off the newsstand). I enjoyed the Quality characters and Doll Man’s 40s stories were very memorable, visually. It’s cool to see Murphy Anderson channeling Lou Fine, who along with Reed Crandall, really made those Quality heroes shine.

    So, Martha Roberts was being blackmailed by an Austrian 80s pop artist? Wow, that’s different!

    Shout out to Shere Khan, the greatest tiger of literature, apart from the bouncy one who bumps into Poohs!


  5. Wow, Roy Thomas really piddled in your cornflakes there, in the feedback section! I agree with most of what you said; but, I just kind of shake my head at Roy. Then again, I got pretty bent out of shape by the Image guys, when they got started; but, I was much younger then. Roy’s a bit cranky in his old age; I can relate to that a bit (though he’s got some years on me). Quite frankly, I think Matt Wagner is a much better writer than Roy. Thomas wrote some great material; but, most of it wasn’t terribly deep. Mage, Grendel, and Sandman Mystery Theater went far deeper into the human psyche, adult relationships, the nature of heroisim, the destructive nature of violence (even in good causes), and a lot more. I’m not sure I’d want to read Wagner on a super-team book; but, on a pulpy character he is golden. Thomas is probably closer on his Conan stories, though he could do the superhero epics. He just seemed to wrap up his mainstream career (for all intents and purposes) trying to relive the comics of his youth. I suppose that isn’t much different than Geoff Johns revisiting old DC stories from the 80s.

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  6. An interesting issue of Secret Origins, and a great episode discussing it. I always thought Shadow Lass had a cool visual, but had little interest in her beyond that. I never completely warmed up to Tom Mandrake. I understand he fit this story, but I was never huge into his heavily dark work. Mandrake had actually come off a recent run on Batman, two minutes before the post-Crisis universe kicked in.
    ‘ve always been a fan of Murphy Anderson, however. Probably owed to his work on the DC licensing art from the 60s that was still in use in the late 70s. I think it was Rob (not Shagg) who commented on his “sock feet” boots, but I can deal with them, myself. Doll Man was never a favorite character, but I thought he had a nice simple visual. It goes without saying his look was heavily influenced (read: ripped off) of Superman, and you have to wonder why DC didn’t sue. I mean, Captain Marvel may have aped some powers, but Doll Man was one chest insignia away from a cease and desist letter.

    In All-Star Companion Volume 4 (or was it Alter-Ego #100?), Roy Thomas shares some Gil Kane layouts for a Ray origin story. Apparently Murphy Anderson and Kane “fought” over who was going to get to draw the Lou Fine/Reed Crandall quality characters. Kane also started on a Firebrand (the original male hero, not Thomas’ Danette Riley) origin story as well.

    As for Thomas’ comments…yeah. If you read Alter-Ego #100, which examines Thomas’ years at DC in depth, you get a better understanding of where he’s coming from, in terms of his relationship with DC. Essentially, Thomas was promised the moon in regards to the Earth-Two/Golden Age characters, and slowly had that moon chipped away at. He had a few scraps of cheese left at the end. So it seems any use of “his characters” after his somewhat forced departure from DC is a bone of contention. I’m not defending his position, just offering a possible explanation from my perspective. Reading Alter-Ego or the All-Star Companions, which I do love, you do get the idea that maybe Thomas has a bit of an over-developed sense of ownership when it comes to these characters. But given what’s been done to many of them in the past 10 or so years, you can’t really blame him for thinking he may know best. He certainly knows better than many who have followed him. Yikes.


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    1. I get Roy being cranky with DC. He had a troubled relationship with them when he started out in the business, left Marvel over editorial squabbles, and got a lot of promises from DC which started to erode when they were no longer convenient. That’s gonna sour you a bit. However, I do think the quality of his work suffered in the later half of his DC tenure. Maybe it was the stress of dealing with things. At the same time, I think he could have used some outside editorial oversight to rethink some things; someone like Archie Goodwin, who had a knack for guiding people to better stories, not just exert power. I think that was an issue when he edited his own stuff at Marvel and it was an issue at DC. I can understand be resistant to editorial advice from some young punk with few or no credits; but, an experienced sounding board would have been beneficial. I also think Roy wasn’t always good at tailoring his stories to fit the strengths of his artist.

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  7. Bit late to the party, and I’m only halfway through. Always need to rest my head before Frank starts talking.

    Shadow Lass… The question of why she would get an origin is one I’ve often asked. Roy’s choices (as editor) were sometimes a little strange, though probably based on what creative teams actually wanted to do. With specific Legion members, there aren’t that many options in the first place, since so many simply have the powers their whole race have. Shadow Lass’ is at least unusual, even among Legionnaires who DO have an origin. Somebody should do a Secret Origins of the Legion where it’s just page after page of parents getting together and having kids with powers just like theirs! Note that the Mallor family is also represented in the L.E.G.I.O.N., making Shadow Lass’ one of the longer legacies in the DCU.

    My first contact with her was in the 80s (pre-Baxter) Legion, and among the first issues I actually collected was a story that did return us to Talok VIII (in Tales of?). Actually, I think I chronologically met Shadow Kid first, in a Legion Academy (LSH 304?) story. All top of my head stuff, collection’s not at my fingertips. As for the Legion proper, I’ll wait until the team gets a Secret Origin. In any case, as a member of the Legion of Super-Bloggers, I’ve spilled enough ink on the subject already.


  8. Doll Man… Frank’s been reading the Quality Companion, hasn’t he? (I’m almost done myself.)

    Eternity Comics made me buy a Doll Man #1 comic in 1991 (okay, maybe it was the naked chick the eponymous character was sitting on that did it), but turns out it was some B-movie Doll Man.

    My first contact with Doll Man was in DC Comics Presents feat. Superman and the Freedom Fighters. I like shrinking heroes a whole lot (like Frank), and prefer Doll Man to the Silver Age Atom, really.


  9. One thing I don’t think you got to in the podcast was that Shadow Lass was intended by Jim Shooter to be the Legion’s first black member. Well, that’s what I always understood. A wee Google has the excellent Brian Cronin revealing that rather than being created wholesale by Shooter and Curt Swan (praise be HIS name), Shady originated as a BoLB fan suggestion, and it was the two readers, George Vincent and Mike Rickford, who intended her to be black. There you go!

    And I dunno about vampire parallels, but circa Legion of Super-Heroes #300, she certainly had the look!


    1. One of the faults of the Legion series was a tendency to look for diversity in alien races; but, they never seemed to depict much of it with Earth itself. Granted, the attraction was space and other worlds and races; but, they tended to make Earth seem rather generic. Of course, they had a ton of human Legionnaires; but, that was fairly standard for the time, apart from the Valerian comics, in France. It just seemed like every time they tried to fix this, they made a hash of it, like with Tyroc. The second Invisible Kid was better. They got better with non-human aliens, by the 80s.

      It’s funny, the first Legion story I read was centered in Australia and they made it seem so exotic. Why this would be so, in the 30th Century, is beyond me. It wasn’t that exotic in the 20th, though this was before Mad Max and Crocodile Dundee (and Jocko; oy!). It was like Australia was some alien world.


  10. As usual, really enjoyable episode! Kyle and Frank were great choices for guest hosts! Few random thoughts…

    1) Was it possible Grev was retconned into Shadow Lass’s origin for this tale? I know Grev had been around for a while, but he wasn’t in her first appearance. So maybe her origin was told in Legion stories, then later Grev was introduced. So for this story they shoe-horned Grev into the story for retro-continuity sake. Just my complete guess work. This is where Anj, Greg, or Siskoid will tell me how wrong I am. I’m used to it.

    2) I love that I’ve become the poster boy for acknowledging that a woman is attractive. Like using me as a shield protects yourselves against being accused of being sexist. Ha! Love hearing my name, so keep hiding behind me boys! 🙂

    3) Frank mentioned he thought I was not a fan of Murphy Anderson. He’s sort of right, sort of wrong. For years I thought I didn’t like Murphy Anderson art. However, after going through WHO’S WHO, I now realized that I LOVE Murphy Anderson artwork, but I’m not a fan of Curt Swan’s art (who Murphy Anderson often inked). For years I had mistakenly thought I didn’t like Murphy because I was mostly exposed to him as an inker for Swan.

    Keep up the great work! Love this podcast so much!!


    1. What’s crazy is that Shadow Kid actually appeared before Shadow Lass. Grev’s first appearance in Adventure #344. Hers is as an Adult Legion statue in #354, making her first real appearance in #365 and joining the Legion in #366. To my knowledge, there isn’t an origin story where pre-Shadow Grev and Tasmia are hanging out together. Grev would not appear again, nor be acknowledged as a Mallor until LSH #304 (the Legion Academy issue, which consequently was my first issue of the title). I think much of what we see of him here is based on information from Tales of the LSH #318.


      1. No wait. Here it is. Am looking at Secrets of the LSH #2 (1981) and the two of them are overcome by darkness at the same time. They do share that origin, at least since the start of the decade (which predates Grev’s Academy appearance by 2 years).


  11. Aside from brief fruitless quarter bin flirtatious, I didn’t find my way into the Legion until the Zero Hour reboot, initially written by Mark Waid but swiftly replaced by Tom Peyer & Tom McCraw. I loved the book for a few years and it fueled my willingness to buy back issues, mostly from the Paul Levitz period. I have to confess that divorced from its point of publication, I find The Great Darkness Saga wildly overrated, and have enjoyed unheralded stuff like the first reboot Mordru arc, White Triangle, and several 5YL storylines better as recommended “epics,” though I prefer the quieter character stuff. I’ve probably read a few hundred Legion comics, but this is one of those properties like X-Men where that still leaves me a mere “casual” fan. I got bored with the Legion by the end of the nineties, and used the cancellation of the core reboot series under Abnett, Lanning & Coipel to drop the team as they progressed into Legion Lost/Worlds/etc. I tried the Waid/Kitson reboot for a bit, but didn’t feel they were headed in the right direction. I came back for the Shooter run, but once that ended and another few reboots were in the offering, I gave up (plus I disliked what I read from Levitz 2000.) Legion is now a hard sell to me, and I don’t think there’s anyone favored by DC Entertainment that can work toward the core appeal of the book (not that the theoretical Twitter-bating DC You flavoring wouldn’t suit them perfectly.)

    I think Shadow Lass is a cute blue chick who romanced Mon-El but was otherwise in my reading a peripheral character. She’d turn up again and again as part of pre & reboot teams because she had a fan following that I was never given any serious motivation to join simply because she was just there and had “darkness” powers like a bunch of other characters who were better developed (and I’m even talking Nightshade here.) The sword and space-sandals fantasy of her origin may have been novel in the late Silver Age, but in the ’80s it played as late to the party with an open bag of stale off-brand chips. There was such a glut of this type of material for fifteen years prior to the SO issue, and having done my obligatory adolescent tour through Cimmeria, this yarn was especially bloodless. Dude overthrows a technologically advanced alien regime by climbing a tower and stabbing an orb-thing with a sword? Then he inexplicably gains shadows powers which he conveniently explicates upon postmortem generations later to a pair of descendants who happened upon one another in the midst of a desert wasteland? And Shadow Lass’ actual core origin is that she inherited some super powers that she developed over an undefined period of time which she employed to handily defeat new oppressors in a panel or so? You boys need to pass me whatever yummy brownies full of happy herbs you ingested before this podcast, because this story SUCKS from its hoary purple prose scroll chapter openings to its understandable but still undesirable choice of artist. Even the lettering was amateurish, and it was by John Workman! I’m two weeks late replying to an episode where I was intimately familiar with half the contents because it took me that long to force myself to finish reading the one lousy story.

    As for the second segment, I wish your co-host had spent a fraction of the time researching that long Quality Comics tangent to look into the dictionary definition of the prefix “co-.” Way to suck all the air out of the room, dude. It was like he thought the internet was going to run out of bandwidth tomorrow and he was racing to get the last ever podcast out. I guess he was taking a breath through his nose every time he said “uhh” like he was playing a lethal version of the Robin Scherbaysky drinking game. Not looking forward to that dillhole showing up around here again. Can we force a ban through a listener referendum?

    I don’t own a copy of the Quality Companion. Most of my reference came from the Steranko History of Comics and internet reading.

    I don’t particularly like Sandman, but I like contacts or wandering a convention floor half blind less, and my gut would look better in a suit than spanx. If I ever cosplayed, I’d need a character like Wesley Dodds to hide behind for my own comfort and likely the sartorial desires of other convention attendees.

    I gave up on questioning Drunkula’s intentionally atypical music choices episodes ago, but I’ll give Pixies a thumbs up while offering my own Doll Man pick as Elvis Costello’s “Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s A Doll Revolution.)”


  12. My only exposure to the Legion was the one issue I had in the 80s (the one where Superboy died). Years later, I read a few Legion Lost (New 52). It never grabbed me.

    Doll Man intrigued me from the start but I think I never saw him again after this issue of Secret Origins. It never occured to me how bonkers it was for him to down that formula without testing it on a drunk hobo first.

    I keep thinking “I’m going to skip that episode cause I don’t care about those particular characters,” but you make even the ones I don’t care about seem fun! I really have to hit the dollar bins for these old issues.


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