Fate is the Doctor (#SFWApro)

(Title borrowed from Fate is the Hunter, a dreadful movie, but I do love the title).
Reading THE GOLDEN AGE DOCTOR FATE ARCHIVES reminds me again that what I (or anyone) thinks of as the “definitive” version of a character isn’t necessarily so.
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When I read comics as a kid, I thought I knew who Doctor Fate was. A powerful wizard in a golden helmet, using his power to fight evil. He’d appeared in Silver Age stories and I’d read some of Golden Age adventures (by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman). His battles against Wotan, Karkull, Nyarl-Amen and others were eerie and enjoyable, and the helmet totally rocks. Seriously. Doctor Strange had much better stories, but he couldn’t match Fate’s look.
I knew from a couple of stories that he’d lost the helmet late in his Golden Age career in favor of a kind of half-helmet but still, the full helmet look was clearly the “definitive” Doctor Fate.
Only reading the archive, I discover I’m wrong. He wore the helmet for the first year of his career, but the half-helmet was the rule for the remaining three years he appeared in More Fun Comics.
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The change is more than just cosmetic. Not only does Fate now look more like a regular “masked mysteryman”—the helmet could as easily be a cowl—but instead of fighting sorcerers, he now battles ordinary thugs. While cracking wise, throwing jokes as often as he throws punches. And instead of holing up in his mystical tower, he now has a secret identity as a millionaire playboy (later he also became a doctor). And his occult powers are largely limited to strength and being bulletproof (but as he needs to breathe, gas or just hanging him can neutralize him).
In short, he’s interchangeable with any other crimefighter of the era: Dr. Midnite, Mr. Terrific, Wildcat, Firebrand, just a guy in a costume punching people out (I’m presuming that’s what sold—otherwise they’d have presumably reverted him to the original outfit and tone). And for anyone reading him back in the 1940s, this would presumably have been the “definitive” version.
And then again, the “definitive” Doctor Fate for most of the past thirty years didn’t show up until 1975.
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In Fate’s origin story, we learn he was Kent Nelson, a boy trained in ancient sorcery by Nabu, an extraterrestrial mystic. In a story for the First Issue Special anthology book, Martin Pasko and Walter Simonson reveal that when Kent puts on the helmet Nabu takes over. Kent Nelson isn’t really a hero, he’s just a host body.
This became the standard interpretation for Fate from then on (I don’t know what the status is in the reboot DC universe) and a key element of his late 1980s/early 1990s series. I would guess that anyone who first read Fate since that First Issue story thinks of that as a defining element of his character. Heck, I think of it that way myself—it just generates better stories.
Like I said, “definitive version” is often a hard concept to pin down.
(First two covers by Howard Sherman, last by Joe Kubert. All rights with current holders)

3 Comments

Filed under Comics, Reading

3 responses to “Fate is the Doctor (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: Amethyst, they did you wrong (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Meet the real spirit of vengeance (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: The Starman my destination | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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