DC Histories: Doctor Fate

Here at DC Histories, we try to make sense of the continuity that perplexes, befuddles, and intimidates. We discuss what worked and what didn’t. This week, we’re talking about the various heroes who have gone by the name Doctor Fate.

Doctor Fate (Vol. 1) In-House Ad (1987)

Doctor Fate (Vol. 1) In-House Ad (1987)

Just one year after Batman debuted and two years after Superman, Doctor Fate hit comics in the pages of More Fun Comics #55. In that comics, a mysterious figure dressed in blue and yellow began battling evil with vaguely defined magic. In his first few adventures, Doctor Fate battled Wotan, a green skinned magician who wanted to use his magic to destroy the world. Kent Nelson, the man known as Doctor Fate, worked alongside his girlfriend Inza to defeat the madman.

From More Fun Comics #56 (1940)

From More Fun Comics #56 (1940)

The mask that Kent wore as Doctor Fate was intimidating and made him seem aloof. Shortly after his debut, Kent changed his outfit to include a half-mask only, allowing his mouth to be exposed while he went about the tough job of saving the world. This did make him seem a bit kinder, even when he was battling a giant spider created by a villain named Mr. Who.

From More Fun Comics #73 (1941)

From More Fun Comics #73 (1941)

As was the case for many Golden Age superheroes, how Kent Nelson became Doctor Fate wasn’t discussed too deeply. He didn’t have time to discuss his past, what with the continuous threats to the world he was battling. Eventually, Kent’s origins were discussed in depth. It was revealed that Kent was only a 12 year old boy in 1940 when he accompanied his archaeologist father to an Egyptian dig. When the pair uncovered an ancient room, unopened for years, it changed young Kent’s life. Inside the room, a sarcophagus was opened which released a strange gas into the chamber. This gas immediately killed Kent’s father but spared the boy.

From Secret Origins (Vol. 3) #24 (1988)

From Secret Origins (Vol. 3) #24 (1988)

From out of the ancient burial site came a figure who called himself Nabu. He took Kent and instantly aged the young boy into the prime of his life. At the same time, he also opened Kent’s mind to the workings of the universe and how he could manipulate the magic which flowed through everything. Kent had no say in the matter. Suddenly, he was Doctor Fate and could use the mystical artifacts Nabu granted him to save the world. He rarely questioned his new role.

Nabu was a Lord of Order, one of the cadre of beings who was constantly at war with the Lords of Chaos. He had lived in ancient Egypt where he used his powers to help that empire battle against Chaos. Eventually, he realized that his powers needed to be transferred into a human in order for them to still work. He was entombed to conserve his energies. When he was awoken from his slumber, he chose Kent as his human host. Kent’s father was immaterial and was killed off without a second thought. It was the mixing of Kent and Nabu that created the third personality known as Doctor Fate.

Soon after his debut, Kent joined the Justice Society of America. He spent a long time with the group, helping them overcome even more world threats. When the group retired in the 1951, Kent retired with them. He hung up his helmet and cape alongside his fellow heroes. In 1963, when the Justice Society was called back into action by the younger Justice League, Kent returned although this time, he donned his original helmet.

From Justice League of America (Vol. 1) #21 (1963)

From Justice League of America (Vol. 1) #21 (1963)

After his return to action with the JSA, Kent kept up his work as Doctor Fate. He worked out of Salem, Massachusetts where he lived in a tower that had no windows or doors. Inza, who he had married years earlier, lived in the house with him. It was a tough life for the pair, as they were both unwilling participants in the battle against evil. Inza did her best to stay alongside her husband, but it was a lonely life.

From 1st Issue Special #9 (1975)

From 1st Issue Special #9 (1975)

Slowly, Doctor Fate’s status quo began to change. For instance, during one adventure, Inza was actually sucked into Doctor Fate and became one with both Nabu and her husband. It was the first time she’d become an active part of the good Doctor and it turned out to not be the last.

From Immortal Doctor Fate #3 (1985)

From Flash (Vol. 1) #313 (1982)

Shortly after her this experience, Inza died. A despondent Kent continued on in his role, but it was pretty plain to Nabu that something had been lost in his mortal host. Whatever special something that Kent had brought to the Doctor Fate role had been lost. Realizing that a change was needed, Nabu sought out for a new mortal to pair with. He found one in Eric Strauss, a young boy. Once again, Nabu aged a pre-teen boy into a man and gave the young man the magical secrets of the universe.

However, something was different this time. Kent was still alive during Eric’s transformation and attempted to help the young boy take on the Doctor Fate mantel. As he started to coach to newcomer, he realized that Linda Strauss, Eric’s stepmother, was an essential part of the latest Doctor Fate’s makeup. It was when Eric and Linda bonded together that Doctor Fate was at his most powerful. That was the true form that Fate was supposed to take, just as Kent and Inza was supposed to be the first Doctor Fate’s base parts. Nabu had wanted to keep Kent under control so he’d lied to the young boy and forced himself into the equation. Kent saw no reason to lie to Eric and Linda.

From Doctor Fate (Vol. 1) #4 (1987)

From Doctor Fate (Vol. 1) #4 (1987)

With that, a Doctor Fate born of two humans made its debut. Doctor Fate’s sex was defaulted to male, since Eric was the person who Nabu had trained. However, when she was needed, Linda took over Doctor Fate and he became a she. For instance, when the spirit of Eric’s abusive father attempted to communicate with the former young man, Linda took over Doctor Fate and confronted her ex-husband. When Linda gave up the Doctor Fate body back to Eric, the body they co-inhabited reflected the change.

From Doctor Fate Annual (Vol. 2) #1 (1989)

From Doctor Fate Annual (Vol. 2) #1 (1989)

Meanwhile, the various spells and magical components that had kept Kent Nelson young since 1940 began to fail. He died soon after Eric and Linda became Doctor Fate. Nabu, realizing that he didn’t understand humans, took over Kent’s old body and began to live alongside the latest Doctor Fate.

These changes were written by J. M. DeMatteis, one of the writers of the then-current Justice League International. His take on Doctor Fate kept some of the humor that the JLI were known for, but it was obviously a much more deeply felt story for him. The first 24 issues of Fate’s ongoing series, and the 4 issue miniseries that preceded it, concerned topics like the afterlife, a personal form of reincarnation, discovering the spiritual hiding just beyond the material, and trusting that something bigger than yourself was looking out for you. Those 28 issues still hang together extremely well and seem to come from a personal place for DeMatteis.

Shortly after Eric and Linda became Doctor Fate, Eric died. His body hadn’t been properly prepared for the transformation and he slipped away. Linda found a way to become Doctor Fate without her partner. Between looking for Eric’s soul and battling the occasional villain in her own series, Linda joined the Justice League for a single adventure. Doctor Fate explained her new feminine appearance to a surprised Maxwell Lord.

Justice League America #31 (1989)

From Justice League America #31 (1989)

Fate’s status quo changed yet again shortly thereafter. It was discovered that Kent and Inza Nelson hadn’t died as everyone had thought. Well, their bodies had died but Nabu had spirited away their souls into Doctor Fate’s amulet. There, they were living happy, uncomplicated pseudo lives. These were the lives they would have lead if Nabu hadn’t taken control of Kent all those years ago. They were happy together.

From Doctor Fate (Vol. 2) #21 (1990)

From Doctor Fate (Vol. 2) #21 (1990)

When Eric and Linda Strauss moved on to the next phase of their existence, Nabu freed Kent and Inza’s souls from the amulet and forged new, young bodies for them. He then admitted that, yes, the pair could become Doctor Fate without him. With that, he disappeared from their lives and went back into the Helmet of Fate.

It should have been a happy time for the newly restored couple. However, the first time they went to form into Doctor Fate, the meshing of their souls didn’t happen. Inza became Doctor Fate by herself while Kent could only watch in wonder. After Kent inherited a house in a rundown New York City slum, Inza began to use her solo abilities to do more small things for people than Kent ever did. She learned that just by thinking about healing something, even electronics and buildings, she could fix it.

From Doctor Fate (Vol. 2) #26 (1991)

From Doctor Fate (Vol. 2) #26 (1991)

This began a truly wonderful story in which Linda began to create a utopia based out of a formerly poor area. Whatever the people of the community needed, Inza gave them. Everything from working washing machines to restored cars to healthy children were provided for by the new Doctor Fate. Unfortunately, things couldn’t be perfect. When a local father became depressed after losing his job, Inza was too busy to help him. When she next crossed paths with him, he was in the process of killing his family and then himself because he saw no way out for any of them.

When Inza saw this, she vowed that it would never happen again on her watch. Slowly, Inza’s influence extended to nearly a fourth of New York. Everyone under her protection had their thoughts monitored magically. If someone had a depressing thought, Inza’s magic zapped that person and changed their minds. Thought crime was suddenly real under this Doctor Fate’s reign.

Kent saw what his wife had became and attempted to stop her. Together, they realized that the reason that they couldn’t form into a single Doctor Fate was because Inza was suddenly being powered by a Lord of Chaos. However, it was never revealed if it was the Lord of Chaos who pushed Inza to such extremes or it was all herself. After defeating the being who gave her the power of Doctor Fate, Inza and Kent finally became the one, true Fate. However, before they could do that, the federal government called Inza before a committee to discuss her fascist control over the people of one of America’s most populous cities. In response to their questioning, Inza turned both the House and the Senate into newts for a short period of time.

From Doctor Fate (Vol. 2) #39 (1992)

From Doctor Fate (Vol. 2) #39 (1992)

Shortly after Kent and Inza finally became a single, stable Doctor Fate, their series was cancelled.

The next time Doctor Fate showed up, it was in the pages of Zero Hour. There, the villain named Extant, who earlier had been Hawk of Hawk and Dove fame, destroyed Doctor Fate by tearing him in two.

From Zero Hour #3 (1994)

From Zero Hour #3 (1994)

Doctor Fate was dead. He wouldn’t be seen again for five years. During that time, a man named Jared Stevens got the power of Doctor Fate and dubbed himself simply Fate. His story is something we will delve into at a later date.

In the opening pages of JSA‘s first issue, Jared was killed. The powers of Fate were up for grabs. Mordru, a Lord of Chaos and a magical supervillain, arrived on the scene to claim Doctor Fate’s power for himself. Before he could complete his plan, a child was born who was destined to become the next Doctor Fate. For the third time, Nabu, who still existed inside the Helmet of Fate, reached out and immediately aged this newborn from a baby to a full grown man. Suddenly, the new Doctor Fate battled back against Mordru and won. When the smoke cleared, it was revealed that the man standing in front of the JSA was the reincarnated Hector Hall, formerly dead son of Carter Hall, also known as Hawkman. The body that Hector was currently residing in was actually a baby born to the superheroes Hawk and Dove. As their powers came from the Lords of Order and the Lords of Chaos, Hector was all about the balance between the two opposing forces.

Also in the mix was Kent Nelson’s soul, who was still contained in Doctor Fate’s amulet.

From JSA #4 (1999)

From JSA #4 (1999)

Nabu stuck around Hector and tried to mold him into the kind of Doctor Fate that he could easily control. Hector resisted the Lord of Order’s influence and tried to do things his way. During a battle against a powerful foe, Nabu brought Hector into the amulet to give him a chewing out. Hector responded in slightly more aggressive way.

From Doctor Fate (Vol. 3) #4 (2004)

From Doctor Fate (Vol. 3) #4 (2004)

Sadly, just a few years after Hector’s return to superheroing, he was killed. During the Infinite Crisis, magic went haywire as the Spectre attempted to destroy all of it. He was fairly successful. During this assault, Hector was stripped away from his Doctor Fate accessories and sent onto a snowy mountain range where he died of exposure. As Mordru returned again to get Fate’s powers, Nabu took total control of the elements of Fate for the first time ever and became the good Doctor all by himself.

From JSA #80 (2006)

From JSA #80 (2006)

The strain of becoming Doctor Fate by himself was too much for Nabu to bear. Of course, the fact that the Spectre’s actions brought an end to the current Age of Magic didn’t help either. In the end, Nabu finally faded away. Before he went, he asked Detective Chimp to choose the next person to become Doctor Fate. Realizing this was too much for him to decide, Chimp asked Captain Marvel to throw the Helmet of Fate out into the universe. Fate itself would choose its next bearer.

From Helmet of Fate: Detective Chimp #1 (2007)

From Helmet of Fate: Detective Chimp #1 (2007)

The Helmet of Fate picked a new owner with a familiar name. Kent V. Nelson, distant nephew of the original Kent Nelson, found himself the owner of the Helmet. It was a huge change in his life as he had recently become homeless. When the Helmet found him, Kent had just been paid a few bucks to participate in a bum fight and had been tossed in a dumpster.

From Countdown to Mystery #1 (2007)

From Countdown to Mystery #1 (2007)

Of all the many Doctors Fate, Kent V. Nelson was the only one to actually be a doctor in his civilian life. Before the Helmet made its was to him, Kent had been a psychologist with a successful practice. However, depression and a poor marriage took their toll on Kent.

Not much was done with this new Kent Nelson. Steve Gerber, the co-creator of Howard the Duck and a writer of many other titles, was writing the miniseries in which Kent debuted. Sadly, he died before he could complete the 8 issue series. The story was left unresolved though writers Gail Simone, Mark Waid, Adam Beechen, and Mark Evanier did each write four page tales featuring possible endings.

Eventually, Kent did show up in the pages of the last pre-New 52 version of the Justice Society. In that book’s pages, Kent appeared to slip into his Doctor Fate role quite well. However, during one of his final adventures, he became branded.

From Justice Society of America (Vol. 3) #51 (2011)

From Justice Society of America (Vol. 3) #51 (2011)

That’s where Doctor Fate was last seen. However, it seems that Doctor Fate will next appear in Earth 2 #9, due out next month. What will his story be? Will Nabu be involved? Will it just be one man behind the mask or will a second person be involved? We’ll just have to find out together.


Jeff Reid swears that he will write about Jared Stevens soon. Until then, follow him on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Hollywood 1939
    Paris 1925
    DC Comics 1987

  2. Dr. Fate is one of tose characters tha. Know almos noting about, yet I have always liked. He just has. Cool name and. Kick ass costume. When you’re five years old, that’s enough to make you play with his action figure. Very informative article!

  3. Xtianhardy Xtianhardy (@Xtianhardy) says:

    Most of the exposure I have to Doctor Fate comes from the DC animated universe. I always loved the original pairing of Kent and Inza, and the idea of a magically created transgender superhero is something that would definitely catch the attention of contemporary readers, but I doubt DC would have the, erm, balls to do such a thing again given their very conservative approach to storytelling.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      Grant Morrison’s “Doom Patrol”. As for conservative, not always. Once again, Grant Morrison’s “Doom Patrol”, anything by Alan Moore, and technically Vertigo as well.

    • Xtianhardy Xtianhardy (@Xtianhardy) says:

      Point taken, I should have added “lately” in there. There was a time when DC was pushing boundaries and publishing some truly transgressive stuff. Obviously, any company that publishes The Filth isn’t in the business of appealing strictly to conservatives. That being said, it does feel like DC has been aggressively sanitizing their entire line lately, and I don’t feel like this is being done for the sake of appealing to children, but rather, the conservative tastes of older DC readers.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      Huh, I’ve never heard that word before or at least in that context. Although it sounds like it should refer to international conflicts, but I think I get your meaning. I don’t think making Alan Scott gay, giving Batwoman her own title (pre and post New 52) were done to appease older fans. I’d like to think DC is trying to better develop their universe now, steady and carefully (I live in hope). I would imagine that no one is really pushing for those characters, more often it’s for gay or lesbian or non-white characters. Marvel seems to be the one that does the controversial stuff, mainly for media attention and praise. I could be wrong, its not something I follow.

  4. dsaint dsaint says:

    The Steve Gerber/Justiniano Fate series was great. I had no idea who Gerber was at the time. His writing was so concise, well thought out and just plain better than most of the books I was reading at the time. His skill level made sense after I learned who he was. He had worked out a new system for Doctor Fate’s magic that worked better in the technological world we live in that I wish had been carried over into the other DC magic books. He and artist Justiniano had also worked in a lot of symbolism from Jung, particularly the anima/animus, to explore Kent’s problems. It also has some of Gerber’s satire. There is a great page of a shopping mall in hell with a herd of shoppers desperate to get in.

  5. IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

    I’m more familiar with Doctor Strange, but this article makes want to read some DC archives or whatever of Dr.Fate. I’ve been wondering when he/she’d pop back into the New 52, obivious it would be Earth 2. I don’t know if it counts, but what about when Ralph Dibney was carrying around the Helmet of Fate in “52″? Shouldn’t that be on the list?

    • Jeff Reid Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

      The Helmet of Fate in that story was actually part of a plan by the villain Felix Faust. It wasn’t the real deal. Since that was the case, I didn’t bring it up in the article.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      Right I remembered that, his plot was to steal Ralph’s body or soul by tenpting him with resurrecting his dead wife Sue.But I couldn’t remember if that helmet was the real thing or a replica. At the very least I thought it would count as an appreance, sort of like the Bat-zombie in “Blackest Night” was thought to be Bruce Wayne but was actually a clone.

  6. Spoons Spoons says:

    That Detective Chimp issue was awesome. Has he shown up in the New 52? I could see him being stuck on the sidelines for a while sadly.

  7. Skypants Skypants says:

    I just pray his helmet looks the same as before.

  8. bub64882 bub64882 says:

    I remember reading some of the series back in the day, and never being able to understand them. I really liked the character after “Legends”, but aside from his appearences in Justice League, he was impenetrable. Thanks for this!

    Dr. Fate played heavily into the first season of Young Justice, and it was AWESOME. Any fans of the character should check that out.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      That was awesome, in fact you could say Kent Nelson and the Hemet played a part in the first season. I love how Zatara tied into that as well.

  9. VichusSmith VichusSmith says:

    Has Wotan ever come back (so he could get the shit smacked out of him again), and who was Jennifer to the latest Dr. Fate?

    • Jeff Reid Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

      Wotan showed up here and there after the Golden Age. He last showed up battling Doctor Fate during DeMetteis’ run. Apparently, he may return when the New 52 Doctor shows up.

      Jennifer is Jennifer Pierce AKA Lightning. She’s the daughter of Black Lightning. I believe she and Kent were just friends but may have been more if that continuity continued.

    • VichusSmith VichusSmith says:

      Ahh! Thank you much.

  10. mutielover says:

    Hector Hall is one of the most “obscure-yet-prolific” characters of all-time. The son of Hawkman and Hawkgirl and Hawk and Dove. Married to Lyta Hall, who pre-crisis was Wonder Woman’s daughter. Father to the current incarnation of Dream of Endless. He’s been a host an avatar for Doctor Fate, an incarnation of Sandman, and Silver Scarab.

  11. ckl ckl says:

    What a terrific summary of a really complex character history! I really like these magical characters in DC lore. The vagaries and inconsistencies in the back-stories just seems to fit with a mystical hero like Dr Fate.
    Love the nod to M.C. Escher in the 1992 image

    (PS tiny correction: the villain in Zero Hour was Extant not Extract.)