Know Your Fates

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One of the more bizarre pulp super-heroes of the Golden Age seems fated for a big year - follow Dr. Fate from More Fun Comics to a brand new series in 2007.

Dr. Fate was first conjured to the printed page by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman in the pages of More Fun Comics #55 (May 1940).  Drawing more inspiration from pulp magazines and the works of H.P. Lovecraft than the booming superhero business, this first 6 page story gave no origin for the powerful mage, but did introduce his love interest and future wife, Inza.  By the end of 1940, Dr. Fate joined with many of his superheroic contemporaries as a charter member of the Justice Society of America (in All Star Comics #3).  Dr. Fate’s creators finally granted their protagonist a proper origin in the pages of More Fun Comics #67 (May 1941). 

Although the story has been tweaked and adjusted over the years, the basic premise remains that Dr. Fate was created after archeologist Kent Nelson discovered the tomb of Nabu (who was first an extraterrestrial, later a powerful mage and finally established as a Lord of Order).  Nabu granted Nelson the helmet, cloak and amulet of Fate, training the young man in the ways of magic.  Based out of an invisible tower in Salem, Dr. Fate and Inza explored the mysteries of the universe, even gaining the cover spot for More Fun Comics for several issues. 

By issue #71 (October 1941), however, Dr. Fate had become a more traditional superhero.  Gone was the full helmet, replaced by a half-helm, and his near limitless powers seemed to be reduced to being pretty strong and able to fly.  By March 1942, Dr. Fate was bumped from the cover feature of More Fun (by Green Arrow) and by 1944, he was gone from All Star Comics and the Justice Society as well.

Dr. Fate was one of the few Golden Age DC names that wasn’t revised or revitalized for the Silver Age of superhero comics.  The original character did pop up from time to time however, most notably as part of the popular annual Justice League/Justice Society crossovers and the short-lived All-Star Comics revival (1976-1978).  In the pages of DC First Issue Special #9, Martin Pasko and Walt Simonson attempted to give Dr. Fate a boost, using their stylish tale to fill-in and clarify Nelson’s backstory (it turns out that the Helmet of Fate contained the spirit of Nabu, who would influence the wearer. 

This had ultimately led Kent to adopt the less power and possession-free half-helmet, a point rendered moot when he went back to the classic helmet anyway).  This story, along with a back-up feature from The Flash #306-#313 (by Pasko, Steve Gerber and Keith Giffen), were collected by DC in 1985’s The Immortal Dr. Fate mini-series.  Following a brief role in DC’s continuity redefining Crisis on Infinite Earths and a short run as a member of the Justice League of America (beginning in Legends #6, April 1987, and ending in Justice League International #7, Nov 1987) Dr. Fate finally gained his own (original material) mini-series.


According to the story, Fate’s magic had allowed Kent and Inza to retain their youth.  By the 1980’s both had lost their will to live but before Kent was permitted to follow his bride into the afterlife, he was required to help find his successor.  In the 4-issue Dr. Fate mini-series (July-October 1987) by J.M DeMatteis and Keith Giffen, Eric Strauss (a 10-year old magically aged to adulthood) and his adoptive mother/wife Linda became the new gestalt Dr. Fate.  Kent Nelson joined Inza in the afterlife, while Nabu inhabited Kent’s body to serve as the mentor for the new Dr. Fate in their ongoing series that debuted in 1988.

Considering the character used the word “fate” in his name, DC Comics seemed to have a great deal of difficulty in determining Doctor Fate’s destiny over the next several years.  The gesalt Eric and Linda Strauss Dr. Fate continued to adventure (in both male and female forms) until issue #24 in 1991.  By this point, Eric and Linda had died, but their spirits were living on in the bodies of Eugene and Wendy Di Bella.  Kent and Inza Nelson were resurrected by Nabu, with Inza being the primary Dr. Fate under the guiding hand of writer William Messner-Loebs (issue #25, February 1991).  Loebs portrayed Dr. Fate in a new manner, with Inza taking a proactive, but more reckless, view of her magics. 

Following the cancellation of Doctor Fate with issue #41 (June 1992), Kent and Inza opperated as a gestalt Dr. Fate (male form) until the contriversial events of Zero Hour (1994).  In issue #3 of the company-wide crossover, Dr. Fate, along with mnay other Golden Age heroes, were quickly and uncerimoniously killed or destroyed.


DC launched Dr. Fate in an entirely new direction with Fate (beginning with issue #0 in October 1994).  With Kent and Inza dead once again, a mercenary grave-robber named Jared Stevens came into possession of Dr. Fate’s artifacts.  During a confrontation with a demon, the amulet exploded in Stevens’ face, imbuing him with magical abilities.  Stevens used the cloak as a wrap to repair injuries he sustained, and melted the helmet down into a dagger and several ankh-shaped darts.  The series passed through various hands, including John Francis Moore, Steven Grant and Len Kaminski but was unable to find an audience. 

With Fate ending at issue #22 (September 1996), DC took one more try at Jared Stevens under the guidance of Keith Giffen.  The Book of Fate #1 debuted in February 1997, and re-introduced Jared Stevens, effectively negating the continuity of the entire Fate series (in the years since however, other writers have referenced the 1994 Fate series, bringing into questions, just which story is “real”).  This time, Stevens’ series was cancelled after 12 issues.

After a decade of failed re-imaginings of Dr. Fate, James Robinson and David Goyer introduced a Dr. Fate that comic fans embraced.  The first arc of JSA began with the death of Jared Stevens and led the reformed Justice Society of America on a quest to help ensure a new Dr. Fate was born.  By the end of JSA #4 (November 1999), the writing duo managed to tie the diveregent interpretations of Dr. Fate together, before passing the mantle to a resurrected Hector Hall (a character with many ties to the DC Universe).  Hector continued to operate as Dr. Fate (omitting a brief period when a rival named Mordru usurped the mantle) in the pages of JSA, as well as several spin-off series, including his own 5-issue mini-series in 2003/2004. 


Owing to his ties to past Dr. Fates, Hector was frequently visted by past spectres of Fate, most notably the Nelsons, Jared Stevens and Nabu (with whom he shared an adversarial relationship).  As part of the Countdown to Infinite Crisis: Day of Vengeance series, Hector’s run as Dr. Fate came to an end, with his death in JSA #80 (February 2006).  Not long after, Nabu was again killed (in Day of Vengeance: Infinite Crisis Special, March 2006), shortly after passing the helmet of Dr. Fate along to find it’s next wearer.

The helmet of Dr. Fate next surfaced in DC’s weekly comics series, 52.  In 52 Week 18 (November 2006), the Helmet came into the possession of Ralph Dibny, the former Elongated Man.  Although Dibny has yet to wear the helmet, the escence of the magic headwear has been leading him on a magical journey of self-discovery. 

The helmet has also begun to appear on it’s own in a series of one-shots, set following the events of 52.  Already the helmet landed in The Helmet of Fate: Detective Chimp and The Helmet of Fate: Ibis the Invincible (January 2007), with Sargon the Sorceror, Zauriel and Black Alice issues shceduled for February and March. 

Once April arrives, the helmet will find a new host in the pages of Doctor Fate #1, by Steve Gerber and Paul Gulacy.  According to the sollicitation information, Gerber will be taking Fate back to basics, with the new doctor being the psychiatrist Kent Nelson, the grandnephew of the first Dr. Fate. 

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