1st Issue Special #9 (1975)

1st Issue Special #9 (December, 1975)
“dr. fate”
Writer – Martin Pasko
Artist – Walt Simonson
Editor – Gerry Conway
Cover Price: $0.25

Today I was planning to cover a reader request… the same request I was planning to cover last week, actually.  The thing of it is, I still can’t find it!  It stinks, because I know it’s one of those books that I always see when trolling the bins… except, now that I need it… it’s nowhere to be found.  I’ma keep lookin’ tho.

Today we’ll do some more 1st Chrissue Special.  I’m pretty sure this is the last one I actually own.  The ones I need don’t seem to show themselves too often.  Still gotta track down Metamorpho, Creeper, the Dingbats and, of course… Lady Cop.

Dr. Fate is alerted by the Crystal Orb of Nabu that something is amiss.  He ponders what it might be, as he has never seen it shine with such urgency.  At the very same time at the Boston Museum, curator Professor Anderson is about to show a Dr. Magill their newest relics… from a religious cult, circa 2025 BC.

Moments later, Dr. Fate arrives… and finds both the Professor and Doctor, dead… their bodies are broken, and it appears that they died with a look of sheer terror on their faces.  Before he can even stop to ponder whodunnit, Fate is “greeted” by the mummified form of Khalis!  The mummy has the ridiculously convenient power of “getting stronger” while his enemy “gets weaker”.  Where can I get a power like that?

Anyhoo, it isn’t long before Fate is overpowered… and Khalis has stolen his amulet.  Fate staggers back to his feet, however, Khalis is long gone.  Fate returns home… and drops himself off.  That is to say, Dr. Fate drops his human host, Kent Nelson off… right at the feet of his exhausted wife, Inza.  She tries to question him about what’s just happened… but he cannot remember.  Annoyed, she goes to fix him a cup of tea.  She returns to find him already fast asleep… which is apparently all she can stands (she can’t stands no more), because it’s now that she decides to leave him.

Kent wakes up a bit later, however it is stated that “half of him” heard Inza’s words… and that same “half of him” cried.  We’ve got no time for that noise, though… it’s time to study.  Kent locates the story of Khalis in some old yellowed texts… and we get ourselves a bit of a flashback.  Khalis was referred to as a “Mad Priest” who worshiped Anubis.  Eventually, a mountain crumbled and crushed the existing temple… and Anubis showed himself/itself presenting Khalis with the Amulet of Anubis.  It’s pretty funny actually, we see the giant form of Anubis… and it’s just like “Hey, good job… here ya go!”

From here, Khalis grew in power… and commanded his slaves to erect the “mightiest of pyramids” in tribute to Anubis.  One day, a worshiper of Nabu made his presence felt… breaking Khalis’ spell of control over the people.  He was then… get this, mummified alive!  These Nabu-types sure don’t mess around.  As he is wrapped, Anubis curse him with “life in death” until he can recover the talisman.  Which leads us back to the present, and Kent Nelson’s “Aha!” moment… the Amulet of Nabu is actually the Amulet of Anubis!

He reflects on how Nabu never told him what the amulet meant… only that Khalis would eventually return for it.  We now go into Kent’s own secret origin.  When he was only 12, he accompanied his father, archaeologist Sven Nelson on an expedition of the Sumerian Civilization.  He stumbled across the wizard, Nabu in suspended animation.  The preserving gases escaped the chamber… and killed Kent’s father.  From here, Nabu wiped his mind of the pain of the loss… and, was given his Doctor Fate powers.  Nabu is kind of a jerk, no?

Back in the present, Inza Nelson has checked into a hotel.  She regrets walking out on her man, and decides to head to the Museum to see if she might find any information he could use.

By now, Fate has once again confronted Khalis.  Rather than unleash his mystical energies all at once, he decides to first disorient his foe with physical attacks.  When the time is right, Fate summons all of the light in Boston… and positively bathes Khalis in it!  It was effective, however, the baddie fled before too much damage could be done.

As Dr. Fate recovers his strength, he is joined by Inza Nelson… who has a something that might just help out.  When she rummaged through the museum, she was able to procure a fragment of the mummy’s sarcophagus… which reveals Khalis’ magical name of coffin-sealing hoodoo.  Fate can use this!

Meanwhile, as the lights return to Boston… the normal skyline appears to have been replaced by an Anubis Sphinx and pyramids!  Khalis holds the amulet aloft… and it’s not long before Anubis itself shows up… and he’s ticked!  Not all that keen on being disturbed, Anubis refers to Khalis as an overzealous fool.  Eventually Anubis comes around… saying he’ll consider helping Khalis is he’s able to kill Dr. Fate.  Fair enough.

Fate arrives… and Khalis sics the “Claws of Anubis” on him.  They look like ribbons with spiked ends… and they soon wrap around our hero.  With a burst of mystical energy, Dr. Fate frees himself… and proceeds to read the the sarcophagus seal… Hetepkhet! Tefnakhte! Amon-Ra Menteptah!  The Egyptian Hieroglyph Dictionary (and Google) reveals that Hetep khet is a district in Fayum, Tefnakhte was the first Egyptian King of the 24th Dynasty, Amon-Ra is the Egyptian Sun God and part of the Egyptian Zodiac, and Menteptah is likely a misspelling of Mernteptah who was the fourth ruler of the 19th Dynasty… of interest, Martin Pasko used Menteptah in an issue of Star Trek too.  Anyhoo, enough remedial (and likely inaccurate) Egyptian Christory, all that matters is… this does the trick!

The story wraps up with Kent thanking Inza for her help… which is all his wife needs to hear, she now thinks there might be room for all three of them (she, Kent, and Dr. Fate) after all.

Dr. Fate isn’t a character I think about all that much… I also don’t know a whole heckuva lot about him, so this was a really good introduction for me.  I was a bit tentative about covering this issue, because I was afraid it would bore me… and while it didn’t completely rock my socks, I gotta say that I did enjoy it.

I appreciated how the backstory of Khalis was woven into the story via Kent doing research of his own.  Rather than just give us an expositional info-dump, we were able to follow an interesting historical narrative.  Kent learning the true nature (and origins) of what he believed to be the Amulet of Nabu led us right into a retelling of Dr. Fate’s own origin.  I think this worked really well, and dug its placement in the story.  The issue didn’t start with a boring/awkward recap of what we “should” already know… and I was happy about that.

Inza Nelson gets a bit of panel time here… and seems almost cartoonishly conflicted.  I mean, I get that she’s frustrated… but she turns on a dime more than once here.  She walks out on her husband because Dr. Fate kept him out all night (and for falling asleep while she was speaking to him)… thinks better of it, comes to his rescue… then wraps up thinking that maybe Dr. Fate ain’t all that bad to be around after all.  Just weird.  I guess with only twenty-odd pages to fill, the reactions and resolutions need to come quickly.

The battle scene was a bit of a letdown to me.  I dunno, it’s like… and I think I’ve used this analogy (if this even is an analogy) before… it’s like when kids play make-believe, and like one pretends to shoot the other… only to learn they were wearing a bulletproof vest.  Then, they throw a fireball… only to learn that the bulletproof vest is also fireproof… ya know?  The stakes keep raising… and Dr. Fate and Khalis were able able to keep one-upping one another.  I mean, during the open Khalis described his power as “getting stronger” while his opponent “gets weaker”.  Like, what is he… 10?  That’s a ridiculously overpowered way to be.  It’s a good thing he didn’t think to challenge Superman, right?

I suppose it would be silly of me not to mention the early Walt Simonson art here… which was pretty fantastic.  He has such an eye for amazing exhibitions of magical power… as well as for the more grounded human characters.  Every panel was impressive.

Overall, I think this is one folks should look out for… Dr. Fate fan or not.  As I mentioned, Dr. Fate is a character who (outside of his Justice League and JSA appearances) I know precious little about.  This issue would serve any DC Comics fan well as a primer for the character… and hey, even if the story ain’t for you, it’s still got that Simonson art.

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