Doctor Fate #1 (July, 1987)
Writer – J.M. DeMatteis
Illustrator – Keith Giffen
Inks – Dave Hunt
Letters – Agustin Mas
Colors – Anthony Tollin
Editor – Denny O’Neil
Cover Price: $1.50
Here’s one of those books that I’m going to constantly second-guess myself over. Ya see… look at the cover. The title of the book is “Dr. Fate”, as in Dee-Arr (period) Fate. Ya dig?
Inside in the indicia, however, the book is listed as Doctor Fate… as in Dee-Oh-See-Tee-Oh-Arr Fate. So the big question is… how in the hell do I list it?! I’ve waffled back ‘n forth, even as I’m writing this piece… and, finally settled on… Doc… no, make that Dr…. er, maybe not… dammit.
Okay, screw it… this one’s gonna be “Doctor Fate”… which I’m sure is going to wind up being the wrong-er of the two.
We open with Dr. Fate prowling through a snow-covered street… hot on the heels of Typhon, Lord of Chaos. He calls out for the beast to show itself, however, it sends its “sons” instead. Fate continues blasting away, all the while calling out for Typhon… for he, being a Lord of Chaos, is responsible for “spreading lunacy”, something that we might assume was happening a whole lot at the time.
Finally, Typhon himself shows up… and accuses the Immortal Dr. Fate of no longer being, ya know, immortal. Realizing that he might just be able to kill his foe this time out, Typhon goes on the offensive. He claims that the time of the Lords of Order has passed… and time now belongs to the Lords of Chaos. Before getting too deep into battle, Dr. Fate… vanishes!
He has called… somewhere, where he is chatted up by the Lords of Order. He’s referred to as Nabu… which is the Lord of Order occupying the aging body of Kent Nelson. He asks why they’d summoned him, and they explain… the battle with Chaos is futile… because the battle with Chaos… has already been lost.
Ya see, they explain, all creation is separated into four cycles… or “yugas”. The first is “Perfection”, all order/no chaos, and it lasts 1,728,000 years. The second is has a little chaos peeking in… the third some more… and finally the fourth, which is basically the end of days. We’re in the fourth now… and it’s suggested that the mass chaos might have had something to do with the then-recent Crisis (on Infinite Earths).
Dr. Fate’s all “screw that noise”, and insists he won’t stop fighting the Lords of Chaos no matter what… and so, the Lords of Order decide to ask… Kent Nelson what he thinks. Dude’s positively ancient, and is probably only still on this side of the ground because of Nabu’s inhabitance (is that a word?) within him. He too insists that there’s always a chance to fight… but, we get the feeling that he realizes that this will ultimately be a futile endeavor.
We shift scenes to a woman named Linda and a young boy named Eric. Despite some severe reluctance on his part, she’s trying to get him to socialize with other kids his own age. He ain’t feelin’ it though… he tells her that nobody ever likes him. He eventually comes around, and decides to head into the fray for Linda. Don’t look now, but they’re being watched by a trenchcoated gentleman.
From here, we get the quick ‘n dirty on Linda Whatsherface. Turns out she married his aged father for the money… dude was an abusive jerk, who ultimate succumbed to cancer. This only left her and her young step-son, Eric. Ya see, Eric’s birth-mother, also married to the jerk, wound up killing herself.
So lost in flashback limbo is Linda, that she doesn’t even realize that the trenchcoated gentleman onlooker has abducted her step-son! Upon snapping back to reality, she notices that her boy is gone. As the man and boy walk away, Eric doesn’t seem disturbed in the slightest… in fact, he almost expected this to happen.
We shift scenes to Arkham Asylum where we meet Doctor Stoner (laff track here?). He is being visited upon by… Typhon, who informs him that Nelson has taken the boy. So, it looks like Johnny Trenchcoat is actually Kent Nelson. This doesn’t seem to be much of a surprise. The conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Stoner’s assistant, who reminds him that it’s time to make his rounds. We get a panel of the Joker laughing… because, of course we do.
We return to Kent and the Kid. They wander through a graveyard (with an Inza headstone visible) and into a crypt of some sort. Then… Kent’s belly starts talking to the child! Ya see, this is Nabu… who Eric recognizes as one of “the Shining Ones”. He claims to sometimes see them in the mirror. That’s all Nabu needs to hear, it’s time to do the thing.
“The thing” is to age Eric’s body to adulthood, so it can make a more fitting vessel for Nabu then the decrepit Kent Nelson.
We jump back to Linda, who is still quite unnerved at the loss of her little boy… as, ya know, one might imagine. She is then briefly visited by Doctor Fate… who informs her that Eric Strauss… will be back, before flying away.
And Fate continues to fly… until running right into our pal Typhon. Ya see, it’s Eric occupying the Doctor Fate duds right now… with Nabu in the driver’s seat. The Lord of Order tells him to open up his soul and let him in… and he’ll take care of everything.
Only… he doesn’t. Nabu gets Eric into the battle… but then vacates the vessel! Nabu, now back with Kent asks why he didn’t “warn” the boy… to which, Kent insists that he tried. Not sure what he could have prepared him for… I mean, the whole thing feels like a set-up. Anyhoo, Typhon is making short work of the inexperienced man-child… whose only recourse is to repeat his name over and over again so he doesn’t “lose” himself (I guess).
Next we know, Eric Strauss is laying in the fetal position and being approached by an Officer… and Doctor Stoner. Stoner tells the Officer that Strauss had recently escaped from Arkham, and that he’ll take him back to ensure he gets the treatment he needs. Eric is still repeating his name… and also, his age (10 years old). This ain’t helping his case any, considering he looks to be a fully-grown adult.
Before we know it, we’re back at Arkham… and there’s another panel of the Joker laughing, because of course there is. Eric is plopped into his room… which he appears to be sharing with some Lords of Chaos. Dr. Stoner promises that he’ll “take care of him from this point on.
We wrap up back at the graveyard, where Kent Nelson is knelt over one headstone in particular… and weeping.
Not a bad opener… a little confusing, but that’s likely by design. I mean, the book is all about “chaos”, is it not?
Now, before digging in too deep… Dr. Fate as a solo character doesn’t do a whole heckuva lot for me. I wouldn’t put him in Spectre or Phantom Stranger territory, but I don’t find him to be the most interesting hero out there. In fact, when we were working through 1st Issue Special, it was the Dr. Fate installment that I dreaded the most. Just wasn’t looking forward to it.
So, why then, did I even give this issue a look? I mean, it ain’t for a lack of potential review fodder. Honestly, I dunno. I was just rifling through the longboxes last night, and this cover just jumped out at me. Sometimes that’s all it takes! And by “sometimes”, I mean, pretty often. Unless I’m working a “theme” gimmick, we usually roll random here.
Okay, so with all that said. This was a lot of fun, and something of an education. We’re in the fourth “yuga”, wherein chaos reigns, and it’s going to be up to Fate to restore order. Fair enough. We’re introduced to Eric Strauss… who, honestly, I don’t remember from Adam… but, who will likely be part of the plan. There’s also the Arkham angle, which is interesting… especially since Arkham as a plot device hadn’t already been run into the dirt by 1987. Could’a done without the Joker cameos, but really, whattayagonnado?
Probably my favorite part of this, and it’s definitely just part of my continuity-n-lore weakness, was tying this age of chaos into Crisis on Infinite Earths. It really doesn’t take much to get a “pop” out of me.
Giffen’s more experimental art is usually a bone of contention among fans… or, at the very least, is divisive. This time out, however, I really dug it. I feel like it fit the story quite well, and wasn’t nearly as abstract as his work on something like Hex. Hell, even if it were, this is a story about chaos… so, it’d be more fitting.
Overall, I’d say this one’s worth a look. You don’t need to know everything about Dr. Fate (I sure don’t!) to follow along and enjoy. Just really fun post-Crisis stuff here… another reminder that books of this era are so special. This issue is available digitally… and they do refer to it as “Doctor Fate“, so there’s one point for the Infinite Earths guy!
Gardner Fox Remembrance (by Roy Thomas):