Hold on. the character of Doctor Fate has been around DC Comics since 1940 in one incarnation or another. Why is this week’s column specifically referring to a single creator who, it should be noted, did not actually invent the original Doctor Fate?
Rest assured, I have a good reason, and if you know this story, you already know that reason, but I’m writing it up anyway.
Anyhoo, the original Doctor Fate was Kent Nelson. Kent was an archaeologist who found the Helm of Nabu and used it to fight crime and evil sorcerers with the power of magic. Basically, he’s the DC version of the Sorcerer Supreme. Using the golden helm, a mystical amulet, and a magic cape, Kent fought evil as Doctor Fate, helped found the Justice Society, and basically hung around for a long time.
Now, I could go into the different versions of Doctor Fate in great detail, but that will take a while. Back in the Silver Age, when the Justice League and Justice Society would have their annual team-up, Dr. Fate was a regular mainstay of the team-ups. After the original Crisis, when the various Earths joined together, Fate was a member of the Justice League. At various points, other people have been Doctor Fate. Kent’s wife Inza was Fate for a period, and a boy and his stepmother merged to become Fate at another. After Zero Hour, the Kent and Inza Fates were killed off and a mercenary became a doctorless Fate. That fellow, Jared Stevens, melted down the helm into a combat knife. That was changed back when the Justice Society reformed with a brand new Dr. Fate in the form of a resurrected Hector Hall. That Doctor Fate was, well, not really killed, but retired around the time of the Infinite Crisis.
And that meant there needed to be another Doctor Fate eventually. And that leads us to writer Steve Gerber.
Gerber was a longtime comic book writer best known for one Howard the Duck. Howard was maybe something of a mouthpiece for Gerber, a character every bit as cynical as Gerber himself. As it is, Gerber had a unique voice as a writer that found its way into many different characters for many different publishers. As such, in 2007, Gerber wrote the Doctor Fate half of a Countdown to Mystery mini-series, introducing yet another Doctor Fate for the reading public.
The backstory was that the Helm of Nabu was literally tossed into space, the idea being that “fate” would choose the next wearer. After being passed around various DC mystical types, it landed in Las Vegas near Dr. Kent V. Nelson. The original Fate had also been a doctor, an archaeologist, as noted above. This Kent Nelson was a psychiatrist with a drinking and gambling problem. The central concept of the mini-series was that over the eight or so issues, we’d see this Kent Nelson embrace his destiny and become the new Doctor Fate. A demon lord started hassling him. He met an Inza (a comic book writer at that!) , and most of all wrestled with his inner demons as well as the external ones. It was a really great interpretation of the character, even with the reveal this Kent Nelson was named for an elderly uncle, the original Kent Nelson. It was a much better story going than the Eclipso story that Countdown to Mystery shared.
And then Gerber died before he could write the final chapter.
And that’s why I put this Doctor Fate into the Misplaced Heroes column. DC did get four other writers–Gail Simone, Adam Beechen, Mark Evanier and Mark Waid–to write four different conclusions. As I can recall, one had other Gerber characters (none owned by DC so they were thinly disguised) coming in to save the day. Simone’s ruminated on the loss of a friend. I think my favorite was Waid’s, where the new Doctor Fate remembered he was a psychiatrist and realized the demon lord really just needed weekly counseling sessions and set up to help the guy get to the bottom of whatever was really bothering him. Demon lords just need a hug? That’s new.
Now, really, not knowing what Gerber actually planned, other appearances by Doctor Fate after that are basically more traditional versions of the Doctor Fate character, and since he didn’t seem to reference the Gerber story all that much, as near as I can make out, it was only assumed to be the same character.
And then the New 52 happened. There was a new Earth 2, a new Doctor Fate, and whoever that guy was, he was gone. I’m sure there will be another Kent Nelson Doctor Fate at one point in time or another, but whatever Steve Gerber had planned, we’ll never know.