Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hero of the Week #24: Dr. Fate

Real Name: Kent Nelson
First Appearance: More Fun Comics #55 (May, 1940)
Group Affiliation: Black Lantern Corps, Justice Society of America (former)
Gaming Credentials: DC Universe Online (TBA)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #122

If you've had your ear to the ground, you'll know all about the announcement that superstar comics writer, Geoff Johns (Blackest Night; Green Lantern; Flash: Rebirth), will be writing a special guest-appearance on TV's Smallville by the Justice Society of America! Not only that, the two-parter has since been upgraded to a full fledged movie-length special, suggesting more than a passing cameo by Hawkman, Stargirl, and our Hero of the Week, Dr. Fate!

Johns is no stranger to these characters!
It was in the pages of JSA -- alongside fellow Hollywood alumnist, David Goyer -- that he first established his reputation and knack for indulging historically rooted characters, and bringing out the best in them for the modern age. Johns returned to the team for one last run in 2007, but has continued to maintain their presence as elder statesmen in the DCU through many of his projects, including his current event-titles; Blackest Night and Flash: Rebirth.

While you're almost certainly familiar with aspects of the writer's work, there's also been ample opportunity to get to know the good Doctor, as well!

Despite being one of the great heroes of the Golden Age of comics (1940s) -- Dr. Fate's mystic presence has spanned the decades, reaching as far as the most recent present! The helmeted agent of order has registered modern appearances you might have seen in animated episodes of; Superman, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and most recently, Batman: Brave and the Bold. The original Dr. Fate even holds the distinction of being one of the few characters to gain membership with both the Justice League and the Justice Society!

The introduction of the JSA as battle weary predecessors to Tom Welling's Superman and the other heroes of Smallville should be a very interesting experiment in exposing the uninitiated to the concept of legacy in DC comics.
Whilst the nineties animated versions of characters walked closer to their comic book counterparts than was previously customary, there is a still significant divide between the interpretations of the much-loved Bruce Timm attributed cartoons, and the material that inspired them. The gap between source material and the mainstream, however, appears to be ever closing as cartoons like Batman: Brave and the Bold, and movies like Iron Man, introduce design and concept tropes taken specifically from various eras of comics. The Brave and the Bold series, in particular, deserves a lot of credit for borrowing heavily from less popular eras in comics, such as Batman's adventures of the fifties and sixties.

Modern comic book superheroes as we know them owe much of their origins to the pulps of the twenties and thirties. The era of characters like Doc Savage and The Shadow overlapped with early appearances of the first comic book heroes, seemlessly bleeding in to the dawn of Mandrake the Magician, The Phantom, Superman, Sandman, and Batman. The influence of the thirties and forties, and those periods that followed, continues to be a great source of inspiration and homage to modern comic books, even if the value of this history is sometimes mischaracterized and misinterpreted in the internet age. This reverence for the past and indulgence in it's ideas has been key to DC's recent turnaround that has included a rare domination of the top ten selling comics and the reexpansion of brands like Green Lantern and the Flash.

It's interesting to see how perceptions have been, in part, shaped by the presence of these characters in other entertainment mediums. Spider-man made perhaps the most significant transition in the modern age, establishing himself as a multimedia icon early through his animated adventures in the sixties. Rarely has a year gone by since that the character hasn't found his way into television programming, spawning multiple TV series, video games, and some of the biggest grossing cinematic blockbusters the world has known. This presence in the pop culture zeitgeist has arguably been invaluable to maintaining the illusion that Spider-man is a less complicated or storied character, fostered through a sense of familiarity and regularly constructed 'do-overs.'
The fruits of DC's crossmedia labours appear to be baring similar results, with the nineties Timm cartoons gaining cult-like status amongst a fiercely dedicated fanbase.

It will be very interesting to see how perceptions change after Dr. Fate and the JSA get their time to shine in Smallville, and next year, join the ranks of the Massively Multi-player Online extravaganza, DC Universe Online! Video games have long been an oversight for the DC icons, but they'll be out in force when players get the chance to literally jump into the DC Universe and experience face-to-face encounters with the likes of Superman, Batman, and even Dr. Fate, too!

The original Dr. Fate died a few years back in the comics (of mystically reverted old age), but you'll find his resurrected undead corpse waging war on the living in the pages of Blackest Night!
You can also find the newest wearer of the helmet of nabu (Kent V. Nelson) in the pages of Justice Society of America, who probably won't have to wait long to face-off against his predecessor in a Blackest Night mini-series. All of this makes him a pretty good choice for HOTW!

Just in case you're interested -- check out some of the previous HOTWs to come directly from the Golden Age: Batman (1940); Captain America (1941); Superman (1938); Hawkman (1940); Aquaman (1941); Joker (1940); Scarecrow (1941); Green Arrow (1941); Solomon Grundy (1944).

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