Doctor Fate (also known by the diminutive, Fate) is the name of a succession of fictional sorcerers who appear within DC Comics' universe. The original version was created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Howard Sherman, and first appeared in More Fun Comics #55 (May 1940). Beginning in the 1940s, the character was also a member of Golden Age all-star group, the Justice Society of America.
Initially, Doctor Fate was Kent Nelson, the son of an archaeologist, Sven Nelson, who died discovering the tomb of the ancient mystical being, Nabu. The orphaned boy was trained by Nabu in the arts of magic.
Later (after the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline) DC introduced several new versions of Doctor Fate. These included:
The revivals were relatively short-lived. Doctor Fate's appearances in other media and comics set outside the continuity of the DC Universe (for instance, in the DC animated universe) tend to be of the original Golden Age Kent Nelson incarnation.
When the Justice Society of America was being designed for All Star Comics #3, Doctor Fate was one of the characters National Comics used for the joint venture with All-American Publications. He made his last appearance in the book in issue #21 (Summer 1944), virtually simultaneously with the end of his own strip in More Fun Comics #98 (July-August 1944).
In More Fun Comics #72 (October 1941), Doctor Fate's appearance was modified, exchanging the full helmet for a half-helmet so his lower face was exposed. The focus of the strip also shifted away from magic to standard superhero action. By the end of the following year, the character had been changed into a medical doctor with even fewer mystic elements in the strip. The character's popularity waned faster than many of his contemporaries', and the strip was cancelled before the end of World War II.
Doctor Fate was revived along with many other Justice Society members in the 1960s through the annual team-ups with the Justice League of America. These stories established that the two teams resided on parallel worlds. Unlike many of his JSA teammates, Doctor Fate did not have an analogue or counterpart among the Justice League.
Aside from the annual team up in Justice League of America, DC featured the original Doctor Fate in other stories through the 1960s and 1970s. These included:a two-issue run with Hourman in Showcase #55-56, wherein it was revealed Kent Nelson and Inza Cramer had married since the end of the Golden Age; a story in The Brave and the Bold; appearances with Superman in World's Finest Comics and DC Comics Presents; and a solo story in 1st Issue Special #9 (December 1975), written by Martin Pasko and drawn by Walt Simonson. With his story, Pasko added the concept that the spirit of Nabu resided in the helmet and took control of Nelson whenever the helmet was donned. In the early 1980s, Roy Thomas incorporated this into his All-Star Squadron series, set in late 1941, as an explanation of the changes in the character's helmet and powers. (In a caption box on the final panel of Squadron #28's main story (December 1983), Thomas indicated an explanation of how and why Nelson returned to the full helmet and possession by Nabu when the JSA reactivated in the 1960s was forthcoming, but it was never published.) This led to DC featuring Kent and Inza, combining into one Doctor Fate, in a series of back-up stories beginning in The Flash #305 (February 1982) and running through #313 (September 1982). Cary Bates wrote the initial one, with Pasko taking over as writer in issue #306, aided by Steve Gerber from #310 to #313. DC later collected the back-up stories, as well as a retelling of Dr. Fate's origin by Paul Levitz, Mike Nasser & Joe Staton which was published in 1st Issue Special #9 (1978), and a previously unreprinted tale from the original 1940s run (specifically the second, from More Fun #56), in a three-issue limited series titled The Immortal Dr. Fate.
Following 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths, Doctor Fate briefly joined the Justice League and was the star of a self-titled, four-issue limited series by J. M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen. In this story Kent Nelson finally dies of old age and the mantle of Doctor Fate is passed to a pair of humans, Eric and Linda Strauss, who merge into one being to become Doctor Fate, similar to Kent and Inza. Based on the success of the limited series, DC continued the story in a separate ongoing series, also titled Doctor Fate, by DeMatteis and Shawn McManus.
After two years, William Messner-Loebs became the writer, and the series and character shifted such that Nelson's wife Inza inherited the Doctor Fate mantle and starred in a year's worth of stories in which she tried to change the world for the better using her powers.
When Messner-Loebs' run ended, DC retired the classic character, replacing Doctor Fate with "Fate." The new character, Jared Stevens, was introduced in a self-titled series launched in the wake of Zero Hour in 1994. He was a mercenary whose weapons were the transformed helm and amulet of Doctor Fate. Both Fate and its follow up, The Book of Fate were cancelled after relatively short runs.
In 1999, during the revival of the Justice Society in JSA, DC allowed the character to be reworked. The initial story arc mirrored the transition from Doctor Fate to Fate; Jared Stevens was killed and the mantel, along with the original name and a restored helm and amulet, was passed to a new character, in this case a reincarnated Hector Hall, son of the Golden Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl. In addition to appearing in JSA, DC published a self-titled, five-issue limited series featuring Hall in 2003 and positioned him as a prominent magical character in various company wide event stories.
The character was again set up for change during the Day of Vengeance limited series, part of the lead in to the 2005 company wide event story, Infinite Crisis. This included both Hall and Nabu being killed off and Doctor Fate's helmet being sent to find a new wearer.
In early 2007, DC published a bi-weekly run of one-shot comics featuring the helmet passing through the hands of various magical characters. These included the Shadowpact's Detective Chimp; Ibis the Invincible; Sargon the Sorcerer; Zauriel; and Black Alice. The one-shots were intended to be followed by a new Doctor Fate title in February 2007, written by Steve Gerber and illustrated by Paul Gulacy, featuring Kent V. Nelson, Kent Nelson's grandnephew, as the helm's new wearer. However, the series was delayed due to extended production and creative difficulties. Steve Gerber, through an interview with Newsarama, revealed that the story intended for the first arc of his Doctor Fate title was being reworked to serve as one of the two stories for Countdown to Mystery, a dual-feature eight issue series with Eclipso as the second story. The first issue of Countdown to Mystery, with art by Justiniano and Walden Wong rather than Gulacy, was released in September 2007. Due to Steve Gerber's passing, the seventh issue was written by Adam Beechen using Gerber's notes. The final issue was written by Beechen, Gail Simone, Mark Waid, and Mark Evanier, who each wrote a different ending to the story.
By 1940, Nelson returned to the United States and resided in an invisible tower in Salem, Massachusetts. From this sanctum he embarked on a career fighting crime and supernatural evil as the hero, Doctor Fate. During the early part of this career he met, romanced, and eventually married a red-headed woman named Inza (this character's surname varied in the early part of the run, but the creative team eventually settled on Cramer).
In late 1940, Doctor Fate was among the founding members of the Justice Society of America. He remained active with the group through the middle of the decade, resigning in 1945. At this time he withdrew entirely from public activities, either retiring or turning his attention elsewhere. When the team came out of retirement to work with the Justice League in the 1960s, he returned as well, rejoining his old teammates.
In 1942, partially due to Nabu's personality, which resided in the full helmet, taking full control of Nelson's body when he wore the helm, he replaced the Helm of Nabu with a half-helmet that left his lower face exposed. The change, while stripping him of most of his magical power, left Nelson in full control of his actions and still more than a normal human. During this time, Nelson acquired a medical license and became an interne [sic] at the Weatherby Free Clinic in Gotham City. Shortly thereafter, when a supervillain stole the Helm of Nabu, Nelson lost all access to the Helm as both it and the thief were cast into an alternate dimension. At some point between his withdrawal from the JSA and his return in the 1960s, he was able to retrieve the Helm as he returned to wearing it and relying on Nabu's presence.
Even with the return of the JSA, Doctor Fate's activities were less than public. These included assisting fellow JSA member Hourman against Solomon Grundy and the Psycho-Pirate, and teaming up on various occasions with Superman and Batman.
When the JSA re-established itself early in the modern age of heroes, Doctor Fate was among the returning members. Though he had become increasingly erratic and withdrew from humanity, he was still committed to protecting Earth against supernatural menaces. During this time Nelson also went through a period where, in order to become Doctor Fate, he had to fuse with his wife Inza.
Kent later became the sole wearer of the Helm and joined the re-constituted Justice League. His magics to keep him and his wife young soon failed. This resulted in the pair aging and passing away in a short span of time.
With the passing of Kent Nelson, Nabu began the search for a new host. This search took him to Eric and Linda Strauss. He bound them so that they had to merge to become Doctor Fate, but they otherwise led separate lives. He then animated Kent Nelson's corpse to join them as an adviser and instructor. Since the tower Nelson used as a sanctum had apparently been destroyed, the pair operated out of Linda's apartment. Over time they were joined by a small, kind demon they dubbed Petey and a lawyer named Jack C. Small. Petey and Jack provided moral support and managed to assist in some of the battles.
During a battle on Apokolips, Eric was killed, leaving Linda to take over the role of Doctor Fate. Soon, the Lords of Chaos succeeded in assaulting Linda and killing her. The souls of Eric and Linda were placed in the bodies of Wendy and Eugene DiBellia.
She strove to use her new powers proactively, unlike Kent, who waited for trouble to manifest before using his powers. Her inexperience initially worked against her, but she grew more competent with experience. Her growing confidence led to increasing recklessness. Kent and Inza eventually separated over her use of the power.
The Nelsons learned that a Lord of Chaos had taken residence in the Helm of Nabu and had been providing Inza with magic derived from Chaos instead of Order. This Lord of Chaos was also the reason that they could no longer merge and become Doctor Fate. Kent eventually returned to his wife's side and helped her defeat this Lord of Chaos. Inza then learned that she derived her new powers from the people of Earth, rather than Chaos or Order.
After defeating the Lord of Chaos, the Nelsons began merging as the male Doctor Fate again. The Nelsons retained the ability to become independent Doctor Fates if the situation called for it. In these cases Kent's form would resemble that of the costume he wore when he used the half-helm.
In their last days as Doctor Fate, the Nelsons, along with the rest of the JSA, faced the supervillain Extant during Parallax's attempt to change the history of the universe. Extant, with seeming ease, caused most of the Justice Society to rapidly approach their proper physical ages. He also separated the Nelsons from the Helm, Amulet, and cloak. The greatly aged and depowered Nelsons were returned to Salem and went into retirement.
After the return of the Nelsons to Earth, Jared Stevens discovered the raiments of Doctor Fate and altered them into a knife, a set of throwing darts, and an armband. He called himself simply "Fate". His sole encounter with the Nelsons resulted in the death of the couple and the return of their souls to the amulet.
His apparent end came at the hands of Mordru as part of the dark wizard's attempt to inherit the mantel and artifacts of Doctor Fate.
Nabu, aware of Mordru's ambitions, had planned ahead to insure that his Helm and the mantle of Doctor Fate would pass to a reincarnated Hector Hall. This plan coincided with the rebirth of the Justice Society, which acted to protect the newly reborn Hector.
Hector's new body was the son of Hank Hall and Dawn Granger, agents of both Chaos and Order once known as Hawk and Dove. This therefore made Hector an agent of balance instead of an agent of one side or the other.
Later the Spectre, attempting to expunge evil by extinguishing magic, confronted Hector. This resulted in Hector and his wife's banishment to a snowy mountain landscape, where he would be forced to spend eternity. The two later joined their son in the Dreaming, giving up the mortal world forever.
Unaware of the reasons behind Hector's disappearance, his teammates in the Justice Society traveled to the Tower of Fate, hoping to use his services to travel to the Fifth Dimension and find Jakeem Thunder. At the Tower they found the raiments of Fate, but not Hector. Sand used the raiments to prepare a spell and speak to Nabu. However, Mordru returned before the spell was complete and caused it to malfunction. After a battle with Mordru, the Justice Society offered Nabu membership, but he sensed that a crisis was coming and that his presence would be required elsewhere, and disappeared.
During the last hours of the Ninth Age of Magic, Nabu called together Earth's remaining magicians to deal with the Spectre and the destruction of the Rock of Eternity. Nabu personally confronted and goaded the Spectre, whose anger grew so great that he fatally wounded Nabu. This caused the Presence (also referred to as the Higher Power) to take notice and send the Spectre to his new host. As a result of Nabu's impending death, the Ninth Age of Magic ended and the birth of the Tenth Age began.
Before his death, Nabu gave the Helmet to Detective Chimp to pass on to the Doctor Fate of the new Age, telling him that the Helmet will still have certain abilities, even though Nabu would no longer be contained within it. After Detective Chimp found that the Helmet would not fit him, he asked Captain Marvel to throw the helmet down to Earth and let it land where it will, letting Fate pick its next Doctor.
The helmet resurfaced a year after the events of Infinite Crisis, crossing paths with various heroes. In these appearances it resembled the half-helm that Kent Nelson used during the 1940s. These appearances were depicted in a series of one-shots collectively titled The Helmet of Fate.
It first returned again to the possession of Detective Chimp, who found he could now wear the altered helmet. After acting as Doctor Fate for a short time, he decided he did not have the temperament to wear the helmet and sent it on its way.
As it traveled from place to place, the helm was interrupted by the spirit of Sargon the Sorcerer, who diverted it in an effort to protect his grandson, David. David bestowed something of himself into the helmet before returning it to its journey.
Black Alice was the next recipient, who unsuccessfully tried to make the helm obey her. When the helmet started to indiscriminately punish everyone who wronged her, including her loved ones, she realised the helmet would fulfill her desires, but destroy her life in the process. Black Alice then relinquished it.
Next, the helm came into the possession of Ibis the Invincible, and attracted the attention of the dark god Set. Set defeated Ibis, forcing the hero to retreat into hibernation as a mummy to heal. Ibis' last act was to choose his replacement. The new Ibis confronts Set, retrieved the helmet and then sent it on.
The helmet crossed paths with the angel Zauriel, who also passed it along after removing it from a tyrant of another solar system.
Ultimately, the helmet falls to Doctor Kent V. Nelson, grandnephew of the original Kent Nelson, who becomes the new Doctor Fate. This was originally meant to have been depicted in a new Doctor Fate ongoing series written by Steve Gerber and drawn by Paul Gulacy. However, Steve Gerber's health problems led to scheduling delays and the material written for the Doctor Fate ongoing series was instead incorporated into the Countdown to Mystery limited series as the lead feature, (along with a back up strip featuring Eclipso), which Gerber was unable to complete before his death.
Nelson learns spells gradually and uses the helmet for gambling. He meets a woman named Maddy, who runs an occult bookstore, where he goes into an intense inter-dimensional meditation exploring the pains of his psyche. He drags her along into his vision. After this incident, Kent uses the magic in the real world to fly, but sinking into self-pity and depression after forgetting both his daughter's birthday and the magic word for flying, he nearly drowns until he is saved by an intrepid young comic writer named Inza. The potential reunion between reincarnated lovers is tragically cut short when Inza is completely liquefied while Nelson is taking a shower - the doing of Negal, a demon Kent thwarted in the beginning of his adventure. After the death of Inza, Kent V. Nelson seems all but certain to retreat further into alcoholism.
Despairing, Nelson decides he has had enough of this mystic interference in his life, and gives the helmet to Maddy. He is immediately captured by Negal. On her first attempt at using the helmet Maddy is also brought to dispair by Negal's sidekick, Ymp, and brought to him alongside the captured Nelson and the remains of Inza.
Four potential endings to the story were written by different writers following Gerber's death.
In the first, by Adam Beechen, Maddy is inspired by Kent's efforts to overcome his self-absorption to distract Negal with an image of Inza's character Killhead. This gives enough time for an elf with a gun to shoot Negal. The elf then departs, as a quacking voice invites him to share a beer with the "big guy", "Thunny", "Megs" and "Bev" before the big guy has to "head upstairs". Nelson and Inza recover, and Maddy gives him back the helmet. As they return to Vegas, Nelson says that whatever happened, it took all three of them, and that the helmet still has a lot to teach them.
In the second, by Mark Evanier, Nelson sees his life flashing before his eyes, as Negal gloats that he will now destroy Dr. Fate forever. Nelson seizes on the happy moments in his life, and claims that killing him never achieved anything, and he should know. He tells Negal that Dr. Fate is an ideal, and has returned before. Since Nelson is no longer consumed by self-pity, Negal (lord of the self-despised) is powerless and returns them all to where he left them, claiming that he will return. With Inza back in her apartment and Maddy back at the bookshop, Nelson returns to the casino, reflecting that every journey must end, through chance or fate.
In the third, by Mark Waid, Maddy tries to wake Nelson, but cannot. In his dream, Nelson has a conversation with one of his patients, Mr. Mardillo, who is drawn to resemble Steve Gerber, and the scene takes the form of a text piece, a common occurrence in Gerber's work. Mordillo explains fate is the hand you are dealt, but destiny is the way you play it. Negal hates fate because, as a demon, he has no way of changing his destiny. Mardillo points out that Nelson seems resigned to the same thing, and talks him through his problems. As in the previous story, Nelson's newfound hope gives him power against Negal and, although he aknowledges his depression will return, for the moment he is able to use the helmet to free himself and the others, briefly gaining the original Dr. Fate's costume while doing so. Back in Vegas, he is astonished to find a note from Mardillo in his pocket, but is unable to read the handwriting.
In the final piece, by Gail Simone, Maddy is "tripping" on the power in the helmet and unable to use it effectively. Upon seeing Kent awaken, she gives him the helmet. Finding Inza is now a living statue, he asks her if she wants to live and, when she says yes, points out to Negal that she still has hope, and is therefore beating him. Using his psychiatric skills, he diagnoses Negal's obsession with causing and feeding on misery as indicating an addictive personality with narssistic tendencies. Aknowledging his own faults, he adds that he was still good at his job, and offers to help Negal. The final panel shows Kent flying across Vegas, with Inza and Maddy in tow, reflecting on how well Negal's therapy is going and that he may be falling in love with Inza.
It remains to be seen which of these accounts is canonical.
In New Adventures of Superboy #25 (January 1982), Professor Lewis Lang and his assistant Burt Belker discover a helmet identical to the one used by Nabu in the Valley of Ur which contained a Lord of Chaos. The Lord of Chaos possesses Burt, who becomes Doctor Chaos (whose agenda differs from the one of Earth-Two's Doctor Fate). Doctor Chaos's costume mirrors Doctor Fate's, with an inverted color scheme. Superboy confronts him and is able to remove the helmet from Belker and jettison it into space. There have been no further appearances of the helmet.
Based on comments by Grant Morrison, this alternate universe is not the pre-Crisis Earth-2. As depicted in Justice Society of America Annual #1, this Doctor Fate (Kent Nelson) along with the Spectre, is the first to suspect something awry with Power Girl's mysterious reappearance.
Doctor Fate possesses a variety of mystical powers. In general, even without wearing the Helmet of Nabu, the host can fly, is highly resistant to injury, has minor telekinesis, and has greater-than-human strength.
In all of his incarnations, Doctor Fate is an accomplished sorcerer, and at his most potent able to match most other wizards in the DC Universe.
In various incarnations, Fate can emit bolts of mystical energy, teleport across the universe, craft solid objects out of energy, and transform objects into other kinds of matter. Prior to the events of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, he could travel between alternate Earths at will, one of a very few DC characters with this capability. The full limits of his magical skills are unknown, and have varied greatly from one incarnation to the next as well as depending on the needs of the story. For example, in Swamp Thing (vol. 2) #50 (July 1986), he slays the demon Abnegazar of the Demons Three with very little effort. Conversely in Justice League of America (vol. 1) #148 (November 1977), the Demons Three control him and set him against his fellow heroes.
At the known height of his abilities, he was able to take control of Etrigan the Demon, Darkseid, Highfather and Orion and harness their powers to take on the Anti-Life entity. In this instance, he was powerful enough to destroy a reality in order to halt the advance of the entity using a "Mystic Firebreak". He has also been on the losing side of drawn out battles with the Spectre, as evidenced in the Day of Vengeance limited series.
Putting on the helmet usually results in its wearer being clad in the other raiments of Doctor Fate, unless the one with the actual claim to the helmet wants to prevent it. On several occasions, villains seeking the power of Doctor Fate have stolen the helmet, in which case the result has typically been that the thief goes insane when he or she puts the helmet on.
At one time a half-face version of the helm was created when Kent felt the Nabu entity had become too dominant.(clarification reqd.)
In the Superman: The Animated Series episode, "The Hand of Fate", Superman seeks Fate's help when a supernatural threat named Karkull, whom Fate has defeated previously, seizes the Daily Planet. Fate, depicted as middle-aged, refuses to get involved because he is tired of the eternal struggle between "good" and "evil". Superman's insistence on returning to fight on his own, despite his success being unlikely, inspires Fate to join the "good fight" again.
This fatigue with mortal concerns has continued in his animated incarnations, as seen in his next appearance, an episode of Justice League entitled "The Terror Beyond". He and Aquaman help Solomon Grundy escape from the authorities so they can enact an age-old spell to save this dimension from an invasion by the Old Ones, creatures based on the writings of H. P. Lovecraft. They are stopped by the League and end up fighting the Old Ones in their own dimension.
Only after this episode does it seem that Fate maintains any continual relationship with fellow superheroes (miscommunication being the reason for the struggles between him and the League in "Terror"), including joining the expanded League in Unlimited. However, he is still not much of a team player, maintaining his own team within the League. This unit, consisting of himself, Atlantean royalty Aquaman and man-monster Solomon Grundy, was designed to parallel the original line-up of Marvel Comics's superhero group The Defenders, sorcerer Doctor Strange, Atlantean royalty the Sub-Mariner and man-monster the Incredible Hulk.
Doctor Fate will appear in the upcoming series Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
To date, four versions of Doctor Fate have been made available in action figure form. The first Doctor Fate toy was released in 1985 under the second wave of Kenner's Super Powers Collection. The Super Powers Collection version also included a mini-comic book. In the book, Doctor Fate was forced to fight Superman and the Martian Manhunter who had fallen under control of Darkseid and were sent by him to collect Doctor Fate's artifacts.
DC Direct released the second version in 2000 as part of the Mystics, Mages and Magicians collection.
The third was released with the Justice League Unlimited series several times as a single figure and as part of three-pack collections. Also, Minimates has released a two-pack featuring Doctor Fate and Power Girl.
All versions were the Kent Nelson incarnation of Doctor Fate.
DC Direct announced at the 2004 San Diego Comic-Con International that it would release a full-size replica helmet and amulet in 2005. It was besieged by manufacturing problems and delays and was never released. In September 2006, the DC website wrote that DC Direct "hope(s) to have this great replica ready in 2007". Currently (October 2008), it is still not yet available.