REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS DOCTOR FATE
Mattel's superb and increasingly impressive collection of DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS action figures continues with Series 8, a series which, I suspect due as much to the influx of various action figure lines based on summer movies, was a long time coming. But it's finally here, and one of the entries in this particular series is DOCTOR FATE!
Doctor Fate is one of the good guys, who uses his magical abilities as a hero. His presence in the DC Universe dates all the way back to the Golden Age, although in more recent times the character has undergone a number of overhauls, some less impressive than others.
Let's consider the history of the character with a little help from Wikipedia.
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.
After DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline, several different versions of Doctor Fate were introduced, but 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.
More Fun Comics #55 (May 1940) introduced the first Doctor Fate. After a year with little or no background, in More Fun Comics #67 (May 1941), his alter ego Kent Nelson and origins were introduced. At this point, the character was presented as the son of an archaeologist who had discovered the tomb of an Egyptian wizard named Nabu.
When the Justice Society of America was being designed for All Star Comics #3, Doctor Fate was one of the characters used for the title. 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 canceled 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 his longtime romantic interest 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. 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 1978 retelling of Dr. Fate's origin by Paul Levitz, Mike Nasser & Joe Staton originally published in Secret Origins of Super-Heroes, the aforementioned Pasko/Simonson story from 1st Issue Special #9, and a 1940s Doctor Fate tale 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 the mini-series, Kent Nelson finally died of old age and the mantle of Doctor Fate was passed to a new couple, Eric and Linda Strauss, who merged 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 so 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. The one-shots were intended to be followed by a new Doctor Fate ongoing series 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 revealed that the story intended for the first arc of the Doctor Fate ongoing series was being reworked to serve as one of the two stories for Countdown to Mystery. The first issue of Countdown to Mystery 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.
Regarding the primary individuals who have been Doctor Fate, whom I would argue are Kent Nelson, Hector Hall, Nabu, and Kent V. Nelson, Wikipedia has this to say:
Kent Nelson, the young son of American archaeologist Sven Nelson, accompanied his father on an expedition to the Valley of Ur. When his father opened the tomb of the wizard Nabu, a poison gas was released which ultimately resulted in the death of Sven Nelson. Nabu took pity on the orphaned Kent, raised him, taught him the skills of a wizard, and then bestowed upon him a mystical helm and amulet.
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.
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.
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, following the Crisis. 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.
Following the death of Jared Stevens at the hands of the wizard Mordru, Hector Hall became the new Doctor Fate. Nabu, aware of Mordru's ambitions, had planned ahead to insure that 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.
And if all of that sounds rather confusing, trust me, it is -- and I read the original stories. If I get much into Nabu and Kent V. Nelson, we're going to be here all day, especially with the alternate endings to the Nelson stories. Suffice to say that the concluding line from Wikipedia to this chaotic mess is: "Solicitations for upcoming issues of Justice Society of America by new series writers Matthew Sturges and Bill Willingham show Dr. Fate returning to the team."
Who's under the helmet is probably anybody's guess...
As to his powers and abilities, Doctor Fate possesses a variety of mystical powers. In general, even without wearing the Helmet of Nabu, he 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 (transmutation). 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.
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.
The helmet that Doctor Fate wears is the focus of the Doctor Fate identity. It originally housed Nabu's spirit and allowed him to possess the current host, it later only allowed him to advise the host instead. The helmet is what provides the link to Nabu and by not wearing it, as Kent Nelson did at one time, Doctor Fate loses much of its power and knowledge.
Mattel has produced two slightly different Doctor Fate figures for this wave. One of them -- the one I'm reviewing here -- the the more classic Doctor Fate, and as such representative of the Kent Nelson Doctor Fate, who is arguably the best known. There's a variant, which according to a listing in ToyFare magazine is extremely popular, that has costume elements that are closer to the more modern Hector Hall version of Doctor Fate. I wouldn't mind having that one someday. Whether it warrants a separate review, I'd have to decide once I own it.
So, how is the figure? Really very nicely done. Doctor Fate, for all of his moderately peculiar sorcerous background, has a costume that's fairly straightforward superhero-ish in basic design. Doctor Fate is outfitted in a mostly blue costume, with yellow cape, trunks, gloves, and boots. The helmet is also colored in yellow, although arguably it is supposed to be gold. Hey, printing capabilities in the 1940's were somewhat limited.
There are some distinctive elements to Doctor Fate's costume, that are reflected on the figure. The cape has a yellow collar, and Dr. Fate also is wearing a small amulet, and has raised yellow ridges on the shoulders of his costume.
Mattel has succeeded in incorporating these superbly well into the figure, even while mostly using the same "standard male hero" body that a lot of the figures have, by making the collar, amulet, and shoulder ridges part of the cape design. The entire assembly is put into place over the neck, secured in the front and back, and really on the whole works well and looks good.
May I also say that the cape is made from a very agreeably flexible plastic. There were a couple of caped figures in previous waves, especially Mister Miracle, that had way too much starch in their capes.
Doctor Fate has slightly flared gloves. I almost thought they might have gotten these from Aquaman, but then I realized this was impossible, since Aquaman's shirt is scaled. The same molds could not have been used. Indeed, making a comparison with Aquaman, Doctor Fate's gloves are not quite as flared.
The boots aren't just painted on, either, as is the case with some figures. There's a distinctly sculpted pair of boots here. Not sure where, or if, these might have seen previous use.
Speaking of distinctly sculpted, there's the right hand. The left hand is a fist, and generally speaking, DC Universe Classics figure hands are either a fist, or a slightly open hand that's curved in to be able to hold some sort of accessory. Doctor Fate's right hand is spread out somewhat, as if casting a spell or some such.
Indeed, the one accessory that Doctor Fate does come with is this transparent yellow plastic item that's designed to look like some sort of lightning-like energy shooting out of his hand. It's well made enough, but honestly? I have yet to see any toy company effectively render an energy burst of any sort in plastic for a super-being possessing such powers. They just don't look that great. The "glass ceiling" for this sort of thing seems to be lightsabers for Star Wars action figures. I can understand wanting to incorporate some accessory that in some way displays the character's power -- but it just doesn't work that well more often than not.
The one other distinctive attribute to Doctor Fate's costume is a raised -- well, I assume it's a buckle for a hidden belt. It's just always been part of the character's design. It's a little raised rectangle of yellow, about where you'd expect a belt buckle to be, in his trunks. And it is there.
Clearly, what Mattel did was to manufacture a bunch of little plastic rectangles, paint them yellow, and glue them to the Doctor Fate figures. Definitely not a job I would have wanted, since a certain consistent degree of precision would be required, with both placement and use of the glue. This is something that I can too easily see getting sloppy. Fortunately, mine's fine. You can almost see a little bit of glue around one side, but it's negligible. I've certainly seen far worse.
There's a certain component to the painting of the figure -- not that he has that much paint detailing -- that I believe is a distinct nod to the Kenner Super Powers collection from the 1980's. That very well-regarded collection included, in its second year, a Doctor Fate figure. This was considered somewhat unusual, since the character at the time didn't have a great deal of prominence in the DC Universe, and had not turned up in any of the then-current animation. Doctor Fate never appeared in the Super Friends show, which in later years became rather closely associated with Super Powers.
For whatever reason, Kenner chose to paint the eyeslits of the helmet in a solid black. One can see this. The helmet does not conform to the contours of a human face. Therefore, the eyeslits must by definition protrude away from the face a certain distance, and in some light, could well appear to be entirely black, and in some art styles he is drawn that way, although in others his eyes are either visible and normal-looking, or white. The black was a somewhat unusual choice toywise, though.
The DC Universe Classics Doctor Fate figure also painted the eyeslits solid black. I am convinced this is a tribute to the original Super Powers figure, which was the very first Doctor Fate action figure ever. And the DC Universe Classics team at Mattel, including the Four Horsemen who sculpt these figures so superbly, have made no secret about being fans of the Super Powers line.
Of course, the figure is very impressively articulated. Doctor Fate is poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. I have no complaints whatsoever with regard to the articulation on this figure, although the mid-torso was just a little looser than I would have liked. I encountered this to a greater degree on the Ultraman figure recently, and I hope it's not becoming a trend. No one wants a super-hero with bad back posture.
So, what's my final word? I'm impressed. Doctor Fate may not be the most major player in the DC Universe, and the past couple of decades of his history have been so convoluted that I doubt they've helped his character any, but I've always rather liked him, and I've always thought the character had a cool look to him.
I'm extremely pleased that Mattel has added him to their lineup, and the DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of DOCTOR FATE definitely has my highest recommendation!