Dr. Fate Vol. 2 #25-41 (February 1991 – June 1992)
Written by William Messner-Loebs (#25-37, 39-41), Tom Peyer (#35-36), Tom Joyner (#38)
Penciled by Vincent Giarrano (#25-29), Peter Gross (#30, 39-41), Chas Truog (#31), Scot Eaton (#32-37), Richard Piers Rayner (#38)
Inked by Peter Gross (#25-35, 37, 39-41), Romeo Tanghal (#32, 36), Steve Mitchell (#36), Rick Bryant (#38)
Coloured by Lovern Kindzierski (#25-41)
Spoilers (from twenty-four to twenty-five years ago)
I recognize that I’m going through this series all out of order, but now that I’ve read all of JM DeMatteis’s issues with Dr. Fate, it’s time to take a look at his successor, William Messner-Loebs, and what he chose to do with a series that had its status quo completely upended, but that also left him with what was essentially a blank slate.
Messner-Loebs is an interesting writer, with an appreciation of quirkiness. He’s the guy that had Wonder Woman working in a fast food taco restaurant. Digging into this, I’m curious to see what he chose to do with Kent and Inza Nelson, who are freshly returned from the grave.
As always, it’s helpful to keep track of the characters that played key roles in these issues.
- Kent and Inza Nelson together (#25, 40)
- Inza Nelson on her own (#25-37, 39-41)
- Kent Nelson on his own (#36-38, 40)
- Drug dealer (#27)
- T’Giian (#28, 32-34, 37)
- The Jacks (#28)
- Thomas McCoy Bridge (#29, 31)
- Thoth (#32)
- Anubis (#33)
- Set (#33)
- Osiris (#33)
- Isis (the Egyptian god, not the terrorist organization; #33)
- Barobuulak (#36)
- Unnamed Lord of Chaos (#36-37, 41)
- Aaron Babcock (#38)
- Lords of Order (#25, 41)
- Wonder Woman (#32, 40)
- Kent Nelson (#25-41)
- Willie James Duncan (neighbour; #25, 27-29, 35-37; with the last name of Jones, #39, 41)
- Maise (neighbour; #25-26, 28, 31, suddenly a black woman, #39)
- Shat-Ru, a Lord of Order in Kent’s dead body (#25-28, 31, 36-37, 40-41)
- Tooley Wilson (neighbour; #26, 29-30, 33, 37, 39-40)
- Mr. Scarelli (neighbour; #26)
- Kevin Wilson (neighbour, son of Tooley and Tilda; #27; suddenly called Mr. Cutter, #39)
- Tilda Wilson (neighbour; #27-28, 30, 37, 40)
- Dean Widder (#28-29, 32, 41)
- Mary (#28, 30-34, 37)
- Thomas McCoy Bridge (#29, 31-35, 37, 39)
- Officer Debby Niles (sometimes spelled Debbie; #30-34, 36-37, 39, 41)
- Merrit and Joanie Roberts (#30)
- Lillian Himes (#30-31)
- Ben Mandel (#31, 33, 37)
- Abdul (Kent’s assistant; #33-35)
- Chuck Chan (one of the anti-Fate league; #35-37, 39-41)
- Dorothea (Shat-Ru’s follower; #36, 40-41)
- Celestine Babcock (#38)
Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:
- Messner-Loeb and Giarrano open their run deep in space, where four Lords of Order have gathered to speak to another, who they call Shat-Ru. Giarrano has changed the portrayal of the Lords; where before they looked like Jean Arp art pieces, now they look a little like abstracted angels made out of flame. Anyway, it provides them a chance to recap the whole Kali Yuga/age of Chaos thing, and express their disappointment in Dr. Fate and in Earth in general, and their desire to abandon it. In the Tower of Fate, Inza is unhappy about having to live there again. She trips over Kent’s corpse, which seems to be regenerating (Kent is in a new body, so no one is clear as to why this one is lying around still). Kent tells Inza that the Tower is not really on Earth. The two of them join to form Dr. Fate, and Kent (who has sparked the transformation and is therefore in charge of Fate’s body) tethers the Tower to a building he has owned for decades in a nice neighbourhood in New York. When they arrive, they learn that the building (which is an impossibly skinny brownstone of at least three stories) is the only one standing on the block, surrounded by rubble and homeless people. A neighbour, Willie James Duncan, comes over to accuse the Nelsons of being yuppies who are trying to gentrify the area. He explains that the drug trade has wrecked the area. In space, the Lords of Order argue, because Shat-Ru wants to punish Dr. Fate, but also bristles at being compared to Nabu. The other Lords shun Shat-Ru, who moves towards the Earth. Willie warns his new neighbours about some of the less desirable people in the area, just as an older white lady with a shopping cart (I guess, this being set in America, I should mention that Willie is black) accuses him of being a safety risk himself. Kent and Inza retreat inside, where Kent narrates his life story for a bit as they return to the Tower. There, they find that Kent’s old body is shuffling around like a zombie. Just then they are attacked by Shat-Ru, who is trying to pull off a giant purple supervillain look. Just as the Nelsons begin to merge, Kent is hit by a blast from Shat-Ru, and Inza ends up becoming Fate on her own. She quickly gets the hang of things (it’s all about positive visualization, apparently), and she uses her powers much as a Green Lantern would, creating constructs that all have Egyptian ankh elements in their designs. She funnels Shat-Ru’s essence into Kent’s dead body, thereby trapping him. If he were to use his powers, he would disintegrate the body and scatter his essence. Now the Nelson’s need to figure out what to do with him.
- An old man, later identified as Mr. Scarelli, tinkers in a basement while singing “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” and talking to someone named Lucinda. Shat-Ru, in Kent’s former body, struggles to eat cereal while Kent and Inza talk about how they feel in their newly-remade, very healthy bodies. Inza wants Shat-Ru gone, and transforms into Dr. Fate to go find the Lords of Order to come and take him back. Scarelli has built a ray gun, and we see that it works. A pair of guys are driving through the neighbourhood, where a traffic light has been stuck on red for a while. They hit Maise’s shopping cart and keep driving. In space, Dr. Fate is completely unable to find any trace of the Lords of Order. Nelson feels left out because he can’t transform into Fate, and when Inza returns, they argue. They are interrupted by Tooley Wilson, another neighbour, who comes to introduce himself and his young son Todd. The Nelson’s home is portrayed as taller than it was before – six stories now. I don’t know if that’s a thing. Maise comes by to complain about the car accident, and refers to a child that was killed in the intersection a month before because everyone ignores that traffic light. Tooley is worried when he sees his daughter, Melissy, playing in the intersection. A car approaches at speed, and they are unable to warn the girl, since she is deaf. Kent and Inza tackle the girl, saving her. Scarelli has put on a battlesuit. Somehow, the girl isn’t Melissy, despite her father recognizing her as such before, and nothing is mentioned about this again in this issue. Scarelli comes outside shooting off lasers. Tooley explains that Scarelli’s daughter died a few months back at the intersection (not a month back, as Maise said), and that the old man worked at STAR Labs. Dr. Fate arrives and blasts Scarelli out of his suit. He explains that he thought that wrecking the light might make the city come out and fix it (although this feels like an extreme approach to me). Fate heals an injury on Tooley’s arm, and then uses her abilities to fix the stoplight and the asphalt beneath it. Inza arrives and later explains to Kent that she turned back in front of everyone but used her powers to make them forget about it. Back at home, she notices that Fate’s helmet materializes in different parts of the house when it’s not being worn, and wonders what it thinks. It smiles and starts talking to her.
- Inza is freaked out by the fact that the helmet spoke to her. Kent is trying to fly by jumping off rubble. A young man we later learn is Kevin, Tooley’s son, robs a Soy Burgers. The mask starts to talk to Inza again, and she freaks out and runs out of the building, and into Tilda, Tooley’s wife, who is never actually introduced, despite the fact that we’ve not met her. Inza tells her that a bug has frightened her; Tilda helps calm her down and then borrows the phone (because her’s isn’t working) to call Tooley, to tell him that Kevin is in trouble. Kevin tries to turn himself in for the robbery, but is ignored by the desk sergeant. Kent comes home, and Inza and Tilda explain to him that they are worried about Kevin because he’s a dope fiend, and is trying to get himself arrested so he can detox. While Tilda is talking, the helmet appears floating behind her, and Kent and Inza try to get ahold of it without her noticing. She leaves to go home, in case her son calls (despite the fact that she just said her phone is not working). Kent says that he wants to get a job as an archaeologist again, and starts calling universities, while Inza tries to get the helmet under control. It takes her to some strange dimension and challenges her. Kevin robs another store. Kent gets through to an old colleague, who doesn’t believe him when he says who he is, because he doesn’t sound like he’s in his eighties. Inza returns. Kevin confesses to another desk sergeant, who again ignores him. Inza turns into Dr. Fate and flies off. Kevin goes to see his dealer (who is a white guy in a zoot suit), who tries to take all of his money and threatens to kill him with a knife. Watching Shat-Ru eat, Kent gets an idea. Dr. Fate teleports to Kevin, and stops the dealer from hurting him. She draws Kevin’s addiction out of his body with magic, and it turns into a gigantic serpent, which she destroys, leaving him free and clear of the drugs. She then removes all of the dealer’s demons as well, leaving him full of guilt for his actions. Kent has Shat-Ru in a wheelchair, and is coaching him on his plan to pose as the original Kent Nelson’s grandson, in order to get an archaeology job (because they would never check someone’s credentials).
- We learn that a millennium ago, a God named T’Giian was trapped by her peers. A century ago, a man killed his wife and children for T’Giian. A year ago, a punk-rockish street gang called the Jacks killed an old woman and took over her building as their ‘clubhouse’. A month ago, Kent took his old body, now Shat-Ru with him to a university to meet an old colleague, and ends up talking his way into a new job teaching archaeology. Kent is upset when Shat-Ru mouths off, and the Dean basically acts like that’s how Kent has always been. A week ago, Inza and Tilda are cleaning the Brownhouse. We learn that Kevin has a job, and that Dr. Fate has been doing a lot to improve the neighbourhood. Kent comes to tell them that he got the job, and Shat-Ru is rude to Tilda. Kent tells the Lord of Order off, and we see that he is very angry at being trapped in his current position. A day ago, Kent and Willie are chatting when they see a lady get her purse snatched by one of the Jacks. Dr. Fate shows up and cleanses the Jack’s spirit. Willie fills Kent in on what Fate’s been up to, and how the neighbourhood is getting physically cleaner with each act of her’s. Kent and Inza go out for dinner to discuss Inza’s use of her powers, which is opposite to how Kent was trained by Nabu. Inza researches the building the Jacks use, and learns that it has a long history of murders and other bad acts. She goes to investigate, and is attacked by the Jack’s, who appear to have powers now. When Fate enters the building, she speaks to T’Giian, who is draining her energy. The old woman the Jacks killed appears, but she is sure she is T’Giian herself. Fate blasts the building, clearing away the darkness, but is surprised to see people from various eras hanging out. The old lady invites her in for tea, and we see that T’Giian is now trapped in a jar.
- Issue twenty-nine opens with Kent trapped underground with a group of squabbling college students. He narrates this issue, and starts the story by going back to the morning when he, Tooley, and Willie are working on his roof. They talk about how a very large building is going up quickly, built by a Mr. Bridge, and Willie’s theory that Dr. Fate hangs out in their neighbourhood because she has a thing for him. They are interrupted by Barnaby Nichols, one of the people who Fate freed from T’Giian last issue. He is looking for some pirates that have stolen his pig; apparently many of the newly returned have settled in the area and are setting up farms on abandoned lots. Tooley offers to help Barnaby after he starts shooting at the pirates, and in return, Barnaby makes some awkward comments about abolition. Back in the present, we see that Kent is still trapped underground, and that the college kids are arguing even more. Flashing back, we see that Kent caught the pig, and manages to get lost in a strange neighbourhood. When he asks for directions from a man trying to fix his flat tire, the man calls for Dr. Fate, who comes, fixes the car, and flies Kent home. There, they get into an argument about how Inza uses Fate’s powers, and the fact that she no longer changes back from Fate; she just disguises herself as Inza. Kent gets a call from his Dean, who claims there is an emergency. Inza teleports him to the school. It turns out that Thomas McCoy Bridge, who was mentioned before, came across some archaeological remains in his excavation, and wants someone to check it out, but is only allowing them an hour. Kent finds some willing students, and rushes down. They discover that the site is not an ancient Viking settlement, as believed, but rather the den of a bootlegger who got trapped in a cave-in. One of the workmen above starts moving dirt, and the entrance collapses, trapping Kent and the students. Bridge orders his workmen off the site, to protect them from lawsuits. Kent casts a simple spell asking for Dr. Fate’s help. Inza is called by the Dean, who is worried that he hasn’t heard anything from Kent or the students, so she goes to investigate. A lone workman with a conscience shows her where he saw the letters Kent had made, and Inza rescues everyone; Kent and Inza’s argument is forgotten.
- With issue thirty, we learn that Vince Giarrano has left the title, and is replaced temporarily by Peter Gross, who is developing nicely into the artist he is today. We see that Bridge’s tower is growing and growing, and somehow seems to block out the sun in the neighbourhood, and also seems to be casting a shadow on everyone’s mood. We see a police officer try to mediate an argument between two people involved in a fender-bender, but instead a glowing orb representing Dr. Fate fixes the problem. The officer then tries to help an old woman with poor vision, who threatens her. Kent and Inza chat in bed when Inza remembers that they’d promised to help Tooley and Tolda. They rush into their apartment and find the police officer lying on the couch; she pretends to be angry, but then introduces herself as their niece, Debby Niles, who is there to take her generous relatives out to lunch. She makes a bit of a dig at the fact that the Nelsons own an entire building, while Tooley has been renting his whole life. There is a noise coming from a vacant apartment upstairs, and she rushes up and scares a family of squatters, who we learn, were let into the unit by Tooley. They go for lunch. Inza calls up Mary, the old lady from the T’Giian issue, to see if she wants to go out for lunch, but she’s hanging out with the punk gang. While walking, Officer Debby sees that the same group of kids as before are bothering that other old lady again, and she goes to scare them off. The old lady, confused and scared, shoots Officer Debby dead in front of her aunt and uncle, and Kent and Inza, who just kind of appeared. Inza becomes Dr. Fate and decides that she is going to bring Debby back to life, despite Kent’s objections. On some spiritual plane, she finds Debby’s soul, which does not want to return to life, but she pulls at it, which causes everyone across the city to feel weakened. Debby returns to life, Fate is Inza again in front of everyone, who don’t seem to notice, and Kent speculates that Fate stole some life force from everyone to bring Debby back. Just then one of the punks run up to say that Mary has had a heart attack and is likely dead.
- Inza sleeps next to Mary’s hospital bed, and we learn that the old woman survived her heart attack and does not blame Dr. Fate at all for what happened. Debby comes to visit, and reveals that she knows that Inza is Dr. Fate; this is discussed in front of Mary, who looks like she’s sleeping, but when they leave, she gives the door a weird sideways look that feels like foreshadowing. At lunch, Debby and Inza discuss social justice, Inza’s privilege, and how superheroes don’t really improve the world. Kent feels a little out of sorts at being home alone, and then discovers that Shat-Ru is ranting on the street corner like a crazy preacher, about all that’s wrong with humanity. The crowd enjoys it, but Kent takes him home, but on the way, Shat-Ru says something that makes Kent decide he has to stop Bridge from ruining the neighbourhood. Inza and Debby go to visit the woman who shot Debby, who we learn is named Lillian, and who has been considering suicide. Debby and Inza take her (magically) to visit her friend Ben down the street, and they discuss Bridge’s Tower and the effects of thin air on people. In his tower, Bridge brags to Kent about corporate power. Kent is surprised to see Inza and Debby arrive, and when the capitalist gets particularly Trump-like, Inza turns into Dr. Fate (I guess she’s really done with worrying about a secret identity) and uses her powers to take apart the tower and any other building Bridge owns, and repurpose the materials to build new housing for the poor. In the aftermath of this, no one remembers who Bridge was, and Kent is not happy with how cavalier Fate is about what she’s done. Kent and Debby find Bridge in a homeless encampment, and it looks like his mind has been wiped.
- Scot Eaton debuts as the new regular artist on this book just as DC’s big event of 1991, War of the Gods, kicks off and ties in to this title, making it the first time since Messner-Loebs took over that the greater DCU intersects with Fate’s story. Wonder Woman comes to the neighbourhood looking for Dr. Fate’s help. It’s worth mentioning that at this point, George Perez was still writing WW’s book, and so this might be the first time that Messner-Loebs got to play with her. After getting a sense of the temporal diversity of the area, Diana speaks to a glowing ball, asking for Fate’s help, but only identifies herself as “Diana of Themyscira”. Kent gives Bridge, who is pretty mindless, an apartment in their building, and teaches him how to use a toilet. Inza and Kent argue about her wiping Bridge’s mind when they are interrupted by the ball of light telling them about Diana, but they think it’s referring to a Greek restaurant and ignore it. Inza tries to use her powers to clean the oven, but ends up wrecking it. When Debbie shows up (with apparently, a new way to spell her name), she helps her to fix the oven, and triggers her memory so she realizes that Wonder Woman is looking for her. She finds WW, and they go to the moon to talk. Kent gets a call from Dean Widder, asking him to go to Iran for an archaeological dig; Kent agrees to go. Diana explains to Inza that the gods have gone mad, and they chat for a bit before being summoned back to the neighbourhood, where the Egyptian god Thoth is rampaging. The two heroes fight him, and Dr. Fate starts to drain his powers, which releases all of his mystic energy across the whole city. In the hospital, we see T’Giian absorb some of that power. Later, Inza and Diana fix the wreckage from the fight, and Diana asks if she can use Fate’s tower for a meeting with various magical heroes; Inza agrees. They return to the Nelson’s home to find that Kent has left for Iran, and taken Bridge with him. Inza is upset.
- Tooley buys a bunch of books about Africa from Mr. Mandel, while the ancient Egyptian gods, Isis, Osiris, Set, and Anubis stand around in space talking about Dr. Fate, and how they have been blocking Kent from accessing his powers. They decide to go kill Kent and Inza (this is still part of War of the Gods). Inza and Debby are hanging out; Inza is upset that Kent left her, and is just playing video games. Tommy Bridge is wandering around the desert in Iran and discovers a small pyramid which he takes to Kent. Apparently, back in the days of Alexander the Greek, the Persians constructed mystic obelisks that later got lost in the desert. Kent believes that Tommy’s pyramid is the tip of one of them. In New York, the Egyptian gods appear and start wrecking the place. In the hospital, Mary has a conversation with T’Giian, wherein that god says it wants to take over Mary’s body so it can manifest itself again. Dr. Fate is summoned to deal with the gods, and Debby goes with her. The same gods appear in Iran and let Kent know that it’s because of them that he is powerless. They blast Kent’s employee. In NY, Dr. Fate’s helmet disappears, and Mary relents and gives T’Giian her body; she is immediately restored to her younger self and starts villain ranting. Fate’s helmet visits Tooley and Mr. Mandel, and tells them to use one of the books Tooley has to stop the gods. Kent’s man is not destroyed, and they realize that it’s because of the protective power of the obelisks. Kent sends Tommy to find another, and he is guided by Fate’s helmet, which appears and talks to him. The helmet returns to Inza, who now knows how to stop the gods. Tooley recites an enchantment while Fate becomes a conduit for some mystic energy, and Tommy, still clutching the helmet (even though it’s also being worn by Inza in NY) screams a lot. The gods are gone, and in Iran, Tom Bridge has his memories restored, including his knowledge of Inza’s secret identity.
- Issue 34 is a strange, unsatisfying issue. It opens on Brian and Marcy Giles, a couple that are down on their luck after Brian mouthed off and lost his job. In Iran, Kent continues to excavate these obelisks, but is interrupted by Bridge, who is unhappy with how Dr. Fate treated him. As he complains, he sinks into the desert. T’Giian, in Mary’s now-younger body, goes to visit a state senator who has mob ties, and offers to kill Dr. Fate for ten million dollars. Kent and Abdul dig out Bridge, only to have him sink again. Inza is hanging out with Debby again, and they are talking about how upset she is that Kent is gone. She is summoned to help someone, and is surprised to find a griffin hanging out in New York. She defeats it by turning into a griffin herself. Brian Giles approaches Dr. Fate and asks her to talk to his boss for him; she is in the process of turning him down when she sees a giant salamander squeezing an office building. When she shows it its reflection, it disappears. After that, mystical sky writing identifies Dr. Fate’s house, but she deflects it by putting the same writing over every building in the city. Next, she mysteriously turns back into Inza in front of everyone. Marcy Giles approaches her asking for help with her husband, and Inza blows her off because there is obviously something else going on right then. More glowing writing directs her underground and she follows it. In Iran, Bridge manages to float himself out of the Earth, and then invites Kent and Abdul to go for goat meat. Underground, Inza sees the Fate helmet, which tells her to ‘beware’, and she is then turned into a dog that gets chased by three giant worm things. Inza the dog runs into T’Giian, who turns her back before getting ready to kill her, only Inza’s claim that Mary is still in charge rattles her. Mary promises to keep T’Giian contained, and Dr. Fate (back in her uniform) lets her leave. When she returns home, Debby shows her that Dr. Fate is now listed in the phone book; just then the phone rings and Brian Giles tells her that he’s killed his wife and child, and then shoots himself. Dr. Fate and Debby go to the scene, and Inza promises that from now on, she is going to do more. The premise behind this really doesn’t work for me, and this whole issue felt very forced. The next two issues will have Tom Peyer stepping in on scripting, so I wonder if Messner-Loebs was just really overworked at this point.
- Kent has returned to New York, with Bridge and Abdul in tow. They are surprised to see just how much Dr. Fate has done to improve the neighbourhood, as a glowing ball fixes up their cab, and transports Abdul to see his son. Bridge, after sinking into the ground again (is this going to get explained?) heads off to see about recovering his wealth. Kent rides an old school trolley and runs into Willie, who tells him that he works for Dr. Fate, looking for suffering. It seems that someone is following Kent, and this someone has been showing up lately in the background of other scenes. As Kent gets home, he sees that Inza has put a giant F on top of their building. He also watches glowing balls of light ‘fix’ a woman who was having suicidal thoughts. Bridge goes to his old company, now called Delma Development, and sees that his wife and brother have turned it into a successful builder of low-income housing. The guy that was following Kent approaches him and uses a gizmo to teleport him to a small group of people who are resisting Dr. Fate’s help. Apparently when she cured a young girl of cancer recently, she actually just spread it, infecting other, healthy people. These people want Kent to stop her; he goes off on them, but the guy teleports him out of there before he finishes. Kent returns home and apologizes to Inza (in Dr. Fate mode) for leaving. She takes off the helmet to embrace him, and while they hug, the helmet grows very large and swallows Inza, leaving Kent alone.
- Kent is upset that Inza has disappeared, and while looking for Shat-Ru, discovers that he’s been teaching a class wherein he basically just insults his followers, who then try to piece meaning out of his words. His most fervent follower is named Dorothea. Kent doesn’t get much help out of Shat-Ru, who doesn’t really care. We see that Inza is in a strange dimension listening to narration from a being who claims to be behind her power and choice of direction in using it. Kent discovers that all of Dr. Fate’s glowing balls are now powerless; he accuses Chan of being involved (that’s the guy who had the teleporter last issue but wasn’t named until now), but he is not responsible. Kent is upset to see that the people in the neighbourhood are turning on Dr. Fate for not being there to help them. Dorothea accompanies her friend Linda on a search for Linda’s brother. They approach a building of devil cultists, who try to snatch them; Linda gets away with one of the medallions. She finds Debby, who takes her to Shat-Ru, who refuses to help and keeps the medallion. He then goes to Kent, who is in the Tower putting on his old Dr. Fate outfit (with the half-mask). Shat-Ru powers him up and sends him to rescue Dorothea. Fate/Kent arrives at the cultists’ warehouse, and beats them down when the demon Barobuulak shows up. Kent/Fate beats him, but admits that Inza would have done a better job, with more creativity. Kent returns Dorothea to Shat-Ru, who is genuinely happy to see her and doesn’t insult her for once. The three of them go to the Tower, where Shat-Ru helps Kent get inside the helmet; once there, he finds Inza bound, and a very large dude watching over her.
- The neighbourhood is starting to go back to the way it used to be in the wake of Dr. Fate’s disappearance (even though it’s not been very long). We see that Inza and Kent are trapped by a Lord of Chaos who never actually identifies himself. We learn that he’s been providing Dr. Fate with her power, but has also been responsible for some of the stranger and more dictatorial decisions that Inza’s made. Kent knows some spells from his time as Dr. Fate, and he uses them to help the couple escape Chaos’s realm. They return to New York to find it empty; the Lord of Chaos follows them, looking like a Godzilla-style monster, and attacks. It’s worth noting that neither Nelson is in their Dr. Fate guise. T’Giian arrives and attacks the LoC, which roughly separates the Egyptian god from Mary. Shat-Ru also arrives and is reduced to a pile of ash. Chuck Chan, from the anti-Fate group, films things. The LoC takes off his lizard suit and looks a bit like Lobo. He starts trashing buildings, and when Inza stands up to him, the various neighbours who have made up this book’s eclectic cast of characters all come out to support her. The LoC resurrects Shat-Ru to tell them that resisting him is hopeless, but the instead the formerly recalcitrant Lord of Order tells the people that they all have some mystic energy they can share with Inza. She becomes Dr. Fate again, and tapping into the energy of the whole Earth’s population she grows to the Lord of Chaos’s size, and starts to embrace him, threatening to absorb him. When he starts thinking about settling down and listening to Michael Bolton (seriously), he returns to his own realm. Mary and T’Giian merge again, and Inza and Kent embrace.
- Issue 38 is a fill-in issue by Tom Joyner and Richard Piers Rayner. As these things go, it’s fine, I guess. While Kent is watching TV, Inza brings him a scrapbook she found in the attic, which has an article about a fire in Salem in 1910. It sparks a memory in Kent from when he was Dr. Fate. Apparently about six years ago a strange vortex thing opened in Salem that caused a lot of crazy things to happen around town, which we see in a strange, disjointed montage of bad happenings. Dr. Fate (who was Kent at the time, with no sign of Nabu, although it had been established before that Nabu always took over in these cases). Fate is drawn into the vortex, and wakes as Kent Neslon in 1910 in the home of Celestine and Aaron Babcock. He recognizes Celestine as a medium, and we learn about how she has some psychic abilities, and how Aaron has been trying to increase her powers. We see that Aaron is using Fate’s amulet to power a strange machine; Fate confronts him, and Aaron jumps into his machine, killing himself. Fate speaks to him on the other side, and it looks like they are going to have to fight, but Babcock’s father comes to lead him to peace. Things went back to normal in Salem, and Fate returned to his own time. Closing off the narration, Kent reveals that Celestine didn’t ever actually have any power, and that she was his maternal grandmother.
- Issue thirty-nine marks the first of Peter Gross’s run as the new regular artist, although that run would only be for three issues, which is a shame as Gross strikes the right balance between Giarrano’s cartoonish exaggerations and Eaton’s realism. The issue opens with a congressional hearing into Dr. Fate’s activities. The pages that show characters testifying are full of errors in identifying and portraying the supporting cast. A character who I assume is Willie, in that he’s referred to as Dr. Fate’s enforcer, gets called Mr. Jones, when we knew him as Duncan. Maise, the formerly white bag lady is shown as a more middle class looking black woman. There’s a former addict who describes what happened to Kevin Wilson as happening to him, but he’s called Mr. Cutter. Anyway, the general impression given is that while people acknowledge Dr. Fate’s faults (Kent gets his words twisted and refers to the ease with which one can become “intoxicated by power… to become a monster”) they are also supportive of her. When Inza, clearly not having any sort of secret identity anymore, testifies, she invokes her childhood during the Depression, and the way people stuck together, whereas in the here and now (1992), people are being divided by race, class, and sex. The Senator tries to make things partisan, complaining about the policies of Regan and Bush, but Inza flips it back on him. She turns everyone who has accepted a bribe, abused their elected power, or are cowards into newts, which is all the politicians (Gross does a great homage to MC Escher’s tessellating lizards here). Later, Kent, Debby, and Tooley laugh about this, and are joined by Tommy, who floats up through the floor. It seems he’s using his new incorporeality for good, helping people, and when Inza apologizes for what she did to him, he demurs, claiming she’s helped him. Chuck Chan shows up with a guy from the President’s office, who wants Inza to sign a loyalty pledge. She refuses, and instead gives the suit a token he can pass to the President, which he can use to summon her when she’s needed. The letters page of this issue announces that the title will be coming to a close because Messner-Loebs is too busy writing Wonder Woman and Jaguar (remember that title? No worries, no one else does either), and that DC decided sales were not strong enough to bring in a new creative team. There are two issues left.
- Wonder Woman arrives in the Nelsons’ home just in time to hear Shat-Ru being rude to Jack Ryder on the phone. Kent and Inza have formed Dr. Fate, which apparently means that Fate manifests as a male. They are practising working together, and draw the pollution out of a lack. It seems there is a sea monster in this lake, attended to by vampiric mer-beings, and Fate has trouble fighting them off. They separate, each becoming a version of Dr. Fate and retaining some power. Inza destroys the mer-beings, which weren’t really alive, and then with Kent’s help, fixes the creatures DNA, turning it into an aquatic dinosaur. Then they have a picnic. Wonder Woman goes out for lunch just as Dorothea arrives to see Shat-Ru and starts flirting with him. Their picnic finished, and after discussing the idea of having children, Inza and Kent teleport to Tooley and Tilda’s, where Inza mentions that she’s starting to feel pressure to have kids. Kent and Inza continue to discuss having kids as they go home, and walk in on Shat-Ru and Dorothea being intimate (which, fortunately, we are not shown). They decide to leave the house, and run into Wonder Woman, who has discovered burritos (seriously), and they all go for a walk together, and continue to discuss the possibility of childrearing. Diana suggests that maybe Inza should not be the one to bear the theoretical child, which drives Kent off. Inza decides against children and her and Diana go for ice cream. Kent runs into Chuck, who is upset that his bosses have fired him. Kent mentions that his university has discovered that he is really in his eighties and want to discuss his cover story. Kent asks Chuck if he’s ever thought about gestating a baby. This was a strange issue.
- The final issue of this series opens with the Lords of Order, looking very different from how they were shown before (more geometrical), talking about Earth and Dr. Fate again. On Earth, we see Shat-Ru and Dorothea talking after sex. Kent apologizes to Dean Widder for lying about his identity, but all is fine. Inza visits Willie, who has opened a clinic to help people who have had meta-human problems; she mentions that she is looking to take some time off to be normal and hang out with Kent. A strangely deformed man enters, looking for Dr. Fate, grows to a gigantic size, and teleports away with Fate. Shat-Ru and Dorothea are playing around when the Lords of Order do something, and we see him writhe in pain. Dr. Fate is in the realm of Chaos, but finds things disintegrating; the Lord of Chaos from a previous arc is dying, and wants Fate to stay with him. Inza escapes, and returns home to find that Shat-Ru has died. Kent walks around feeling happy, and chats with Officer Debby and with Chuck Chan, who is building with some of the time-displaced people. He returns home to find a very upset Dorothea, and learns that Inza is in the Tower studying. In a weird nod to Larry Marder’s incredible series Beanworld, Inza is reading from a book by the mystic Fr. Lawrence Marder, who used beans as metaphor for philosophy. It’s a weird moment. Inza becomes Dr. Fate and goes to search for the trail left by Shat-Ru’s spirit. She goes to the realm of Order, where the Lords of Order try to control her, but since her power doesn’t come from them anymore, it doesn’t work. The Lords of Order are also dying, and Inza postulates it’s because Order and Chaos need each other to survive; she combines them into an egg, from which Shat-Ru is reborn, only as a Lord of Chaos. At least that’s what I think happened there. Shat-Ru brings Dorothea to be with him, and we see that the Lords of Chaos have now become Order. The end.
So where I praised the DeMatteis and McManus run for being very non-traditional and basically impossible to publish in today’s comics industry, I think that goes double for William Messner-Loeb’s run with Inza and Kent. There are very few ties to the DC Universe, in the form of guest characters or villains, and a very wonky story structure was used throughout.
The central concepts of this series were an exploration of how to make cities liveable, shared spaces, and an examination of modern marriage when traditional gender roles are upended. I’m not sure if either of these concepts are dealt with sufficiently, but they run through the book in interesting and unexpected ways.
The neighbourhood in uptown New York goes from being a gutted wasteland to a vibrant community with a wide diversity of race and temporal beginnings. Gentrification is addressed, both in the form of the Nelsons themselves, and in Thomas Bridge’s plans for the area. We get to know people at a variety of ages and stages in their lives, from old widows to young street junkies. I just don’t know that there is enough of this stuff to say that Messner-Loebs really managed to say anything special about it. There is also a frustrating inconsistency to how some of these characters are portrayed and used over the course of the run.
As for the marriage aspect, that is much more central, but perhaps equally unresolved. Kent has a hard time accepting that Inza has become Dr. Fate. That’s an interesting thing to explore, especially considering that these are essentially Golden Age characters, who have, I feel, too quickly adopted the sentiments of the modern era. Even Captain America was shown as more of an old fashioned character most of the time. Still, I’m not sure that I can name another comic that addressed this kind of thing so early in comics’ history, and appreciate that Messner-Loebs took an approach like this.
I wish DC published Statements of Ownership with press runs in their comics, because I’d really like to see what the numbers were like on this book. Today? This couldn’t have lasted six issues, and that’s a real shame.
The art on this title was interesting. Vince Giarrano is a good artist who never really got a lot of acclaim. His unique approach to the art really set the tone for the later artists, with the result that his successor, Scot Eaton, never quite looked right on the book. Peter Gross, who I think is one of the quintessential Vertigo artists, did a terrific job of marrying the two styles, and made me wish the title ran for longer.
After this, DC let Dr. Fate lie fallow for a while, before launching the Fate title as a part of Zero Hour. This is the mullet, pouches, and glowing ankh-symbol eye version, and I will admit that I never bought or read a single issue. It looked terrible. After that, we saw the more traditional approach that Geoff Johns took to the character, which worked very well in JSA, before the current New 52 version of the character, which has had great art but very boring stories.
I’m leaving the good Doctor here, and for my next set of columns, I’m going to be examining one of my favourite Marvel characters in one of my favourite Marvel runs (although, to be honest, I never read the first two year’s issues). This character has recently had a relaunch, written by one of my favourite non-comics writers, in his comics debut. Any guesses?
If you’d like to read my column about the Dr. Fate comics that came before this series, you can check this link:
Vol. 1 – #1-4 – Kent and Nabu give way to Eric and Linda Strauss; DeMatteis and Giffen
Vol. 2 #1-24 – Eric and Linda Strauss as Fate; DeMatteis and McManus
If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.
These comics were never collected in trade, so if you want to read them for yourself, you’re going to have to do some digging (or, probably, clicking at Comixology, but that feels like cheating).
Tags: DC Comics, Doctor Fate, Retro Reviews