Dr. Fate #1-24; Annual #1 (Winter 1988-January 1991)
Written by J.M. DeMatteis (#1-24, Annual #1)
Penciled by Shawn McManus (#1-11, 13-20, 22-24), Val Semeiks (#12), Jim Fern (#16, Annual #1), Joe Staton (#21), Tom Sutton (Annual #1)
Inked by Mark McKenna (#1-6, Annual #1), Shawn McManus (#7-11, 13-20, 22-24), Mark Buckingham #12, 21), Jeff Albrecht (#16), Tom Sutton (Annual #1)
Coloured by Lovern Kindzierski (#1-24; Annual #1), Tatjana Wood (Annual #1)
Spoilers (from twenty-five to twenty-eight years ago)
When I write these retro columns, I pick a series that for some reason or another, I want to revisit and remind myself about. Many of the comics I write about I have clear memories of buying and reading the first time, and I enjoy steeping myself in the nostalgia that they bring. At the same time, there are a lot of comics out there that I’ve always meant to read, or think that my adult self might enjoy more than my kid self did. Dr. Fate is one of these comics.
I recently came across almost the entire run of this series, priced at $0.50 an issue. I remembered liking the couple of issues I read back in the day, when the book featured the Justice League, or tied into an event like War of the Gods. I’ve also been curious about the gender fluidity of Dr. Fate around this time, and have always been a fan of his straightforward and simple design.
Add to that work by J.M DeMatteis, Shawn McManus, and later, William Messner-Loebs, and I figured it was time to give this series a shot.
What I didn’t remember until I started this series is that it follows up on a miniseries, which came out in the wake of Legend and Fate’s appearances in the early issues of Justice League (the classic DeMatteis/Giffen series). I don’t know why I didn’t ever get that series, as I’m a fan of Keith Giffen’s art from this time period.
Anyway, I’m diving into this small stack of comics more or less blindly. Jump in with me…
As always, it’s helpful to keep track of the characters that played key roles in these issues.
Dr. Fate is perhaps the least static character in this comic. Over the course of this run, these are the people who ‘form’ him, either on their own or in concert with each other:
- Eric Strauss and Linda Strauss (#1-6, 16, Annual #1)
- Linda Strauss alone (#8-9, 11-15, 18-19)
- Eric Strauss alone (#11-12)
- Linda Strauss and Nabu (#21-22)
- Kent Nelson (#22-23)
- Kent and Inza Nelson? (#24)
- Joachim Hesse (#1, 7-9, 14, 21-24)
- Lords of Order (#2-6, 9-10, 19-22; Annual #1)
- Indra (King of the Fourth Heaven; #8-9)
- Lords of Chaos (#9-10, 18-22)
- Darkseid (#9-12)
- Parademons (#11-12)
- Wotan (#14-15, 23-24)
- Henry Strauss (#17, Annual #1)
- Anti-Fate/Doctor Benjamin Stoner (#18-24)
- Andrew Bennett (I, Vampire; #1-6)
- Deadman (#8-9)
- Martian Manhunter (#14-15)
- Blue Beetle (#14-15)
- Guy Gardner (#14-15)
- Ice (#14-15)
- Fire (#14-15)
- Oberon (#14-15)
- Rocket Red (#15)
- Metamorpho (#15)
- Power Girl (#15)
- Captain Atom (#15)
- Phantom Stranger (#19-24)
- Nabu as Kent Nelson (#1-16, 18-24; Annual #1)
- Petey, the demon often shown posing as a dog (#1-16, 18-24)
- Jack C. Small (#2-14, 18-24)
- Typhon, Lord of Chaos, usually in the body of Jack Small (#3-6)
- Azzarene (#4-5)
- Hachabialshka (Petey’s girlfriend; #7)
- The Guide/The Old Man (#13, 17, 21-24)
- Eugene Di Bella/Eric (#17-24)
- Wendy Di Bella (#17-19, 21-24)
- Raina Di Bella (#17-24)
- Inza Nelson (#23-24)
- Junior Nelson (#23-24)
Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:
- An unidentified narrator opens this comic by talking about how old and tire he is. Next, we are in the living room of Joachim Hesse, who has apparently summoned a number of demons that he cannot control. A very angry Dr. Fate appears after destroying the demons; he lectures Hesse on not dabbling with magic without proper control. We see that one demon remains, hiding in the fireplace. Back at home, Nabu, inhabiting the body of Kent Nelson, who used to be Dr. Fate, is watching Letterman. Fate arrives and splits into his two hosts, Eric and Linda Strauss. They argue about how their mission went, and get annoyed with Nabu, who insists on being called Kent. Eric storms off, and Kent makes Linda sit with him and watch TV while he gets drunk. We see the demon creep out of Hesse’s fireplace and start hunting Fate. Eric narrates for a while, and this is where DeMatteis brings new readers up to speed. It turns out that Eric was just a young boy recently, and Linda is his stepmother. He came across Kent Nelson when he was still in his own body, and Nelson and Nabu aged Eric, who always had knowledge of the Lords of Order, and turned him into Doctor Fate. Later, Linda was added to the mix, because Fate was always meant to contain two people. Eric also admits to feeling some confusion with regards to Linda; he’s always loved her, but now that he’s an adult he suspects she wants more than he’s ready to give. Linda comes to talk to Eric, and we learn that the Lords of Order have abandoned Earth, and that Eric feels they are the only forces fighting Chaos. Linda puts her hand on his, and he gets confused. Linda narrates, and we learn that she’s always had strong feelings for Eric, and is having trouble adjusting to her new lifestyle. That demon breaks into the apartment, and the Strausses form Dr. Fate (in a cool looking scene), and attack the creature. Kent stops them, and starts chatting with the demon. Later, we see the trio walking down the street, and Kent telling them about how the demon wants to stay on Earth, and that he is mostly good. He’s shifted his shape to look like a particularly ugly dog. The last page returns to the narration of the Old One from the first page, who we learn is Andrew Bennett, also known as I, Vampire.
- Andrew Bennett has traveled to a Tibetan monastery in California, presided over by vampire monks. Fate practices with Kent, journeying to inner dimensions, and almost gets lost. Linda’s neighbour, Jack C. Small arrives at the door, and Eric begins to act jealously, while Petey the demon, reveals his ability to talk. In Cali, Bennett chats with Shoju, the master of the monastery. We get a complete recap of his life, as he explains that he has been unable to die lately, and he wants to very badly. Eric and Linda try to hide the fact that their dog can talk, but are interrupted by a visit from the Lords of Order, who want Fate to stop fighting Chaos, so that it can win, ushering a new world of peace. Eric is very angry about this, and the Lords don’t like that Kent/Nabu is opposing them. They make a wager that if Fate can defeat their champion, they will leave him alone. They choose Jack as their champion. The monks meditate with Bennett, and when the sun comes up, they all burn up. The Lords of Order teleport Nabu, Petey, and Dr. Fate somewhere remote and call forth the transformed Jack. Fate refuses to fight, further angering the Lords, who return them home, but don’t turn Jack back to normal. We learn that Andrew Bennett has returned to life yet again, and is visited by the Lords of Order.
- The Lords of Order promise Bennett that if Chaos destroys the world, he will be able to finally die. Bennett has to pray or meditate to make up his mind. Fate tries a few spells to restore Jack Small to normal; he succeeds, except makes him very small. Fate splits into Eric and Linda, and they argue again about who is responsible for what in their mix. They go to Kent for help, and he easily restores Small, and suggests that everyone go for a walk in the park. Bennett agrees to work with the Lords of Order. In the park, Eric and Linda apologize to one another, again, and when Linda gets close to him, Eric takes off. Kent tells them that the Lords of Order are working with a vampire, and are interrupted by a very large and monstrous Typhon, a Lord of Chaos. Eric freaks out a little, because apparently Typhon tortured him in the miniseries; Fate attacks, but Kent keeps trying to stop him. Kent splits Fate back into Eric and Linda, and eventually calms them down. He explains that in this case, Typhon is on their side. He explains the whole Mahapralaya thing, which is this whole rebirth of the universe thing that the Lords of Order are pushing for. Nabu/Kent agrees to work with Typhon, although Eric is unhappy with that. Typhon takes over Jack Small’s body so he can have an Earthly host. We see that Bennett is flying to New York.
- Fate returns to the roof of their building. Eric is very upset about the presence of Typhon, and keeps flashing back to being tortured by him (in the miniseries). In a castle somewhere, a very old man narrates a page about how he sits and guards a great treasure. Andrew Bennett has flown to London, and is being protected by the Lords of Order, so he doesn’t burst into flames in daylight. We see that Eric, Linda, Kent, and Typhon/Small are flying to Europe as well, and are all still arguing with one another. Linda works to calm Eric down. Petey is stuck in the baggage compartment. The old man knows that something is coming, and gets up out of his throne for the first time in a very long time. It looks like he’s a vampire too. Bennett is flying towards this castle, which we learn is in Eustania, a small country near Yugoslavia (which used to be a real country, unlike Eustania, for younger readers). Bennett is in bat form, and is surprised to see a large number of other bats flying towards him. Fate’s crew arrives at a hotel, and Eric continues to get more and more erratic in his behaviour. He forms Fate with Linda, against Nelson’s advice, and keeps hallucinating that the Lords of Chaos are all around him. Bennett is attacked by the other bats, but is so removed from life that their bites don’t hurt him. He flies into the castle, and following his instincts, enters a chamber where the old man is standing before a smiling portrait of Christ. We learn that the old man has been guarding the Holy Grail. Fate continues to fight his hallucinations, while inside his head, Eric and Linda argue. Linda convinces Eric to let her take control; he allows this, and Dr. Fate manifests in a female form. Bennett moves like he is going to drink from the Holy Grail.
- Returning to the hotel room, the female Dr. Fate is angry, and is not appeased to see Kent chatting with some Lords of Chaos through a portal. She attacks Typhon, who momentarily steps out of Small’s body to avoid feeling the damage Fate is causing. Kent finishes his conversation, and takes a few moments to notice that Fate has become female. Fate splits, Kent tells them they are going to have to go to India to stop Bennett, and a hotel bellhop is surprised by the damage in their room. In Eustania, Bennett continues to hold the Grail. Azzarene, the guardian of the Grail, tells his story. He was a poor thief in Jerusalem who was transformed into a vampire by some leprous vamps, and it woke him up spiritually. He ended up at the feet of Christ on the cross, and drank his blood, which made him never thirst again. Later, a stranger (the Phantom Stranger?) gave him the Grail and told him to guard it. Bennett drinks from the cup, thinks nothing happened, gets angry, and is then teleported to a temple somewhere (India), so that he is standing before a statue holding a golden flute. We see Fate (now male again, and apparently in balance) is flying Kent, Petey, and Typhon/Small to India, which is quicker than commercial flying, but more draining. Kent explains that if Bennett blows the flute, which belongs to Krishna, after drinking from the Grail, the world will end. They arrive outside a small temple, and Bennett emerges, playing the flute. The sun goes down, and everything goes to black.
- So everything stays black, until Bennett is resurrected in the middle of an endless void. Predictably, he’s pretty unhappy about this, and is surprised to see that Fate has also survived the Mahapralaya. Together, they see (or more like feel) a gigantic smile, and then watch as creation is formed, and then reversed back into a smile. The two are left in the void again, but both are happy about it. The universe blinks back into being, and we are all outside the temple in India again. The Lords of Order are upset that Bennett won’t be able to destroy the world, and it is suggested that there is a god (most likely, in this context, the Christian one) who is more powerful than Order and Chaos. The Lords of Order retreat, and Typhon/Small grows and attacks Kent. Fate grows too, and they fight for a while. At one point, it looks like Typhon is going to choke Fate, but then he receives a boost of power from the temple, and is able to rip Typhon right out of Jack Small’s body. He tosses the creature into a portal to the Lords of Chaos, who are as perplexed by events as the Lords of Order. Fate and Bennett seem pleased, and as the sun comes up, Bennett plays the flute, catches fire, and fades away. He seems like he’s at peace with the possibility of resurrecting again (did Bennett show up again before his New 52 series? I don’t remember). Fate is too wiped out to fly his friends home, and so they start walking towards Bombay. Somehow, Jack Small is just left behind, and not seen again after we established that Typhon was not a part of him anymore.
- Petey the demon is hanging out in the apartment, and seems very sad. Apparently, he’s been missing for a few days, and begins to tell Linda about it, but they are interrupted by a very drunk Kent. Petey begins to explain why he’s upset. He’s been missing his girlfriend, Hachabialshka, and decides to return to Joachim Hesse’s apartment. Hesse is sitting in a mystic circle in his underwear (apparently if he stays there for forty days, he will rule the world), but he helps Petey access his teleportation spell. Petey falls for a while, but his story is interrupted when Linda has to go check in on Eric, who is sick. When she returns, she stops Kent from getting Petey drunk. It seems that Petey’s world is very Shakespearian, and he continues to tell his story, which is very standard, aside from it being narrated in his weird language, which is a cross between a movie Transylvanian accent and Elizabethan English. Petey’s family is not happy to see him, and he learns that his girl is due to be married. He finds her on her balcony, they make out, and are discovered by her father. Petey stands up to the man (who is his parents’ nemesis), and brings Hacha back to Fate’s world. Hacha is not happy with the place, and Petey sends her back. By this point, even Kent has stopped making lame jokes, and everyone seems sad, until Jack Small enters the room with pizza. Petey feels like he has a real family at last, and this sappy and weird one-off story is done.
- On the plane of the Fourth Heaven, Indra, the king, is disturbed to learn that Joachim Hesse is close to being able to take over his role. Hesse is still in his circle, but is getting closer to his goal. Eric is still very sick, even though the water-borne parasites he picked up in India should be out of his system. Kent is obnoxious when a doctor visits, but his subsequent argument with Linda about his behaviour is cut short because he feels trouble. In the Fourth Heaven, Indra musters his forces to stop Hesse, claiming he will destroy the Earth before allowing Hesse to take over. Deadman shows up, disturbed by the weird weather and the drawing of spirits to New York. He takes over a puppy to investigate. Kent wants to send out Fate, but Linda claims Eric is too sick to merge. He convinces Linda to go out on her own as Fate; the transformation is painful, and when she leaves, she takes Petey as backup. Linda is not as natural at flying or spell-casting as when Eric is in the mix, so they rescue Jack Small from some water demons, and get him to drive them to Hesse’s. Deadman meets them outside Hesse’s building, but since he can’t communicate inside the puppy, he possesses Small. Fate and Deadman run into Indra, who is trying to get into Hesse’s protected building. Back home, Eric worries that he may be dying, Kent acts a little funny, and as the issue closes, Hesse dreams about using his new powers to bring himself food.
- The Lords of Order and Chaos are summoned by an unidentified figure in a blue garb. Eric gets sicker, and this makes Kent serious for once. Joachim Hesse gets hungrier, but resolves to stick out the rest of his forty day ordeal. Indra demands that Hesse die, but when he threatens the entire Earth, it is Dr. Fate that tries to stop him. Deadman is unable to possess Indra, but eventually the heroes convince him to try working with them. Sleeping, Eric has a vision of himself and Linda moving through darkness towards a crescent of light (reminiscent of the smile from the Mahapralaya) and then relives some of his vision from that time. He wakes up, and shows concern for Linda before collapsing. A blue ball of light emerges from his forehead and flies out through the wall. We follow the light to Dr. Fate, who now has the ability to destroy the mystical barrier put up around Hesse’s apartment. The heroes and Indra bust in, but are still not able to affect him in the circle. Deadman (still in Jack Small’s body) leaves for a bit, and returns with takeout Chinese food. He and Petey start eating, and are able to draw the starving Hesse out of his protective circle, ending his quest for power. Indra returns home, Deadman does the same, and then so do our heroes, where Kent tells them that Eric is dead. We see that the Lords of Order and Chaos have been summoned by Darkseid.
- The first (and only) Dr. Fate Annual came out between issues 9 and 10, but continuity-wise, fit somewhere else. Eric is not sick, so I guess this story happened before they went to India, but at the same time, it has Fate becoming a woman at one point, so it would have had to fit somewhere in the Mahapralaya story. It kind of doesn’t matter.
- The first story in the Annual was drawn by Tom Sutton, and is about both Eric and Linda having visions and feeling haunted. Eric feels that his dead mother is visiting him, while Linda keeps seeing Henry, Eric’s father and her ex-husband, in more of an evil haunting situation. We learn that Henry was very abusive towards Linda, and that she only ever stayed with him because of Eric, although she did contemplate suicide a few times. Neither Linda nor Eric feel comfortable telling each other about what they are seeing out of consideration of the other’s feelings, but eventually Linda forces the transformation into Fate so they can access each other’s minds. Fate goes to a form of purgatory, where they find Eric’s mother, who claims to have killed herself. We learn that this is actually the spirit of Henry; the mother passed on to heaven ages ago. Henry requires Eric’s hatred to complete his own penance, yet Eric feels love and somehow frees all the spirits in purgatory.
- The second story, with art by Jim Fern, chronicles how Nabu came to reside in Kent Nelson’s body, after rejecting the Lords of Order. We see him reanimate Kent, then clear out his remaining memories, and then hang out in a hotel while he gets used to things like eating. Nabu rejects the Lords of Order again, and goes to stay with Eric and Linda.
- Back in the regular series, Darkseid continues his chat with the Lords of Order and Chaos. It is really creepy and weird that McManus has Darkseid smiling and showing his teeth. In New York, Kent tries to explain to Linda that Eric is dead, but she doesn’t believe it. When she sits next to his body, her mind starts burning, until a glowing blue ball of light comes out out of her forehead and moves into Eric’s, waking him up. It turns out that he sent his life energy to her to assist her as Dr. Fate. He has more to talk about, but he’s tired so they let him sleep. Darkseid recounts, yet again, the whole Mahapralaya thing, only now he adds a layer, suggesting that out of the darkness will come a new form of humanity that will do away with the yin and yang of Order and Chaos, and of Apokalips and New Genesis. Linda, Jack, and Petey go for a walk, and rather spontaneously, Linda decides that they should take a train to upstate New York and stay over. Petey transforms into a kind of baby, and Linda keeps sending Jack mixed signals. Eric tries to explain to Kent what he has learned since getting sick; basically, it’s the same stuff Darkseid had been talking about. Back to Darkseid, he is further explaining that this new humanity has something to do with Dr. Fate. He offers to destroy Fate, asking in turn that whoever wins the war between Chaos and Order shares control of the universe with him. They don’t like it, but they agree. On the train, Linda gets a weird sense that some part of her has just died. Darkseid takes a boom tube into Eric and Linda’s apartment, appearing in front of Eric and Kent.
- Darkseid is strangely cordial at the apartment, but Kent keeps freaking out about his intended purpose, to destroy Dr. Fate. They fight briefly, which gives Eric time to escape, before Darkseid boom tubes away. On the train to upstate, Petey has a hard time maintaining his babyish shape, and as Jack tries to tell Linda something important, Petey drags him to the washroom. Once there, they both see visions of Kent. When they go to tell Linda about it, Kent possesses the ticket collector to tell them to rush home. Eric wanders and broods in the park for a bit, when Darkseid arrives. Eric, still sick, and alone, doesn’t know what to do, but he figures out how to transform into Fate on his own, although it doesn’t do him much good, as Darkseid maneuvers him into a boom tube to Apokalips. Before he can figure out how to teleport home, Fate is attacked by some demons who begin to tear him apart. Linda and the others return home, and Linda gets very angry at Kent, who is eventually able to tell her that she can still transform and go after him. Darkseid stands and gloats while Fate is being attacked, but then he is himself attacked by the female Dr. Fate.
- The surprise and ferocity of Linda’s attack puts Darkseid on the ropes, while Eric tries to fight off the parademons (not the usual kind, but they are referred to as such here) who are still piling on and trying to eat him. Linda works to free him, and when they join hands, they are successful, despite Eric’s weakened condition. Back home, Petey and Jack find Kent watching the Fates fight on TV and getting drunk. When Petey gives him a hard time about his drinking, Kent finally admits that, when he aged Eric, he imbued him with energies that are now killing him. Darkseid recovers and attacks the Fates, calling forth a massive horde of his demons. Eric has a plan, and the Fates surrender, only to blast Darkseid with their love for one another. Dazed, he decides to let the Fates go, although Eric doesn’t think he even has the strength to return home. As Linda is about to guide him home, a parademon tosses an ax at her, and Eric jumps in front of it, being struck in the side. Even though Linda begins a healing spell, Eric dies. The Lords of Order and Chaos are relieved that the threat to them is gone, while Kent, Petey, and Jack watch the TV in stunned silence.
- After an establishing shot of Eric’s grave, we open on Linda sitting alone in her apartment. Kent, Jack, and Petey arrive, having come from Eric’s funeral, and they try to engage Linda in some conversation, through which we learn that she did not attend the funeral or the graveside interment. Kent is a bit judgemental, which shocks Linda out of her funk a little, as she hits him and throws a bit of a grief-fueled tantrum. Kent takes her to her bed to get some rest. Jack questions Kent about his own lack of guilt for ultimately causing Eric’s death, and Kent talks about the difficulty of being what is essentially a god in human form. They hear Linda yelling, and go to her, to see that she has transformed into Dr. Fate (despite the pain that causes her) and that she is going to go bring Eric back. She flies through a portal to the same ‘waiting room’ purgatory that she visited in the Annual. A guide there (who looks a bit like a hippie Groucho Marx) leads her to Eric’s spirit. Linda is upset when she learns that Eric doesn’t want to return to his life; he shows her proof of the wheel of reincarnation, and makes the claim that they have lived many lives together, and will do so again. Linda has a hard time accepting this until the guide kisses her forehead, filling her with love and understanding. She accepts Eric’s loss, and returns to visit his grave. This really is a beautiful issue, and I find it interesting to see how DeMatteis was using this series to explore a lot of Eastern belief.
- Wotan, Dr. Fate’s old nemesis, interrogates Joachim Hesse for information on Fate and Nabu. Jack Small is representing a client in a divorce case when Linda arrives in the courtroom looking upset, and Jack leaves to help her. Kent is also upset, but his way of dealing with it is to get wasted in a seedy bar, and almost get into a fight with a barfly until Petey intervenes. Wotan keeps talking to Hesse, and tells him his life story, before having Hesse eaten by a gigantic magic fish. Wotan wants to absorb or become Nabu, or something like that, on the path to gaining even greater power. He addresses New York City in the form of a gigantic floating face, and then starts raining fire on the city. Kent wants Petey to go get Linda, not knowing she’s in the same crowd, refusing to get involved. Kent flies himself and Petey up to confront Wotan, who upon learning that he really is in a human body now, throws a magic knife into his chest. They continue to fight, but Wotan gets the upper hand and disappears with him through a portal. Linda sees this, transforms into Fate, and flies into the air. Meanwhile, Petey has ended up in the Justice League’s headquarters (this is the JLI embassy era), where he is attacked by Guy Gardner and Blue Beetle, before he is able to tell them that they need to help them save Nabu. Wotan and Nabu appear outside the temple from the Mahapralaya storyline, and Wotan reveals that his plan is to become God (singular, no indefinite article).
- Issue fifteen begins with a recap of the last two pages of issue fourteen, before we join Petey at the JLI embassy. The League is squabbling, as it did at this time in its history, with Guy Gardner being particularly difficult, before Martian Manhunter gains control of the group. Petey starts to explain what happened to Kent, and that Dr. Fate is not available to help because she is ‘dead’, although then Fate shows up and claims that after dealing with Wotan, she’ll never be seen again. In India, we see Wotan trying to get Kent to admit that he’s still a Lord of Order. He explains that once in every century or so, the essence of God comes and lives among mankind. The temple where the Mahapralaya stuff went down is supposed to be the resting place of his body from the last time he lived on Earth; Wotan wants to absorb it and become God himself. To gain the power to do this, he chokes Kent for a while, and then turns him into a ball of light which he eats. The Justice League shows up (a combined squad from the American and European teams), led by Dr. Fate. Wotan wants them to attack so he can absorb their power too, and some of them make that pretty easy for him. He eventually absorbs everyone but Fate, who he keeps in a birdcage, and leaves outside while he enters the temple. After a page, he returns, blinded and changed, having felt the truth of God’s love, as did Fate and Bennett in the first story arc. The League and Kent are restored, and they all leave Wotan behind. A man in glasses comes to collect Wotan afterwards, promising to tell him about God.
- Issue sixteen is a bit of a fill-in issue that begins with Linda brooding and looking out the window. Petey tries to console her, and she tells a story about why she believes in angels. The rest of the issue is a flashback drawn by Jim Fern, from a time when Eric and Linda first became Dr. Fate. They were in a rural region of Vermont, where a beastly monster thing (think wings and chicken feet) attacked random people. Fate got chased it away instead of stopping it and returned to Nabu, who was just beginning to call himself Kent. A woman named Diane Eagles comes to their hotel room, to seek help because she has been chased by the beast her whole life. We learn that she was the victim of childhood abuse, who rose to rock stardom, but lost everything when she fell into drugs and other issues. As she began to get her life together, the beast started following her. Linda started to feel that there might be psychological thing going on, but then the beast attacked, and Eric and Linda formed Dr. Fate. Linda followed a hunch, and wrapped the beast with love. As it turns out, it was really Diane’s guardian angel, that had taken on all of her hurt, and had gone insane. Diane freed it, and everyone saw other, similar angels in the sky, waiting to greet it. Back in the present, Linda thinks she sees one such angel flying over the city, and takes it as a sign that Eric is fine now.
- Spending even more time with Eric, now that he’s dead, the Guide from the ‘waiting room’, aka Hippie Groucho, appears to Eric, to take him on a wordless journey (wordless except for Eric’s narrating dialogue). He sees his mother right after he was born, and then a little later, when his father, Henry Strauss, acts like a douche towards mother and infant, until he looks into Eric’s eyes and sees the ‘old soul’ that Rebecca, his mother, had just been talking about. Strangely, the story then moves to a house in San Francisco, where a happy man named Eugene is on his way to work, but makes plans to meet his wife, Wendy, and his daughter, Raina, later for dinner. We learn that Wendy is pregnant and anxious, but Eugene has faith that all will be fine. He goes to his job, managing a bookstore. Eric and the Guide have now traveled back to ‘caveman’ days, where Eric recognizes his own spirit in a caveman that rescues a woman, who he recognizes as his father; he also recognizes his mother and Linda, reminding us of DeMatteis’s earlier assertion that these characters are on a continuous journey of reincarnation. We learn that Eric’s spirit often follows someone he refers to as ‘The Old Man’. In San Francisco, Eugene is late to meet his family, and rushes to drive through a rainstorm. His car is hit by another car. Eric and the Guide arrive in India in the 1950s, outside that same temple we’ve seen before. This time, Eric’s spirit is in an older lady, and is once again with The Old Man, who lets the lady know that she need only live one more lifetime; Eric’s. Eric is a little surprised to learn that the cycle of rebirth is going to stop for him now. In SF, Wendy sits by Eugene’s hospital bed and prays, despite not believing in religion. Eric and the Guide ascend through multiple interpretations of heaven, based on the needs of the believer, and as their forms burn away, they approach the ‘smile behind the universe’, DeMatteis’s conception of God, but Eric is gripped with the certainty that he needs to return to the world. He and the Guide appear in the hospital next to Wendy and Eugene as Wendy prays. Eugene appears outside of his body, and speaks to Eric. It becomes clear that Eric is going to inhabit Eugene’s body once Eugene dies. Eric also recognizes the Guide as the Old Man. As Eric awakes in Eugene’s body, in New York, Linda wakes up with the knowledge that Eric is alive.
- Issue eighteen opens with a stream of consciousness narration by Doctor Stoner, who I guess was in the miniseries that preceded this book. He was a doctor at Arkham Asylum who was used by the Lords of Chaos to fight Dr. Fate, and who has been a prisoner of the Lords since he failed. We see that he is chained naked to a rock somewhere, and picked at by vultures, until the Lords of Chaos tell him it is time for something. We get another similar narration of Linda’s recent past, which ends when she wakes up certain that Eric is still alive. Her happy yelling brings Kent and Petey to her room. In a third stream of conscious update, we see things from Eric’s perspective until he wakes up in Eugene’s body. Or he is Eugene now – it’s not clear. The Lords of Chaos try to burn the goodness away from Doctor Stoner, but are frustrated to find that he still has a love for humanity; they still intend to use him as a chaos-warrior. In Linda’s apartment, some three weeks later, she gets frustrated by the fact that Jack, Kent, and Petey don’t believe her that Eric is still alive. She transforms into Dr. Fate and flies off. She flies into space, and sends out a tendril of herself to search for Eric. Eugene/Eric is spending time at home with his family, having been released from the hospital, when the tendril of Fate comes through the place and then moves on. Days later, Dr. Fate is frustrated that she hasn’t been able to find Eric, although she did come close. She turns back to Linda on an icy mountaintop somewhere, and then finds that she can’t turn into Fate again. Dr. Stoner narrates again, reflecting on how he is a good person, but the Lords of Chaos interrupt his thoughts by bringing him a spiky version of Fate’s helmet.
- The Lords of Chaos put the spiky helmet on Stone and he becomes the Anti-Fate. In New York, Petey and Jack give Kent a hard time because they are worried about Linda, who is missing, when she teleports in front of them as Dr. Fate, but she soon loses the power and becomes her normal self. She can’t maintain Fate without Eric, and is still convinced that he is alive somewhere. Kent suggests they all need to drive into the country. Eugene and his family are going for a stroll in Golden Gate Park. We learn that Raina imagines fairies and other magic folk all around her. The Phantom Stranger appears, freezes time, and tells Eugene that he is really Eric, and that a great destiny awaits him, before disappearing. The Anti-Fate goes to Arkham Asylum where he continues his crazy narration and lets the inmates out. Kent has driven our usual cast to Salem Massachusetts, where they find the old Dr. Fate’s tower, from previous incarnations of the hero. Anti-Fate argues with himself or with the Lords of Chaos, who want to take something from his mind. Just as they are about to, the Lords of Order appear and return the Arkham inmates to their cells. The Phantom Stranger approaches the sleeping Eugene, wakes him up, and tells him once again that he is Eric, and that with his help, he will be born again.
- It seems that Anti-Fate, who is rhyming in his head, has to choose between Order and Chaos, and that decision is going to have a huge impact on the world. We keep checking in on him as he wrestles with his decision, without ever making sense. Kent, Linda, Petey, and Jack are exploring Fate’s Tower, which has clearly been rebuilt. Kent is very grumpy, and everyone but him are surprised to find Dr. Fate’s helmet and amulet hanging in the Tower. Eugene/Eric is chatting with the Phantom Stranger. Eugene’s leg is now completely healed, despite being in a cast last issue. The Stranger keeps calling Eugene Eric, which confuses him. The Stranger tells him about some of his past lives, and they establish that Eugene’s neighbour cannot see the Stranger. The Stranger shows Eugene everything that has happened in Eric’s past lives, and how everyone is a drop in the ocean of love that is God. Raina, Eugene’s daughter comes outside and asks who the Stranger is. In Fate’s Tower, Linda tries to claim the helmet and amulet unsuccessfully. Kent explains that without Eric, Linda cannot become Fate any longer. Everyone catches a glimpse of the real Kent and Inza Nelson in the amulet, and our Kent says that Petey and Jack are going to have to get them out of it. The Anti-Fate spends some time thinking about the negatives of humankind. Although she didn’t know who he was a couple of pages ago, Raina now claims to be friends with the Stranger, who explains to Eugene that there is a new humanity coming that will be more in touch with the spiritual nature of life on Earth, and then disappears. We see Anti-Fate with the Earth in his hands, and with Order and Chaos flanking him, as he prepares to make his decision.
- Anti-Fate continues to struggle with his decision, before deciding to side with Chaos. Kent, now wanting to be called Nabu again, sends Jack and Petey into Fate’s amulet to guide the original Kent and Inza Nelson out again. Nabu then tells Linda that they need to join together to become Dr. Fate. The Anti-Fate tries to sow Chaos in the world, but finds himself identifying with a whale being pursued by a whaling vessel. Wendy Di Bella goes shopping, and has a vision of The Guide. Eugene/Eric wakes from a nap, thinking about the many lives he’s lived, and then chats with his daughter Raina about the people she sees. The Phantom Stranger joins them, and talks about how people feel hopeless without reaching out to God’s servants for assistance. He takes them to visit Raina’s ‘people’. Nabu tells Linda that his time is coming to an end, but he doesn’t make a lot of sense. He admits that he knows that Eric is alive, but that before he can explain, they need to stop the Lords of Order and Chaos again; they become Dr. Fate, but it’s a painful process. The Anti-Fate decides that he cannot follow Chaos, but likewise does not want to follow Order. As the Lords, in the guise of Stoner’s parents, try to force him to choose, Dr. Fate arrives, but he’s over-sized, with four arms. In the amulet, Petey and Jack fall for a while, before landing on a platform, and discovering Joachim Hesse eating pizza.
- Benjamin Stoner recaps his life story, focusing on his relationship with his parents (his father fell apart after his mother died) and how he always felt torn between order and chaos. Both sides, Order and Chaos encourage him to kill Dr. Fate (four arm version). The Phantom Stranger has taken Eric/Eugene and Raina to the Realm of the Helpers, and talks to him about the coming new humanity that will fix the Earth. Fate and Anti-Fate continue to fight, and end up drawn to the same temple in India that they are always drawn to. Linda understands this better than Nabu, and we get to peek into their inner dialogue as Anti-Fate soundly beats them, at least until Fate grabs his hand. Hesse explains to Petey and Jack that he can control reality (within the amulet) with his mind, and as they travel together, they see Dr. Fate floating in a forest. Anti-Fate is hit with the power of the smile behind all things, and when he comes to again, he rejects his powers, Order, and Chaos. As the Lords prepare to depart, they hit Dr. Fate with a beam that separates them back into Nabu and Linda, and both look unconscious. In San Francisco, Wendy returns home to find The Guide in her kitchen.
- In a building near the Indian temple, we see Nabu and Linda being treated by acolytes, including Wotan. In San Francisco, The Guide talks to Wendy without saying anything, and it seems they are discussing Raina, and something that Wendy is going to have to do that scares her; Eugene’s ghost watches over this. In the amulet, Dr. Fate (Kent Nelson) attacks Petey, Jack, and Hesse, making it clear he does not want to talk to them at all, before flying off. Hesse turns himself into Dr. Fate, as do the others, and they fly off in pursuit. We see Kent, now dressed in normal 40s attire, arrive at a suburban home, where Inza and their son, Junior, are waiting. Kent tells Inza that Nabu has sent someone to find them. The Phantom Stranger returns Eric/Eugene and Raina to their house. Eric thanks the Stranger, who, after Eric leaves, has a silent conversation with The Guide. Eric/Eugene finds Wendy embracing Raina, and then makes Eric/Eugene promise that he will look after her, with Eugene’s ghost looking on. In India, Nabu wakes up, and talks with Wotan and Benjamin Stoner about where they are, before he falls back asleep. It looks like Linda may not recover from her injuries. Inside the amulet, the three new Fates find Dr. Fate, and after they fight for a bit, Kent offers to take them to his home. Petey and Jack explain that they were told that the Nelsons need rescuing, but they believe that they are in Heaven, and they do not trust Nabu very much. Walking down the street, Wendy appears to suffer a stroke, and falls on the sidewalk, with The Guide and Eugene looking on.
- The last issue of DeMatteis and McManus’s run is narrated mostly by the Phantom Stranger, who is telling a story to young Raina. It starts in the amulet, where Petey, Jack, and Hesse continue talking to the Nelsons about whether they are in Heaven or in Fate’s amulet. Eric/Eugene shows Wendy, who is dying in the hospital, her earlier lives, and then the ghosts of Wendy and Eugene visit. Eric starts to suspect he was brought back to look after Raina. In India, the dying Linda is brought to the temple, and while Nabu disagrees at first, he takes her into the small building to die. Kent explains to Inza that he thinks that their shared afterlife has been a gift from Nabu, a notion that Junior, their son, agrees with. They decide to return to the world, but Joachim Hesse decides to stay behind, since he is finally happy there. The Nelsons return to the Tower of Fate, and appear to inhabit Fate’s body together. As Nabu stands over the dying Linda in the temple, they are somehow joined by Eric/Eugene and the dying Wendy. Linda immediately recognizes Eric, and transfers her consciousness or spirit into Wendy’s body with Wendy’s permission. The married couple’s spirits fly off together. The Guide appears and turns Nabu into a spirit, which chooses to be reborn through Wendy as a baby. Eric/Eugene and Linda/Wendy return to San Francisco, and the Phantom Stranger brings Raina to them. Jack and Petey turn up in San Francisco too, and are confused until they find a note addressed to them from the Phantom Stranger saying that Eugene will explain everything later. The Stranger and The Guide walk off into blackness together, and we are shown the smile behind all things one last time.
Okay, this was a two-year exploration of Eastern concepts of death and rebirth that attempted to align Eastern thought with Judeo-Christian mythology, wrapped in a comic series that was updating a venerable Golden Age character, which balanced humour and some pretty gut-wrenchingly sad stuff, and that only featured two proper “supervillains” in two years. I really applaud the DC Comics of the 1980s for its willingness to explore some difficult and unusual concepts and corners of its shared universe. This comic would not be allowed a five-issue arc in today’s market, but DeMatteis was given two years to play with this stuff, and the series continued after he left.
There is a lot of very interesting stuff going on in this comic. DeMatteis’s interest in philosophy was apparent in some of his other work around this time (I’m thinking of Moonshadow, and his Gargoyle miniseries primarily), but this came out at the same time that he was scripting the very funny Justice League (International). He often showed the same kind of humour as in that book, primarily through the slapstick behaviour of Kent/Nabu, Jack Small, and Petey the demon.
The humour in the book contrasted with the tragedy of Eric Strauss, the young boy who had been aged to adulthood, which ultimately killed him. There is some uncomfortable stuff at the beginning of the run, where Linda is physically attracted to Eric, who had previously been her stepson. I wasn’t sure where that was headed, but the revelation that they had spent many thousands of lives together over history made that stuff a little more acceptable. At the same time, the fact that Jack had feelings for Linda was developed, but then completely abandoned, which also felt a little odd.
I’d expected that the series would explore the duality of Fate’s nature a little more, but DeMatteis never really dug into that aspect of the character as much as I’d expected. In some ways, this Fate is a lot like Firestorm, an amalgam of two characters, but aside from a lot of bickering after separating, we only rarely saw the divide within the character while in action. The balance between Chaos and Order didn’t really come up as much as I would have expected, at least in terms of Fate’s own existence (as opposed to the Lords of these concepts, and their scheming). Dr. Fate himself (or herself) is not actually a character in this comic; he/she/they/ze doesn’t really exist on his/her/their/zer own. That could have been explored a little more, as there’s some strong story potential there.
It’s hard to imagine this book existing without Shawn McManus, who uses a pretty cartoonish approach to his figures, but who is also able to express some pretty complex emotions through his facial expressions. I really like the idea of Dr. Fate’s mask conveying emotion, and thought that he drew a very cool Fate (and maybe the weirdest Darkseid I’ve ever seen).
I have never been a religious person, but there is something attractive in DeMatteis’s vision of the concept of God being “the smile beyond all things”, and that there is no active deity involved in running the world, but instead just a sense of overwhelming love that drives the universe.
I think it’s interesting that later incarnations and revisions of Dr. Fate have returned to the character’s Egyptian origins. The whole Chaos/Order divide seemed much more prominent in the DC comics of the late 80s and early 90s, and today you hear nothing about it at all (although I don’t know what Hawk & Dove’s origins are in the New 52, now that I think about it).
This was a good series. I realized while I was reading it that I probably should have started with the DeMatteis/Giffen miniseries that brought us Eric and Linda, but I never owned it. Then, between finishing DeMatteis’s final issue and writing this column, I ended up in a comics shop where I found that miniseries for only $4. That means that my next column will explore it, before I move on to William Messner-Loeb’s followup to DeMatteis’s work.
If you’d like to read any of the my other retro-review columns, they can be found here.
If you’d like to read any of the stories I talk about here, you are going to have to find them online or go digging into some pretty deep longboxes. It looks like these comics have never been collected, which is not really a surprise, is it?
Tags: Dr. Fate, Retro Reviews