Monday, May 14, 2007

Like the Creeper, everybody seems to love Doctor Fate...but nobody seems to know what to do with him. Other than the 1975 Walt Simonson/Martin Pasko First Issue Special one-shot, it is my carefully considered opinion that the Doctor has never really had the creative team to maximize his potential and make him an interesting character in his own title. Yeah, I know that DeMatteis and a few others did about eleventy million issues in the 80s and early 90s, but even though you'd think that sort of metaphysical folderol would be his bread and butter, the handful of issues I read laid on the odd but were never compelling about it- oddness for oddness' sake, if you will. I admit something novel needed to be done with the character, but I'm not sure all the gender-switching and infantilism was the way to go. William Messner-Loebs continued his run of anonymous-scanning stories for DC after DeMatteis bailed, to minimal interest from me. JMD was done in more often as not by the rubber-limbed ersatz Wrightsonisms of Shawn McManus, whose work has never yanked my crank. Likewise Chas Truog and Peter Gross, the artists who did the bulk of that run. His appearances in the first JSA run were OK, but he was only one of many characters and despite at least one featured spotlight story arc, nothing happened to him that really impressed me much.In fact, to this day, my favorite Fate tales remain the original Golden Age stories by Howard Sherman and Gardner Fox, which had a stiff, dry, formal creepy weirdness that made the tales remarkable and established a definite mood.

But really, this isn't intended to be a post about why I've been left cold by DC's modern Doctor Fate tales. I have loftier goals, and I'm sure you're wondering why I posted the above cover. First, though, I wish to direct your attention to what got me thinking about the subject in the first place: as I'm sure you're probably aware, because I'm equally sure that all of you read it whenever possible anyway, over at Steve Gerber's blog he's been keeping us posted on the status of his previously-announced Doctor Fate revival, which (unless I'm mistaken) was originally scheduled to get its own book, but will now apparently appear in an anthology title like the recent Tales of the Unexpected, along with an as-yet-unnamed co-feature. He has also posted a Doc fate sketch by artist "Justiniano", whose hyperkinetic work has been spotlighted in a lot of recent DC titles. If you go to the link, you'll see where I made an uncharacteristically (for me) snarky comment about Doc's cape as done by the one-named wonderboy. All things considered, though, if anybody could make the good Doctor interesting once more, I believe Gerber could be the man. We shall see. Justiniano's art is not my cup of tea, even though in the past I've tolerated its wannabe Greg Capullo-ish stylings in order to read titles I've been interested in, like the Day of Vengeance trade to name but one example.

The second thing, and the real reason I have taken laptop in hand to write, is akin, I think, to introducing oneself as a leper, telling that hot girl you want to pick up at the bar you have genital herpes, or shouting the "N" word in a LA nightclub. But undaunted, I will stand up and make the following statement which will no doubt cost me what little reputation I have left as an arbiter of what is good and what isn't when it comes to four-color funnybooks:

I liked the 1994-1996 Jared Stevens Fate title.

That's right, you heard me. I not only bought, but actually looked forward to reading the exploits of the mullet-haired, shoulder-padded and trench-coated Doc-come-lately, who was all grim and gritty and had a costume that only Rob Liefeld could love and whose run came towards the end of DC's superhero dark ages. I think it's safe to say that this series is universally reviled by all who remember it, especially Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate fans. "But HOW, Johnny B, How did this come to be?" I can hear you saying, anguish in your voices. And I will explain- but later. I want to re-read these books before I opine on them, to see if I still can get the same vibe from them that I had over a decade ago. And know that I was not a fan of mullet-haired, trenchcoated and shoulderpadded heroes with swords and knives and big square guns in those days- that there was something which kept me buying this comic. And as soon as I dig this run out of the Vast Bacardi Archives (not located in my house, just so's ya know, and not in my Mother's basement either. Actually, they're in one of her closets.) I will do the sequel post, perhaps even with scans, and make my case.

Stay tuned, this should be interesting.

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