Monday, February 13, 2012

The Fickle Finger Of Doctor Fate, Part 2

(Since it's been something like 2 months, Part 1 can be found here.)

When Roy Thomas' All-Star Squadron premiered in 1981, I can tell you that at least one aspect rankled fans right from the outset. I distinctly remember the letter page complaints about Dr. Fate's half-helmet in the book. And you know, I didn't like it either, though I gradually came to accept it as a novelty. Still, I was glad that the full-helmeted Dr. Fate was still running around in contemporary times.

Roy Thomas didn't invent the half-helmet; he merely utilized it in All-Star Squadron because that was what Fate was wearing during WWII. Jim Steranko in his History of Comics theorized the half-helmet came about to allow the artists to depict Dr. Fate's facial expressions. Maybe that was the thinking, but chopping his helmet in half coincided with cutting off Dr. Fate at the knees.

More Fun Comics #72 heralds the arrival of half-helmet Dr. Fate by plastering him on the cover tackling the crew of a Nazi U-boat, in a scene that does not occur in the interiors. The copy trumpets him as "Startling!" and "Different!", which is irony in advertising if I ever saw it. This issue marks the point where everything that made the character "startling" and "different" is jettisoned, and we're left with something that is neither.

One gets the idea Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman knew and set out to make it plain that everything was different. The story has Inza journeying to the farmhouse of previously unmentioned rural relatives and Dr. Fate having his hands full with a gang of ordinary crooks. It's a far cry from the mysterious and urban tales that had previously been characteristic of the feature. Suddenly, Wotan and Ian Karkull seem out of place. It's almost as if this story takes place in another world altogether from the previous ones.

Things settled into a comfortable rut at this point. Mr. Who, Dr. Fate's new arch-nemesis, debuted in #73, and brought with him some degree of the fantastic. There were other weird criminals, and even a story that recalled the early days of the strip with a world within a painting. However, there was no escaping that there was absolutely nothing special about Dr. Fate. In fact, he had even surrendered the cover slot he had usurped from the Spectre. Green Arrow had replaced him, and while GA didn't keep the spot to himself for very long, Dr. Fate would never again get the spotlight in the magazine that birthed him.

Whether it was an attempt to counteract this perceived staleness or just a weird brainstorm, readers were promised in the blurb at the end of #84's installment the chance to "meet a new Doctor Fate!" in the next issue. What, another one? While I had hoped to keep this review at two parts, this seems like the point where I should stop in the interest of actually finishing this entry. In our concluding chapter, we'll look at how Dr. Fate's journey through the Golden Age ended.

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