Armagideon Time

My fondness for the Golden Age super-sorcerer Dr. Fate dates back roughly three decades, cialis sale when my mom brought home an oversized “Treasury Edition” reprint of the Justice Society’s first appearance she found at a flea market. I couldn’t tell you why the character appealed to my younger self, prescription other than the fact that he had a snazzy costume and a nifty (and undefined, malady as is the standard for magical superheroes) set of powers, but appeal to me he did.

As a result, I picked up whatever appearances of Dr. Fate were available in the flea market quarter bins that were my primary source of comics in those days — Golden Age reprints, guest spots in Brave and the Bold, JLA/JSA summer team-up stories, a one-off First Issue Special tale drawn by Walt Simonson, and the short-lived All Star Comics revival of the 1970’s. (I am also semi-shamed to admit that only Firestorm is better represented than the Doctor in the collection of posable plastic effigies I’ve gathered over the years.) No one was more disappointed than me when DC shelved its plans to publish a complete hardcover edition of Fate’s Golden Age stories.

Even without a ongoing series of his own, the good Doctor got around quite a bit in those days as the DC Multiverse’s go-to guy for magical-related plot devices. If he never broke into DC’s upper tier of superheroes, it was clear that the publisher, or at least creators like Keith Giffen, dug him enough to keep him fairly active.

It was also clear, however, that the powers-that-be had concerns about how relatable the character was in an era where superheroes were expected to have “real-life” problems. Kent Nelson was a superhumanly strong and immortal archaeologist who put on a magical helmet and became even more powerful. When he wasn’t out facing down magical super-threats, he hung around his magical tower in Salem, Massachusetts (two blocks down from the Skyclad Bar and Grill and across the avenue from Raevynn’s Crystal Emporium; if you get lost ask the crowd of mopey goth teens for directions) with his immortal (and hot) wife Inza.

Alan Moore may have been able to sell the concept (in a single panel of a Swamp Thing story, too boot), but by the late 1980s, Giffen and others got it in their heads to shake up the decades old status quo. Kent Nelson was revealed to be a semi-reluctant pawn in the battle between Order and Chaos (one of many overarching DC universe cosmologies to have been emphasized and abandoned over the years) before giving up the mantle to a gestalt being comprised of a child who had been magically aged into an adult and his stepmother (which was played for sitcom style laughs along the lines of the then-popular Justice League International and various creepy erotic manga titles).

After that incarnation failed, Kent’s wife Inza took up the role for a short while before Kent returned to form another composite male/female version of the character. During the course of the course of 1994’s Zero Hour (it always comes back to Zero Hour) event miniseries, Kent and Inza were stripped of Fate’s powers as well as their immortality, thus setting up the debut of an EXTREME 1990s version of the character…

Jared Stevens, the Travesty Called Fate!

Stevens starts off as a grave robber with a ‘tude, commissioned by his ex-wife’s father to swipe the amulet, cape, and helmet of Dr. Fate from an Egyptian crypt. A few awkwardly blocked action sequences later, Stevens finds himself magically transported to Fate’s tower in Salem, where the now-geriatric Nelsons await to claim their lost artifacts.

The meeting is disrupted by the arrival of (brace yourself) Bloodstain and Thunderspawn, a pair of demonic minions who waste no time in slaying the Nelsons. (Other demonic minons appearing in this story arc: “Thrashold,” “Quill,” and “Karnivox,” which translates to “Flesh Voice.” Yeah.) They also manage to mutiltate Stevens’s right arm before he causes Fate’s amulet to explode, granting him magical powers and a bitchin’ ankh tattoo over his right eye.

Stevens then heads over to his former wife’s apartment (because what are exes for, if not to offer comfort and shelter after a demonic incursion?), where she struts around in a tight miniskirt and pouts before they finally decide to consult their nerdy occultist pal (brace yourself again) “Burnsteel.” Some exposition is jibber-jabbered, some mystical crap is evoked, and Stevens is summoned away for a meeting with Nabu (no, not this, thankfully), the original Dr. Fate’s mentor and manipulator who dwells inside Fate’s helmet.

Nabu tries to explain concepts like “destiny” and “being the Chosen One” to the rude and ‘tudey Stevens, but eventually realizes that the guy is a tool who won’t last out the next inevitable retcon and leaves him to his own devices. When Steven crawls back into this plane through a cosmic cauldron (or sphincter or outflow valve or whatever) it as a man changed….a Man Called Fate. (If he listened to his mom and stayed in school he could have been a doctor, but, no, Mister I’m-Too-Cool-For-Community-College had to become a looter of antiquities instead…)

The transformation process not only endows him with the requisite oversized single shoulder pad and a fetching set of utility harnessess, it also reforges Fate’s helmet into a groovy hunting knife and set of ankh-shaped throwing darts. Even the higher planes were not immune of the creative malaise of the 1990s, it seems.

(Fate’s cape had already repurposed into a makeshift mystical bandage around Steven’s mangled arm. Doctors are for sissies in Jared’s sad little world. Better to walk around sporting a hastily-tied gold sheet around your gangrenous appendage.)

All this leads (eventually, with much confusion and a painful Crocodile Dundee reference) to a final confrontation with the architect of all this tomfoolery, an arch demon known as the dreaded (still braced?) Kingdom.

Not only is he the embodiment of evil, he’s also a huge fan of Mick Jones. Hey, Kingdom, what’s your favorite Big Audio Dynamite song?

Huh. I’m partial to “E=MC2,” myself.

The Kingdom gets thwarted, Stevens has a tentative reconcilliation with his ex-wife, and together with Burnsteel, they head off to do the supernatural mystery-solving thing like the Scooby Doo gang…only instead of foiling Mr. Jackson’s smuggling ring in the abandoned riverboat, they take on threats like a PC that got possessed after some occultist tried to make an Excel spreadsheet of mystical lore. (He would have gotten away with it,too, if not for those meddling kids.)

Fate lasted an inexplicable (and depressing) twenty-three issues before being relaunched as an even more desperate piece of fan-pandering in Books of Fate.  After that title ran its eleven-issue course, the Man Called Fate was retired — via a well-placed blade between the vertebrae — in order to set up the return of a more traditional incarnation of the character in the newly launched JSA series.

As another horrible example of what happened when comics creators operated under the influence of the 1990s, Jared Stevens more than deserves the designation of Nobody’s Favorite.

9 Responses to “Nobody’s Favorites: A sad twist of fate”

  1. Thomas

    I hate to break it to you…but I liked the JAred Stevens Fate. That first story, written by John Moore, sucked rocks…but later issues, written by Steven Grant, showed a sense of humor (a particular storyline about Hollywood was very funny) and style that I enjoyed tremendously.

    Yes, the BOOK OF FATE reboot was intolerably bad, though….

  2. Crowded House

    Is it wrong that after reading this, I now want to see some superhero fight a demon named “Screaming Fist?”

    Also, wow, a hero was even lamer than the Zero Hour Manhunter. Figures it would’ve spun out from the same crappy crossover. And was it just me, or was Fate keeping his ankh darts sheathed UNDER HIS SKIN on that Book of Fate cover? Good god. Talk about X-TREME!!!!1!1!1111!

  3. catullus

    The end (“fate”?) of Jared Stevens was pretty ignominous, when the time came to relaunch the good Doctor, as Hector Hall…

  4. Jake Saint

    Of course the original is best, by far. However: In the Kingdom of the ’90’s, the slightly less awful character is tolerable.

    I liked Fate, though I’ll grant there may exist a strange comic collectors variation on the Stockholm Syndrome where you grow to like a character as a result of a buying habit.

    I’ve always been attracted to peripheral characters, if only because they tend not to collapse under their own continuity and you don’t have to follow any satellite titles to follow the story. Which also makes it easier to get a grasp on a character should you be a young and naive aspiring writer wanting to create a full script for a low-selling title with the hopes that DC might just be desperate enough to give you a shot (but actually results in a courteous form letter informing you that they don’t need any pencillers at this time).

    (This also goes to explain how I came to own so many issues of Shadowman.)

  5. Charles W.

    DC *did* publish those Golden Age stories – there’s an Archive of Doctor Fate that came out a couple of years ago. You can find a listing for it on Amazon. Happy reading.

  6. WizarDru

    Ugh. It hurts my SOUL.

    Funnily enough, his death scene was just re-posted to Daily Scans today. That was literally the first and last placed I’d ever seen him.

  7. Doc K.

    I dunno. I liked the concept, if not the execution.
    You take a character with fifty years of history that have never completely worked for the reasons mentioned in this article and give it a completely different spin – instead of the magic helmet with Nabu inside it, the helmet becomes a knife! the cloak of levitation a bandage! – but then again, the scenario of dealing with magic entities and such makes it a tough series to follow no matter what you do.

    There are some characters that seem to exist that just give writers a hell of a time in creating decent stories. What do you really do with Dr. Fate as a character? Or his Marvel counterpart, Dr. Strange? Every few years, “the rules of magic change” in DC – because the threats to someone who can do literally anything are tough to find.

    As everyone said, the Book of Fate was a horrid follow-up to this series, though.

  8. Sumguy

    Why, dear god, why did they decide that rebooting Dr. Fate without the helmet was a good idea? I get taking off things like trunks and big medallions when you’re rebooting a character, but come on, that helmet is responsible for about 60% of Dr. Fate fans.

  9. ian182

    Sorry but i seriously DISAGREE!! Jared Stevens RULED!!!! and i loved the fate series..books of fate? never got around to ’em and you can’t really make yellow and blue work as a series(look at booster gold)

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