Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Tragic Final FATE of the Doctor and the Doctor's Writer

FanBoyWonder would once again like to spotlight a worthy comic book series that has been collected in trade paperback (TPB) and is scheduled to hit stores this week—Dr. Fate: Countdown to Mystery.

Here’s the Upshot from DC Comics: The Helmet of Fate has landed…on Kent Nelson — a man so far down on his luck, he doesn't know what luck is! The transformative nature of the helmet grants him powers he can't begin to comprehend…but will they make his life better, or even worse?

This Dr. Fate TPB collects the late Steve Gerber’s eight-issue Fate story that originally appeared last year in Countdown to Mystery—one of the many “Countdown” spin-offs. This particular Countdown book paired the Dr. Fate story with a god-awful unreadable Eclipso story that was instantly forgettable.

FanBoyWonder went into this introduction of this latest of Dr. Fates prepared to dislike it or at least to be disappointed. Why? Because as a long time fan of Dr. Fate—including the most recent wearer of the golden helmet Hector Hall—we resented the change to another new Fate seemingly just for the sake of change.

The problem is that we really LIKED Hector Hall as Dr. Fate in the pages of JSA. Hall—son of (the Golden Age) Hawkman and Hawkgirl and formerly Infinity Inc.’s Silver Scarab— had several years as Fate under his belt and his character as Fate was just starting to find some traction when—to our mind—he was quite briskly and unnecessarily broomed off the stage (along with his newly resurrected wife Fury).

It remains a bitter disappointment to us that JSA writer Geoff Johns has yet to see fit to give Hector Fate proper closure.

We don’t blame Steve Gerber for this. Quite the contrary, Gerber quickly won us over with his rendition of a Dr. Fate who was also named Kent Nelson.

Gerber with art the art team of Justiniano and Walden Wong do a first-class job in the introduction of this new character with the familiar name.

Our protagonist—but decidedly NOT a “hero”—is Dr. Kent V. Nelson, psychiatrist, is a distant relation/descendant of the archeologist Kent Nelson, the original Dr. Fate.

In this scary new world, the helmet of Fate is no longer the host of Nabu, Lord of Order but it’s still a powerful source of magic in an age where the rules of magic have been re-written following Infinite Crisis and the Day of Vengeance mini-series and where the helmet finds a broken man in this stranger named Kent Nelson.

Gerber paints a portrait of a man who has hit bottom—a physician could not heal himself from clinical depression and alcoholism. It caused him to lose everything—his wife and child, his professional reputation and his will to live until the helmet finds him.

Gerber’s excellent re-introduction of Fate is complemented by Justiniano and Wong’s art. This is the same art team from the Day of Vengeance mini-series so there is a visual continuity to this story. Their style is particularly suited for tales of magic and sorcery.

What impressed is most with Gerber’s story was that Kent’s life doesn’t suddenly find purpose and meaning once he comes into possession of the magic helmet—in fact it gets worse or at least more complicated as he seeks to learn on even the very basic rules of wielding magic.

Along into the story, after cleaning up and drying out a little as well as taking a step forward in his astral education, Kent allowed himself to fall off the wagon—“What could it hurt” was his rationale. The result was unforeseen and tragic and nicely played by Gerber.

Gerber deserves special kudos for portraying (relatively speaking given the context) depression and alcoholism in a realistic fashion. Unfortunately, we have some experience in this area and we know each is a disease that not only affects the depressed and/or problem drinker but those who love them as well. Trust us, Gerber kept it real.

Another amusing aspect of the story is its setting—Las Vegas, Nevada. America’s Sin City was also the writer’s home so Gerber was quite successful in making Las Vegas a character in this story—and a shady character at that.

FanBoyWonder has been to Las Vegas no less than half-a-dozen times over the past 15 years—for business purposes we assure you. One can almost feel the greed and desperation that permeates ever aspect of this great big town—the perfect backdrop for a hard-luck, last-stop, would be sorcerer. Double kudos to you Mr. Gerber.

R.I.P. Steve Gerber

The story behind this story is even more compelling. Before it was relegated to a Countdown spin-off title, Gerber’s Dr. Fate had been slated a year earlier to run in a re-launched Dr. Fate series before it was pulled from the line up at the very last minute due to Gerber’s health issues.

It was those same health issues—a lengthy battle with pulmonary fibrosis and an unsuccessful bid for a lung transplant—that claimed Gerber’s life before he could complete his Dr. Fate story—one of the best Dr. Fate stories we’ve ever read.

Gerber succumbed to his illness more than three quarters of the way into the series. True professional that he was, Gerber dictated the plot of issue #7 over the phone from the hospital—literally on his deathbed but he never got to finish his final tale—it wasn’t his Fate.

For the eighth and final issue, four different writers—including Gail Simone and Mark Waid—were tapped to give their version of how Gerber’s Dr. Fate s should end. They did as good a job as could be done under the circumstances but even incomplete, Gerber’s Dr. Fate is absolutely worth your time—check it out.

Dr. Fate: Countdown to Mystery, in stores today, 160 pages, softcover, $17.99.


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