Skip to content

Joe Kubert. Walt Simonson. The senses-shattering origin of Dr. Fate. BE THERE. – 1st Issue Special #9

April 12, 2013


It’s one thing to open with a Joe Kubert Doctor Fate cover, but it’s another thing to look inside that cover and find some delightful Walt Simonson artwork waiting for you. That’s a chocolate-and-peanut-butter level treat, friends. There might be 0ne-two combos with greater combined tallies of critical adulation, but you’ll seldom find two artists more well-liked than the late Mr. Kubert and the still truckin’ Mr. Simonson. The former’s classic work, whether it was searing your retinas with a Sgt. Rock cover, or illustrating damn candy ads, always charmed. And Simonson, who has had a long and prolific career, had his place in comicdom assured with his definitive run on The Mighty Thor. No one thought Stan Lee and Jack Kirby could be surpassed, and maybe they never will be, but Simonson, with his Mjolnir KRAKATHOOMs and Beta Ray Bill, came as close as anyone. It was quality storytelling and it was fun. Stellar.

Simonson is the component that makes this edition of 1st Issue Special in particular so interesting. Published in 1975, it came early in his career, and you can still see his distinctive style being honed. This isn’t to say that the artwork is rough. Far from it. Just fresh, with all the components readers in later decades would recognize, but not quite in that groove. And as an added wrinkle, this early jaunt into the realm of costumed superheroes crosses into the territory of the Egyptian gods. We all know what wonders Simonson worked with the Norse pantheon, so it’s interesting to see him heading south in this mid-70s book.

Before we get to the comic, a word about Dr. Fate: Of the second — or third — tier of DC superheroes, Fate is a personal favorite. The helmet. The colors. All good. When I was a kid, he was the character I most liked to draw — mainly because his helmet didn’t have tricky facial features like irised eyes and noses, but still. And Fate’s single appearance in Smallville, a stupid show I loathed with a white-hot passion, was one of the few times where the WB/CW/Whatever got a DC character right.

That helmet.

The action here in this 1st (And Only) Issue Special (scripted by Martin Pasko) opens with a mummy coming alive in Boston and killing a museum curator and a wealthy benefactor. Enter Fate:


(Aside: I knew KRAKATHOOM. I served with KRAKATHOOM. You, WHAM, are no KRAKATHOOM.)

What’s Khalis’ big gripe? It’s — literally — the age-old battle between cats and dogs. We’re treated to an ancient Egypt flashback, where young, unbandaged Khalis topples a Bast-loving city (yes, that Bast, known to most comic readers as the horny, blue, bipedal, breasted cat goddess in the Sandman comics), all in the name of Anubis, the jackal-headed funerary god of old. He’s stopped by the spell-casting derring-do of Nabu, and condemned for failure to his mummy fate (no pun). But now he’s back with a vengeance, and stomps all over Fate before taking the poor guy’s amulet (it’s like one of us getting mugged).

So off Fate goes to lick his wounds and plot strategy, but not even DC’s premier master of the mystic arts can escape relentless yenta-ing at home:


Poor Kent Nelson. I know, honey. You’re right, my dear. Yes. Yes. You’re right. Did Kent Nelson ever slam his hands down on the kitchen table and bellow out “I BET CLEA NEVER TALKS THIS WAY TO STEPHEN STRANGE”?

This wouldn’t be a “first” issue without some exposition on the beginnings of our character. Behold, the origin of Dr. Fate, conveniently condensed into one gloriously constructed Simonson page:


Khalis eventually converts Boston into a simulacrum of ancient Egypt (no great loss), which fails to impress his dark idol (look at the wonderful hieroglyphic two-dimensionality of the clouds — a great Simonson touch):


It seems doubtful that Anubis’ “Shame and Mockery” management style is being taught in any business school.

Fate carries the day, and the story ends with an appeal for fans to write in and let the DC editors know whether or not they want to see an ongoing series. There wasn’t one, so evidently no mail carriers were hunched over beneath giant sacks of mail. Oh well. There’s also this behind-the-scenes talk on the making of the comic, where Simonson both provides a self-portrait and gives away the game on his famous signature:


Alas, Dr. Fate has never had much run as a solo star — maybe there just isn’t enough meat on those bones, at least not enough to support a monthly. Maybe Fate’s fate (had to do it once) is to always be part of DC’s strategic character reserve, to fill the breach when a golden helmet or timely spell is needed. So be it. But we can all look back at this “first issue” and wonder whether the god-friendly hands of Walt Simonson could have worked their magic with him a decade before they resuscitated a different legend. Simonson hadn’t fully embraced the aggressive style that raised the God of Thunder to new (or different) heights, but all the elements were there. Look at the origin sequence. Look at Anubis. Look at them and see the (past) future.

Want to know when there are new posts? Follow on Twitter.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 13, 2013 1:26 am

    Great piece, and a great comic. I don’t know what possessed me to buy this book from a spinner rack when I was 8, but I did, and it blew my mind.

  2. phil permalink
    April 14, 2013 4:14 am

    Got this issue! And yes Simonson’s signature is a dinosaur.

  3. April 14, 2013 11:00 pm

    LOVED this issue. Bought the story again in a JSA-themed digest comic, again in Baxter format and yet again in an “Art of Walt Simonson” TPB. And the sad part is I would buy it again in a heartbeat. Easily one of the three or four best-drawn stories ever, and like you I was a total sucker for Dr Fate back then (before they ruined him…repeatedly). The only downer is that a very young me totally misinterpreted that cover design (with the ginormous “1” and tiny “9”) to mean we were getting a Fate series. Major bummer. I later learned I was meant to be fooled: DC’s bean-counters had noticed how well issues with #1 on the cover sold, so they ordered up a title that could be a “first issue” every month. Might have worked, too, if Fate hadn’t turned out to be the only concept in the whole run that didn’t completely suck.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: