Monday, January 23, 2012

Review: The Golden Age Dr. Fate Archives Vol. 1

This book needs to be reviewed on three separate levels.  First, the presentation (reprinting and binding); second, the first 1/3 of the book which introduces the powerful Dr. Fate with the full helm; and finally the last 2/3 of the book which deals with a constant changing Dr. Fate that seems to trade in his powers for wise cracks. 

In terms of presentation, the reprinting of the stories really does look beautiful  It is done in very high quality paper and the colors pop out at you.  I'm sure it looks even better than it did when the comics first came out.  The hard cover  and binding are very well done.  Overall, it is a very handsome book that boasts almost 400 pages of stories.  

Onto the stories themselves.  I really enjoyed the first 1/3 of the book which introduces Doctor Fate as a solitary being of great mystic power that speaks with a tone of esoteric authority.  He fights otherworldly, and mystic foes.  His very first nemesis is Wotan, a mystic sage of great power.  Throughout his adventures, Dr. Fate travels into the realm of the dead where he meets Nergal, deals with the Three Fates, crosses the River Styx, fights off an alien invasion, and send an entire planet of bad guys into the sun.  That's one thing about the old fate, he had no problem doing away with his enemies.  What's also interesting about the early Fate is his relationship with Inza.  Inza is not only a love interest but also a partner in his adventures.  She travels with him to other realms and is usually the first to warn the good Doctor about pending danger.  About half way through the stories we get Dr. Fate's origin story and we first hear of Nabu and how Kent Nelson received his powers.  In the first telling of the story Nabu is not a Lord of Order but rather an alien who visited Earth and resided in Egypt.  If you're a fan of the Ancient Aliens show like I am, the two may not be mutually exclusive. Nabu could be both a Lord of Order or a god and an alien.  Overall the first part of the book is pretty great.  The stories, although very short, are lots of fun.  Fox manages to put plenty of actual myth into the stories which make them very interesting.  

Now, for the second part of the book.  This is when Doctor Fate appears with the half helm, less than half of his mystic powers, and the stories get less interesting.  From what I've read elsewhere, they attempted to re-imagine Dr. Fate so that he is more human.  Hence the half helm and instead of the arcane tone of speaking, it was traded in for a wisecracks.  The villains become very generic as well, mostly organized crime type thugs, although from time to time he would fight someone with some type of super-power such as Mr. Who, who has the ability to shape shift and change size do to his special formula.  Dr. Fate continues to morph over time and by the end of the book he has lost his cape and shoulder pads.  All he has left of his powers is the ability to fly and invulnerability to bullets.  However, he has a strange weakness in that anything having to do with abstracting his air flow or access to fresh air renders him useless even if it is for short periods of time.  Also, Kent Nelson decides to become a real doctor at some point, since his alter ego is Dr. Fate. Unfortunately, all the changes turned Dr. Fate, who was once a very interesting and unique character, into a generic, wise-cracking superhero.  I'm glad that when he was reintroduced with the JSA more than a decade later, they decided to bring the full helmed mystic being back, rather than the generic version they morphed him into at the end of his first run.  

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