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Author Topic: While we're on the subject of overrated characters...  (Read 13212 times)
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JulianPerez
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« on: July 06, 2007, 09:51:56 PM »

There are so many characters whose seniority in the DC and Marvel universes isn't justified.

These characters are the equivalent of your permanently incumbent, do-nothing Senator that inspire no one (even the people of their political party), yet nobody can get rid of them.

Brad Meltzer recently gave me the greatest Chanukah gift ever: a JLA without Aquaman or John Jones, Manhunter from Mars. Mazel Tov, Brad!

But by far the worst example I can possibly think of of "seniority without coolness?"

DOCTOR FATE

Quick, name me one good Doctor Fate story.

Okay, now name me one good Doctor Fate enemy. (The Great Leslie doesn't count.)

Heck, name me one cool, memorable spell or magical deed the good Doctor's done.

Hell, give me one adjective to describe Doctor Fate's personality.

Of all the Mandrake the Magician clones of the 1940s, Doctor F. is by far the most banal because he eschews all the atmosphere and trappings of the occult in favor of being just another superhero in a baby blue skintight costume, using magic for flight, superstrength and forcefields. Gee, that sure does credit to his uniqueness as a wizard!

Doc Fate could be a multi-alien that gets his power from a serum and pretty much be the exact same character. At least Prince Ra-Man could be spooky at times. At least Zatanna had the mystique of stage magic (e.g. escaping enemies by turning into a swarm of playing cards).

"But," you say, "he's always been a part of the JSA. Maybe he's one of those 'cool whip' heroes like the Vision or Scarlet Witch or Wonder Man that you wouldn't have on their own, but go great with a team."

Well, he would be, if it wasn't for the fact that his absentee rate from the JSA was pretty darn high! Only the Spectre was more "conveniently" absent.

And here we start to see why Doc Fate, despite his negligible personality and boring power use would have such weight: he's attached himself to a superteam. Just like other less cool people that become legends by hanging out with cool guys, like Aquaman or John Jones, or Ringo Starr.

Here's another reason I don't like the Helmed One: his overwhelming power level. Don't get me wrong, I love power - but there's a difference between characters like Superman and Thor and Green Lantern, whose high power level is visual and benefits the story, and someone like Doctor Fate that one wonders...okay, you meet the villains, so why isn't the fight OVER five seconds after it starts?

Doctor Fate, I wanna sue for malpractice!
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MatterEaterLad
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« Reply #1 on: July 06, 2007, 11:00:11 PM »

I sort of see Fate as having a backstory similar to Alan Scott and somewhat like the original Hawkman, with an occult ability thrust upon him. I also far preferred him with the full-face mask.  He kind of plays in between magicians and characters so omnipotent that no one really knows what to do with them - i.e. The Spectre.

Before Earth 2 got so mucked up, it might have been cool to explore why magic was so common on that planet.

LOL, maybe something like the "Speed Force"...  Grin
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TELLE
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« Reply #2 on: July 07, 2007, 12:31:27 AM »

Those 40s Fate and Spectre stories are unparalleled for their weirdness .  Very interesting art --almost naive and childish in the approach to plot.
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MatterEaterLad
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« Reply #3 on: July 07, 2007, 12:40:05 AM »

I really liked that look.  Though i have to admit that the Spectre was a great one story character. After that, its more a case of how he wants to use unlimited power, make himself a giant, or invisible, or whatever, more like an excercise in boredom.
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« Reply #4 on: July 07, 2007, 12:44:07 AM »

They both look cool at least...
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Lee Semmens
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« Reply #5 on: July 07, 2007, 01:09:32 PM »

So, I gather you won't be getting the just-published Doctor Fate archive then, Julian?
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Criadoman
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« Reply #6 on: July 07, 2007, 03:47:25 PM »

Personally, I'll take Dr. Fate over Dr. Strange any day.  Unfortunately I think you may be right on the Dr. Fate stories, but he's a character of untapped potential.  There was once a back-up story I read in a DC Digest drawn by Walt Simonson (I forget the writer - but it could have been Louise).  I'll have to dig it up in my collection.  He was battling a mummy - but this was some gorgeous art and a great story.  I think Dr. Fate has got a very good costume design as well, and an excellent superhero name.  Outside of the little read above, he had his finer times on JLU.  His 1st villian in his series was a guy named Nergal (you see him a bit more recently in Cartoon Network's "The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy", but I thought it was a nifty origin story - Kent gains his powers from Nabu and goes down to take out Nergal who is making a bid to take over something.  It was funny to see the "mortal" Dr. pretty much order around a (Babalonian?) god.  That is a great villian in the works.  Overall, I've seen very few stories - but Fate always struck me as a knight of magic, and an impressive visual design.  He was a bit boring in All-Star (Thomas series).  That whole "helmet controls me" riff is to stupid for words.  His subsequent revamps have been all of a rather poor quality I thought too.  Call me a purist.

Of course, when I say Fate over Strange, it's basically a visual thing in that there is something so pure and strong about his design, it would be a wonderful thing to have someone of quality develop a series for Fate.  I would imagine Gaiman could do some wonders for him, or heck, give him a writer from any success Strange series and make sure Walt is available - god, I loved his Fate story.
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« Reply #7 on: July 07, 2007, 05:49:55 PM »

I found a great interview where Walt talks a bit about that legendary story, considered to be the best Doctor Fate story ever (ok so that is not saying much, but still...):

CBA: Your First Issue Special with Dr. Fate was memorable, and you went to town on that.
WALTER: Well, I did. That was actually my attempt to out-Ditko Ditko. I wasn't trying to draw like him, but to imitate his inspiration. One of the things I loved about Ditko's "Doctor Strange" was the rather wonderful job he did creating a graphic system of magic. The dialogue was cool, but Steve created a complete visual system of magic based on vectors and circles that rendered the magical aspects of the strip visually coherent. The sorcerers weren't just firing energy blasts but actual vectors that rendered the magic both visually exciting and intimated at the underlying existence of structure to it. Magic in comics is often depicted either verbally-"Oh, by the bristling hair of Flear; in my hand I find a beer!" with some rhyming baloney, or else guys are shooting special effects force blasts at each other. Could just be ray guns. There's no sense, really, of an underlying reality to the magic. That's one of the difficulties with writing magic well in a story; it's easy to do anything you want to do. After all, it's magic! To make it work for me, there needs to be some sense of limits and parameters, otherwise, it's just whatever you want to have happen. What Steve did, I think, was create a structured, system of graphics that answered these objections. Perfect for a visual medium like comics. A magician could say, "By the Crimson Bands of Cytorrak," or whatever, but once he'd said that, you can see the Bands happen, and you can see how they worked.

So, when I was doing Doctor Fate, I was trying to develop an alternative way to visualize structured magic. It grew out of my admiration for what Steve had done, of course, and owed a lot to it, but I was searching for a different visual basis. In the end, I came up with the idea of using the ankh as a symbol for Doctor Fate, the Egyptian symbol for life, which seemed appropriate for the character. And I used typography as my structure the way I'd learned at RISD, where we'd extract a letter from a specific typeface, and then play with it, make it a design element. We'd use it as a building block and make circles and spirals, geometric shapes, anything the form suggested. It was really a kind of play and exploration. And you discover negative space and positive space in ways you haven't seen before and can build on. It must have worked out okay because everybody who's drawn Fate since has used the ankh.

CBA: Did you work Marvel style with writer Marty Pasko on that?
WALTER: I don't remember precisely although Marty probably would. Most of my stuff's been done Marvel style, I prefer that, and I'm guessing Dr. Fate was done that way as well. I do remember that we were right in the middle of doing the story when DC informed us they'd cut back their page count by two pages-I think from 22 to 20-so we had to shorten the story. That was why Kent Nelson's wife, Inza, finds a little piece of pottery shard or whatever it is that's got the bad guy's name on it so quickly to help her husband.

CBA: Was the hope to do a regular series?
WALTER: It wasn't really a consideration. If they'd offered, we would've done it, but I don't remember any rumblings in that direction. The story was designed for an issue of First Issue Special as a solo story. I think we just wanted to do a cool Doctor Fate story. As far as I know, we did the first full-length Doctor Fate story.


Read the full interview here:
http://www.twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/10simonson.html
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