Today marked the first appearance of the new Doctor Fate in the DC Universe — and he’s an Egyptian-American man named Khalid Nassour. But he isn’t the first Doctor Fate — in fact, Doctor Fate has had a long, strange history in comics and many people have worn the Helmet of Nabu over the years.
Doctor Fate debuted in More Fun Comics #55 in 1940, as a backup feature after the Spectre. (Fate would eventually get more popular than the Spectre, displacing him on the cover.) Fate was actually Kent Nelson, who had gone on an expedition with his father and discovered the tomb of the ancient Egyptian wizard Nabu and accidentally caused a booby trap to release poisonous gas, killing Kent’s father.
Nabu took pity on Kent, however, and so taught him all about magic and imbued him with a magical helmet, amulet, and cloak. He also met his eventual wife, Inza Cramer, and then decided to fight crime and helped found the Justice Society of America.
In fact, Kent and Inza Nelson lived for quite a while, using Nabu’s magic to keep them young (Nabu was even revealed to be one of the Lords of Order)...until the late 1980s, that is, when fighting against the Kali Yuga caused them lose magic and rapidly age. Inza eventually committed suicide and Kent found the next Doctor Fate before succumbing to old age. Which leads us to...
Eric and Linda Strauss
Here’s where it gets weird: Doctor Fate finally got his own series in 1987 by J.M. DeMatteis, but instead of one person, it’s two: Eric Strauss, a ten-year-old who was aged into adulthood to become Doctor Fate, and Linda Strauss, his stepmother. Together, they merged to become Doctor Fate.
Making it weirder is the fact that Nabu was mentoring them by possessing the dead body of Kent Nelson. Let that sink in: a dead Egyptian wizard is inhabiting the body of a dead superhero to mentor a man and his stepmother who merge to become another superhero. Damn, J.M. DeMatteis. Apparently, this was how it was always supposed to be, as a trio: Man, Woman, and Fate.
It got even weirder, though: Eric then died and Linda had to be Doctor Fate alone. And then Linda died and they were both reincarnated in Eugene and Wendy DiBellia, a husband and wife. The supposed reason for that was their daughter was supposed to play a very important role in the “next age of mankind,” but...well, it all came across as so incredibly creepy. Thankfully, by this time, the “true” Doctor Fate had returned...
The souls of Kent and Inza Nelson were found inhabiting the amulet of Anubis, so Nabu managed to resurrect them into much younger bodies. However, at this point, only Inza could wear the helmet and become Doctor Fate.
Eventually, it was revealed that the helmet wasn’t inhabited by Nabu any longer, but by a Lord of Chaos and Inza went a bit off the reservation, but then she and Kent got back together again and were able to merge into Doctor Fate or become Doctor Fate individually.
This status quo was then shoved out the window by Zero Hour when Extant (also known as that evil time traveling prick, Hawk) rapidly aged Kent and Inza (again!) and scattered the cloak, amulet, and helmet across the world. Kent and Inza then decided to retire. Because they were super old.
Which brings us to, sigh, this guy...
Look, it was the ‘90s. Everyone was doing it: taking an old established hero and making him EXTREEEEEME. It happened with Superman (remember the blue electricity powers?) and Batman (remember Azrael?) and yes, it happened with Doctor Fate.
Jared Stevens was a smuggler hired by Kent and Inza to find the amulet, cloak, and helmet. The Nelsons, who really should have stayed retired, then tried to pick up the artifacts, but were murdered by two demons. (This is twice they rapidly aged and then died.) The amulet then exploded in Jared’s face, giving him an ankh-shaped scar. He then melted the helmet down and made it into ankh-shaped darts and a big knife.
Why anyone thought this would be better than the old Doctor Fate, I have no idea. His book lasted until 1996 and when the JSA was brought back in 1999 by James Robinson, he just killed Jared Stevens off and had the weapons revert back to their original form. Which leads us to...
Hector Hall was the son of the Golden Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Carter and Shiera Hall. He eventually became the superhero the Silver Scarab in the children-of-Golden-Age-heroes team Infinity Inc. He married Lyta Trevor, daughter of the Golden Age Wonder Woman, and then died.
(And then he became the Sandman, protector of the Dream Dimension, but not really, because that was a ploy by Brute and Glob, but then Morpheus shut that whole thing down and Hector was dead still.)
But it turned out that he was more like his parents than he thought and he was able to be reincarnated into a new body and in JSA #4, he became the new Doctor Fate. (Weirdly, the body he inhabited was that of the son of Hank Hall and Dawn Granger, Hawk and Dove.)
Hector went on for a bit as Doctor Fate, trying to find his wife Lyta, until he finally found her and they lived happily ever after...until Infinite Crisis when the Spectre decided to destroy everything magical. They were trapped on a frozen mountain, fighting demons, when, finally their son Daniel appeared and offered them a place in the Dreaming (Daniel had become the next incarnation of Dream at the end of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman). So their physical bodies died and their souls left for the Dreaming.
Leaving the Helmet of Nabu without an owner, until...
Kent V. Nelson
I know what you’re thinking: Kent Nelson? Again? But nope, it’s not that Kent Nelson, this is Kent V. Nelson, Kent Nelson’s grandson.
After the Helmet of Nabu went around for a bit with various heroes trying to wear it, it finally reached Nelson’s hands. Nelson was a psychiatrist who had an affair with a patient, then his wife left him, and then another one of his patients mowed down thirteen people with a car. He became divorced, alcoholic, and homeless before finding the Helmet. Which he then used for gambling.
Kent V. Nelson’s adventures were published in an eight issue mini-series called Countdown to Mystery and written by the legendary Steve Gerber and is filled with Gerber’s trademark weirdness and exploration of the human psyche.
At one point, Nelson meets a familiar woman named Inza and starts falling in love again...but then Inza is liquified by the demon Negal. Completely depressed, Nelson gives away the Helmet and starts drinking again. The woman he gave the Helmet, Maddy, tried to use it, but was then sucked into Hell, leading into a cliffhanger for the last issue...
...and unfortunately, at this point, Steve Gerber died. The last issue was dedicated to him and had four writers, friends and fans of Gerber, write four different endings to the series. (One of them even featured the Elf With a Gun, one of Steve Gerber’s characters from his Defenders run.) Each ending had Kent, Inza, and Maddy escaping from Negal and living a happy life.
Kent V. Nelson was the last Doctor Fate before the New 52, which brings us to...
Khalid “Kent” Nassour is not the first Doctor Fate for the New 52 — that goes to Khalid Ben-Hassin, the Doctor Fate in Earth 2. But the main Earth-0 didn’t have a Doctor Fate until now (even if the Helmet of Nabu was floating around).
Khalid is an Egyptian-American med student and a Muslim and he was apparently chosen by Nabu to stop a Biblical flood from taking place. An eight-page preview is available here.
And that’s Doctor Fate.
Other versions of Doctor Fate include:
Doctor Strangefate, the mixture of Doctors Fate and Strange for the Amalgam Universe.
Doc Fate, the hardboiled pulp hero of Earth-20, who was a member of the Society of Super-Heroes. Doc Fate was so awesome, he kicked Felix Faust in the goolies. (Seriously, read Multiversity.)