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Comic Book / Doctor Fate

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"No matter how thoroughly you think you exterminate the evil, it comes creeping back like a cockroach."

Doctor Fate is a DC Comics character. Originally created in 1940 by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman, he's one of the icons of The Golden Age of Comic Books and a founding member of the Justice Society of America. Like fellow member Hawkman, he also has one of the screwiest backgrounds in the DC canon.

Fate is arguably the most powerful magic-wielding hero in the DC canon (discounting reality-warping demi-gods like the Spectre or power-leechers like Black Alice), and the direct counterpart to Marvel's Doctor Strange, whom he predates by several decades. Dr. Fate's powers (ill-defined as they are at times) are largely derived from two objects: the Helmet of Nabu and the Amulet of Anubis. In addition, most of the users were also naturally adept at magic enough to be Flying Bricks with low-level telepathy/telekinesis.

There have been many incarnations over the years:

- Kent Nelson, the original, who first appeared in More Fun Comics #55 and lasted into the 1980s.
- Linda and Eric Strauss, stepmother and stepson, whose run as the character included a Doctor Fate title (1988-1992).
- Inza Nelson, Kent's wife, who took over the role in 1991.
- Jared Stevens, who took the name "Fate" in a Fate title (1994-1996) and a The Book of Fate title (1997-1998).
- Hector Hall, son of the original Hawkman and Hawkgirl, who took up the mantle in the pages of JSA.
- Kent V. Nelson, a psychologist who took up the mantle in the pages of Countdown to Mystery after Hall's death.
- Khalid Ben-Hassin, an Egyptian man and the Doctor Fate of Earth 2 of the rebooted New 52.
- Khalid Nassour, an Egyptian-American medical student and the Doctor Fate of the DC You's main Earth, who first appeared in a Doctor Fate title (2015-ongoing). As of 2019, he's DC Rebirth's Doctor Fate.

He's one of the few non-A-list DC characters to have appeared in six recent animated adaptations: Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League Unlimited, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Young Justice (2010), Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, and Justice League Action. Additionally, he has appeared in Smallville and the helmet of Nabu had a cameo in the pilot for Constantine. He also appeared as a major supporting role and playable character in Injustice 2. He made his live-action film debut in 2022's Black Adam, portrayed there by Pierce Brosnan.

Doctor Fate has appeared in:

    Comic Books 
Kent Nelson & Inza Cramer
Linda & Eric Strauss
  • Doctor Fate Vol 1 (1987)
  • Doctor Fate Vol 2 (1987-1991)
  • Millennium (1988)

Hector Hall
Kent V. Nelson
Khalid Ben-Hassin
Khalid Nassour

    Live-Action Film 

    Live-Action TV 

    Video Games 

    Western Animation 

Doctor Fate provides examples of:

  • '90s Anti-Hero: Jared Stevens, a grave robber, stole the helmet, melted it down into a knife, and was simply known as Fate. Can you say GRIMDARK? On the other hand, despite his appearance, Stevens didn't act like a '90s Anti-Hero at all. Many fans even pointed out in the letter columns how he had a certain "Indiana Jones" charm.
  • Aborted Arc:
    • Less was done with Kent V. Nelson as Doctor Fate because of the death of his creator Steve Gerber.
    • At the end of Jared Stevens' Book of Fate comic, Nabu became a Lord of Chaos. This was never followed up on.
  • Adaptation Origin Connection: Geoff Johns retconned in a connection between the Hawks, Doctor Fate and Black Adam. In JSA, it's shown that, after Khufu and Chay-Ara discovered the Thanagarian spaceship that granted them the Nth metal they use for flight, Nabu was their magical adviser and Black Adam their close confidante (after the death of his people). The comic also positions Black Adam as a Foil to Hawkman, with Adam still using the brutality of his era while Hawkman, having witnessed the changes to society throughout his various lives, doesn't. Nabu swings either way depending on his mood.
  • Affirmative-Action Legacy: Despite the Egyptian origins of Nabu, Khalid is the first published Doctor Fate who isn't a white American. May also count as a Race Lift.
  • Alternate Company Equivalent: Doctor Strange is Marvel's version.
  • Amulet of Concentrated Awesome: Anubis' artifact not only works as a magical power booster, but also a Soul Jar for previous wielders (and on occasion a prison for a Big Bad).
  • Badass Boast:
  • Badass Cape: Comes with the powers.
  • Back from the Dead: The Jared Stevens Fate was reintroduced in The Multiversity as a Dr. Fate analog living on Earth-13, a very dark and predominantly magic based universe. He's a member of that world's Justice League, the League of Shadows.
  • Bigger on the Inside: Fate's Tower, in addition to having some Escher-like Alien Geometries.
  • Big Good: Sometimes. He's on an extreme end of the power scale in DC comics, such that few characters can directly face him and survive. Memorably, in Cosmic Odyssey Fate casually mind controlled Darkseid with little effort. On a cosmic level, his only superior is The Spectre who is even more prone to Good is Not Nice.
  • Blue Is Heroic: Doc Fate wears a blue costume with yellow accessories in all iterations (except Earth 2, where he wears black) and is a heroic magic user.
  • Clingy MacGuffin: Despite being thrown into the depths of space by Captain Marvel, the Helmet of Fate eventually returned to Earth. Even when its selected host, Kent V. Nelson, tries to pawn it, the helm always makes its way back to him.
    • In the Young Justice cartoon, Nabu basically is Fate, with his vessel mostly watching from the inside. As the team learns, it's not easy to convince Nabu to let go once you've accepted the helmet - or rather, it isn't now. Kent Nelson implies that Nabu used to be much more relaxed about releasing control, so his host could live a normal life, but spending several decades on a shelf significantly soured his disposition. He does the same in the 2018 run of Justice League Dark, now possessing Kent Nelson - though Kent can exert some limited influence from within, enough to prevent Nabu from killing an eavesdropping Khalid Nassour outright. He stays like that for some time, though after finally being detached, Khalid talks him into letting Khalid be in the driving seat as Fate.
    • In "The New 52: Future's End", the Helmet has been separated from its last user, and is determined to find a new owner, summoning people to its presence. John Constantine has his own thoughts on the matter, though.
    • This was such a problem that Kent Nelson made a half-mask exposing the lower half of his face. This resulted in a serious loss of power, but Nelson retaining free will.
  • Converse with the Unconscious: Hector Hall in trying to find his wife's soul and reunite it with her illusion-disguised, comatose body.
  • Continuity Snarl: It's not particularly clear how the Dr Fate of Blue Beetle Rebirth (who is Nabu in his Kingdom Come floating-helmet-and-cloak form, but is somehow powered by a very reluctant Kent Nelson) fits in with the near-concurrent Dr Fate series (where Kent can manifest his own duplicate of the Helm of Fate, and therefore doesn't have to listen to Nabu at all, while his nephew Khalid has the real deal). Justice League Dark tries to square this by portraying Khalid as Kent's apprentice, before he learned that Nabu was running the show, suggesting Dr Fate comes before Blue Beetle and the helmet was transferred back at that point.
  • Cool Helmet/Mask of Power: It got its own mini-series!
  • Cosmic Entity: What Dr. Fate is during the times when it's directly channelling Nabu's power and personality. Nabu is a Lord of Order and before New 52's retcon, the Lords of Order and Chaos are Moorcock-style gods that are primordial beings of the universe and were one of the major sources of magic in the universe. After the retcon, they've still got the power-levels, but Nabu calls the other Lords of Order out for forgetting where they came from - though unlike most examples, he doesn't have benevolent aims in mind.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: When he cuts loose, he's good at throwing these down. Swamp Thing is one of the most powerful beings in the universe, but in Justice League Dark - Nabu fought Swamp Thing, John Constantine and the Egyptian god Anubis and squashed them like bugs. In a later run of the same comic, he pulled the same on The Phantom Stranger of all people.
  • Death by Origin Story: You know the old saw about a hero's loved one being killed to motivate them to become a hero? Well, in some versions of Kent's origin story, Nabu was the one who killed Mr. Nelson. Right in front of a pre-teen Kent's eyes. Then quite forcibly recruited him.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The original The Books of Magic miniseries featured a brief glimpse of Nabu/the mask centuries in the future, corroded with cynicism about humanity and believing that utilizing magic and attempting to fight evil were useless wastes of time. He had another one before Justice League Dark after the war with the Dark Multiverse, coming to believe that magic was in itself a force of chaos and needed to be eliminated.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Quite often what he's contacted about handling, a specific example being his Justice League appearance.
    • Nabu himself qualifies at times.
  • Empathic Weapon: Originally, Nabu would take full possession of Kent Nelson whenever he wore the helm. Later, after losing all of his agents, Nabu himself enchanted the artifacts to act against chaos as a disembodied Helmet and Cape.
  • Esoteric Motifs: Fate's power symbol is the Ankh.
  • Everybody Hates Hades: New 52 does a number on Anubis. Full on destroy the world goals, with the supposed aim of "restoring Maat."
  • Evil Sorcerer: Fate's most common foes are Evil Sorcerers, especially his archenemy Wotan.
  • Fusion Dance: Linda and Eric Strauss, as well as Kent Nelson and his wife Inza for a time.
  • God of Order: The Lords of Order, who are often in charge of order. Nabu, the spirit in Fate's helmet, is one Lord of Order. They're usually written as good, but sometimes Order Is Not Good.
  • Good is Not Nice: Played with. In most cases, Dr. Fate's about as close to Big Good as anyone gets, even Superman. It's just that when someone seriously crosses him, he's not above ruthless measures. More than Mind Control is on the kinder end of the spectrum when he gets angry. And if he feels that something is necessary, orderly... there are very few limits to what he will do.
  • The Hat Makes the Man: At various points in his history, Doc's helmet functioned by having him be possessed by Nabu.
  • Hermetic Magic: More often than not, Dr. Fate has practiced this type of spell-casting, if not the writer's own hodge-podge of "rules" for his magic.
  • Jerkass: Kent Nelson, and indeed most of the people beneath the helm, is a good man. Nabu... is not.
  • Light Is Good: He gains power from a golden helmet, his powers manifest as golden light and an ankh symbol, and is a hero. Played with as some versions of such as in Young Justice (2010), Injustice 2, and during most of the 2018 run of Justice League Dark are decidedly ''less'' good - in the latter case, after the experience of the Dark Multiverse, he decided that magic itself was disorderly, and that it, along with the magical realms, should be purged from the universe, enlisting the Otherkind to that end.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Being an Agent of Order, there are seemingly rules and limitations to Fate's powers. He's been shown memorizing particular incantations, setting up complicated ritual magic and also researching particular foes.
  • Magic and Powers: A good deal of what's on that list.
  • Magic Knight: Doctor Fate not only wields sorcery of a power and diversity that rivals his nearest Marvel Universe counterpart — he also has the classic power suite of a Flying Brick, above and beyond those magical abilities.
  • Mind Rape: Want to use the Helmet of Fate for evil purposes? Well, get ready for this to happen, as the helmet has enchantments that can cause unwanted wearers to go insane from wearing it.
  • Mystical High Collar: Part of his cape.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: This is how most superheroes were depicted in The Golden Age of Comic Books, and Dr. Fate (along with Superman and the Spectre) was a notable example. Fate would eventually fall prey to Power Creep, Power Seep depending on the size and focus of the story.
    • His Golden Age enemy Mister Who specifically had "evolving any new power appropriate to the situation" as his power.
  • No Entrance: The Tower of Fate, Doctor Fate's headquarters, has no doors, and can only be accessed by the use of magical teleportation. (Or, if you're someone with Anti-Magic abilities, a Barrier-Busting Blow)
  • Not That Kind of Doctor: Subverted by Kent Nelson, in that he did obtain a medical license and enter an internship at one point in his lifenote , and Khalid Nassour, in that he's currently a med student. Played straight with the rest, although magic healing powers are part of the gig.
  • Older Than They Look: For a long time, Kent and Inza were kept magically young by Nabu. This ended when Extant forcibly aged most of the JSA during Zero Hour: Crisis in Time!, which resulted in the now-elderly Kent and Inza seeking out Jared Stevens as a replacement.
  • Order Is Not Good: Nabu embodies this at his worst, more than happy to forcibly possess and maintain his hosts against their will because chaos must be counterbalanced by order and at one point served the Pharaohs of Egypt when they were oppressing and slaughtering slaves because he believed the Egyptian civilization was the greatest example of order at the time and must be maintained. He's also a firm fatalist and will stop anyone who attempt to defy fate as he deems it, even if they're other superheroes.
    • By extension the Lords of Order are no better. They are fully willing to let humanity be destroyed or enslaved if that is the more "orderly" option and have no care for life other than satisfying their Control Freak mentality. Their interests simply happen to align with the side of good much of the time, and becomes glaringly obvious when they don't.
  • Order Versus Chaos: An early-Bronze Age retcon marks Fate as an agent for the Lords of Order, while his nemesis, Mordru, is an actual Lord of Chaos.
    • Hector Hall, however, was explicitly an Agent of Balance, not an Agent of Order. At least two Lords of Chaos (Mordru and another in a miniseries) found out the hard way that fighting him like he was an Agent of Order was severely underestimating his capabilities.
  • Plot-Relevant Age-Up: At least one version of Kent Nelson's origin has Nabu age him up so he can be a suitable host.
  • Reality Warper: There are times Dr. Fate can be so powerful that they can warp reality through will alone. Like the time Inza resurrected someone by literally yanking them out of Death's hands.
  • Samaritan Syndrome: While Kent Nelson believed he should only use his powers after becoming aware of evil threats, Inza ardently believed in proactively fighting crime and disorder.
  • Science Wizard: Some of the characters who have worn the mantle of Dr. Fate have been this. Kent V. Nelson was a psychologist, while Khalid Nassour is a medical student. There is also the villain Ian Karkull who was a trained archeologist, physicist and engineer before he mastered shadow magic.
  • Token Evil Teammate: The Young Justice (2010) version of Nabu is alarmingly close to this. After what happened with Zatanna and Zatara, Captain Marvel firmly believes he doesn't even belong on the League and is thoroughly horrified by Nabu's casual Mind Rape of his friend and her father. Others on the League seem inclined to agree with him, before Nabu himself remarks that Zatara wants him on the League's roster. When the League is justly sceptical, Nabu elaborates that Zatara wants him on the League because he doesn't trust Nabu in the slightest and wants him kept an eye on.
  • Upgrade Artifact: For anyone who is able to wear the Helmet of Fate. Anyone. Even Detective Chimp. Just not evil people, because, well...
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Veers hard into this trope at times, when he feels it's necessary to maintain order. The most striking example is in 2018's Justice League Dark, when (after recent experiences with the Dark Multiverse) he concludes that magic is a fundamental force of disorder and chaos, that despite all the efforts of the Lords of Order, it cannot be controlled, and therefore it has to be eradicated - along with every magical realm and being in the universe. He even unleashes the Upside-Down Man to this end. He's eventually subdued and talked into a more conciliatory stance, even letting Khalid Nassour become Fate again and, this time, take the driving seat.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: A firm believer in it. Those who "defy fate" and attempt to imbalance order are his enemies. That may even include other superheroes, depending on what he decides their fate to be.