I became a fan of “Doctor Fate” back when William Messner-Loebs wrote the book, although it didn’t take me long to track down earlier stories starring the character. While there have been a great number of character underneath the helm of Doctor Fate, none seem to stick in recent memory. That’s why I’m cautiously optimistic for Paul Levitz, Sonny Liew and Lee Loughridge’s “Doctor Fate” #1, because it’s going down its own path and, so far, it seems like a sound strategy.
Khalid is a half-Egyptian-American medical student who’s just been approached by the helmet of Doctor Fate, begging for him to take up the mantle. While it’s almost become a little cliche for characters to recoil wildly when such an event happens to them (especially when living in a world full of superheroes), there’s something a little charming about Khalid and how his initial reaction is to text his girlfriend Shaya to let her know what’s going on, even as he reassures his mother that all of the flood predictions for Brooklyn are the weather service being overblown. Then, of course, things go from bad to worse.
Levitz makes a smart choice by making a flood the big danger of “Doctor Fate” #1, not only because of Super Storm Sandy’s recent memory but because of the greater emotional resonance of a flood. There’s no intelligence behind it, nothing you can reason with and, sooner or later, everyone has seen the horrific damage that water has caused. An episode of “Doctor Who” once grimly commented, “Water always wins,” and a flood is a perfect example of that statement becoming reality. Then, add in the old-world disasters involving flooding, throw in a little Egyptian mythology to boot and you end up with a situation that resonates with what Levitz mixes together. By the time household pets are holding the spirits of ancient gods ready to ascend, “Doctor Fate” #1 feels almost like a bit of old-school Vertigo mixed into the DC Universe, and it’s a real joy to see it play out. This first issue has a fun script that holds a lot of promise, not only with its setting but also thanks to holding a realistic main cast who all feel like real people dropped into a big, dangerous situation.
I never thought I’d see Liew drawing a monthly book set in the DC Universe, but I’m glad to see a company entrusting one of their characters to him. Liew has a knack for exaggerating his art at just the right moments, even as he also knows when to go for a softer, more relaxed style. Look at the scene on page 7 where Khalid’s mother picks up Puck and talks to him. The portrait of her and Puck staring at one another is drawn with gentle, smooth inks and there’s a little humor in her face even as it comes across as very realistic. Compare that with the moment where Khalid finally puts on the mask of Thoth and the world through his eyes suddenly becomes very squiggly and explodes with energy. Loughridge gets in on the action too, with the muted colors suddenly bursting into bright hues that are almost neon they’re so sharp. It’s a deliberate distortion of the world around him, and it stands out in direct contrast to what we’ve seen with the moments where everything’s rooted in what we’d think of as reality.
“Doctor Fate” #1 is a strong first issue, one that brings concepts quickly to the reader so that they understand what’s going on and where the series is going. This mixture of Egyptian mythology and superhero identities is a joy to read; Levitz, Liew and Loughridge hit all of their marks in this debut. I’ll be back for issue #2, and I suspect I’m not the only one.