Sep 21, 2020
Genocide is more fun with Doctor Fate: More Fun Comics #61
We’re going way back for this one. While I’m filing this one under Bizarre Silver Age Comics for the sake of convenience, this is really my first-ever installment of Bizarre Golden Age Comics, since it comes from an issue of the anthology title More Fun Comics published in November of 1940. More Fun has a lot of history behind it, being the first title from National Allied Publications, one of the companies that eventually became DC Comics, and it also published the first appearances of some major players in the DC Universe, including Aquaman, Green Arrow, the Spectre, and the subject of the current article, Doctor Fate.
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Doctor Fate was created by Gardner Fox, the legendary writer who also created the Flash, Hawkman, the Justice Society of America and the Justice League of America, and introduced the whole concept of a multiverse to DC Comics. And not to take away anything from what the man accomplished, but the early adventures of Doctor Fate were, to put it charitably, not the pinnacle of the medium.
While Silver Age comics certainly were full of dashed-off lunacy, they’ve got nothing on the stark, low-effort minimalism of Golden Age comics, which at the time were seen as about as culturally significant as coloring books or puzzles on the back of restaurant kids’ menus. Most Golden Age superhero stories were about the hero (who had little to no backstory) confronting the villain (same) and disposing of them in the quickest—and often most violent—way possible. Supporting casts were virtually nonexistent, and they hardly if ever explored the personal lives of the main character.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the More Fun Doctor Fate stories. For his first several outings, his origins and abilities were kept completely vague; it wasn’t even nailed down for a year that Fate was human, and not some ancient supernatural entity as a couple of tales suggested. He first appeared in More Fun #55, and it wasn’t until More Fun #67 when his origin was revealed: He’s really Kent Nelson, son of an archaeologist, who accidentally released an alien spirit named Nabu who taught Kent the secrets of the universe and blah blah blah, that’s not what we’re here to talk about.
To fully appreciate the Doctor Fate story below, all you need to know is that Golden Age Fate is one scary son of a bitch, who in the course of fighting crime often leaves a trail of bodies that would make serial killers jealous. In his very first story, Fate defeats the evil sorcerer Wotan, then casually tosses him out of a building without a shred of remorse.
Obviously, this wasn’t the end of Wotan; he returns to life in a later issue of More Fun, looking considerably less blue. And much like Dr. Fate himself, he would be revived when comics made a comeback in the Silver Age and go on to become Fate’s archnemesis. But temporary death or not, the utter callousness on display here is astonishing, especially when the artwork makes sure to include cars and pedestrians below who stood a good chance of getting squashed by Wotan’s body.
Since I spend a lot of time examining how Superman and Batman act like dicks in Silver Age comics, I would be remiss in not discussing how much of a dick Dr. Fate could be. And in More Fun Comics #61, Fate commits what’s probably the biggest dick move of any superhero in either Golden Age or Silver Age history. In fact, after seeing what he does in this story, “Superdickery” might need to be renamed to “Fatedickery”.
At the time, covers of More Fun would alternate between Fate and the Spectre, and Fate scores this particular one. However, you see the bad guy Fate is battling? The one who looks like Bat Boy with a cape and a tommygun? He appears nowhere in the actual comic. But that’s about par for the course with Golden Age stories. Come on, this thing is 64 pages for 10 cents, what were you expecting?
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The story opens with Doctor Fate hovering in space, and observing a “strange nebula” coming between the Earth and the Sun. Inside the nebula is a fiery globe, and Fate decides to “test it with elemental force,” i.e., shoot hand lightning bolts at it. Fate concludes “its potency is tremendous” and not only that, the fiery globe is actually alive.
He goes to Earth to warn his “companion” Inza. Like Fate, we know jack squat about Inza at this point; in fact, even years later all we learn is she’s a socialite who lives in a penthouse apartment and has the ability to summon Fate by looking through a crystal ball, or on occasion just shouting his name. Later on, after Dr. Fate’s Silver Age revival, we find out Inza has married Fate/Kent, and in the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity, Inza even gets to take on the mantle of Dr. Fate herself. But here, she’s just a blank slate pseudo-love interest.
Fate tells Inza the fiery globe he observed may “toss this planet millions of light years out into space!” Which would be quite a feat, considering the galaxy we’re in is at most about 100,000 light years across. Fate tells Inza to “warn your Earth scientists”, so I guess he’s leaving the survival of the planet up to her. Also, another thing you see a lot in these early comics is that no one seems capable of speaking in complete, grammatical sentences: “See your leaders here!” “I go to see what I may do.” Believe me, it gets worse.
Fate heads to his home base, a brick tower in Salem, Massachusetts with no windows or doors, which I believe remained his base of operations for much of his modern history. He searches his tower for a weapon to deal with the threat, and certainly he’d have to find one intimidating weapon to neutralize an entity that can “break the orbital gravity of the Sun and Earth”, right? Well, I don’t quite know how to say this, but… he pulls out a raygun.
Yep, it’s a raygun. At least we can get a Beavis laugh out of the fact he found it in Uranus.
A caption informs us that while Fate “tarried on Earth” searching for a weapon, the “globular being” went ahead and knocked Earth out of its orbit, causing an instant snowstorm in an unnamed big city.
Luckily, Fate locates the globe and destroys it with his raygun…
…and come on. All it takes is “one blast”? Sheesh. At least make him have to shoot the thing a few times. Make the guy work for it a little. So, Fate saves the day, the Earth returns to its orbit, and everyone in that big city is like “boy, that was strange” and go on with their lives like nothing happened.
Dr. Fate returns to Inza’s penthouse, where she’s gathered all of Earth’s scientists after all, though it doesn’t seem like they actually did much of anything about the globe threat. In fact, they’re only here to warn Dr. Fate about a new threat.
I love Fate’s reaction. “But… I just saved the Earth… you can’t possibly expect me to… they told me there would be no more planet-saving today!” But he changes his tune when he learns more globe-beings are approaching the Earth “from an entirely different galaxy!” Fate doesn’t waste a moment heading back out into space to stop the globes. And he keeps referring to the globes as “living beings”, I guess just to make sure we know he’s murdering the hell out of them.
He takes out plenty of globes, and then starts to wonder where the heck they’re all coming from in the first place. He follows the trail to a “pirate planet” (per the caption: “one that swings through space unhalted by any orbit”) and discovers a race of aliens he immediately dubs the “Globe Men”, who have a big globe cannon that he creatively nicknames “the machine”.
He takes out their “machine” with more lightning bolts from his hands, which rains hell down upon the Globe Men. And if you’re wondering why the Globe Men are attacking Earth or what their motives might be, well, we never find out. Ain’t nobody got time for that. In fact, Dr. Fate is getting irritated that it’s taking this long to zap all these alien scoundrels with his lightning bolts and starts to think about “another method” that could be quicker.
And that other method? Well, it turns out Fate has the power to push planets through space. And so… he pushes the pirate planet… into the nearest star.
Ho. Ly. Shit. Dr. Fate just destroyed an entire inhabited planet. Surely, there must have been Globe Women and Globe Children and Globe Babies and Globe Nanas and Globe Pawpaws on that planet. And Fate just killed them all. And after casually murdering an entire alien race, the guy flies away like it’s another day at the office.
I mean, Superman does all sort of heinous things in the Silver Age, like making his friends think they’ve gone clinically insane, but I don’t think he ever intentionally committed genocide. Surely, this has to be the ultimate superhero dick move of all time.
And yet, we haven’t reached the end of this tale. You’d think the senseless slaughter of millions of innocents would be a good way to cap things off, but there’s still more to go. Dr. Fate returns to Inza’s penthouse, where she informs him that a “mad scientist in the Andes” used one of his inventions to pull the pirate planet toward Earth. The same pirate planet that we earlier learned was in a different galaxy? Apparently so.
Fate scoops up Inza and they travel to the Andes to confront the mad scientist. And I’ll just assume the scientist (who never gets a name, though that goes without saying) is from a South American country and English isn’t his first language, which must account for awkward lines like “You— What do you do here?” Yeah, let’s go with that.
Fate delivers an ultimatum to the scientist, but of course he doesn’t listen, and aims what looks like a weapon at Dr. Fate. Yeah, I think we all know where this is headed.
In the next panel, Fate has already killed the scientist, who really should have known that Dr. Fate doesn’t fuck around. I mean, after annihilating an entire race, what’s one more loser scientist to throw on the pile of corpses? Also, I enjoy how Fate sets the lab on fire afterwards, which is totally to prevent other people from using the scientist’s invention, and not to cover up evidence of coldblooded murder.
Fate and Inza fly back to the States, with Inza talking about how lucky the world is to have Dr. Fate. Yeah, you better suck up to him, lady; he’ll snap your spine in half without a second thought. And that’s the end of the issue, because I think that’s all the “more fun” any of us can handle and still be able to sleep tonight.
Fortunately, Dr. Fate never gets quite this bloodthirsty for the rest of his run, and eventually turns into more of a generic, non-mystical crimefighter, just in time for superhero comics to go out of style. As mentioned earlier, Dr. Fate saw a revival in the Silver Age and remains an active character in the DC universe to this day. I’m actually surprised the tragic fate of the Globe Men never got carried over into modern continuity; it’s as bad as anything Hal Jordan/Parallax or Dark Phoenix ever did, and could have made for an interesting arc as Fate atoned for past sins. But then again, even in the world of comics, maybe there’s some stuff so bizarre and insane that it’s best left forgotten.