This week we will focus on DC’s answer to the Sorcerer Supreme…
DC has brought the Lord of Order back in refreshing style! The current Doctor Fate series created by writer Paul Levitz and aritst Sonny Liew, focuses on the new Doctor, Khalid “Kent” Nassour. Khalid is a young, Egyptian-American med school student at the start of the series and is given the Helmet of Thoth by Bastet in order to thwart the coming of Anubis. This new telling of a beloved DC character is a welcome change in his status quo given that DC is actually taking the time to explore Doctor Fate’s Egyptian origins.
Outside of the spirit of Nabu imbued within the helmet, the previous Doctor Fate comics focused little on the title character’s Egyptian influences. Often Doctor Fate finds himself in combat with the likes of Mordru and Wotan, both powerful magic users, but neither are steeped in Egyptian lore. The new creative team utilizes this connection right from the get go not only with the direct connection through Khalid’s ethnicity, but by using the Egyptian god of death himself, Anubis, as the first arc antagonist. In this series we are introduced to a Doctor Fate that must come face-to-face with his Egyptian heritage while trying to master his newfound abilities.
The first issue of the series is a fairly typical arc for a superhero origin: 1) Khalid is just starting med school and is dating a great woman 2) magic helmet finds Khalid and turns his life upside down, and 3) Khalid must find out how to balance the two while saving the world. Now while this story may feel familiar at first, the art and the storytelling quickly take Doctor Fate to a world all his own. Levitz writes characters that feel truly genuine and that is not always an easy feat. He makes Khalid an easy character to root for from the very beginning. Khalid may be young, but he is an incredibly brave, kindhearted, and tenacious person. He is a character driven by his desire to help people and he doesn’t let anything stop him from doing so; even when he may be unsure about his new powers. Khalid’s strong qualities most definitely stem from his work toward becoming a doctor which is a path already leaning toward saving lives.
The series also benefits from an excellent supporting cast of characters that all feel equally real and pertinent to this new Fate’s growth. And having the majority of the cast be of Egyptian descent is the sweet cherry on top of this already delicious comic. Then there is, of course, Anubis, who makes for a stellar first arc antagonist. The god of death is more than a match for the fledgling Doctor Fate for the first several issues of this series. His embodiment, drawn perfectly by Liew, is menacing, dark, and deadly. To say that Khalid is put to the test would be an understatement.
What is so beautiful about the series is that it not only represents Khalid’s trials of becoming a Lord of Order, but also his struggles with understanding his own identity both spiritually and politically. This new Doctor Fate comic immerses itself in not only Egyptian mythology, but in its politics as well. The second arc, which is currently on-going, sees Khalid not only taken under the wing of Kent Nelson (the original Doctor Fate), but helping protestors who are seeking equal political rights for the people of Egypt. This subplot gives added weight to Khalid’s personal growth as he contemplates his role in the world while also creating a setting that feels much more lived in then other superhero story-lines.
The only downside to this series is that the series switched artists going into the second arc. Ibrahim Moustafa became the series artist after issue seven. This isn’t to say that Moustafa’s work isn’t up to par, it is just a vastly different style than what Liew originally brought to the series. Liew’s first arc is much more bright, lucid, and otherworldly than Moustafa’s bleak, darker, and more contained second half. For example, the difference is immediately evident when you compare the following two pages from the series (Liew’s work is on the left and Moustafa’s is on the right):
In Liew’s work you can literally feel the forces of Chaos and Order at odds with one another not just within his character designs and fluid line work, but in the paneling as well. Liew’s paneling itself can be as free form as the supernatural components it is trying to contain, but then they are structured and grounded when the scene calls for it (see next set of pages). This pairing of line work and Lee Loughridge’s spot-on coloring create a harmonious balance between mystical exuberance and urban living in every issue.
Moustafa on the otherhand tends to be much more contained with his line work and paneling. He also creates a world that feels a bit more gritty and earthbound than the what Liew originally developed (see next set of pages). Even when Moustafa utilizes supernatural elements like Anubis and the realm of the dead, the illustrations feel restricted by the artist’s realistic approach to character design. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with Moustafa’s style. He is doing an excellent job carrying the comic through its second arc, but it would have been better to see the dynamic between Chaos and Order embodied in the art like Liew was doing when he started the series. Moustafa’s work with Loughbridge just doesn’t bring the same level of mysticism and wonder while still maintaining a balance with the real world. Liew and Loughridge seemed to be able to flow back and forth between the two with ease while Moustafa stays rooted.
Regardless, the current Doctor Fate series is a compelling take on this supernatural DC character. The creative teams refreshing use of Egyptian mythology, politics, and culture coupled with genuinely real characters and stellar art set this comic a part from everything else in DC’s current line-up. There is truly nothing else like this series being published by DC. If there is any DC book that you should consider adding to your pull, let it be Doctor Fate!
Reviews and Impressions:
*All photos are property of DC Comics.