Well, The Golden Age Doctor Fate Archives is one of those books that show the highs and lows of a character. This hardcover reprints ALL of the good Doctor’s solo adventures from More Fun Comics. And there are some very good stories here; but there are a lot of really mediocre ones, too, as well as a couple that are just complete crap. Which is about par for the course for any comic book feature from the forties right up until the present.
The majority of the artwork is done by Howard Sherman, who starts out illustrating Gardner Fox’s near-Lovecraftian stories with an eerie quality that’s only matched by Bernard Bailey’s work on the Spectre. However, they lost a lot when Fate started wearing that odd half-helmet. He went from a master of the mystic arts to your standard superhero in tights. John Chester Kozlek and Stan Aschmeier did the art on the last six-to-eight stories.
The later stories have Dr. Fate becoming a real doctor, losing his cape, and being able to be stopped by any bad guy with a tie and the opportunity to strangle him with it; Fate’s only real weakness was his lungs, and boy, were they weak! He got sprayed in the face with water once and almost died! Super-strong, invulnerable to bullets and fire, access to a clairvoyant orb, and can fly (when he remembers he can), but a wet handkerchief can put an end to him. It wasn’t a good day for the character that would become Earth Two’s greatest sorcerer.
And his villains were something else entirely. He did have Mr. Who, who many Doctor Fate fans might remember from the reprint in DC’s Wanted: The World’s Most Dangerous Villains series in the seventies, or the character’s appearance in the latter years of All-Star Squadron. I have to admit that the character made a lot more appearances than I thought he did, but he was pretty boring as they go; Mr. Who could change his size and, in at least one adventure, his Solution Z allowed his body to adapt to anything he needed (i.e., when he needed to escape, his body became thin enough to slide through the crack in a door). Fate’s two other…well, I hate to use the term “nemeses” here, since it’s so embarrassing…were the Frog and the Clock. The Frog was a gangster with a head that looked a tad like a frog’s. The Clock had a roundish head, a flat face, and a thin mustache that pointed down and to the sides so his face read about 8:20. Somehow, both of these cretins managed to get at least a temporary edge over a super-strong mystical hero.
Doctor Fate’s girlfriend, Inza, was a co-star in about three-quarters of his stories. She’d either tag along because “it was safer” or Fate would trundle her along for no reason. She led him into a good percentage of his cases, so she was apparently nice to have around for that bit. Gardner Fox (or the letterer) could not remember her name though; she’s called Inza, Inza Cramer, Inza Kramer, Inza Carmer and even Inza Saunders over the course of the series.
All in all, it’s a fun read. You naturally have got to be an old school comic book fan to really enjoy it, and you’ve got to be keen on golden age comics as well. If you grew up in the seventies, reading the voluminous reprints that DC (and Marvel) put out from that era, I think you’ll enjoy this Archive Edition a lot. Just don’t expect modern-quality artwork in any of the stories. It was a different time, with different standards.