Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have gotten relatively acquainted with Doctor Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme of that world. In the following year, Warner Brothers will release the Dwayne Johnson-led Black Adam, and audiences will meet Doctor Fate (played by Pierce Brosnan). Since the 1940s, Doctor Fate has been the chief magic-user of the DCU, mentoring and working with characters like Zatanna and John Constantine. Fate’s history is a complicated one, centered around a magic helmet that has been worn by several different people. Doctor Fate first appeared in More Fun Comics #55 (May 1940). It started as a six-page strip in an anthology of superheroes, pulp stories, and funny talking animals. He was created by the prolific creative mind Gardner Fox and artist Howard Sherman who didn’t really have a background or even secret identity. The character was just Doctor Fate.
After one full year of publishing in More Fun Comics #67 (May 1941), readers finally knew who Doctor Fate was and where his powers came from. In 1920, archaeologist Sven Nelson and his son Kent were on an expedition in Egypt. Kent accidentally opens the Tomb of Nabu and revives the ancient sorcerer. This also activates a trap for grave robbers, a release of poisonous gas that kills Sven. Nabu takes pity on the grieving Kent and mentors the young man in becoming a magician of immense power for the next twenty years. Kent is given a magical helmet, amulet, and cloak before he returns to the States. He meets Inza Cramer, a woman supernaturally attuned to the Earth. This led to a battle between Kent (as Dr. Fate) against the wizard Wotan who wanted to control Inza. In the wake of the fight, Inza and Kent begin a romantic relationship.
Kent would create The Tower of Fate in Salem, Massachusetts, a mystical headquarters that relied on his magic for anyone to enter. During the 1940s, he would become a medical physician and enlist in World War II. He’d become a founding member of the Justice Society of America and participate in their adventures. During the 1960s, when Earth-2 became aware of the parallel Earth-1 and its Justice League, an older Kent Nelson would become Doctor Fate once again. When the Crisis on Infinite Earths merged all these realities together, he became one of the veteran heroes of the Golden Age and kept active into the 1980s, where he helped found the new Justice League.
Kent and Inza would eventually learn that Nabu was tied to the Lords of Order & Chaos, beings of such immense cosmic power that they shaped the flow of reality on Earth. Kent was put through the wringer by the Lords of Chaos to break him and his power. Before they could succeed in their goals, Kent realized what was happening and restored his resolve. But these forces of evil would not rest and years later returned to wreak havoc on Doctor Fate. The strain of living under the influence of the Lords of Chaos led Inza to kill herself, which drove Kent into deep despair. Nabu’s essence began to take over more when Kent would don the helmet, further dissociating him from life. Eventually, Nabu requested Kent help him find a new protege to take on this power, which came in the form of Eric Strauss.
Eric was only ten years old when Nabu, now the sole consciousness inhabiting Kent Nelson’s body, came to teach the child how to become a sorcerer. Eric’s father was an abusive businessman who’d recently married a much younger woman named Linda that felt a lot of empathy for Eric. Nabu used his powers to age Eric into adulthood as he trained, and eventually, the now-adult man became the new Doctor Fate. Eric was quickly attacked by a Lord of Chaos named Typhon. It quickly became clear that the battle was not in Eric’s favor, and he reached out with his powers merging consciousnesses with Linda. Much like the mental merging of the hero Firestorm, they functioned much better as two becoming one.
Eric became deathly ill shortly after, and it was discovered that the magic Nabu used to age him was also killing him. Linda would begin to work solo as a female Doctor Fate, even teaming up with the Justice League. Eric was kidnapped by Darkseid, who sought to exploit the power of Nabu, but he died while on Apokalips. Linda was deeply hurt by Eric’s passing but kept operating as Doctor Fate. She went up against one of Kent Nelson’s longtime nemeses, Dr. Eric Stone, the Anti-Fate. She died after stopping Stoner, but the enigmatic mystic wanderer, The Phantom Stranger, took pity on Eric & Linda, allowing them to reincarnate in the bodies of a married couple whose daughter was destined to hold an important place in the realms of magic. As the Strausses moved on to a new life, the Nelsons were magically restored from the amulet.
In this new incarnation, Kent & Inza would merge like Eric & Linda to become a new Doctor Fate, the best of both man & woman. Around this time, the retired members of the Justice Society reformed their team and operated out of their old New York City brownstone headquarters. But this reunion did not last very long. When the Zero Hour event began, tearing away at the fabric of time, the JSA went against the entity Extant. Extant manipulated time, and the Nelsons were vaporized. The Helm of Nabu, the amulet, and cloak fell to the ground without a bearer.
Weeks later, adventurer Jared Stevens was hired to go to Egypt and retrieve the objects of Nabu that had mysteriously reappeared in the tomb. The specters of Kent & Inza bring Jared to the Tower of Fate, where they reveal they have hired him. However, the artifacts reject the Nelsons, and a demon manifests to take them. Jared tries to use the amulet to stop the being, but it explodes and leaves an ankh scar across one of his eyes. Jared tears up the cloak to bandage a wound to his arm, and he was healed immediately. He goes on to meltdown the helmet into a dagger. In the process, he becomes simply Fate. After a year or so of adventures, Jared was killed by the sorcerer Mordru in an event that created a new Justice Society and gave someone else the mantle of Doctor Fate.
The following person to take the mantle would be very familiar with superheroes and their legacies. Hector Hall was the son of Carter & Shiera Hall, aka Hawkman & Hawkgirl. When he was a young adult, Hector had become Silver Scarab, a hero who fought alongside Infinity Inc. While there, he met and eventually married Lyta Trevor, the daughter of the Golden Age Wonder Woman & Steve Trevor. With Crisis, that parentage was tweaked a bit. Lyta disappeared along with their unborn son Daniel, something that haunted Hector. By the time Mordru enacted his plans, Hector had taken up the mantle of Fate and helped form the new Justice Society.
Hector eventually finds Lyta, mystically disguised and in a coma. As he explored the origins of his powers to find a way to save his beloved, Hector traveled to Gemworld, where the amulet of Fate was forged. He learns that Mordru is living magical energy that possesses hosts. Using this knowledge, Hector enacted a spell to awaken Lyta but found that even that had been a disguise, and she turned out to be Dawn Granger, another Lord of Order. Hector learned he could commune with the former Doctor Fates as their souls lived in an idyll within the amulet. Numerous times he would journey inward to seek advice from the Nelsons, Nabu, or Jared Stevens. Hector also became aware of Nabu’s ties with Shazam & Metamorpho.
After many trials & tribulations, Hector and Lyta were finally reunited when it was revealed that Nabu had kept her soul imprisoned. Hector & Lyta then moved to the Tower of Fate, where they lived there just as the Nelsons had. Their physical bodies began to decay due to battles with demons who sought to breach the walls of the towers. Lyta realized their only hope lay in retreating into their subconscious minds. In this way, they became a part of The Dreaming, where they were reunited with their son Daniel. Daniel had become the new Lord of Dreams, aka Sandman, years prior.
A few years before dramatically rebooted the DC Universe, readers were introduced to Kent V. Nelson. Hector’s friends from the JSA began searching for who should wear the helm of Fate now. With a mind of its own, the helmet visited characters like Detective Chimp, Sargon the Sorcerer, Black Alice, and Zauriel before settling with Kent’s grandnephew Kent V. He happens to be dating a comic book artist named Inza Fox, who is killed. Kent V. drowns himself in alcohol before the Helmet knocks some sense into him. He goes on to defeat the demon responsible for Inza’s death and restore her to life.
All of that was moot, though, when the New 52 launched radically reshaping the DCU. Doctor Fate was absent for many years until a new series was established in 2015 that introduced readers to Khalid Nassour, an Egyptian-American medical student. While looking for a gift for his girlfriend, he comes across a statue of Bastet that extends its arm and offers him the Helm of Fate. Khalid then goes about trying to master the magical powers given to him as Doctor Fate. Eventually, he learns that his mother is Kent Nelson’s niece, and he even meets the original Doctor Fate. Khalid would join Justice League Dark, a magic-focused version of the team, to take on supernatural threats to the world. As it stands now, Khalid is Doctor Fate, but we have seen a return of the Golden Age Justice Society, including his uncle.