Today, Patrick and Michael are discussing Dr. Fate 2, originally released July 15th, 2015.
Patrick: There are a lot of so-called “legacy” characters in comic books. Rebooting those characters has to be insanely stressful for creators – how do you make sure the latest iteration is both true to its own identity and its own time, while also honoring the legacy that birthed the hero? Let’s take the current Batman as an example: Jim Gordon has to kick his smoking habit and work within in the confines of the law, but he’s still got Bat-gadgets and fights the Penguin (or whomever). That’s simultaneously Gordon and Batman. But what about when a character actually has an active reason not to buy into their own legacy? Enter Khalid – the child of first generation Egyptian immigrants. His whole life is built on the promise that he doesn’t have to live his parents’ lives. Weirdly, the American dream — go to school, work hard, live a comfortable consumer’s life — encourages Khalid to reject any sense of cultural identity and everything his newfound superpowers come to represent. That’s who’s motivated to ignore legacy: immigrants just trying to fit in.
Khalid starts the issue atop the Soldiers and Sailors’ Arch in Prospect Park. He spends a lot of the issue rejecting his role as the new Dr. Fate, but this is probably where he’s doing it the most explicitly. The mental gymnastics that are required to deny all of this is actually pretty astounding. Here’s Khalid’s assessment of what’s is happening:
“This is insane. Totally freaking insane. A talking cat convinces me to put [the helmet] on, I hallucinate flying and when I take [the helmet] off, I’m on top of this dumb monument.”
My favorite part of that is “I hallucinate flying.” Y’know, like that’s a totally normal thing that would happen to someone. Khalid is searching for any way to dismiss what he’s experiencing as not real, and the fact that it all plays out on a famous New York landmark is significant. New York City — both here and in fucking everything — is representative of the promise of a new life. Artist Sonny Liew doesn’t want this image out of our minds for a second during this scene, occasionally employing extreme angles so we can get a better view of the thing. Heck, he even breaks it up over three panels.
Last time I wrote about this series, I had complained that Khalid was resisting his call to adventure too much. Arguably, he’s doing it even more in this issue, but I’m coming around to the idea that that’s the point. The Dr. Fate helmet is rooted in ancient Egyptian sorcery, which means it’s based in a culture that has been deliberately kept from him his entire life. Tellingly, Khalid eventually acquiesces to the will of the helmet so he can rescue his father from a fallen tree branch that has pinned his cab. In the exact same beat, Khalid fails to save a plane struck by lightning. He’s willing and able to access his culture when the well-being of his family is concerned, but as soon as the threat moves to something outside his immediate family, he can’t pull it together.
Actually, that’s a point I’m not 100% clear on – did Khalid save the plane or crash it? LET’S REVIEW THE FACTS: The plane is struck by lightning. Dr. Fate, with his unconscious father in his arms, attempts to buoy the plane by making air rush under the wings. A helpful editor’s note lets us know that’s not how airplanes work, and the smoking plane loses a wing on an obviously rough landing. As far as airplane disasters are concerned, that’s actually pretty tame. Anubis watches the crash site from afar, and just confuses the issue further.
I legit don’t know what he’s talking about here. Are the “fresh souls” he mentioned people that died in the plane crash? When he says “I have my blood price” is he claiming that the blood of the deceased passengers is paying that debt or that he is still owed blood? It’s a weird beat to play so ambiguously, especially because Khalid is so damn cavalier about the whole thing. If people died because he — the future doctor — was too dumb to know how planes work, that changes how we have to view the character.
Whatever happened there, the issue frees up considerably once Levitz and Liew narrow in on the drama between the kid and his powers. Ultimately, that’s the struggle that’s most interesting and the most intimate. Michael, how are you digging this series’ balance between superheroics and Khalid’s search for his own identity? Also, how hilarious is it that he seems totally oblivious to the clearly biblical flood that’s swallowing the city? In the final panel, it’s literally sneaking up on him.
Pffffwhat? That’s dumb. The thing I find strangest about this issue (and the series in general), is that I’m totally willing to overlook these clumsier missteps because a) I respond so strongly to the ideas about forging your own identity amid an overpowering legacy and b) Liew’s charismatic art. Does the same spell work on you, man?
Michael: First things first: Patrick dropped a Joseph Campbell reference with Khalid’s “refusal of the call.” Well done mon ami; and very apt given the situation. In superhero terms, Khalid’s attempt to deny the beckoning call of the helmet is like when Peter Parker tries to ignore the great responsibility that comes with his great power. In real world terms, it’s like when any major change occurs in an individual’s life. A change can be as small as making a new friend or as large as moving across the country. The stubborn human beings that we are, we sometimes try to maintain that we are the same person we’ve always been. But every change – no matter how great or small – changes us like a personal-sized butterfly effect. So Khalid might try to convince himself that everything is business as usual, but his mystical helmet ride has changed him. Even if he DID get rid of the helmet and continue on his designated career path, Khalid will never be the same again. After all, he’s seen and experienced things that no one else can really relate to.
Patrick talked about the significance of Khalid having his self-debate/denial atop a famous New York landmark, due to New York’s “fresh start” appeal. While I was putting off this reply and instead talking comics with Patrick on Google Hangouts I stumbled upon a second reason for this location’s significance: it’s a real place. Khalid is trying to assure himself that everything that he experienced while wearing the helmet was a hallucination or an acid trip; he’s trying to ground his situation in realism. So it’s fitting that Khalid’s justification (and this series) takes place in a city that exists in the real world. DC’s fictitious helmet of Fate and the fantastical things surround it contrasts well with the very real city of New York.
To touch on another thing that Patrick brought up, it doesn’t seem like Khalid is very bright. Maybe this is a very generous stereotype we’re attributing to him but yes; you would think that a med student would be a little more…knowledgeable. Just because you have a doctorate doesn’t mean that you’re King Brainy of Braintopia, but that whole plane snafu seems like it should’ve been avoided. Khalid isn’t dumb of course, but he doesn’t seem very inquisitive. Instead of being curious about the magical helmet that chose him via a talking cat and the fact that he got to play superhero for a day, he tries his hardest to ignore it. The helmet offers Khalid the chance to learn about its history, but ultimately has to force the lesson upon him. Like, I get it – you want to live a normal life and all of that malarkey, but you’re not the teensiest bit curious about what the hell is happening to you? You can’t refuse the call THAT hard Khalid. It’s just a minor complaint, because I do like what Levitz is trying to do with Khalid shaping his own identity and destiny. He doesn’t want his heritage to control who he is/becomes, so he sure as hell doesn’t want some crazy magic helmet telling him what to do.
So the question we are asking is: what the hell Anubis’ “price of blood?” During Khalid’s first encounter with him, Anubis claims that by stealing the “helm of Thoth” Khalid denies the dog god “the price of blood.” It stands to reason that whatever this particular price of blood is, Khalid’s wearing of the helmet stands in Anubis’ way. Anubis stamps his foot down and says “Little mortal, I will have my blood price” as he conjures a lightning storm to take down the plane. So it’s possible that the passengers that may have died on that plane count as the “blood price,” but it’s also possible that Khalid’s blood is that price. Maybe he screwed with the plane knowing that Khalid would try to save it, bringing him to his death?
My ancient Egyptian history is a little spotty, so I can’t remember if the battle between Anubis and Bastet was so black and white. It is clear that Levitz and Liew are placing Bastet in the good guy role however, which made me hypothesize that one or both of them were cat people. And guess what? Right on the money, you guys.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?