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Black Adam: Doctor Fate's Backstory Explained

DC fans, the Doctor is in.

This past weekend's virtual DC FanDome event gave us a look at some excellent concept art for the upcoming Black Adam (presented in the form of short video clips expertly narrated by the flick's star, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson). Among the more interesting revelations: the inclusion of the Justice Society, which will include Hawkman, Cyclone, Atom Smasher, and the enigmatic, magic-using hero known as Doctor Fate.

The good Doctor is one of DC's oldest characters, having first appeared in a 1940 issue of More Fun Comics before the publisher was even known by its current name. He later became a founding member of the Justice Society, which was the very first superhero team ever to grace the pages of comic books, and he has been featured in one form or another — both as a supporting character and, occasionally, in his own title — for the last eight decades.

Longtime DC die-hards may remember that Doctor Fate has actually appeared in live-action before: he was featured in a two-part story arc on the Superman prequel series Smallville in 2010 (portrayed by Tron: Legacy's Brent Stait), and he recently had a small cameo in the DC Universe (and now CW) series Stargirl. But Black Adam will mark the first appearance of the character on the big screen — and if you weren't totally floored by the FanDome reveal, you just may be wondering what all the hubbub is about. Here's what you need to know about one of the most powerful wielders of magic in the DC Universe, Doctor Fate.

The original Doctor Fate: Kent Nelson

In that first published story, readers were introduced to Kent Nelson, the young son of archaeologist Sven Nelson, who accompanied dear old Dad on trip to the Valley of Ur in Mesopotamia. There, they discovered an underground pyramid — which happened to be the "resting place" of an insanely powerful immortal being known as Nabu, who had been housed there for centuries in suspended animation.

Kent awakened Nabu, but in the process, his father was killed by the same mysterious white gas that revived the immortal. Taking Kent under his wing, Nabu trained him for the next 20 years in the arcane secrets of the universe, teaching him to wield magic with the help of three powerful totems: the Amulet of Anubis, the Cloak of Destiny, and the Helmet of Fate, through which mystical energies could be channeled. Returning to society, Nelson took up the mantle of Doctor Fate, using his vast array of powers — which included super strength, flight, astral projection, interdimensional travel, matter manipulation, and telepathy, among many others — to fight the forces of evil.

After an encounter with the hero known as the Spectre during the early days of World War II, Doctor Fate was compelled to become a founding member of the Justice Society of America at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In addition to Fate and Spectre, the first iteration of the team also included the Atom (Al Pratt), the Flash (Jay Garrick), the Green Lantern (Alan Scott), Hawkman (Carter Hall), Hourman (Rex Tyler), and Sandman (Wesley Dodds).

Many other characters have taken up the mantle of Doctor Fate

As one might expect for a character with such a long history, there have been a slew of different iterations of Doctor Fate over the years. Perhaps the strangest of these was the one who took over after Nelson was killed off in the '80s, as Nabu chose a young man named Eric Strauss and his stepmother, Linda, to collectively become the new Doctor Fate. In order to harness their full power, they merged into one being, much like fellow DC hero Firestorm. 

After the Strausses' tenure, Kent Nelson and his wife, Inza — who had taken up residence in an alternate universe inside the Amulet of Anubis — were restored to life, with Inza becoming the new Doctor Fate. After retiring, the Nelsons crossed paths with smuggler Jared Nelson, who came into possession of Doctor Fate's artifacts to briefly become a twisted, amoral version of the hero called simply Fate.

The mantle was then briefly picked up by Hector Hall, the son of Hawkman and Hawkgirl, who had previously used the moniker Silver Scarab and had also become the third character to take the name Sandman. The final character to become Doctor Fate before DC's New 52 era was Kent V. Nelson, the grand-nephew of the original.

Since the reboot of the DC Multiverse, the character has been featured in two different continuities. The main continuity version is Khalid Ben-Hassin, the grandson of Kent Nelson. The Earth-0 version of the character, introduced in 2015, is yet another grand-nephew of Nelson, Egyptian American medical student Khalid Nassour.

Which version of Doctor Fate will we see in Black Adam?

Of course, the filmmakers behind Black Adam don't necessarily have to pick any one iteration of Doctor Fate to choose from; the version we end up seeing onscreen may very well contain elements of any or all of the character's incarnations over the years. The only clue we have at the present time as to the good Doctor's characterization in the upcoming flick comes from a casting call which was reported by The Illuminerdi back in April (and which may or may not be accurate).

According to that report, the flick's producers are seeking a 30-40 year old man to fill the role. We're going to go ahead and assume that Black Adam's writers would be most likely to either go with the legacy version of Doctor Fate (Nelson) or the latest iteration (Nassour). If indeed that casting call is legit, it pretty much rules out a young medical student — so we're guessing it's probably Nelson, the OG Doc Fate, that we'll see tangling with the Rock.

Of course, that's pure speculation, but we'll be waiting with bated breath for more official announcements concerning Black Adam, and you can count on us to keep you updated. The flick is currently slated to hit the big screen on December 22, 2021.