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DF Interview: Paul Levitz making Dr. Fate walk like an Egyptian
By Byron Brewer
Khalid Nassour, a Brooklyn med student with an Egyptian-American heritage, is the latest in a growing list of characters to don the helmet of Dr. Fate, a talisman which gives its wearer supernatural powers.
Fate’s new adventures, which began in June, come from the imaginations of DC veteran writer Paul Levitz and artist Sonny Liew. For an in-depth peek at what Fate’s ... er uh ... fate will be, Dynamic Forces teleported post-Convergence to speak with the scribe himself.
Dynamic Forces: Paul, your iteration of Dr. Fate not only pulls from the same type of supernatural world as Marvel’s Dr. Strange, but there is also a bit of early Spider-Man feel to the host. Tell us about this and, in keeping, your long-time collaboration/friendship with co-creator of those characters, the legendary Steve Ditko.
Paul Levitz: I’m not sure the supernatural world of Dr Fate will resemble Steve’s Dr Strange, given that he and Stan made up a vivid mythology seemingly out of whole cloth and I’m leaning on the Egyptian roots of Fate, but his visual style is certainly something I’m calling on in giving Sonny art suggestions. Sonny takes them in his own direction (the lovely scene with Nabu in #2 is a great example), but it gives us a reference point to start with. I stare at the original of the splash from my old Imagine story with Steve as I write, which is a constant reminder of how wonderful his ability to visualize the impossible is.
The connection to Spider-Man is a little more complex. Dan and Jim were requesting a protagonist who represented some of the issues facing today’s youth, and in many ways, I think the overwhelmed Peter Parker that Steve and Stan showed in their early stories has meaning for the Millennials who are simultaneously trying to deal with challenges in getting into grad school, handling jobs or internships, and building their personal lives. Khalid’s dilemmas are his own, and in many ways very different (the ‘first generation American’ issues are something unavailable to comics’ writers back in the ‘60s, as were some of the political issues that will eventually find their way into the stories), but feeling overwhelmed is a common theme note.
DF: Khalid is of Egyptian heritage and this is fitting since the mantle of Fate is tied to that mythos, BUT is this also part of the recent trend toward more diverse heroes?
Paul Levitz: Diversity is a part of it, but I think the key is that we wanted to really take advantage of the potential inherent in the original premise of Dr. Fate. I always look to the origins and backstory of characters for inspiration, and once I focused on the fact that the Thoth helmet came from Egypt, lots of things came together.
DF: Tell us about Khalid Nassour.
Paul Levitz: He’s a hard-working, bright young man…you don’t get into a prestigious med school if you’re not. He’s personable, friendly with young women and attractive to at least a couple of them who we’ll meet along the way. He’ll find out more about himself in these stories—and more about why he’s chosen to be Fate.
DF: This book has a very different style, both in color and in form, that I as a Fate fan would expect. Is this something artist Sonny Liew did, something stemming from your Ditko fondness, word from On High, or a bit of “all the above”?
Paul Levitz: When I suggested Sonny for the series, I knew he could bring a distinct visual style to the series, which was one of the goals Dan and Jim had set. Even as a longtime fan of his work, I’ve been impressed by the effort he’s put in to creating that style, and to building a distinctive color palate on the 8 pager and working with Lee to use it effectively. To my taste, color is an underutilized tool in storytelling in many comics; it’s splashed on heavily, but without focus on the story. I think we’re getting a great use of it here.
I don’t think Sonny’s particularly aiming for a Ditko feel, if anything, it feels more influenced by Will Eisner. Of course, that may be because I’m torturing him with the amount of rain and flooding in the first story arc, which was a trademark of Will’s. When you get to see Sonny’s incredible The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (coming from Pantheon next year), you’ll see his ability to decode and work in the styles of artists as diverse as Carl Barks and Walt Kelly, so I wouldn’t underestimate what he’s learned from all his influences. But in the end, he’s Sonny.
DF: Who are Anubis and Bast?
Paul Levitz: They’re part of the Egyptian pantheon of gods, reinterpreted as comics are wont to do.
DF: Besides Ditko, from where are you drawing inspiration for the character? Creator Gardner Fox perhaps, or some later version?
Paul Levitz: The starting point is Gardner’s work, and my love of the character goes back to the wonderful Showcase Doctor Fate and Hourman tales he did with Murphy Anderson. And Roger Zelazny’s Creatures of Light and Darkness provide inspiration as well.
DF: Tell us about working with Sonny Liew.
Paul Levitz: Sonny is a joy to work with. He’s a great, clear storyteller, and a fine collaborator. I love getting early morning emails (from his very late night), asking me to clarify a detail, or pointing out a better way to break down a scene. He wants to get the New York/Brooklyn details right, and he thinks through the characters wonderfully.
A good example is the spread with Nabu in issue 2. He took my relatively straight-forward description of that scene, and brought it to life with rich detail and fantastic imagery.
DF: You seem enthused about all the Egyptian history and mysticism. I take it this will be a big part of Fate’s adventures?
Paul Levitz: It’s rich material to explore which has rarely been used in DC titles, and current Egyptian politics are a whole other field of drama. I hope we can do justice to it.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Paul Levitz for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Dr. Fate #3 from DC hits stores Aug. 19th!
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