One foot in horror: Doctor Occult

“Gutter of Horror” is a Brazilian column from Dinamo Studio website about horror comics.
This is a version of the original article.

Have you ever thought about how was life before television? Even with internet today, TV is still a big part of the modern culture. And one of the cool things TV has is serialized TV shows. But what the hell this has to do with horror comics? Well, imagine how was life before television. It was not very different, actually, just the news were slower and what we consume today on TV or internet at the time we read in print publications, books, newspapers and, if you were looking for monthly stories, you would read comics.

Between the end of the 19th century and the first half of 20th century, American Comic Industry was dominated by “pulps”, which I already wrote about my first article. But let’s do a quick recap: pulp described the kind of comic book that featured mostly adventure and fiction stories. There were all kinds of pulps, from war to science fiction, crime, western and, of course, horror. There was no intention to be profound or to have some kind of literary value (whatever that means); it was pure and easy to follow entertainment. No wonder pulps were extremely popular at the time. With due proportions, pulps represented to and American society without television and internet what TV series represent to our society today – although we can argue that this dynamic is shifting, but that’s another story.

The arrive of Superman in the pages of Action Comics #1 traditionally marks the beginning of the transition to the Pulp Era to what it would later be called Golden Age of Superheroes. During this transition, there was not much difference between them, since the superheroes was kind of pulps’ spiritual successor, and because of that, they shared much of the same elements. In this landscape, came, in 1935 – before Superman – a character that could be considered one of the “missing links” between pulp and superheroes (well, actually he is not “missing”, but you know what I mean): Doctor Occult.

First appearing in More Fun Comics #6, Dr. Occult, also known as “The Ghost detective”, was a private investigator with supernatural powers and the typical style of noir detective and crime pulps, that solve cases involving paranormal, the mystic and the supernatural. Eventually, the detective would also count with a partner, Rose Psychic. More Fun Comics (first only More Fun) was the first comic book published by the company who would later be known as DC Comics. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (also creators of Superman), Doctor Occult actually appeared before More Fun Comics in a title by Centaur Publications, The Comics Magazine, but it was almost a completely different character. His name was Dr. Mystic and he was a sorcerer who traveled through mystic worlds and was capable of flying. Unlike the known version of the character, Dr. Mystic wore a superhero-like uniform, that was actually just a trunks and a cape. This makes Dr. Occult (or “Dr. Mystic”) maybe the first superhero with superpowers to wear a uniform, even before The Phantom (1936) and Superman (1939).

Like most stories from that time, there was no concern in showing the origins of the character, to establish him in the present and showing him investigating a different case each month was enough at the time. The format was similar to many TV shows that would come later, like Carl Kolchak, which would inspire TV shows like The X-files. But, because origin stories was not a thing at the time, not much is known about how he came to be.

And he kept going without origin until he was brought back to light decades later, in the 1980s, in All-Star Squadron. This title featured a team of superheroes and took place during World War II. In the comic, his origin was finally told using a retcon. In this story, Occult and Rose were brother and sister that, when kids, were offered as sacrifice to Satan by a mystic cult at some point during 1889. Something in that ritual goes wrong and they summon Koth, instead of Satan. Koth was a creature that didn’t feed of pure souls, but corrupted ones. So, he killed all cult members while the two brothers were rescued by a man names Zator and taken to a citadel that was a home to a powerful mystical organization called The Seven. After spending years studying the mystic arts, they moved to New York where they opened a detective agency to solve supernatural cases. All-Star Squadron took place on Earth-2 and all those stories were erased during the Crisis on Infinite Earths event – which Dr. Occult were also part of.

After DC rebooting all universe, Dr. Occult appeared in The Books of Magic, by Neil Gaiman. In this version, along with Constantine and other Mystics (the Trenchcoat Brigade), he helps Tim Hunter to enter the world of magic. Neil Gaiman also gave another take on the relationship between Occult and Rose: in this new version, they were not partners or brothers, they were the same person, two different aspects of the same being.

The character was also part of the group Sentinels of Magic, created to prevent artifacts such as the Spear of Destiny falling into the wrong hands, and he and Rose played an important role in the event Judgment Day, helping to protect Earth from a demonic invasion. In the New 52 timeline, Dr. Occult is seen in Justice League Dark #12, where is revealed that he is the keeper of the House of Secrets.

Doctor Occult may be a little forgotten by DC right now, but it was one of the oldest characters from the company, and an interesting one. I hope one day a live action adaptation of the character sees the light of day. A TV show would be cool, don't you think?
Rafael Algures is a Bachelor of Philosophy specialized in Neurosciences of Language. He is also a copywriter, content and science writer, and a comic book creator. His latest work, “Gutter of Horror: Transition”, is available at Amazon – digital and paperback.

Further reading: Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes, by Chris Knowles and Joseph Michael Linsner
                           DC ComicsYear By Year, New Edition: A Visual Chronicle, by Alan Cowsill and Alex Irvine