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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #89

Leonard Doctor Week Part Six! Today’s Doctor certainly deserves to be featured on a Friday. I’d rather it be the Friday two weeks from now, but hey, this week is Doctor Week.

Also, the handy dandy 365 Reasons Archive has been updated again. Onwards!

3/30/07

89. Dr. Thirteen

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Doctor Terrence Thirteen is a professional ghost-breaker– a skeptic who proves supernatural occurences to be false. First appearing in Star-Spangled Comics #122 and created by artist Leonard Starr and a writer who remains unknown (spooky), Thirteen carved out an occasional solo feature for himself before getting his big break in the pages of Phantom Stranger. As for what his doctorate is actually in, well, I’m placing my bets on physics and philosophy. Heh.

Thanks to John Seavey, we know the storytelling engine of the Phantom Stranger. Therein lay the problem with teaming the two characters up; as we know the Phantom Stranger to be a legitimate supernatural character who constantly finds himself in legitimate supernatural settings and events, then Dr. Thirteen comes off as a crackpot who is so obsessive over his “skeptical rationalism” that he comes off as a fool. In his solo feature, he could live and work in a realistic universe in which he was always right; this can’t be so in the DC Universe, where the characters and the readers are aware of the existence of gods, heaven, hell, demons, ghosts, and all kinds of supernatural phenomena.

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After his solo runs in Star-Spangled and Ghosts, and his co-starring run in Phantom Stranger, Dr. Thirteen faded into limbo, popping up for an occasional guest appearance, but not getting much use. He did get a Vertigo Visions one-shot in the early 90′s, drawn by Mike Oeming, which took the character to a semi-logical and extreme conclusion, turning him into an arrogant maniac who undergoes a mental breakdown in the face of his collapsing personal life and world view. I can’t say it was very good.

Dr Thirteen 1.JPG

I don’t think he appeared in much after that until Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #1, in which Grant Morrison wrote him beautifully (fully accepting the presence of bizarre supernaturalism but explaining it through scientific means) but ended up killing him off.

The good doctor’s story did not end there, however. He’s currently featured in the back-up of Tales of the Unexpected in a series of stories by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. The Dr. Thirteen stories are the only reason to buy this comic, and, thankfully, will be traded separately at some point in the future (yay!). The story is quite whimsical and stuffed with obscure and forgotten DC characters, including Anthro the caveboy, Nazi gorillas, I, Vampire, Genius Jones, Infectious Lass, and more, and serves as a meta-commentary on the comics industry and “events” and a fond look at forgotten characters who really could use that handy copyright renewal. It’s not exactly a “straight” take on Dr. Thirteen, but it’s loads of fun.

It also co-stars Dr. Thirteen’s daughter, Traci, a.k.a. “Girl 13,” introduced during the Loeb/Kelly/etc. Superman era. She’s an “urban sorceress” much to her father’s chagrin, and replacing his deceased wife Marie as his travelling partner.

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I think Dr. Thirteen is a really cool idea with endless potential. Yes, his entire premise is hampered by his addition into the DC Universe, but a clever enough writer could work around it and give Terry his own corner of the world to play in. Dr. Thirteen exists and works on the edge of sanity, doing his damndest to debunk the demons and devilry other denizens of the DC Universe take for granted. I’m not sure if being proved wrong now and again would phase him or hurt his mission– his outlook remains strong. Like Scully of the X-Files, his story is about levels of belief. His view of life is constantly tested, but he remains the supreme rationalist skeptic. Perhaps that makes him a stubborn idiot, but I don’t think the character sees it that way. Hell, maybe he secretly desires to be proved wrong, so that he can believe his wife’s spirit is out there somewhere, waiting for him. That’d be an interesting twist.

What’s your say, gang? How would you handle Dr. 13? Can he work in the DCU? Should he? Would you buy an ongoing series if it was done well?

20 Comments

FunkyGreenJerusalem

March 30, 2007 at 6:09 pm

“What’s your say, gang? How would you handle Dr. 13?”

Nowhere near a superhero universe.

“Can he work in the DCU?”

No.

“Should he?”

No.

“Would you buy an ongoing series if it was done well?”

I’d buy a series done well, but I can’t see it happening – I have a copy of the Vertigo Dr.13. It makes me think twice before getting anything with Dr. 13 in it.

Is Dr. Bong ever going to appear?

One of my favorite scenes in Infinite Crisis is when Ragman is talking to Terrific outside of a Church and when teriffic says he’s an atheist, Ragman ask him what about magical powers like the Specter has or heaven or Souls? And Terrific has a scientific counter for each of them, from telepathic discharges to dimensional realms. This absolutly works for the character and works for Dr. 13 as well. All magic is tech. All spiritiuality can be explain in the scientific context of the DCU’s world of superpowers, metagenes, aliens, etc. It doesn’t stop Terriific from working in the DCU, indeed being a great character in the DCU and I don’t see why Dr. 13 can;t work that way as well.

Infact, a Doctor 13 and Mister Terrific team up would be perfect. Infact, throw in Doctor Midnight and make it a hard core science adventure.

A skeptic in a superhero universe? In the right hands, it’d be a brilliant idea.

How about turning him into a fourth-wall-breaker a la Deadpool, constantly (compulsively?) pointing out the absurdity of what’s going on around him while being forced to participate in it to the extreme?

I dig Dr. 13 the most. There is no reason he can’t work in the DC universe. He wouldn’t be trying to prove that demonstratively real things like The Spectre and The Phantom Stranger don’t exist, he would still be exposing frauds. In a world of gods and monsters, there will still be grifters and con-artists preying on the bereaved and the desperate. They should be brought to justice. And punched in the face.

(Why isn’t there an Amazing Randi comic?)

Don’t you love the Dr. 13 logo on the Ghosts cover? It’s really reminding me of something, but I can’t recall just what.

Didn’t Dr. 13 appear in the Fleischer/Aparo run of Spectre in Weird Adventure? And didn’t Fleischer totally blow continuity and the fourth wall by having a cop remark that Dr. 13 looked like Clark Kent and ask if he was really Superman? Or am I remememrbling wrong?

I was thinking the exact same thing, J.C. I think teaming up Dr. Thirteen, Mr. Terrific, and Dr. Mid-Nite would be an awesome idea. I wonder what they’d call themselves as a team.

Dr. Hank McCoy!

“Doctor Terrence Thirteen is a professional ghost-breaker– a skeptic who proves supernatural occurences to be false.”

You wouldn’t have thought there was much money in that line of work, would you? Which may be why I can’t find any ghost-breakers in my local Yellow Pages.

“The Dr. Thirteen stories are the only reason to buy this comic, and, thankfully, will be traded separately at some point in the future (yay!)”

Great news! Every time I have bought an issue of Tales of the Unexpected, I have worried that DC might take it as a sign of the popularity of the ugly, nasty Spectre strip at the front.

Wasn’t Doctor 13 killed in Zatanna last year? Any explanation been given as to how he’s back alive?

“You wouldn’t have thought there was much money in that line of work, would you? Which may be why I can’t find any ghost-breakers in my local Yellow Pages.”

Well, in a way you’ve got guys like James Randi and Penn and Teller… not quite the same… or as necessarily honest… but kinda close. Sorta.

I’ve been avoiding “Tales” because of Ugly Spectre with the Goatee. I didn’t realize that someone as awesome as Dr. 13 was in there as well.

I always thought if you use Doc 13 in the DCU he should at least seem to have a grudging acceptance of the ground reality, at least as far as the fact that people fly and deflect bullets. I don’t think it stops him from debunking supernatural hoaxes.

I would probably make him seem like the opposite of a UFOlogist or cryptozologist in our world. A guy with wacky theories that no one believes, only he he still manages to prove himself somehow. We have people around who still believe in Hollow/Flat Earth’s, Shadow People, Bigfoot, and 9-11 conspiracies. Why couldn’t a magical metafiction reality have a guy who believes the exact opposite of the reality that smacks him right in the face?

Doctor 13, the anti Art Bell of the DCU.

As a side note, Genius Jones is *awesome*!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genius_Jones

http://www.toonopedia.com/geniusj.htm

If only he had a Ph.D.!

Certainly, if I was doing a Doctor Thirteen comic, I’d start with James Randi as my primary research point. Randi’s book ‘Flim-Flam’ covers so many false psychic phenomena, and details the way that charlatans actually do harm people with these scams, that it’s a cornucopia of story ideas for someone writing a book about a professional skeptic and “ghost-breaker”.

I think I’d just try to keep him clear of the magical parts of the DC Universe, essentially ducking the issue. There may be real magic in the DC Universe, but that would just make the charlatans bolder and more prolific; no need to get him involved in the whole “I can’t explain it, but I know it’s not magic” ugliness.

(Although a Dr. Thirteen/Batman team-up would rock. They could investigate a fraudulent psychic together, each using their own methods…tell me it wouldn’t be cool.)

“I was thinking the exact same thing, J.C. I think teaming up Dr. Thirteen, Mr. Terrific, and Dr. Mid-Nite would be an awesome idea. I wonder what they’d call themselves as a team.”

Levantine, how about

The Misfits of Science?

The League of Extraordinarly Smart People?

Nerds who will kick your @$$?

Or if we go the Kingdom Come route: The Brain Trust?

I actually like Traci Thirteen myself. I wish they’d use her more( and her pet iguana Leeroy )

You forgot to mention Terry’s brief but brilliant appearance in Gaiman’s Books of Magic. “He’s right. Magic doesn’t exist– for him.”

More generally, if I may quote myself:

There has now been a Vertigo Visions Dr. 13 one-shot. Like the Phantom Stranger VV one-shot, this should probably be regarded as not in continuity. In it [...] he is obsessive about rational skepticism to the point of absurd insanity. [...]

Some people have thought for a long time that Terry must be slightly delusional in order to be a skeptic given the world he inhabits; the creators of the VV one-shot picked up this idea and ran with it. But the idea was always a mistake. It’s prefectly reasonable to be a skeptic in the DCU; indeed, in some ways, the DCU needs skeptics even more than we do. Consider matters extraterrestrial rather than supernatural. The fact that the Khunds invaded Australia doesn’t mean that your cousin is telling the truth about having been abducted and probed. In fact, the publicly-acknowledged existence of some extraterrestrial life would only make it more tempting for some people to try to get attention with their own stories about aliens. They’d be more likely to be believed in the DCU than they are here. So one would be wise, in the DCU, to be skeptical about most stories about aliens one hears. There was an exchange between Bolt and Chase in an early issue of Chase that I thought got the tone just right. Chase comments that everyone knows the ship that crashed at Rosewll in 1947 was a Dominator scoutship. Bolt is utterly certain that that’s just a cover story, and that the truth is far more sinister. It’s just as reasonable to be a DCU skeptic about Bolt’s theories as it is to be a skeptic in our world about extant Area 51 theories. The fact that there are some aliens doesn’t make every story about them true, and probably invites even more false stories than we’re confronted with in the real world.

If we return now to magic: an issue of James Robinson’s Starman showed a Ted Knight who worked alongside Alan Scott, Dr. Fate, and the Spectre, and yet saw no need to believe in magic. After all, he had shown that great powers could be generated using science and engineering; why should he believe that his fellower JSAers’ powers needed to be explained mystically? His encounter with Etrigan shook his certainty, but his initial set of beliefs wasn’t absurd. In the contemporary DCU, in which alien and metagenetic and engineered powers run rampant, it’s all the more reasonable to think that “magic” is an unnecessary concept to explaining anything. If Terry were being written well, then he could plausibly think that a) most purported supernatural episodes are frauds, and b) those that aren’t frauds can be rationally explained as being the result of powers that are themselves explicable through science, such as alien or metagenetic powers. In a world in which the DMN drug is scientifically well-understood to produce extreme physical and psychological changes to create apparent “demons,” why should he believe that the next purported “demon” to come along is anything of the sort? In a world with a Superman and multiple Hawkmen and Hawkwomen, why shouldn’t he believe that the famous Justice Leaguer Zauriel is just another alien? And in a world in which he has demonstrated, time and time again, that magic is often invoked as part of a deliberate fraud, why shouldn’t he believe that the next instance of it that comes up is also likely to be a fraud, especially given that the residents of the DCU are even more likely than are residents of our world to believe such frauds?

Pairing Dr. 13 with the Stranger so often may have done the former a disservice, because, of course, in modern Stranger stories there is real magic and so Terry is always wrong. But Dr. 13 makes a living as a ghostbreaker because he’s so often right; in the 95% of his life that doesn’t involve the Phantom Stranger (but that mostly happens off-panel) he successfully protects people from deception. He begins to look delusional only if we think that all his life is like his interactions with the Stranger and the Spectre.

“he Dr. Thirteen stories are the only reason to buy this comic,”

David Lapham’s “Spectre” stuff, after a bad start, is a great month to month read, where the stories are actual stand-alone stories in the old style. Azarrello’s “Dr. 13″ stayed unreadable, as far as I could tell. But I’ve never really taken to Azarrello.

“In a world of gods and monsters, there will still be grifters and con-artists preying on the bereaved and the desperate. They should be brought to justice. And punched in the face.”

Exactly. There might even be more of them than on our world (though there’s something to be said for not invoking gods and demons frivolously in a world where they actually exist and get pissed off.)

And a lot of people misunderstand skepticism. Check out http://www.randi.org sometime. James Randi has said many times that nothing would delight him more than giving away the $1,000,000 prize for proof of paranormal activity. Genuine scientific proof of psychic ability, for example, would be an incredible, exciting breakthrough! Not one that seems likely, but it’d be great! Skepticism isn’t about “disbelief,” it’s about “*Prove* it to me.”

The Mutt –
“Didn’t Dr. 13 appear in the Fleischer/Aparo run of Spectre in Weird Adventure?”

That wasn’t Dr. Thirteen. It was a reporter who was investigating the Spectre. His name escapes me at the moment.

“Hell, maybe he secretly desires to be proved wrong, so that he can believe his wife’s spirit is out there somewhere, waiting for him. That’d be an interesting twist.”

Isn’t that the plot in castor the friendly ghost?(the first movie in the 90s)

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