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!
89. Dr. Thirteen
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.
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.
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.
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?