Without question, one of my favorite DC Archives. This volume is much larger than most of the other archive editions, and sports almost 400 pages of wonderfully reproduced comic book action.
What struck me immediately about this collection, is how it progressed counter to most of the other golden age super hero comics. Unlike Superman, for instance, Doctor Fate starts out fighting super bad guys and otherworldly threats (not just thugs and hoods). There is some really fast-paced and fun-loving action in the early stories, as Fate faces off against master of science and magic, such as Wotan.
Fate also doesn't play around, either. The doctor has no problem dishing out capital punishment to his adversaries in the earlier stories. He has a death count second maybe only to the Golden Age Hawkman, who was also OK with filling cemeteries, not jails.
The art from the early stories was weird and beautiful; almost a mix between Alex Raymond and Basil Wolverton. As the stories progress, the art becomes a little less interesting, and so do the stories; by the halfway mark, Fate fights less potent villains, and mixes it up more with run-of-the-mill crooks and criminals.
Another interesting element in this book is watching the gradual metamorphosis of Dr. Fate's costume. Like Batman, Doctor Fate's look was often revised during his early adventures. The strange tear-drop shaped golden helm soon melts into the more fin-topped helmet seen today; and his bare hands soon get gloves, to better fit the growing super-hero tradition. At some point, fate reveals some skin, and trades his full-face mask for a mouth revealing version. By the end of the book, he has also shed his yellow cape, and runs around in more of the two-fisted tradition.
There are also a lot of character changes as well. Fate starts off as a lonely, almost otherworldly agent, of mystic power, and speaks with an air of arcane authority. Though he adventures with his female companion and confidante Inza from the very beginning, it takes awhile, before we see the man under the helmet...Kent Nelson. Early in the book, Fate is given an origin, and made more human (and more accessible to readers). About the time he dons the half-helmet, Fate trades his authoritative speech, for a more wise-cracking tone.
This a great read. The stories are generally brief; great for those who don't have a lot of time to read at one sitting, and packed with fun. These stories are very different from today's comic book fare, and their exuberance just made me smile from ear to ear; I hope you do too.