Who’s Who Presents – Who’s That? #5: Doctor Occult

For the fifth (more) fun episode of WHO’S THAT?, Rob and Shag take a look at one of DC’s oldest heroes, Doctor Occult! We cover his publication history, appearances & some classic stories! Plus YOUR listener feedback!

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30 responses to “Who’s Who Presents – Who’s That? #5: Doctor Occult

  1. Great discussion, gentlemen! Dr Occult is one of those characters that I have a strange, irrational attraction to… although not quite as much as my strange, irrational love for Ultra the Multi-Alien (go ahead, Rob… say it one more time with feeling!)

    I guess it was the Siegel & Shuster heritage and long publication history that made DC want to include Dr O. in the pre-Crisis All Star Squadron and merited that first Who’s Who entry?

    Does the character have legs? I’d say Yes:

    1] From the stories that are out there, the whole “Ghost Detective” angle feels like it has yet to be fully explored. (And – to recycle the line from my previous Who’s Who comment – is there a cooler job description to have on your business card than “Ghost Detective”?) Perhaps matching up Dr Occult with Deadman would make for an interesting team-up mini-series?

    2] The trenchcoat / fedora costume is an iconic & vintage look that could contrast with a very modern take on the gender-fluidity that can be see in some depictions of the character. (With the right artist, the Rose incarnation could sport some amazing 30’s/40’s fashion to make the Doctor Occult character super-stylish in male & female versions.)
    The theme of ‘identity’ could continue to be a powerful subtext running through the tales of the good Doctor.

    Even if you were surprised by the outcome of the vote, I’m really glad that Dr Occult won out – covering a non-binary character in Pride month feels completely appropriate. Thanks for a enjoyable show.

  2. I feel for Rob’s Detective #500 confusion. I don’t think it’s out of line, though. Slam Bradley, another Siegel and Shuster character, WAS in #500. And they’re both Superman-looking guys in trench coats.

    By the way, I used to do caricatures of people as super heroes at conventions. And in the 90s, some twelve year old kid asked to be drawn as Doctor Occult. I laughed and said “I know him! Trenchcoat, spinning disk…” and he said “Yeah ,I want to be drawn in the super hero costume he wore for one issue in 1937.” Totally schooled, but I’m glad to see new readers doing the crazy deep dive.

  3. Great episode guys!
    Rob, it’s totally understandable why you confused Dr Occult, I’m always mistaking him for Dr Thirteen… or… am I always mistaking Dr Thirteen for Dr Occult… anyways.
    DC could have easily revived this character during The Bronze Age. He could have guest stared in Adventure Comics when Spectre took over the title or popped up in The Phantom Stranger. They could also given him a recurring feature in Ghosts or House of Mystery or another of their many horror titles from the era.

    1. Oh man, that is what I’ve been doing as well, mixing up Dr.Occult and Dr.Thirteen. No wonder I couldn’t find stories that I thought I remembered Dr.Occult was in.

      1. Well, one is the Ghost Detective, the other the Ghost Breaker, that’s pretty similar. I didn’t realise ‘ Ghost Detective’ was a thing way back when, thanks Rob! To me Ghost Detective always sounded like he was a gumshoe ghoul rather than someone who encounters same.

        1. I would 100% read a series about a gumshoe ghoul. That sounds like something that would have worked after the I…Vampire stories in House of Mystery.

  4. Dr. Occult showed up a few times in the Superman books in the 90s as well. I liked that the Super-team of the time was pulling him into “the family” as their defacto “magic guy”. It certainly made a lot of sense, given their shared heritage.

    I don’t know if Dr. Occult ever got wrangled into the legal mire from the Siegel-estate lawsuit a few years back, but if he did, I never heard of it. I wonder if that odd Centaur book may have been a loophole for the family to claim ownership. Hmmm…

    I always thought the character had a lot of untapped potential, just because he has a cool visual. I could see them bringing him in on the CW Stargirl series as their “Phantom Stranger” type character (yes, I’m kind of obsessed with that show now).

    Chris

    1. Glad you brought up the appearances in the Superman books, Chris! That’s where I have the strongest post-Who’s Who memory of him, and it was a positive one.

  5. Great episode, gentlemen! It was great to see those original, bonkers stories. Those early newspaper strips seem more like streams of consciousness than well-plotted out stories, at least to modern comparisons. It’s amazing to see where the format started and how far it has come in certain aspects.

    I think Dr. Occult appeared in the mini-series Mystik U a couple of years ago. Though he/she wasn’t the star of the story, it did kind of play up the duality of the character between the Doc and Rose and how they have different personalities but, ultimately act together towards the same goal.

    I also agree with Chris that the Doc would make a great Phantom Stranger analog for Stargirl, or really any Arrow-verse show. Maybe Legends of Tomorrow? That show seems like it would be okay with a “Bart Moore, Vampire Master”. It also avoids the actor having to wear a giant collared cape, turtleneck and ’70’s medallion. Though, to cross pod-universes, David Ogden Stiers did pull of that high collared cape in the 1997 Justice League TV Pilot so maybe it can be done?

    Keep up the great work!

  6. You might consider episodes on the characters listed in both Who’s Who and OHOTMU: Ares, Hercules, and the Spawn of Frankenstein.

  7. Dr. Occult appears with Zatara in a three-page story in Golden Age Secret Files & Origins. Also a couple places in Day of Judgement Secret Files & Origins.

  8. Great episode!

    Dr. Occult seemed liked an unnecessary insertion into the Crisis given that we just re-met him in All Star Squadron. With the Spectre duking it out with the Anti-Monitor, the magic casters are focusing energy through …. Dr. Occult’s symbol?? What??? That came so out of the blue, it pulled me out of the story a little.

    I picked up the Vertigo Visions issue because it was done by the creative team of ‘Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children’, the Piranha Press short story book. I remember being relatively underwhelmed by it.

    And then the oddest part of this episode.
    I’ll paraphrase.
    “For people looking for something good to read, they should seek out Reign in Hell.’

    WORDS NO ONE HAS EVER SAID BEFORE !!!!
    EVER!!!!

    Anyways, hoping the Starfire episode happens!

  9. I’m with Anj: I would love a Starfire episode. I used to have the entire series and remember liking it for the most part (mind you, that was back when I was about 13/14 years old). So yeah, I’ll accept your thesis that democracy doesn’t work if Dr. Occult wins when Starfire is among the choices (unless you guys have some kind of electoral college thing going on…).

    As for Dr. Occult, even after listening to your show, I’m not really convinced he’s all that great a character. Seems like there’s lots of DC characters that cover the same or similar ground, like the aforementioned Dr. Thirteen. As far as I’m concerned, he’s no Ultra the Multi-Alien (like Chris, I want to give Rob as many opportunities as possible to say his name) or even Ultraa for that matter.

  10. Impressive podcast. Most impressive. Ah yep JK did pretty much rip off Neal Gaman. Not only is she a Turf, but lacks creativity as well. Dr. Occult won cool. Sorry guys that there wasn’t much good books behind him. But, cool seeing Supes creators having made him as well as Sam Bradly. He does have a cool look. Hmm, seeing Mike Grell writing and drawing Dr. Occult. Or John Ostrander writing and Andy Kubert Art. I would have said Neil do to his Marvel 1802 run. And what he did with Fr. Strange there, but he’s already worked on the character with Mark Hunter. Maybe Grant Morrison on writing and art by David McKean.

    Any way cool pod cast as always. Can’t wait till ya’ll do the one on Star Fire. I have all the 70s issues. That I got after seeing her Who’s Who issue. Ah back to Dr. Occult the first story is interesting. A cross on a circle interesting. So like using runes, but with a Christian theme. Interesting. I read his orgone as a kid. My cousin had the secret Orgone book with him and Adam Strange. It was odd, but descent.

  11. For this podcast I did a deep dive into the deep dark web and read all the old Dr Occult issues, and I was sorely disappointed that there wasn’t more Rose (yes I’m a fan of her, can you not tell? 😀 ) in them. Like many, I came from the Books of Magic version of the character so I may be biased.

    One reason I think those early Goldern Age comics aren’t available is that many of them contain some very, very horrible racial depictions.

  12. If only DC had gotten into the Pog craze, they could have launched Doctor Occult to new glory! “That’s not a pog. THIS is a pog!” Sorry, I must have pog envy.

    1. Thanks, Tim. Now every time Dr. Occult brandishes his mystic symbol at some netherworld beastie, I’ll think, “There’s Dr. Occult, showing his friends his favorite pog again.”

  13. In the abstract, I’m pretty dismissive of Dr. Occult as another pulp holdover from before actual comic booking began, but I have such a strong nostalgia for the first Who’s Who entry that it compels me to want that version of the character to get a showcase. As I’ve mentioned previously, Vol. VI is the only issue I ever bought new, and while it’s goofiness frankly contributed to my rejecting the greater DC Universe until the ’90s, it’s also a comic I grazed hundreds of times over years of ownership. I’m also generally not a big Ed Barreto guy, but he’s so great at that period feel, I wish that he was still around to do an Occult book. I guess the closest we’ll ever get is Mickey Spillane’s Mike Danger, the best of the Tekno Comics I read (faint praise, admittedly.)

    There’s something I find really appealing about essentially a Dick Tracy type, but against the supernatural. There’s just this thing about a grounded mortal hero-type being juxtaposed against the bizarre, and yet I’ve never really encountered that exact thing. Carl Kolchak was too much of a rumpled everyman, and horror movies are filled with regular guys. Blade and the rest of the Tomb of Dracula crew were too much in the Hammer tradition– inquisitors and researchers and slayers– common types dating back to Stoker. Give me a meat & potatoes straight shooter who just happens to coat his bullets in silver. A person who has to chase down leads and really investigate what the threat is and how to resolve it with limited resources. Not entirely dissimilar to the 1987 Dragnet movie actually– Joe Friday’s criminal investigation stumbles upon a pagan cult engaged in ritualistic human sacrifice, but he’s so matter of fact about it that it’s just another element of the case.

    I’m a fan of Mrs. Amster in the old strips. Cut ’em! Stab ’em all!

    1. I always feel weird saying this, but I agree with Frank. Regular Joe Tough Guy against the weird and supernatural is appealing, especially with that look. I think that’s part of the appeal of Indiana Jones and even Ace Kilroy. Of course, I never knew ’til now that Lucas and Spielberg stole the ending of Raiders from the first Dr. Occult adventure — you know, where the hero does nothing while the villain is defeated by the consequences of his own actions?

      1. I may be off base here (as I have only read the first book) but would Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files be something both of you are looking for? From what I remember, it was pretty much a “gumshoe detective working on supernatural cases” story. Though I think he was also a wizard, so maybe it’s not exactly what you are looking for. Since there are 15(!) books in the series, there might something there that scratches that itch.

        1. Thanks, Mike! My wife and I caught some of the TV show with Paul Blackthorne of Arrow in the title role. That led to her reading all of the novels. I started the first one, and it was well-written, but I was uncomfortable with how much occult ritual (ingesting blood, for example) the author incorporated into the stories. I like realism in other genres, but I squick pretty easily on magic, so I prefer it to be whole cloth fantasy, like Zatanna or Harry Potter.

          Of course, shortly after I passed on her reading material, she read an Avengers comic over my shoulder and saw Dr. Strange casting a circle to bind Dormammu. My weak defense for my hypocrisy consisted of two facts.

          1. It’s Dr. Strange, and the man’s earned some leeway.
          2. The story was set in New Orleans. Nothing they were doing seemed out of place.

  14. If any comic-book character calls out to empty air, “Dr. Occult, are you here?” and the answer “No I’m not” comes back, then we may safely assume Dr. Occult isn’t invisibly hanging out in the story. But absent that qualifier, I say we take it as a given that yes, Dr. Occult is ghost-detectiving to his heart’s content during any issue at hand, with the puny mortals none the wiser. Now to see if Sad Sack can be similarly presumed present in Detective 500 … I think that will require further research. Will report back.

  15. Regarding Mrs. Amster: some books about Siegel and Shuster have asserted that Jerry Siegel admired a girl in school named Lois Amster. Reports have not yet surfaced on whether school-age Jerry also took note of any girls (perhaps seated in the same row of desks with that Lois) with the names Lana, Lori, Lucy, Lena, Lara …

  16. I’m chuffed to bit Doc Occult won the vote, they’re the most unusual of the choices and it led to some great chat.

    That Roy Thomas secret origin, I’m amazed he didn’t tie the kidnap of Ross and Richard in with the origin of Johnny Thunder, the overlap of concepts is definitely there.

    So after Who’s Who…? and Siskoid’s Who’s Editing?, another show, Who’s Missing? (thanks Xum!) looking at characters who are really, really obscure, such as Dr Pat or Johnny Law or Lady Danger, who didn’t actually get an entry in Who’s Who
    .

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