Home > C, Episode Grades, Superman: The Animated Series > Superman: The Animated Series, Episode 32 – “The Hand of Fate”

Superman: The Animated Series, Episode 32 – “The Hand of Fate”

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Written by: Hilary J. Bader and Stan Berkowitz
Directed by: Dan Riba
Originally Aired: October 6, 1997
DVD: Superman: The Animated Series, Volume Two

Summary: An unholy demon lord is loosed in Metropolis, and in order to save the staff of the Daily Planet Superman must seek the aid of a combat-weary Doctor Fate.

Arc Notes: Doctor Fate’s mythos gets established before his return on Justice League; Superman’s vulnerability to magic is detailed for the first time in animated form.

Debuting Characters: Doctor Fate, Inza.


Last time out we took a look at one of DC’s more obscure characters to have a successful solo title; this episode introduces one of the more visible characters to never really have a title of his own in Doctor Fate. One of DC’s oldest heroes – his initial appearance was in 1940, making him contemporaneous with many of the other main JSA members – Fate was originally Kent Nelson, the son of an archaeologist who stumbled upon an Egyptian tomb, but died in the process. Nelson was mentored by the wizard imprisoned in the tomb, Nabu, and donning the Helmet of Nabu he became DC’s mystical superhero.

However, after a couple of years, Fate eventually turned into a more conventional superhero / mystery-man, exchanging the original full-face helmet for one which exposed the lower half of his face, leaving him with an appearance that was very similar to Kirby’s Guardian character. As the JSA faded away, so did Fate, until he was brought back with the rest of the team as they were paired off with the JLA in the 60s. It was around this time that it was revealed that he had married his long-time love interest Inza, who also makes an appearance in this episode and in most of his later Justice League appearances.

When the 80s hit and DC re-invented their characters, Fate wasn’t immune; however, he had a more… interesting¬† incarnation. After being passed to the mother-son team of Eric and Linda Strauss as a mystical version of DC’s then-popular Firestrom character, Eric was killed and, as a result, Fate looked… healthier. When Linda was written out, Kent and Inza were brought back, DC must have liked the idea of a female Fate, as now Inza turned into the hero while Kent played mission control.

In the 90s, Fate went with a harsher look, with the helmet melted into a dagger and weilded by a new owner in a period that was best left forgotten (they had the gall to change the costume). The mantle eventually passed to Hawkman’s son Hector Hall, who was under the hood throughout most of the first JSA series and, in fact, was one of the central characters of that very successful run. Post-JSA, the helmet was supposed to pass to Kent V. Nelson, a distant relative of Kent’s, but the declining health and eventual passing of writer Steve Gerber scuttled those plans, slotting Fate back into the JSA.

Fate has, in spite of his perpetual team player status, branched out a bit recently, with a well-publicized appearance on Smallville‘s JSA feature-length episode. Not the greatest of roles, but, hey, when you’re a second-tier JSA member, you take whatever you can get. Besides, when you have a costume so cool that even a show as profoundly design-challenged as Smallville can’t screw it up, you’ve got something good going on.

Thoughts on the Episode:

If I had to slot this story into a genre, it would be a sports movie.

No, I haven’t been driven nuts by the Olympic break (which reminds me – woo). The structure of this is pretty similar, with the hero meeting an impossible challenge, attempting to go into the big event unprepared, retreating to find a reluctant mentor, having that mentor turn him down, deciding to go to the final match by himself anyway, only for that mentor to show up and guide him through it. What I’ve described above is the plot of dozens of movies, has been parodied in any number of places and I’m pretty sure accounts for ninety percent of Adam Corolla’s insane movie pitches on Bill Simmons’ podcast.

The problem is that this episode is shorter than some of those very movie pitches, and the limited time doesn’t serve the story well. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time to both set up the villain as a threat and give Fate enough play as a character. Compared to some of these ‘hero introduction’ episodes, specifically Flash’s debut in “Speed Demons”, or even one with a common element like “The Demon Within”, this one just doesn’t work.

I mention “Demon Within” for a specific reason: this episode sets up Fate as a pre-existing ally of Superman, but one that the viewer hasn’t seen before. When Batman did that to introduce Jason Blood – even setting aside the fact that there was a comic annual leading into the story – it managed to convey pretty much everything the viewer needed to know, and kept the guest star as the story’s focus. Fate’s role here is little more than a glorified cameo; while there is a decent little narrative arc with Fate being dragged away from his self-imposed exile, he only actually does anything for about a two-minute stretch at the end of the episode.

While this isn’t normally a problem – this isn’t Superman and his Amazing Friends, after all – the use of these guest stars really brings a bit of expectation with them that this episode can’t quite match. The bad… entity… isn’t all that impressive a design, and while Lois does get in a couple of decent one-liners it’s not like this is a strong episode for any of the usual supporting cast. The reason to watch this particular episode is to see Fate, and while they do get all the details right about the character – Inza, the tower, the costume – he just doesn’t come across as someone the audience will have an investment in or want to see again, in marked contrast to Flash or Aquaman later in the series.

When Fate actually does something, the episode shines a little bit, as the sight of him fighting off unholy creatures from the pit while Superman struggles to retrieve the tablet that will save the day is suitably epic. Unfortunately, it’s just not enough to save the episode, and the moral at the end just comes off a bit too trite. Thankfully, Fate would have better days ahead.

Grade: C. Just a missed opportunity.

Random Thoughts:

  • Is it just me, or did the helmet wink in that final fade-out?

Line of the Episode: “What do I need a picture of? Luthor kissing a donkey!?!” This week on Fan Fiction Fridays….

Next Justice League: Now that I’m back on schedule, it’ll be “The Terror Beyond.”

Next Time: After a Weekend Aside, we’ll do “Crisis on Two Earths” and then “Unity.”

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