Dr. Occult is one of DC Comics oldest characters. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, he first appeared as trenchcoated private investigator in New Fun Comics #6 in 1935 and appeared in his own strip until 1938, and was forgotten about until Roy Thomas resurrected him in 1985 in the pages of All Star Squadron.
During the run of the strip, set in an unnamed American city, Dr. Occult assisted Detective Ellsworth with cases involving the paranormal. The Doctor’s butler, Jenkins sometimes helped out. Jenkins was then replaced by love interest Rose Psychic. She also possessed mystical abilities. Dr. Occult went up against vampires, ghosts, zombies, and evil scientists whose methods were supernatural, or appeared to be as such.
A group of mystics, simply called The Seven, became part of Dr. Occult’s backstory during the strip’s run as well. At one point this group gave a costume to Occult, and he became the Golden Age’s first costumed hero. For whatever reason, the costume idea was abandoned and he returned to wearing a shirt, tie, trench coat and hat. Part of Occult’s and Rose’s history is retconned by Roy Thomas in his effort to update the characters. In the revision, The Seven raise Occult and Rose during their childhood.
The characters were next used by Neil Gaiman in his Books of Magic mini series of 1991. Dr. Occult, Phantom Stranger, John Constantine, and Mr. E act as guides who introduce a twelve year old Tim Hunter to the world of magic. In issue three, Dr. Occult and Tim journey to the land of Faerie, and it’s at this point that we first see Occult and Rose (also called Rose Spiritus) switch places with one another. Rose explains to a startled Tim that she and Occult are aspects of anima and animus, and that certain things become easier for the anima. For many LGBT people there are masculine and feminine sides to their personalities, or they may choose to emphasize one aspect over another. In this respect I think Occult and Rose speak to the experience of being queer. Rose proves to be a capable guide for Tim, leading him through the Faerie market where one of its unsavory denizens tries to take advantage of Tim, and then through a sea of blood. Rose exchanges places with Dr. Occult when they stumble upon Maugys, a giant charged with guarding the cave entrance leading to the resting place of the king sleeping beneath the hill. Watching over the sleeping king is the minstrel Thomas who eyes Dr. Occult and recounts the memory of having been intimate with Rose “beneath the stars on a bed of cut bracken.” Occult replies that he doubts it happened, shortly after which he and Tim leave through a blackened tunnel, and become separated. Upon exiting, Tim sees Dr. Occult standing near an unassuming cottage, and runs to his side. In reality, it’s the witch Baba Yega disguised as Occult, and she quickly snatches Tim for her soup pot. It takes a resolute and threatening Rose to intimidate Baba Yega to release Tim. They continue on their journey till encountering Queen Titania, who requests their presence at her palace. There, Titania tricks Tim into accepting a gift, a custom which does not allow for refusal and must be returned in kind or Tim will be forced to serve Titania. The Queen’s gift is a key that unlocks a door to other realms, which Dr. Occult guides him. Upon returning to Faerie, Occult aids Tim in eluding Titania’s servitude, and they return to the real world.
Stories written after the Books of Magic mini series continued the idea of Dr. Occult and Rose being one. The Return of the Justice Society mini series, which I have not yet pulled from my collection, states that Occult was killed by a magical being and Rose joined their spirits in order to save him.
The Who’s Who entry lists several mystical abilities in addition to the Doctor’s keen, analytical mind. Included in the list are: using the astral plane to rapidly move between locations on Earth; transporting a second person in like manner; rendering himself invisible by shifting his body to an astral form; a form of hypnosis or mind control; create illusions; and telekinesis. According to the entry, Rose has the same abilities except illusion casting and telekinesis.
Occult also carried a small, magical device resembling an encircled cross. It offered protection from some forms of natural energy, and would repel or even exorcise supernatural creatures. It credits him with inventing a “Cerebro” like device to pinpoint evil thoughts. Rounding out his arsenal of magical devices is a sword with unknown magical powers, and a belt with various buttons. Pressing one allowed him to fly. Push another button and people turned to stone. These were gifts from The Seven. None of these devices were evident or alluded to in the Books of Magic.
Dr. Occult first appeared in More Fun Comics # 6. Rose Psychic’s first appearance is in More Fun Comics #19. Neil Gaiman presented them in such a manner that may be thought of as transgender in Books of Magic #3. The name Richard Occult is an alias. The characters are affiliated with Sentinels of Magic, The Seven, All Star Squadron.
This bio is based in part on the character’s Toonopedia entry, and the 1985 Who’s Who entry.
Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Art by Charles Vess from Books of Magic #3.
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