By GW Thomas
In 1935, while waiting to sell Superman to the comic strip syndicates, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created other comics to sell to the fledgling comic books operated by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. One of these included the first comic ghost-breaker, "Dr. Occult, Ghost Detective." The credits for the strip were given to Legar and Reuths, Siegel and Shuster's pseudonyms as they had another strip, Henri Duval, appearing in the same comic under their real names. Dr. Occult appeared for the first time in New Fun Comics #6 (October 1935). The story is the opening act of a tale of a vampire who is terrorizing a young couple called the Amsters. Dr. Occult is accompanied by his faithful sidekick Rose Psychic. The strip was one page long in black-and-white at the back of the issue. Siegel and Shuster's Henri Duval got place of pride at the front of the comic.
The tale of the Amsters and the Vampire Master continued in More Fun Comics #7-9 (January to March-April 1936). The Vampire Master hypnotizes Lois Amster, sending her to kill her husband. Fortunately, Dr. Occult and Rose are there to revive her. The heroes go in pursuit of the villain, but are trapped by the undead fiend in his lair. The Vampire Master uses his strange machinery to create a duplicate of Mrs. Amster that stabs him and tries to kill Lois. The vampire presses a button that saves her and the good guys flee as the lab burns down, with the villains succumbing to the flames. No stakes are driven through any hearts here. Superhero type story elements are more prevalent than Victorian castles.
Wheeler-Nicholson sold out and left comics, so the Dr. Occult character continued in Centaur's The Comics Magazine #1 (dated May 1936) with a name change to Dr. Mystic and the credits restored to "Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster." In an issue dated May 1936 (though probably later) Dr. Mystic faces off against a new villain, Koth, and with a new feel. The storyline would continue in More Fun Comics #14-17 (October 1936-January 1937) with the villains planning to use a phantom army to take over the world. The look of the strip, with capes and swords, is more Buck Rogers than psychic detectives.
Jerry Siegel wasn't quite done with magical characters after Dr. Occult. In January 1940 in More Fun Comics #51 he would create another classic DC character, The Spectre. With the lessons learned from Dr. Occult/Mystic, he blends horror and magic with crime fighting. Gardner F Fox and John Broome would complete the DC supernatural squad with Dr. Fate in More Fun Comics #55 (May 1950) and The Phantom Stranger in 1952. What influence did these DC characters have on future ghost detective comics? The impact is evident by the number of lame imitators in various comics such as Zero in Feature Comics (1940), Dr. Styx in Treasure Comics (1942), and Dr. Drew in Ranger Comics (1949), to name only three. Siegel and Shuster would reinvent the superhero with the release of Action Comics #1 (June 1938), but their contributions to weird characters would live on too, though not until 1963 and Marvel's Doctor Strange and 1967 DC's Deadman would new supernatural detectives be so abundant again.
GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.