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Doctor Occult, DC’s legendary Ghost Detective

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John Constantine wasn’t the first occult detective in a trenchcoat at DC Comics. Long before him, there was Doctor Occult, also known as The Ghost Detective—one of the oldest characters in the DC universe. Making his debut during the Golden Age, Doctor Occult paved the way for one of the most iconic superheroes of our time.

Doctor Occult, a prototype for Superman?

Doctor Occult made his first appearance in New Fun Comics #6 in October 1935—the last issue before the title was renamed More Fun Comics. Billed as a Mystic Detective but more often referred to as The Ghost Detective, he was introduced as a trenchcoat-wearing private eye the style of Sam Spade, specializing in cases involving the supernatural.

During the Golden Age, Doctor Occult did not possess particular superpowers, but he was aided by his “mystic symbol”—a powerful magical weapon that allowed him to defend himself and launch attacks against supernatural enemies such as vampires and werewolves. Doctor Occult wasn’t battling alone; he had the help of Rose Psychic.

Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, best known for creating Superman, Doctor Occult physically came from the same mold as Clark Kent and actually wore a cape before the Man of Steel! In October 1936, the mystic cult known as the Seven gave Doctor Occult a special costume in More Fun Comics #14 to combat Koth, an evil alien with plans to destroy the human race.

Doctor Occult wore a blue shirt, a red cape, a sword, and a protective symbol (resembling a triangular flaming icon) on his bare chest. Although this costume didn’t stick, and Doctor Occult eventually returned to his trenchcoat, it was significant enough to claim the title of the first costumed hero of the Golden Age—preceding Superman’s debut in print by more than a year and a half in June 1938.

Doctor Occult with his superhero costume in More Fun Comics #14

The Origin Story of Doctor Occult

Following Superman’s introduction, Doctor Occult remained absent until 1985 when Roy Thomas started to revive DC’s Golden Age characters through stories set in the 1940s. Around this time, Doctor Occult joined the All-Star Squadron, a group of heroic soldiers during World War II. During a battle with Mister Mind of the Monster Society of Evil, he even got to meet Superman. And not long after that, his backstory was finally revealed in August 1987, in Secret Origins (vol. 2) #17, penned by Roy Thomas and E. Nelson Bridewell.

In 1899, on New Year’s Eve somewhere in the American Midwest, attempted to summon Satan by offering the souls of two children.  However, instead of Satan, an evil supernatural being named Koth appeared. Koth wanted only the souls tainted with sin and proceeded to slaughter those who were performing the ceremony.

After the tragic event, a figure named Zator emerged and swept away the two children, bringing them to the sanctuary of the mystic cult known as The Seven. Pleading with his peers on behalf of the children, Zator sought assistance in developing their special powers. Under Zator’s guidance, the children, called Doc and Rose, were trained to enter and leave the astral plane, to become immaterial for a short period of time, and more. Upon reaching adulthood, Doc received the mystic symbol of the Seven and the moniker Doctor Occult, while Rose was given the full name of Rose Psychic.

It was time for them to leave the Citadel of the Seven and combat evil in the world. Doc and Rose returned to America, specifically New York in the 1920s, with Doctor Occult adopting the name Richard. Both attended college, where Richard earned his doctorate. In 1935, he established his private occult agency, with Rose serving as his silent partner and undercover assistant. Together, they confronted supernatural creatures from 1935 onward.

Doctor Occult/Rose Psychic with Tim Hunter in Books of Magic #3

Doctor Occult and Rose Psychic

A new chapter of Doctor Occult’s history was introduced in the 1990s, when Neil Gaiman brought back the character in his Books of Magic as a mystical guide for the young Tim Hunter, making him a member of the Trenchcoat Brigade. Doctor Occult was presented as sharing his soul with Rose, allowing only one of them to manifest at any given time.

Although Gaiman didn’t give an explication for how they became one person, other writers explored the question. Roger Stern wrote about it in Superman vol. 2 Annual #7 (in 1995), an issue where Doctor Occult revealed to Superman that Rose was fatally injured after her kidnapping by the agents serving the demon Thahn. To save her, the Seven casted a spell that linked her soul with that of Doctor Occult.

A few years later, James Robinson and David S. Goyer presented another take on Doctor Occult’s story in JSA Returns: All-Star Comics #1-2. As Doctor Occult helped the Justice Society of America in their fight against the soulless creature known as the Stalker, he made a sacrificial gesture by giving up his own soul. In an effort to save him, Rose intertwined her soul with his. Since then, they have been bound together.


Where is Doctor Occult now? Doctor Occult was last seen following the New 52 reboot as the owner of the House of Secrets, before being killed. The character (or Rose) hasn’t made an appearance since.

DC Comics

For more Golden Age backstory in the DC Universe, complement with the History of Kathy Kane, the original Batwoman, then explore the comic origins of Alan Scott, the First Green Lantern.

Last Updated on February 23, 2024.

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