Comics/Graphic Novels

Test Your Comics Knowledge: Real Doctor or Fake Doctor?

Superhero comics are full of characters with titles in their codenames: Captain America. Mister Fantastic. Count Vertigo. And, of course, spandex-clad doctors as far as the eye can see. But have any of these so-called “doctors” actually earned the title? Let’s check the credentials of a dozen of the best known.

But before I reveal the answers, take a minute to place your bets: real doctor or fake doctor?

  1. Doctor Strange
  2. Doctor Fate
  3. Doctor Octopus
  4. Doctor Light
  5. Doctor Mid-Nite/Doctor Midnight
  6. Doctor Destiny
  7. Doctor Psycho
  8. Doctor Alchemy
  9. Doc Samson
  10. Doctor Faustus
  11. Doctor Manhattan
  12. Doctor Doom

Doctor Strange

The cover of Strange Academy #3. Doctor Strange is shown from mid-thigh up, in costume, his hand glowing as he wields magic.

VERDICT: REAL DOCTOR

Marvel superhero Dr. Stephen Strange was a neurosurgeon before a car accident damaged his hands too much to continue in his day job, so he learned magic instead. I hear that happens during a lot of residencies.

Doctor Fate

The cover of Dr. Fate #1. Dr. Fate, in a gold helmet and gold and blue costume, holds his hand out to the reader. It glows with magic.

VERDICT: FAKE DOCTOR (MOSTLY)

Most, but not all of the time, DC superhero Doctor Fate is the combination of a human host and a Lord of Order named Nabu. There have been a whopping eight human hosts to Doctor Fate over the years, and only the seventh, Kent V. Nelson, was actually a doctor (a psychiatrist, specifically), though the current host, Khalid Nassour, was a med student before he got all Fate-y. Nabu is also not a doctor. So technically 1.5 of the 9 characters who could be called “Doctor Fate” are doctors, but that’s a pretty small percentage. I’m sticking with Fake Doctor.

Doctor Octopus

The cover of The Amazing Spider-Man #11. It shows Spider-Man fighting (and seemingly losing to) Doctor Octopus, with a burst on the cover that reads "Featuring: The Long-Awaited Return of Doctor Octopus!"

VERDICT: REAL DOCTOR

Spider-Man villain Dr. Otto Octavious has at least one PhD (in nuclear science), and also probably one in being the internet’s unexpected crush, at least when played by Alfred Molina with his shirt off.

Doctor Light

A pinup of Doctor Light (the Kimiyo Hoshi version of the character) posing in front of a Japanese cityscape. Her hands are sparkling with light.

VERDICT: IT DEPENDS

There are two DC characters with this name: the villainous Arthur Light and the heroic Kimiyo Hoshi. Arthur is a physicist, but I’m not sure he actually has a doctorate; Kimiyo definitely has at least one in astronomy.

Doctor Mid-Nite/Doctor Midnight

The cover of JSA All Stars. In the foreground, the current Doctor Mid-Nite, Pieter Cross, crouches while in costume. The background shows the original Doctor Mid-Nite, Charles McNider, with his pet owl Hooty.

VERDICT: REAL DOCTOR

There have been two DC heroes called Doctor Mid-Nite (Charles McNider and Pieter Cross), and one who knows how to spell (Beth Chapel). All three are blind in the light but can see in the dark (sure), and all three are medical doctors.

Doctor Destiny

The cover of JLA Classified #32. The JLA (Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Plastic Man, Batman, Martian Manhunter, and the Flash) fights the giant, ghostly face of Doctor Destiny, who looks like a skeleton in a hooded cloak.

VERDICT: UNKNOWN

John Dee was originally a criminal scientist who invented a “will-deadener” beam that he used to fight the Justice League. He later was pulled into Sandman lore, where he developed a terrifying level of control over dreams. Will-deadening is a pretty impressive feat, but also par for the course for a Silver Age scientist, so he could have multiple doctorates or he could have just paid really close attention in high school physics — who knows.

Doctor Psycho

The cover of Wonder Woman #55. Doctor Psycho, an extremely short man, stands at the center of a vortex. Spinning around him is several distorted figures of Wonder Woman, indicating that she is caught up in his psychic powers.

VERDICT: FAKE DOCTOR

This long-running Wonder Woman villain, who has had a number of real names and different origins over the decades, was originally a medical student, but never finished school because he was framed for stealing a massive amount of radium by a romantic rival. So it’s not his fault that he’s not a real doctor. It is his fault that he became a raging misogynist and supervillain in response, though.

Doctor Alchemy

The cover of The Flash #40. Doctor Alchemy, in a green cloak with the letter A on the hood, grins triumphantly as he holds up his Philosopher's Stone, in which the Flash is trapped.

VERDICT: IT DEPENDS

There have been three Flash villains by this codename. The first and best known, Albert Desmond, is a chemist, and the last, Alexander Petrov, is a criminologist, but in the middle we have Dr. Curtis Engstrom, a scientist at S.T.A.R. Labs, meaning at least one of the three has a doctorate.

Doc Samson

The cover of The Immortal Hulk #15. The Hulk lies on a therapy "couch" made of stone. Doc Samson, a muscular man with long green hair, sits next to him, taking notes.

VERDICT: REAL DOCTOR

Dr. Leonard Samson is the Hulk’s psychiatrist, so, yeah, real doctor. He also has Hulk-y powers, because that’s what happens when you hang around Bruce Banner for long enough.

Doctor Faustus

The cover of Black Panther #14. Dr. Faustus, a redheaded man with a beard, sits in an armchair holding a lighter. Behind him is a burning forest; below him is a closeup of Black Panther, his face contorted in pain.

VERDICT: IT DEPENDS

The Captain Marvel villain is an evil psychiatrist, because if you’re a psychiatrist in comics and you’re not Doc Samson, you’re evil. The much more obscure Batman villain is just obsessed with the devil, so I guess he could be a real doctor? But probably not.

Doctor Manhattan

An image of Doctor Manhattan from Watchmen. Doctor Manhattan, a blue man with no hair, sits on a rock on the surface of Mars. He is naked.

VERDICT: REAL DOCTOR

Watchmen’s Dr. Jonathan Osterman was a nuclear physicist before radiation turned him into the extremely powerful, extremely naked Doctor Manhattan.

Doctor Doom

The cover of Doctor Doom #4. Doctor Doom stands in his armor and green cloak over a pile of bones. His fists are glowing with energy.

VERDICT: FAKE DOCTOR

Fantastic Four villain Victor Von Doom dropped out of undergrad after a terrible accident destroyed his face. (This was obviously entirely the fault of the accursed Reed Richards, who…told him not to do the thing that led to the accident. Richards!) Degree or no degree, though, he’s one of the smartest people in the Marvel universe and many people consider him the greatest supervillain of all time. Those people are correct. Take that, academia!


How did you do? Honestly, there were a lot more real doctors in this list than I expected — I thought for sure some of these folks were padding their resumes. It just goes to show that with hard work and dedicated study, you too can be an evil psychiatrist and/or join a superhero team and/or experience a depressive episode while naked on Mars!

Wait until we get to the comic book captains, though. Those guys are definitely lying.

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