DR. THIRTEEN, THE GHOST BREAKERMedium: Comic Books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1951
Creators: unknown writer and Leonard Starr, artist
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of other exploiters of the grisly horror genre. Even staid old DC Comics was getting into the act, with the relatively tepid House of Mystery and its companions. The first move DC made in this direction was to introduce a new cover-featured star in Star Spangled Comics: Dr. Thirteen, the Ghost Breaker.
Terrence Thirteen, Ph.D. (yes, Dr. Thirteen was his real name) made his first appearance in Star Spangled #122 (November, 1951), where he replaced Tomahawk on the cover and Captain Compass inside. For generations, the Thirteen family's less-savvy neighbors had hated and feared them, suspecting supernatural goings-on — but in reality, they were thoroughly devoted to science and rationality. Thus, when Doc's dad died, and seemed to be coming back in spirit form, it was up to the son (and his wife, Marie) to prove it wasn't true. That set the tone for the series, in which he investigated seemingly-occult situations and always managed to prove they had sane, ordinary explanations.
Under a logo proclaiming him "The Ghost Breaker" (because breaking them was all he ever did — he never failed to prove them fake), Dr. Thirteen had nine adventures before all the series characters were booted out and Star Spangled Comics switched to war stories. All were drawn by Leonard Starr (who later made it big with Mary Perkins on Stage), but the writer's name isn't known.
One of his stories was reprinted in Showcase #80 (January, 1969), which mainly served to re-introduce The Phantom Stranger, another '50s guy who dealt with spooks. When the Stranger got his own comic, Dr. Thirteen was revived in his back pages. They met on several occasions, in which Dr. Thirteen attempted to provide rational explanations for The Phantom Stranger himself.
Being thus incorporated into the DC Universe is what did Dr. Thirteen in, as far as being a credible hero goes. In the DC Universe, which contains Sargon the sorcerer, Dr. Occult, Etrigan the Demon and dozens if not hundreds more, not everything can be explained entirely in terms of the natural world. Anyone who refuses to turn loose of the idea that that they can tends to come off as not entirely sane and rational himself. But this is how Dr. Thirteen continued to be characterized, not just in his encounters with the Stranger, but even when, in the early 1980s, he briefly had a series in Ghosts (one of those supernatural/horror titles that don't usually have ongoing characters), and came face-to-face with The Spectre himself. In fact, "too rational to be quite sane" was how he was portrayed in a version published by DC's Vertigo imprint (Animal Man, Swamp Thing), which, like other Vertigo comics, was aimed at adults.
In 2005, DC published a mini-series about Zatanna, where the story called for an ongoing character to be snuffed in the first issue. Eliciting little fan interest these days, Dr. Thirteen, who didn't work very well in his surroundings anyway, was the winning candidate. Of course, death isn't always a permanent condition in comic books, but in his case the possibility of return raises an interesting question — if he comes back, will he disbelieve in himself?