Dr. Occult is the earliest DC character that continues to make appearances in the comics, at least occasionally. Another Siegel and Shuster creation, he is sometimes considered the first super-hero, though he had no powers for the most part, just some intriguing weapons and a lot of attitude. His series began in New Fun 6 (Oct 35).
Sometimes billed as a “Ghost Detective”, Dr. Occult’s series begins with a three-part story pitting him against the Vampire Master. He first uses his mystic symbol in this story, which looks quite different from how it would appear in much later stories. In these early tales it mildy resembles a small crucifix in size, but in shape it’s a little more like the top of a corkscrew.
After a one issue tale that sees him defeat a serial killer who believes he can extend his own life by murdering others, he has another three part tale dealing with a woman who turns the destitute boarders in her rooming house into werewolves. In this storyline we meet his butler, Jenkins.
Dr. Occult then plunges into his most unusual adventure, travelling to another realm where he aids the mystical beings known as the Seven against Koth, an ancient alien invader. Dr. Occult is aided by an inhabitant of this realm, Zator, and by the end of the serial is wearing a red cape and tights (looking almost like Superman), wielding a sword and using a belt that enables him to fly, and also to turn people into stone.
With issue 18 he has returned to his trenchcoat, and begins his last, and longest, serial, facing a mad doctor who claims to have invented a ray of life. He has people killed, then restores them to life with the ray, which must be used each month to keep them alive, effectively enslaving them. Dr. Occult arranges to be killed himself, and once in the doctor’s clutches figures out that it is all an elaborate scam. The supposedly dead people have been poisoned into a coma, and the ray has no real effect. Those who try to defy him are simply poisoned again. When Dr. Occult reveals this, the slaves turn against the doctor and literally tear him apart.
This storyline sees not only a new butler for Dr. Occult, Custer, but also the only appearances of Rose Psychic in the series. Here she is simply his girlfriend, in chaste fashion, and despite her evocative name has no powers or real importance.
The Ray of Life serial concludes in issue 23, and for the rest of his run, Dr. Occult has only single issue tales, pitting him against vampires, zombies, a snake god and its worshippers, and other supernatural foes. In all of these he is accompanied by Detective Captain Ellsworth, a no-nonsense cop who turns to Dr. Occult whenever a case seems to have something unusual about it.
Interestingly, in issue 24 Dr. Occult squares off against a painter who kills people by doing things to their paintings, and whose name is Henri Duval! No connexion is made between this character and the other Siegel and Shuster series of the same name.
In his last few appearances, Dr. Occult manifests some vague powers. Simply by waving his hand he can possibly transform objects (although he claims that this was an illusion) and collapse walls.
His series ended in More Fun 32 (June 1938), the same month Superman debuted. Dr. Occult would next appear in the pages of All-Star Squadron, nearly 5o years down the road, and though he would never (to date) get an ongoing series again, he will have a few one-shot stories that will be covered in the appropriate periods.