Real Name: John Dee
Voiced by William Atherton
A low-level LexCorp
employee, John Dee was nonetheless convinced that he was someday destined for
greatness. This belief inevitably got him involved with Lex Luthor's
criminal activites, and he was arrested when he was found guarding a cache of
smuggled weapons in one of Luthor's warehouses,
during a search initiated
by the Justice League. Sent to Stryker's Island Prison, Dee became obsessed with the League, whom he blamed
for callously ruining his life without a second thought.
This obsession, coupled with the long prison hours, led to his
development of a rich fantasy life, where he imagined he was a supervillain who defeated the
Justice League and found acceptance amongst their Rogues Gallery.
However, actually fulfilling this desire would require superpowers, so he
signed up for a medical research program that would attempt to give him ESP
through a device called the Materioptikon. It
gradually enhanced his abilities but, when he was denied parole and discovered
that his wife had left
him, he decided to step up the process, taking advantage of a prison riot to
give himself an extended, full dose of the Materioptikon’s energies.
Granted the mental powers that he sought,
After confronting his wife, whom he imprisoned in a nightmarish delusional state that eventually killed her, Dee attacked the Justice League in their dreams, taking advantage of their uncertainties and fears to trap them in a series of unending nightmares. It was through the intervention of J'onn J'onzz, who telepathically entered their minds, that they were able to confront Destiny and free themselves of his influence. Meanwhile, Batman tracked down John Dee and, following a struggle, managed to knock him out using a sedative. Returned to Styker's Island, Dee was confined to the prison infirmary, as his prolonged exposure to the Materioptikon caused significant damage to his brain. Dee remained there until he was rescued by the Legion of Doom, which he joined after Grodd presumably repaired his mind.
Through his exposure to the Materioptikon, John Dee now possesses phenomenal psionic abilities, the limits of which are currently undetermined. Even at great distances, Dr. Destiny can telepathically enter a victim's mind, exploiting their thoughts to confront them with what they fear the most. In close proximity, however, he is an even more dangerous opponent, as his mental powers can manipulate one's senses even when they're awake. Currently biding his time as an agent of Grodd, John Dee will undoubtedly attack the League again—as he sees it as his destiny to destroy them—and the fact that such a powerful villain has access to them when they are at their most vulnerable must weigh heavily upon them. The Justice League must suffer many sleepless nights waiting for this skull-faced adversary to return to mind.
Cartoon Network on Dr. Destiny: "Using a device called the Materioptikon, this skull-faced villain can bring nightmares to life (courtesy of Cartoon Network press materials)."
Bruce Timm on Dr. Destiny #1: "Dr. Destiny is a character who had been in the comics a long time, and we’re always on the lookout for villains who can convincingly take on the Justice League. Even though his powers are really mental manipulation—attacking them in their dream world—it certainly gave us an opportunity to explore some creepy visuals. [...] I’m thinking especially of the sequence, after Dr. Destiny has gotten his new mental powers, where he goes back and gets some revenge against his wife. That’s one of the nastiest sequences we’ve ever done (courtesy of RetroVision CD-ROM Magazine).”
Bruce Timm on Dr. Destiny #2: “When I designed Dr. Destiny for the show, obviously I was aware that he resembled Skeletor to a (admittedly large) degree but, as others have pointed out, it’s actually the other way around. Even though we’ve radically re-designed villains for their animated appearances in the past, we do try to stay faithful to their comics’ versions when possible. Seeing as how the comics’ Dr. Destiny pre-dated Skeletor by a few years, and it is a pretty nice design, James Tucker and I decided to just go with it.
“I suppose we could have changed his color scheme a bit—to take the curse off—and we did try a couple of different ones, but in gray he looks too much like Phantasm, in green he looks too much like Dr. Doom, and we’ve got too many purple or violet villains already. The blue costume said 'Dr. Destiny' better than the others so, again, we just said, 'The hell with it,' took a deep breath, and waited for the inevitable cries of 'RIP OFF' (courtesy of Toon Zone)!”
DarkLantern on Dr. Destiny: “Actually, the skeletal Dr. Destiny first appeared in Justice League of America #154 (May 1978)—where it was revealed that the appearance was the result of the Doctor’s inability to dream. [This] he blamed on the JLA because, after a battle whereupon Destiny’s dreams were coming true, they found a psychiatrist to ensure he ‘wouldn’t dream like that again.’
“[Moreover], it didn’t surprise me that Dr. Destiny resembles Skeletor, as Bruce worked on the original Masters of the Universe series (courtesy of Toon Zone).”
Dwayne McDuffie on Dr. Destiny: "I’m told [that Dr. Destiny] is an in-joke for Bruce Timm (courtesy of DwayneMcDuffie.com).”
Dr. Destiny Image #1 | Dr. Destiny Image #2
"In dreams I walk with you."
Dr. Destiny, from Arkham Asylum
after the historical John Dee, court
magician to Queen Elizabeth I (see here
for more information),
Dr. Destiny disappeared for ten years after that, only to reappear in Justice League of America #154 (May 1978) with a new costume and a new axe to grind. As a consequence of being unable to dream, Destiny's body began to waste away—his hair fell out, his body shriveled, and his skin became sickly pale—and, by the time he was released from prison, he physically resembled a living skeleton. Desperate for revenge against the League for the damage caused to his mind, he recreated his Materioptikon (now designed as a ruby) and garbed himself in his now-familiar blue costume (see here) for their rematch. Of course, he was defeated, and was sent to Arkham Asylum for treatment.
Following Crisis on Infinite Earths, Dr. Destiny fell off the Justice League's radar for several years, but the concept of a man unable to dream attracted the attention of several notable writers, who used him for a number of projects that came out in the late '80s. Credit for the character's renaissance can arguably be attributed to Grant Morrison who, in utilizing the character for his hardcover graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (written in 1987, published in 1989), reimagined the character as frail and emaciated, but still possessing great power. In his annotations for the story (released in the fifteenth anniversary edition of the book), he recorded that, "The conventional depiction of the Doctor Destiny character doesn't really make a great deal of sense—he is supposed to be a man whose body has withered horribly because he has been robbed of the ability to dream [...but] he is, however, usually drawn as a six-foot plus muscleman with a skull for a head." Under Morrison's direction (and brought to horrible reality by artist Dave McKean), Dr. Destiny was reimagined for the post-Crisis DC Universe as resembling "a victim of cerebral palsy or severe spasticity," with atrophied limbs and muscles to accent his already skull-like face. He still bore his phenomenal mental abilities, however, causing the Joker to reflect that, "He seems so frail in that wheelchair, but all he has to do is look at you and you stop being real." It was also around this time that writer Neil Gaiman utilized the character for a cameo in his Black Orchid miniseries (1988-1989); this minor role would be a precursor for his third, and greatest, appearance of this time period.
In writing Preludes and Nocturnes, Neil Gaiman's first story arc for his soon-to-be-legendary run on Sandman, the writer incorporated Dr. Destiny's back-story into the mythology of Dream (or Morpheus, the Sandman, or any number of names), which largely involved creating a new origin for the villain's famed Materioptikon. Now, instead of being a creation of Dr. Destiny, it was a creation of Morpheus, and it was used to manipulate the fabric of dreams, but it was stolen from him (along with two other talismans of power) when he was imprisoned by a sorcerer—the Aleister Crowley-like Roderick Burgess. His possession of the dream stone was short-lived, however, as it was stolen by his mistress, Ethel Cripps, and, later, presumably following a marriage to an unknown suitor named Dee, it fell into the hands of her son, who used it in his campaigns against the Justice League. In this story, Dr. Destiny (seen here as he appeared in Sandman) escaped from bedlam to retrieve his ruby from the Justice League's possession, only to find it more powerful than before (Morpheus found it first but, due to alterations introduced into it by Dee, it absorbed more of his power and knocked him unconscious). Deciding to use it to drive everyone on the planet mad, he found his way to an all-night diner and, for a period of twenty-four hours, did just that—disturbing the sleep patterns and behaviors of the people outside, torturing the patrons and employees in unimaginably horrifying ways inside. Eventually he was confronted by Morpheus, and battled him for the fate of his realm. It was here that Dee foolishly crushed the dream stone in his hands, believing that it would destroy the Dream King; its destruction, however, released its energies which, in turn, restored Dream to full power. Taking pity on John Dee, he returned him to Arkham Asylum, and did his best to set right what Destiny destroyed. Since then, Dr. Destiny has made an appearance or two—most notably in 1996's Justice League: Midsummer Nightmare—the miniseries that served as a prelude to Grant Morrison's revitalized JLA series—but he has been reduced to a footnote since then, either in favor of other villains or out of respect for Neil Gaiman's depiction. This fortunately did not extend to the animated Justice League series, however, as the creative team took note of the classic Justice League villain, and included his name in the original press materials.
In adapting Dr. Destiny for Justice League's "Only a Dream," they wisely incorporated various elements from his lengthy comic book history, including a mechanical Materioptikon (the '60s Justice League stories), the identity of John Dee (Sandman), and the imposing, skull-faced body. As stated above, this incarnation of Dr. Destiny resembles He-Man and the Masters of the Universe villain Skeletor—primarily in the blue body and hooded, skull face—a similarity that may have come about if the creators at Filmation were familiar with the character from the comics (Dr. Destiny's "new" look came out in 1978, and Skeletor made his debut around 1983). So the possibility is there, especially considering that many of the creators were avowed comic book fans, including a young Bruce Timm, who worked as a storyboard and layout artist during the first season of Masters of the Universe and, later, drew several of the comic books that were packed-in with the figures and a fully-painted one-shot (coincidentally, unbeknownst to him, Timm's longtime DCAU collaborator Paul Dini can also trace his animation beginnings to He-Man, as he worked as a scriptwriter for the cartoon). In addition to feeding his interest in Conan-esque sword-and-sorcery, we can see echoes in his depiction of Skeletor (see here) that would, decades later, be reincorporated back into Dr. Destiny (Timm's comic book art has been archived at the Masters of the Universe fan site He-Man.org, and can be found here and here).
Speaking of his skull-faced
persona, it is interesting to note that, in "Only a Dream," Dee's
adoption of that look was one of his first acts whereas, in the comics, he
adopted that identity 17 years after his initial appearance. Following the
airing of "Dream," several parties questioned why he even bothered to
create such an elaborate visual guise (or corny supervillain name),
rather than just commit his actions as John Dee.
While it is possible that he could have done this—which
would have been fitting: a nobody taking down the gods,
the reverse of what happened to him—we must also remember that
Images courtesy of Toon Zone, The World’s Finest, Wikipedia, DC Comics, Superhero Times, and He-Man.org. Skeletor courtesy of Mattel, Inc.
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