While I am not sure if he was the first comic-book Wizard/ Sorcerer/ Magick-Using Super-Hero, DC Comics’ Dr. Fate was definitely the Golden Age of Comics’ iconic Magician-Superhero. Created by writer Gardner Fox (hey, “Gardner,” like “Gerald”) and artist Howard Sherman, Dr. Fate made his debut in 1940, in More Fun Comics #55, as an accompaniment to The Spectre. (A canny move, if you think about it, in a Supernatural comics sense, as the Spectre represents the Ghost as a Superhero, and Dr. Fate, the Wizard.) Originally Kent Nelson, son of an archaeologist (who perhaps irresponsibly took his young son with him on an archaeological dig in the Valley of Ur, in Mesopotamia, in 1920), young Nelson was orphaned when his father unearthed the tomb of an ancient Sumerian-Babylonian Wizard named Nabu- releasing a poisonous gas that, shades of King Tut, killed Kent Nelson’s parent. In a gesture of amends-making, Nabu adopted young Nelson as his Sorcerer’s Apprentice, teaching him the Mystical and Occult Arts of the Supernatural. Empowered by his emblematic golden Helmet of Nabu (wherein the Spirit of Nabu sheltered Himself), Nelson took up habitation in a stone tower (that could turn conveniently invisible) outside Salem, Massachusetts. (A certain New England Witch/ Wizard connotation can be seen here.) From this headquarters and citadel of the Mystic Arts, Dr. Fate emerged to fight evil, corruption, and eventually Nazis, with the indomitable Powers of Mesopotamian Wizardry.
Dr. Fate went on to become one of the founding members of the Justice Society of America, which went on to resist the Axis Menace. Fate underwent certain changes in the process; despite the fact that one of the more striking features of Fate’s original storyline was the fact that Nabu, the Sorcerer of Ur inhabited Fate’s helmet, possessing Kent Nelson with His Power when Nelson donned the helmet to become Dr. Fate- having an ancient Wizard like Nabu literally helmeted around one apparently could grow oppressive. Dr. Fate switched to a half-face helmet, which allowed more expression of his face, but limited his awesomeness, while at the same time reducing his powers. Fate disappeared from the comics scene in the late ’40s; when the Silver Age of comics began in the late ’50s-early ’60s, there was no “modern” analog to Dr. Fate (a gap in the comics zeitgeist perhaps filled by Marvel Comics Dr. Strange). Fate was reintroduced to comics fans in the cross-over “parallel worlds” issues of the Justice League of America, where the Justice League met their 1940s counterparts. From then on, Fate was reinvented in numerous ways, in subsequent DC storylines (including at least one where he became a “she,” as a female took to wearing the Helmet of Nabu, and wielding the Magickal Arts enthroned therein- all of which was fine, but the cover showed Ms. Fate vamping like a pin-up girl, which was just wrong, wrong).
I was first introduced to Dr. Fate in the JLA/ JSA cross-overs of the early ’70s, as well as in special reprint editions of classic comics that you could order through various issues (if you were going to be a serious kid-connoisseur of comics in the early ’70s, you had to be a pro with such vintage materials as was then possible to obtain, as well as the current stuff). There was some reprint of maybe the first JSA issue (1974, maybe? 1975?), that was my first exposure to the original Dr. Fate. Although I was familiar with Dr. Strange as well, Dr. Fate kind of resonated with me in a way that Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme did not. And here’s the thing- kind of like childhood Witches, the Wizards of comic books opened something in my kid’s mind that responded to the idea of a mortal learning how to utilize the Magickal Powers of Ancient Ur- the Powers of Ancient Sorcerers like Nabu! Such childhood exposures may well (I suspect, at this later point) have inspired my subconscious to seek out such instructions for a similar enlightenment in later years, through such things as Neo-Paganism and modern Witchcraft. A yearning for such things (knowledge, understanding) was I think, instilled or kindled in the innocence of my youth, which later could only be satisfied by the Magick of the Pagan Life.
A new generation seems to have been turned on to the mystique of Dr. Fate, judging from the fact that the Justice Society appearance in the TV show Smallville seems to have been one of the most popular of the series. In lieu of the time when we have the Dr. Strange movie, or perhaps the Dr. Fate movie, to inspire fascination with the Occult Sciences, this might have to remain the latest incarnation of the Magick-Using Super-Hero.