Long before Batman became the fearsome cowled avenger of Gotham City and years before Clark Kent cruised faster than a speeding bullet as Superman, a certain dashing caped wizard named Mandrake the Magician took the title of the world's first comic superhero.
Accompanied by his loyal African companion, Lothar, Prince of the Seven Nations, Mandrake deployed clever methods of theatricality, deception, and illusion in combating the titans of the underworld all while displaying a panache and style that would become his trademark.
This handsome, wand-wielding warrior was created by Lee Falk during the start of the Golden Age of Comics and first appeared as a daily King Features syndicated newspaper strip on June 11, 1934.
The debonair, Depression-era defender of truth and justice eventually expanded into more than two hundred publications worldwide to emerge as one of the planet's best-loved crusaders, struggling against the dastardly deeds of The Cobra's crime web.
Sporting a fashionable black top hat, scarlet-lined cloak, and trim mustache, Mandrake was a master of hypnotism and misdirection, with a razor-sharp mind and sparkling wit that always made him the smartest guy in the room. He was accompanied in many missions by his alluring wife, Princess Narda of Cockaigne, and the aforementioned hulking manservant, Lothar, who has the distinction of being one of the first racially integrated characters in comics history.
Falk, who also created The Phantom, gave Mandrake an old-fashioned dramatic flair that would fade into more super-powered sci-fi fantasy when the Dark Knight, Superman, and Captain America came onto the scene a few years later. This slick sorcerer had a rich pedigree steeped in Edgar Rice Burroughs-like, globe-trotting pulp action and was inspired by Hollywood adventure serials and pulp novels of the era.
Falk wrote and drew the Mandrake the Magician newspaper strip for many years before passing the mantle to Phil Davis, who acted as the lead artist until he died in 1964. Falk then recruited American cartoonist Fred Fredericks to assume the art duties in 1965 until Falk's passing in 1999, when Fredericks assumed the writing duties, too. The final Mandrake strip was printed on July 6, 2013 following Fredericks' retirement.
Mandrake was a marketing bonanza and the caped conjuror appeared in many '30s-era toys and books, including stories in Magic Comics and Big Little Books. In 1966–67, King Comics published ten issues of a Mandrake the Magician comic using reprinted stories pulled from old newspaper strips and showcased art by André LeBlanc and Ray Bailey.
A Mandrake radio drama even aired from 1940-1942 on the Mutual Broadcasting System, and on the silver screen, Columbia Pictures presented a 12-chapter Mandrake the Magician serial drama adapting the King Features hero and starring Warren Hull as Mandrake and Al Kikume as Lothar.
More recently, Dynamite acquired the rights to the crafty King Features character and launched a four-issue Mandrake miniseries in 2015, written by Roger Langridge and paired with Jeremy Treece art.
With Titan Books publishing new deluxe editions of the classic Mandrake The Magician newspapers strips, and a big-budget Mandrake feature film now in the works from Warner Bros. starring Borat's Sasha Baron Cohen, it seems the future is no hocus pocus for this iconic comic superhero.
Do you have any affections and fond memories of Mandrake and would you welcome a resurrection of the heroic magician in comics or as a Hollywood franchise?