Mandrake the Magician

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Lee Falk and Phil Davis' Mandrake the Magician (October 30, 1938)
Lee Falk and Phil Davis' Mandrake the Magician (October 30, 1938)

Mandrake the Magician is a syndicated newspaper comic strip, created by Lee Falk (The Phantom), which began June 11, 1934. Phil Davis soon took over as the strip's illustrator, while Falk continued to script. The strip was distributed by King Features Syndicate. Davis worked on the strip until his death in 1964, when Falk recruited current artist Fred Fredericks. With Falk's death in 1999, Fredericks became both writer and artist.

Mandrake is a magician whose work is based on an unusually fast hypnotic technique. As noted in captions, when Mandrake "gestures hypnotically", his subjects see illusions, and Mandrake used this technique in his battles with a variety of gangsters, mad scientists, extraterrestrials and characters from other dimensions.

Mandrake and the Phantom Magician in Mel Graff's The Adventures of Patsy are regarded by comics historians as the first superheroes of comics. Don Markstein writes, "Depending on how you define the term, Patsy's recurring rescuer, The Phantom Magician, may have been the first superhero in comics... Some people say Mandrake the Magician, who started in 1934, was comics' first superhero.

Contents

Other characters

Supporting characters

Lothar is Mandrake's best friend and crime-fighting companion. Mandrake first met Lothar during his travels in Africa. Lothar was then "Prince of the Seven Nations", a mighty federation of jungle tribes. He passed on the chance to become king and instead followed Mandrake on his world travels, fighting crime and villains from all over the world (and the rest of the universe as well). Lothar is often referred to as the strongest man in the world with the exception of perhaps Hojo — Mandrake's chef and secret chief of Inter Intel.

One of the first black crimefighting heroes ever to appear in comics, Lothar made his first appearance alongside Mandrake in 1934 in the inaugural daily strip. Mandrake and Lothar are generally recognized as the world's first interracial team of crimefighters.

In the beginning, Lothar was little more than Mandrake's servant. He spoke poor English, wore a fez, short pants and a leopard skin. His muscles far exceeded his mental abilities. When artist Fred Fredericks took over in 1965 (after original artist Phil Davis had died), Lothar was modernized; he began to speak correct English, and his clothing changed, although he still often wears shirts with leopard-skin patterns.

Narda is of royal blood; she is Princess of the European nation Cockaigne (today ruled by her brother Segrid). She made her first appearance in the second Mandrake story. Although she and Mandrake were infatuated with one another from first sight, they didn't marry until 1997, when it was an extravagant triple wedding ceremony-- at Mandrake's home of Xanadu, Narda's home country Cockaigne and Mandrake's father Theron's College of Magic (Collegium Magikos) in the Himalayas.

Theron is Mandrake's father, although this was a secret to Mandrake for a long time. Mandrake's mother died shortly after she gave birth to Mandrake and his twin brother Derek. Theron is the headmaster of the College of Magic (Collegium Magikos) somewhere in the Himalayas. Theron is hundreds of years old, probably due to the energy of the powerful Mind Crystal of which he is the guardian.

Hojo is Mandrake's chef at his home of Xanadu. However, he is also the secret Chief of the international crimefighting organization Inter-Intel, in addition to being a superb martial arts expert. As such, he has used Mandrake's help with many cases. Hojo's assistant at Inter-Intel is Jed.

The Police Chief is named Bradley but mostly just called "Chief" and has been aided by Mandrake on several occasions. He created the "S.S.D." (Silly Stuff Dept.) for absurd and unbelievable cases that only Mandrake could solve. He has a son, Chris.

Magnon is Mandrake's most powerful friend. He is the emperor of a million planets, but even he has sometimes needed Mandrake's help. Magnon and his wife Carola have a daughter, Nardraka, who is named after Mandrake and Narda and is their godchild.

Lenore is Mandrake's younger half-sister. She is a world-renowned explorer.

Karma is Lothar's girlfriend, an African princess, who works as a model.

Xanadu, Mandrake's high-tech residence, has one of the world's best security with all electronic gadgets like closed circuit TV, sectional road which divides from half, dropping iron gates.

Villains

Mandrake the Magician daily strip (2002). Art by Fred Fredericks.
Mandrake the Magician daily strip (2002). Art by Fred Fredericks.

The Cobra is Mandrake's most evil and dangerous foe. He made his first appearance in the very first Mandrake story. In a story from 1937, the Cobra was apparently defeated; however, he returned with a vengeance in a story from 1965. This time hiding his face (scarred and disfigured in battle with Mandrake) behind a menacing silver mask. The Cobra's main goal is to acquire one of the two powerful Crystal Cubes which increase mental energy. These are guarded by Mandrake and his father Theron. Mandrake learned that The Cobra's true identity was Luciphor, Theron's oldest son — thus making The Cobra Mandrake's half-brother. He stole one of the two mind crystals from the College of Magic and hence is very powerful. In later years, the Cobra abandoned his silver mask as his face had been reconstructed through surgery. The Cobra is sometimes accompanied by his assistant Ud.

Derek is Mandrake's twin brother, and although similar to his brother in appearance, is totally different when it comes to morals and ethics. Derek is only after money and women and gladly uses his magical powers (that almost rival Mandrake's) to achieve his own personal goals. Mandrake has many times tried to remove Derek's knowledge of magic through mental battles, although it has always been only temporary solutions. Derek has a son, Eric (mother unknown), who so far has shown no signs of following in his father's footsteps.

The Clay Camel, real name Saki, is a master of disguises. He is able to mimic anyone and change his appearance in seconds. His name comes from the symbol he leaves at the scenes of his crimes, a small camel made of clay.

The Brass Monkey, daughter of The Clay Camel with a similar talent for disguises.

Aleena the Enchantress is a former friend of Mandrake's from the College of Magic, a much-married spoilt temptress, who now prefers to use her magic powers for her own benefit. This includes trying to win Mandrake's heart, but when that doesn't succeed, she tries to bring him trouble instead.

8 is an old and very powerful crime organization with roots to medieval times. Long thought to be dead and no more than a myth, Mandrake discovered that the organization is very much alive. They are known to often incorporate the number 8 in their crimes or leave the number 8 as a mark. They are organized like an octopus with eight arms (headquarters) spread out all over the world, and one head (the grim and mysterious leader Octon, only shown as a menacing image on a computer screen). Over the years, Mandrake has succeeded in destroying their headquarters one by one. In one of the stories the Octon of 8 is revealed as Cobra.

Ekardnam ('Mandrake' backwards) is Mandrake's "evil twin", who exists on the other side of the mirror. Like his world (where the government is run by the "Private of the Armies", and generals do menial work like running the elevators), Ekardnam is an exact opposite, i.e., evil and treacherous, and uses his "evil eye" powers to work his magic. He was seen when Narda was drawn into the mirror, an adventure that may have been only a bad dream.

The Deleter is one of the most unusual of Mandrake's foes. He is an extraterrestrial contract killer who will "delete" anyone for the right price. However, he does have a code-of-honor and will seek justice for anyone who tries to cheat him out of his contract fee.

Comic books

Phil Davis drew the comic strip for three decades.
Phil Davis drew the comic strip for three decades.

Mandrake had a prominent role in Magic Comics and Big Little Books of the 1930s and 1940s. Dell Comics published a Mandrake the Magician issue in their Four Color comic series with various main characters. The Mandrake issue was #752 and featured original stories by Stan Campell and written by Paul Newman.

In 1966-1967 King Comics published ten issues of a Mandrake the Magician comic magazine. Most of the stories were remakes of newspaper strip stories and featured art by Andre LeBlanc, Ray Bailey and others. Mandrake stories also ran as back-up features in other King titles.

Italian publisher Fratelli Spada produced a considerable amount of original Mandrake comic book stories in the 1960s and 1970s. A few of these were even published in the American Mandrake comic book mentioned above.

Marvel released a Mandrake mini-series in 1995, written by Mike W Barr and with painted art by Rob Ortaleza. However, only two of three planned issues were published.

Mandrake has also enjoyed great success in comic books published in Britain, Australia, Brazil, India, France, Spain, Italy, Yugoslavia, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Turkey and Sweden (although in the case of the Nordic countries, most often as a back up feature in The Phantom comic books). Mandrake is popular in India through Indrajal Comics.

In the early Mad, Mandrake was spoofed as "Manduck." He lives in a hovel, which he convinces visitors is a palatial home by "gesturing hypnotically". In the story he matches wits with The Shadow; he, Lothar, and The Shadow all gesture hypnotically at each other and only Lothar (looking like Manduck) remains. In a later article, Manduck pulls off the (enviable!) trick of turning Lothar into a six-foot-tall blonde woman.

"In Pictopia" (first published in Anything Goes! #2, August 1986) is a short story by Alan Moore and illustrator Don Simpson, which takes place in a limbo world of comic book characters. The main character, Nocturno the Necromancer, is based on Mandrake. The story was reprinted in George Khoury's The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore (TwoMorrows, July 2003)

Mandrake is featured together with The Phantom in The Phantom Annual #2, written by Mike Bullock and Kevin Grevioux and published by Moonstone Books.

In other media

Radio

On radio as a 15-minute program, Mandrake the Magician aired on the Mutual Broadcasting System from November 11, 1940, until February 6, 1942. Originally a three-day-a-week serial, it expanded to five days a week in 1941. Uttering the incantation "invovo legem magicarum" was Raymond Edward Johnson, who starred as Mandrake. Juano Hernandez portrayed Lothar, and Francesca Lenni took the role of Princess Narda. The series was directed by Carlo De Angelo.

Movie poster from the 1939 movie serial
Movie poster from the 1939 movie serial

1939 movie serial

In 1939, Columbia produced a 12-part Mandrake the Magician, based on the King Features strip, starring Warren Hull as Mandrake and Al Kikume as Lothar. The serial is available on DVD.

On television

NBC made a pilot for a Mandrake the Magician TV series in 1954, but no other episodes were made. Stage magician Coe Norton starred as Mandrake and Woody Strode as Lothar.

Anthony Herrera had the title role in the TV movie Mandrake (1979) with Ji-Tu Cumbuka as Lothar. Magician Harry Blackstone Jr. was featured in the cast.

In the animated series Defenders of the Earth (1986-87), Mandrake the Magician teams with fellow King Features adventurers Flash Gordon and The Phantom. Mandrake's friend Lothar also has a prominent role, as well as a teenage son nicknamed L.J. who was also a martial artist. Mandrake has an adoptive son of Asian blood named Kshin, whom he's training as his apprentice and heir. Peter Renaday was the voice of Mandrake and Buster Jones the voice of Lothar. The entire series has been released by BCI Eclipse in two DVD sets.

In the animated series Phantom 2040, featuring a future Phantom, Mandrake has a brief, unnamed appearance in the episode "The Magician". He is presented as an old friend of that Phantom's father, and his remarkably well-preserved shape is compatible with the longevity-conferring properties of the Crystals.

Unrealized and unauthorized projects

An unauthorized Mandrake movie produced in Turkey was made in 1967, Mandrake Killing'e karsi (Mandrake against Killing), directed by Oksal Pekmezoglu and starring Güven Erte as Mandrake.

In the 1960s, Federico Fellini, a close friend of creator Lee Falk, intended to make a Mandrake movie, but the project never got off the ground.

Within two weeks of signing with his first agent, American filmmaker Michael Almereyda was hired by Embassy Pictures to rewrite a script for Mandrake the Magician. He told Filmmaker that upon receiving the assignment, he flew to New York and checked himself into the Chelsea Hotel to work on the rewrite. Three weeks later, he emerged with new draft in hand, but by then the studio had changed heads, and in as little time as his revision took, the project was dropped.

Theatre

The musical Mandrake the Magician and the Enchantress was produced during the late 1970s at the Lenox Arts Festival in Massachusetts. The script is by Lee Falk and Thayer Burch, with music by George Quincy and lyrics by Thayer Burch.

Mandrake is a character in the play King Kong Palace, written by Chilean playwriter Marco Antonio de la Parra. In the play, Mandrake is now a performer in birthday parties and attempts to seduce Jane, the ambitious wife of Tarzan, in order to satisfy his lust for power.

Forthcoming live-action film

In 2007, it was announced that Baldwin Entertainment Group and Hyde Park Entertainment purchased rights to make a Mandrake movie, to be directed by Mimi Leder. The two companies own the rights to Lee Falk's The Phantom. Jonathan Rhys Meyers was originally on board the project as the title character with Chuck Russell announced as director. Rhys Meyers dons cape for 'Mandrake' Real-life magician Criss Angel will be responsible for developing the visual effects and was also cast in the role of Theron, Mandrake's father. In 2009, Hayden Christensen replaced Rhys Meyers in the title role of the film, with Djimon Honsou co-starring and Mimi Leder directing.

Software

A software company called MandrakeSoft started in France in 1998. Their biggest product was the GNU/Linux distribution Mandrake Linux. In February 2004, MandrakeSoft lost a court case against Hearst Corporation, owners of King Features Syndicate. Hearst contends that MandrakeSoft is infringing upon King Features' trademarked character Mandrake the Magician. The word Mandrake is not unique to the King Features character, and MandrakeSoft appealed the decision. However, the Linux-tool Lothar which was developed in a project sponsored by MandrakeSoft also has a name inspired by the comic strip, where Lothar is the longtime friend of Mandrake the Magician. The use of a magician's top hat and magic wand in images and logos also showed that MandrakeSoft wanted to associate the name with a magician and not (for example) the mandrake root. Consequently and due to the acquisition of the Linux company called Conectiva, MandrakeSoft and its product have changed names to Mandriva and Mandriva Linux respectively.

Leon Mandrake

Leon Mandrake, the stage magician, who was known for his top hat, pencil line moustache and scarlet-lined cape, was the basis for the strip. Leon Mandrake, who toured as Mandrake the Magician, was accompanied at the time the strip began by Narda, his first wife and stage assistant who appears in the strip. Velvet, his life-time partner would also later make appearances in the strip along with his real-life side-kick, Lothar. In fact, Leon Mandrake had been performing for well over ten years before Lee Falk introduced the comic strip character. Davis, the strip's creator became good friends and corresponded for years afterwards.

Reprints

  • Dragon Lady Press reprinted a 1937 Mandrake daily story in Classic Adventure Strips #1.
  • Pacific Comics Club reprinted two Mandrake daily stories from 1938 Feature Books #18 and #23.
  • Nostalgia Press published a hardback book reprinting two 1938 daily stories.
  • Pioneer Comics reprinted a large number of Mandrake stories in comic book form.
  • Comics Revue has reprinted several Mandrake daily stories.
  • JAL Publications has reprinted several Mandrake stories

Popular culture references

Baseball player Don Mueller, an outfielder for the New York Giants on their 1951 National League pennant winners and 1954 World Championship teams, was known as "Mandrake the Magician" for his hitting ability.

Mandrake the Magician appears briefly in the Beatles film Yellow Submarine.

The Mandrake Mechanism, a term coined by G Edward Griffin to describe the process by which money is created by the Federal Reserve.

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