Just recently released is the first collection by Titan Comics of the Sunday strips of Mandrake the Magician by Lee Falk and drawn by Phil Davis. You can get it on Amazon Here: http://www.amazon.com/Mandrake-Magician-Sundays-Kingdom-Murderers/dp/0857685724
If you are like me, than you probably first met Mandrake as part of the 80’s cartoon “Defenders of the Earth”
This was a great cartoon which had many of the classic comic characters from King Features adventure series. We have Flash Gordon, The Phantom and of course Mandrake and Lothar. I was actually unaware that Lothar was from the Mandrake the Magician series, I thought he was from his own series at the time.
This collection takes you back to the beginning and it is very different from the full blown character that I knew from the TV show. The main difference was with Lothar:
he is a far cry from the character I was familiar with. In this, he is the stereotypical African savage that you have seen countless times in comics from this era. This collection covers 1935-1937. He is portrayed as a loyal strongman to Mandrake with little knowledge, he speaks in broken sentences and plays into the typical strongman/savage role. It is a far cry from the cartoons portrayal of him.
Needless to say, he has come a long way in the years since. Apart from the shock of getting to know these characters as they were originally written back in the 30’s, the stories are actually quite imaginative even by today’s standards. The are wrapped up a little too neatly in some cases, like the circus storyline where everyone gets married at the end, or the storyline of the Kingdom of Dementor, where the tyrant happily becomes a farmer at the end. It definitely plays more to the children’s mindset.
The storyline where they travel to dimension X is actually quite clever and works out really well. There are the obvious stereotypes of the damsels in distress and of course the character of Lothar, but overall, you can see the promise of the series and the character. It may seem at points that there is nothing that Mandrake can’t do magically and he pulls them out of situations with rather implausible waves of his hand. His magic is supposed to be based on hypnosis, but many of the stunts would require him to bend the laws of physics to a much grater degree than in possible with a mere suspension of disbelief.
Mandrake is a wizard in these early series. It is not an act or a trick, he is just a wizard. If you are interested, like me, in the old comics that you fell in love with from 80’s cartoons, it is interesting to look back and see where they came from. I was not disappointed in Flash Gordon at all, but Mandrake does not age as well. The later works and storylines are much better.
Phil Davis’s artwork is actually quite good in this volume, he does a great job of bringing the fantastical worlds of Mandrake to the page. From far away lands to other dimensions there is never a moment where the art takes you out of it. he is really underappreciated in the comic community as an artist and I would recommend checking this volume out for that alone.
This collection is what you would expect. It has great art and really imaginative storylines, but like a lot of golden age comics, it suffers from oversimplified story arcs, Lee Falk did a much better job with his other creation, The Phantom. It is a fun read if you are into classic comic strips, but the really good Mandrake stories are still to come. This is just the early sketch of what would become one of the most iconic characters in adventure comics. Until next time True Believers, may your mug always be frosted and your root beer always foamy.