By Lee Falk and Fred Fredericks (Tempo Books)
Regarded by many as the first American superhero, Mandrake the Magician debuted on 11th June 1934 (although creator Lee Falk had first tried to sell the strip a decade previously) illustrated with effective understatement by the superb Phil Davis.
Educated at the fabled College of Magic in the Himalayas, the suave sorcerer roamed the world with his faithful African friend Lothar and his beautiful companion (and finally, in 1997, bride) Princess Narda of Cockaigne, solving crimes and fighting evil. Star of stage, screen (large and small), radio and a thousand forms of merchandising, Mandrake has always been one of the top guns of the comics powerhouse King Features Syndicate, but inexplicably has seldom had his past exploits collected or reprinted.
This mass-market paperback book from 1979 (the same year that an above-average TV pilot was aired) collects two adventures illustrated by Harold “Fred” Fredericks, who took over the art production when Davis died in 1965, and who assumed full creative duties when Falk himself passed on in 1999.
The first story (from 1976) recounts the mystic champion’s origin by way of introducing his twin brother Derek, who also grew up in the Secret College but uses his powers for tawdry self-gratification and selfish gain. The duel of the siblings was the first of many family battles which continue to this day.
The second tale sees author Falk – who also created the first Costumed hero in the guise of the Phantom – recycle one of his favourite plots as ‘Narda and the Sheik!’ finds one of the richest men in the world enraptured with the lovely princess – to the point of abducting and trying to marry her…
With a major movie lurking somewhere in production limbo this fabulous comicbook archetype looks set for a cultural revival of fortune, so let’s trust that his seventy-five year history is set for a definitive re-release soon.
© 1976, 1979, King Features Syndicate, Inc. All Rights Reserved.