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Mandrake the Magician: The Hidden Kingdom of Murderers Hardcover – March 15, 2016
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About the Author
Created by Lee Falk, creator of The Phantom. Falk was fascinated with magicians from an early age, and sketched out the character himself. As a result, Mandrake looks a lot like Falk himself. He also had a passion for the theater, and wrote a play starring Mandrake, which his widow directed after he passed away.
Artist Phil Davis helped Falk develop the strip, and once they sold it to King Features Syndicate, Davis was the artist from 1934 until 1964, when he passed away.
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In some ways Mandrake the magician reminds me of Superman (who arrived 4 years later) in that his powers are somewhat nebulous but awesome in scope. I could list out the magic he exhibits but generally he’s capable of doing whatever the plot needs him to be able to do; transmutation, levitation, invisibility, you name it. On the other hand he can be incapacitated with an unexpected attack. He also cannot cast spells when his hands are bound or he is incapable of speaking. Later in the book it’s implied that a lot of the magic that Mandrake performs is just hypnosis although it’s hard to imagine how travelling miles on a magic carpet could be performed through hypnosis. I get the impression we are seeing the feeling out process of Falk in these early years.
Mandrake does not appear to have any job or goal in life besides wandering around getting into adventures with his massively strong servant, Lothar. Although Lothar refers to Mandrake as “Master” they clearly have a close friendship and I don’t remember Mandrake ever showing a lack of respect towards Lothar. There is a certain inhumanness to Mandrake as he remains immaculately groomed, dressed in a hot black suit with top hat and cape. Real characterization was rare in the 1930’s but Mandrake seems particularly remote but in some ways I guess that IS Mandrakes characterization. He does occasionally remove his top hat so I guess he is capable of being mildly flustered.
Mandrake the Magician began his comic career in 1934 so the stories here start nearly a year after his introduction. The volume is exclusively the Sunday comics from 1935 to 1937, all in color. The book is clearly smaller than the original newspaper comics but that’s fine. I’ve had books that were published at original size and they were enormous. There is a nice 10 page introduction to Mandrake as well as a couple of pages on Lee Falk and two on Philip Davis.
The series survived 80 years so it clearly had a tremendous fan base and what we’re seeing here are the awkward baby steps; common for comics just starting out, particularly ones from way back in the 1930’s. We have some Tarzan similar stories and then a science fiction and a story where he just tags along with a circus. Lee Falk seemed to be trying to figure out what genre he was writing but note that he was just 24 in 1935 and this was his first comic creation. The art improves very quickly particularly when Phil Davis takes over but this ain’t Alex Raymond or Milton Caniff. I wasn’t blown away by these early comics and at 157 pages it’s not a tremendous volume of material. There are no further volumes scheduled on Amazon but I assume Titan is planning on reprinting more since it’s listed as Volume 1. I also hope we get the dailies at some point.
I hope Titan will continue to publish these strips, unavailable as printed works for so very many years, and as they continue, we will better understand Mandrake, and his relationship with Lothar and the other continuing characters, yet to be included. Please, Titan, don't make us wait 5 years for the next one. Maybe someone will also publish the dailies (IDW, where are you when we need you?), but I fear that we haven't seen them yet partly because of the racial implications of Lothar's character and partly because of the difficulty of assembling them completely after so many years. C'mon, you guys. This character is FAR too important to the history of comics for this scattershot treatment!
It all comes down to your asnwer to that question. If you want it, this edition is not so bad that you should avoid it. If you want perfection, don't buy it. If you're looking for just any 30s adventure strip, you should try some other first, both because of content (Phil Davis was not a super-draftsman, and the stories are non-sensical surreal fantasy) and the quality of the edition itself.
Because obviously this edition isn't perfect. For one thing, the page-size could have been larger. And for some reason the original captions on most sundays were substituted by computer lettering. Personally this is what irks me the most. I'm taking it easy, but if I was a really demanding, stuck-up guy, just that blunder would be enough to make me reject the edition even if everything else about it was great. Sometimes the new lettering doesn't fill adequately the ballons or rectangles on panels. It's just a bit of a shoddy job. I assume they did it because the spreadsheets they worked from were so blurry the captions didn't read well. But then I wonder what kind of processing they did to the artwork for it to look good enough. The reproduction of the artwork is ok, I guess, overall. You have to consider the source material was probably far from perfect.
If you're a fan of the character, it's a no-brainer I guess.
A bit different than Falks Phantom strips but still very good. The text pages give us a bio of the writers and artist and the strip itself. I would have liked a bit more but this was a good start.
This is my first reading of a Titan book and this company does the job right, like Hermes and LAC. I will be back for more Mandrake even if it takes YEARS. I have already ordered a Flash Gordon reprint from them.
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I have never before had an opportunity of reading any of the stories reprinted in this Volume, and individually...Read more