Celebrating the first superhero … Mandrake!

Imagination Connoisseur, Vesna Lukic, gives the rest of the Post-Geek Singularity a lesson in superhero history when she provides an in-depth look at the superhero that pre-dates Superman by four years … Mandrake the Magician (created by Lee Falk).

Hello Robert and fellows Robsters!

The letter from the other day about Dr Strange got me think about some other comic book magician, who was probably an influential for many other DC and Marvel characters.

Mandrake, Created by Lee Falk (the same author of The Phantom) in 1934 – 4 years before Superman –  was actually the first superhero in comics and almost unknown to American readers, but very popular in other countries, like Britain, Australia, Brazil, India, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Nordic countries, Turkey and Yugoslavia.

Mandrake was named after a Mediterranean plant, also known as mandragora, that contains a highly hallucinogenic alkaloid, because of what has been often used in magic rituals throughout the history. But back to our magician.

He was depicted as a tall, slim, dark-haired man, with pencil-line mustache, wearing a top hat, wand and a cape. Using hypnosis and illusion, among other powers, like levitation, teleporting, shapeshifting, and becoming invisible, he was fighting crime and extraterrestrial threat. His home is Xanadu, a high-tech mansion on the top of a mountain in New York state.

Any of these sounds familiar?

His best friend and a partner was Lothar, an African prince of the Seven Nation, a mighty federation of jungle tribes. Lothar was often referred to as “the strongest man in the world” and was invulnerable to any weapon forged by man and impervious to heat and cold. Technically speaking, Lothar was the first African comic book superhero ever to appear.

Mandrake’s love interest was Narda, a princess of the fictional European nation Cockaigne (a very rich country, kind of like Atlantis). But she was not just a pretty face. Narda was also a master of martial arts so often helped Mandrake fight crime.

His father, Theron, was a hundreds years old headmaster of the college of magic, located in Himalayas. His life was preserved by The Mind Crystal, of which he was the guardian. Mandrake’s chef at his home of Xanadu was Hojo, who spoke seven languages and was also a chief of the international crime fighting organization Inter-Intel. Hojo’s assistant was Jed.

Mandrake had various villains, but the most dangerous of all was The Cobra, who wore a menacing silver mask, and whose main goal was to acquire one of two, powerful crystal cubes which could increase mental energy. Mandrake and his father guarded them. The Cobra’s real name was Luciphor and he was actually Theron’s oldest son (Mandrake’s half-brother).

Can you see the similarity with many other characters who came after him? Yes, even Harry Potter.

After various publishers, Marvel released a Mandrake mini series in 1995, but canceled it after only 2 issues of 3 that were planned. In 2013, Dynamite Entertainment launched a mini-series “Kings Watch” in which Mandrake and Lothar teamed with The Phantom, Flash Gordon, Dale Arden and Hans Zarkov, to fight The Cobra and Ming the Merciless.

There were various attempts to put mandrake on a small and the big screen. The first was in 1939, a 12-part Mandrake the Magician serial, by Columbia Pictures , starring Warren Hull. Then in 1979, there was a TV movie with Anthony Ferrera portraying Mandrake.

Turkey also made an unauthorized movie in 1967, with their biggest movie star on the main role.

The most interesting plan to make a modern Mandrake movie was in 2009. Hayden Christensen was going to star in the title role, and Djimon Hounsou was going to co-star, but after Hayden left the project, it went on hold. Personally, I would like to see Hounsou as Lothar, but I don’t think that Hayden would be good Mandrake. Mandrake was never a whining baby.

Another interesting one was from 2016. Warner Brothers was planning to make a movie with Sacha Baron Cohen in a main role. Now, that I would like to see. They are saying that they are still planing to do it, but I’m not quite sure, because of their plan with DC universe.

Will we ever get to see the a good presentation of the very first superhero, or will he be forgotten by “younger” characters who “borrowed” from him?

Long live and prosper.
– Vesna

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