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Lee Falk's (The Phantom) first comic series, Mandrake the Magician is his other contender for "first costumed superhero in the comics". It all depends on if you want to count a tuxedo, with top hat and cape no less, as a costume.
Mandrake started publication in 1934, and is still going. The first story The Cobra introduced Mandrake's bash brother, Lothar, an African prince who preferred fighting evil to his princely duties. Oh, yeah, Lothar is black. And perhaps the earliest black character portrayed seriously in comics. The second story The Hawk introduced Narda, who would become Mandrake's romantic interest. After sixty years they finally married in 1998.
Educated in the mysterious Collegium Magikos in the Himalayas, Mandrake's main ability is the power to create any illusion he can think of in a target's mind, just by "gesturing hypnotically." He also has some telepathic abilities. Naturally, his illusion-casting powers make him the world's greatest stage magician, and that is how he earns his living when he's not busy fighting the forces of evil.
Art on the series was done by Phil Davis, and later by Fred Fredericks. Following Lee Falk's death, Fredericks took over writing the series as well.
Mandrake's adventures provide examples of:
- Animated Adaptation: Mandrake has been animated twice, in the 1972 special The Man Who Hated Laughter and the 1986 series Defenders of the Earth. He co-starred with other King Features characters in both projects.
- Badass Moustache: Of the pencil-thin variety, which few good guys can pull off so well.
- Bald of Awesome: Lothar
- Bash Brothers: Lothar and Mandrake
- Beta Couple: Lothar and Karma
- Black Sheep: Mandrake's evil twin brother Derek and evil half-brother Cobra
- The Big Guy: Lothar
- Calling Card: The Clay Camel would always leave a small clay camel figurine at the scene of a crime, and whenever he escaped capture. His daughter, The Brass Monkey, did a similar thing.
- Captain Ersatz: Mandrake had many imitators in The Golden Age of Comic Books, most of them with an almost identical costume and moustache. The one that is best remembered today is DC Comics's Zatara, father of Justice League member Zatanna. Another who pops up once in a while in current DC Comics is Fawcett Comics's Ibis the Invincible, a revived Ancient Egyptian who wears a turban instead of a top hat.
- Comic Book Time
- Cool Old Guy: Mandrake's dad Theron.
- Crossover: As an African prince, Lothar is invited to The Phantom's wedding. Mandrake gets to tag along.
- Everything's Better with Princesses: Princess Narda
- Evil Twin: Derek
- Fair for Its Day: Lothar being an African prince as well as the team muscle may seem very stereotypical. But compared to almost any other black characters in the forties and fifties, he was portrayed with much respect and dignity.
- Lothar was originally just a Scary Black Man who accompanied Mandrake like a servant, carried luggage and beat people up if the plot called for it; he also tended to vanish whenever he wasn't needed in a story. Upgrading him to an independent and smart True Companion with lines and his own background story was a pretty huge advancement.
- Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Magic, aliens, robots, parallel universes, time travel, you name it, Mandrake has encountered it at some point.
- Genius Bruiser: Lothar is strong and intelligent
- Home Base: Xanadu
- Informed Attractiveness: Lee Falk sometimes went to extreme lengths to point out just how beautiful Narda is.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: Mandrake's memory has been "fixed" several times, usually by well-meaning, but condescending aliens and time-travellers who think it's too dangerous to let him remember all the fantastic things he has seen.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: Theron
- Magicians Are Wizards
- Master of Disguise: The Clay Camel
- And later his daughter, The Brass Monkey.
- Master of Illusion: Mandrake gestures hypnotically
- Meet Cute: Mandrake first meets Princess Narda after two of her servants try to mug him.
- Mental Picture Projector: Mandrake can make a subject's memories appear as moving images on a wall
- Nice Hat
- The Notable Numeral: The villainous 8 gang
- Power Crystal: The Crystal Cube, source of tremendous magical power, watched over by Theron at the College.
- Pull a Rabbit Out of My Hat
- Rebellious Prince: Lothar
- Scary Black Man: Lothar, again
- Shamgri La: Collegium Magikos, the College of Magic in the Himalayas
- Stage Magician
- The Syndicate: The "8" Gang, led by Octon who is finally revealed as Cobra.
- Tunnel King: The Mole, a genius inventor with a headmounted broad-beam heat ray capable of vaporising rock. It was so effective, his regular outfit included a jetpack so he could keep up. Naturally, he used it to steal from banks.
- Villain Exit Stage Left: The Clay Camel would almost always get away in the end by disguising himself into an inconspicuous bystander or police officer and sneak away. The heroes would then realize they've been foiled when they find a discarded disguise and one of his Calling Card camel figurines. The Brass Monkey used the same trick.
- Wizarding School: Collegium Magikos
- World's Strongest Man: Lothar