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Was Mandrake the Magician the First Superhero in Comics?

Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.

The World's First Superhero?

Long before Superman fell to Earth from the planet Krypton, before Batman skulked in the shadows, before Spiderman shot his first web and before the assorted costumed guardians inhabited the comic world, there was one man who fought crime with a mere gesture of his hand and the power of super-fast hypnosis.

With his hair always perfectly coifed with Brylcreem, his rakish moustache perfectly shaped, his topcoat and tails never smudged, his cape draped artfully and his walking stick/magic wand ever poised, this man possessed the extraordinary ability to create illusions and fugue the mind of the ne’er-do-wells. He learnt his skills in a mystic retreat in the Himalayas, and he fought to protect the Earth not only from criminal masterminds but also from interdimensional beings.

Aided by his friend and companion, Lothar—and often by his lady love, Narda—this man knows no fear. By virtue of his first appearance in comic books in 1934, many agree that he is indeed the world's first superhero.

Ladies, gentlemen and children, please put your hands together for the astonishing world of Mandrake the Magician.

Mandrake Strip

Mandrake Strip


Who Created the Mandrake Comics?

Mandrake the Magician is the creation of popular comic writer Lee Falk (Leon Harrison Gross). He first appeared in the King’s Features syndicated newspaper comic strip in June 11,1934. Initially, Falk himself illustrated the strip, but soon he handed over the art to illustrator Phil Davis. Davis continued to draw Mandrake until his death in 1964. Fred Fredericks (Harold Fredericks Jr.) took over the artwork after that. When Falk himself died in 1999, Fredericks took over as both writer and artist.

Initially focused on magic and hypnosis, and then a science fiction slant, Falk's storylines later became more like adventure/detective thrillers focusing on unsolved crimes.

How the Strip Broke Ground in Comics

Mandrake is in many ways a pioneering comic strip. It was the first to depict an African-American character as part of a crime-fighting double act. Mandrake's constant companion Lothar, a dethroned African King, was comics' first positive depiction of an African-American. Mandrake always treated Lothar as his equal, and Lothar was the stronger of the two physically, often rescuing Mandrake from peril when his magic is thwarted.

Lothar with Mandrake

Lothar with Mandrake

Lee Falk, born Leon Harrison Gross (April 28, 1911 - March 13, 1999)

Lee Falk, born Leon Harrison Gross (April 28, 1911 - March 13, 1999)

Biography of Lee Falk

Lee Falk had a childhood fascination with stage magicians and escape artists such as Harry Houdini. Mandrake was born out of this fascination. Soon after, Lee went on to create an even more popular character, The Phantom.

Between Mandrake and The Phantom, Falk had syndication in over 500 newspapers across the world and was read by over 100 million readers everyday—the kind of commercial success few authors can dream of today.

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Falk's Rise to Fame

Born Leon Harrison Gross in St. Louis, Missouri, Falk changed his surname after leaving college. As his friends always used to call him ‘Lee’, his nom de plume officially became ‘Lee Falk’. Although original author profiles claimed that he was a globetrotter and adventurer, Lee had hardly travelled anywhere when he turned up at Kings Features Inc. to pitch Mandrake.

However, after achieving fame, Lee became a well-traveled author in his later days. During the Second World War, Falk had his own taste of adventure and intrigue when he served in the Department of Secret Intelligence, a branch of the Office of War Information.

Falk's other passion was stage plays. Over his lifetime, Lee produced over 300 plays off Broadway (especially in Nassau) and attracted many well-known actors and actresses, including Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, James Mason, Paul Newman, Eve Marie Saint, Shelley Winters and many others.

His Death and Legacy

Lee was a prolific writer who continued to produce Mandrake and Phantom stories from their inception in 1934 literally until days before his death from heart failure in 1999. He was still dictating stories on his deathbed. Falk became a name recognized by readers all over the world, and his comic creations are still being enjoyed by millions of readers across the age spectrum.

Strips and Books

After initially debuting as newspaper strips Mandrake appeared in comic book format in Dell’s Magic Comics #1 in 1936. He also enjoyed popularity along with The Phantom in Dell’s ‘Big Little books’

Mandrake has been successfully published as comic books and strips in Britain, Australia, Brazil, India, France, Spain, Italy, Yugoslavia, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Turkey and Sweden. My ifist introduction to Mandrake and Phantom were through the highly successful Indrajal comics line in India . Here the strips were published in color and in English, Hindi and other Indian languages.

Originally Mandrake used 'pure' magic to confound his enemies. The Christian right objected to use of witchcraft and wizardry that would corrupt young minds. Soon Falk had to revise the stories to make Mandrake use a purely hypnotic 'skill' rather than magic.


Good Guys and the Baddies

The Story universe of Mandrake is populated with many memorable characters. The Good guys and the baddies that feature more recurrently are listed below :



A famous Magician who could 'gesture hypnotically' in seconds, Mandrake can conjure up any illusion to the unsuspecting eye. Mandrake learnt his craft in the Collegiam Magikos in Himalayas under the tutelage of his father and the headmaster of said college, Theron. Mandrake helps police chief Bradley in solving seemingly unsolvable cases from the latters S.S.D ( Silly Stuff Department) - strange cases that bear no logical explanation. Mandrake is also able to connect to interdimensional world through his learning and has otherwordly adventures too. One can see the inspiration of Marvels Dr Strange is many ways. Mandrake lives in his high tech mountain top residence, Xanadu.


Mandrake's best friend and companion in the former's fight against crime, Lothar is the 'Prince of seven nations' who left Africa to join Mandrake to travel the world, abdicating his right to become the future king. Lothar was always portrayed as Mandrake's friend and equal- something unique in 1934. He is called the 'strongest man in the world' due to his sheer physical prowess and his unique physique helps extract Mandrake from many a fix where Magic may not work. Lothar's girlfriend is African Princess and supermodel 'Karma'.




Princess Narda has been Mandrake's companion and girlfriend since the inception of the comics. She is from the European nation of Cockaigne ( ruled by her brother Segrid) - although in some stories she has appeared as Mandrake's (Magician's) assistant, she has been his lady love until they eventually wed two years before Falk's death in 1997. This triple wedding took place in Xanadu ( Mandrake's residence), In Narda's home country and in the Collegium Magikos in Himalayas under the blessings of Mandrake's father Theron.




No one knows how old Mandrake's father Theron is. He is kept alive atop the Himalayas at the Collegium Magikos by the power of the mind crystals. Mandrake can communicated with his father through telepathy at key moments. Theron is both the headmaster of the Collegium and the guardian of the Mind Crystals. He has other children that Mandrake comes to learn about in later stories. Mandrake has a twin called Derek who has similar powers to him but uses them for nefarious purposes and a younger half-sister called Lenore.




Mandrake's chef at his secret residence Xanadu, Hojo is skilled not only in the culinary arts but also is a deft hand (and feet) at Martial arts. Hojo is also the chief of an international crimefighting organisation called Inter-Intel that seeks Mandrake's help in solving global crimes.

The Cobra

The Cobra

The Cobra

Mandrake chief antagonist is the criminal mastermind Cobra. After being defeated initially, Cobra returns to Mandrake's life wearing a silver mask and all the more menacing than before. Later Mandrake learns that The Cobra is actually Luciphor, Therons older son and step-brother to Mandrake ( It seems Theron has been busy in his long existence spawning many children who come back to aid or haunt Mandrake!)


Aleena the Enchantress

A fellow student of Mandrake at the Collegium, Aleena tries repeatedly to seduce Mandrake with no avail. She thwarts many of his plans and goes over to using her powers to a life of crime. Falk used the names Aleena in many story lines - Falk's mother was called Eleanor Alina!

The other baddies in Mandrake storylines include the master of disguise 'The Clay Camel' named so because he leaves a souvenir in the form of the clay camel at the crime scenes), An extra terrestrial called 'the Deleter' who can delete anyone from our timeline for a fee, Mandrakes twin Derek who sometimes get tangled up in crime and Mandrake's reverse alterego 'Ekradnam' who lives in an alternate timeline ( like the Bizarro in Superman) one can see how many comic writers took their inspirations from these pioneering storylines.

Film, TV and Radio

Mandrake has enjoyed some success in other media. After the success of the comic strips Columbia pictures decided to capitalise on the fame and produced a 12 part Saturday matinee serial of ' Mandrake the Magician'. Starring Warren Hull as Mandrake and Al Kikume as Lothar. The series enjoyed some success and is now available on DVD. (And on YouTube!) but is not quite true to the marvelous world created by Lee Falk.

From 1940 - 42 there was a Radio Serial of Mandrake by Mutual Broadcasting System. With the voice cast of Raymond Edward Johnson as Mandrake and Juano Hernandez as Lothar.

A pilot was made by NBC in 1954 but it was never commissioned as a series. It starred real-life magician Coe Norton as Mandrake, Woody Strode as Lothar and Lisa Howard as Princess Narda

An unaccredited Turkish film was also made called 'Mandrake Killing'e Karsi' in 1967 starring Güven Erte as Mandrake.

Mandrake and Lothar also featured as one of the characters in the animated series ' Defenders of Earth' ( DOE) made by Kings Features Syndicate. He featured along with The Phantom & Flash Gordon battling Ming the Merciless along with their fictitious offspring. It ran for over 60 episodes from 1986.

Mandrake on the Modern Big Screen?

Warner Brothers have acquired the rights for a film version that has been in and out of pre-production for some time under various banners. News from 2012 reported that they are trying to make a franchise like 'Sherlock Holmes' out of Mandrake.


How to Find Mandrake Online

You can read many Mandrake strips online on this wonderful blog/tribute site to get a flavour of these comics and storylines: Mandrake the Magician.


The Magic of Mandrake in My Childhood

For a young mind thirsty for books and stories, Mandrake and Phantom presented distant worlds of magic and mystique, adventure and intrigue, crime and redemption, humour and hijinks. I treasured those tattered old copies of comics that let me escape into a world of my own when I grew up away from many unpleasantness and heartache.

It just goes to show how much those childhood influences still last. My love for comic books and graphic novels never waned. Lee Falk was a magnificent creator who gave me two of my most beloved characters from my childhood.

He was, in fact, the real magician.

© 2012 Mohan Kumar


Cornelius Nolitta from Roma, Italia on July 09, 2019:

Mandrake e the Phantom sono tra i miei più bei ricordi di ragazzo.

Aman on February 19, 2013:

Good effort on the hub. Keep it up.

You and your readers might enjoy the following online resources.

Latest Mandrake comic strips online:

Mandrake fan forum:

Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on October 01, 2012:

Wow, this is something I did not know. Thanks for this interesting story of Mandrake The Magician.

Eiddwen from Wales on September 15, 2012:

A great read.

Nell Rose from England on September 06, 2012:

Wow! I missed out on a superhero? fascinating look into this early one, and great hub, can't wait for the film now! voted up and sharing, nell

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on September 06, 2012:

Rahul- Mandrake always appealed to me as he was not just sheer physical strength but relied on mental powers to fight crime.. they were always a fun read and you wont be disappointed if you read some. there are a lot of online archives that store Mandrake strips. it reminds me to add a link. Thank you!

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on September 06, 2012:

Bruce- attics are always a great treasure hunt location whether it is comics or a sneaky Playboy centrefold. My dad too had a few Carter Brown paperbacks that were perhaps not rated PG! Glad you enjoyed this hub. you are very kind.

Ruchira- glad you enjoyed this. Thank you!

Mama Kim- appreciate your visit and comment. thank you very much!

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on September 06, 2012:

Ruby, Montuckyblogs and Nithya- thank you so much for your visit and appreciation.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on September 06, 2012:

Michelle- you are right. superheroes are just modern versions of archetypal heroes in Mythology like Hercules and Odysseus.... they can tell us a tale of courage valour and sacrifice.

Mary- much appreciated. Glad you liked this long, info filled hub and hope it was fun to read - Stan Lee is such a comic icon. There is a book called ' The amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay' that is a fantastic novel about the comic industry of the early thirties and forties and so much more. It won the pulitzer for Michael Chabon.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on September 06, 2012:

Dianna- glad I could bring back memories of The Phantom and Mandrake... they were my early favorites.

drbj- its good to find a fellow Mandrake enthusiast. He deserves a resurgence!

Mhatter- candy shops and comics - great place to grow up!

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on September 06, 2012:

Martie - I think every generation 'forbids' some activity down the line thinking it will corrupt young minds. I don't buy this... rather than forbid it I try to encourage scrutiny and safe enjoyment. My dad was an avid comics reader and he was kind enough to let me join in the fun. thank you!

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on September 06, 2012:

Chitra- we were lucky in India that the comics/book reading and film culture started early so we all got a good blast of such entertainment that fostered creativity. I am always grateful for the world of comics that sparked my interest so early

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on September 06, 2012:

Daisy- Thank you. as you know by know my OCD doesn't allow half-bakedness! I try to provide info with interest and I am glad this works.

Jessee R from Gurgaon, India on September 06, 2012:

A great tribute to the worlds first super icon... I have always liked him... not read or seen him a lot.. but liked him...

and now you have evoked much interest in me.. to delve into him..

thank you for enlightening me :)

Aloe Kim on September 05, 2012:

I've never heard of Mandrake. What a great hub too ^_^ So much information and interesting at every turn! Thank you, it was a very enjoyable read ^_^ voted a bunch and shared.

Ruchira from United States on September 04, 2012:

Blast from the Past, Doc.

I remember reading these comics as a kid/teen. Gotta get them from my parent's house next time I visit India.

Voted up as awesome!!

UltimateMovieRankings from Virginia on September 04, 2012:

Awesome hub on the forgetten superhero Mandrake the Magician. Thes brings me back to my childhood days and searching my grandmother's attic looking for hidden dad and his brother kept lots of their childhood treasures up in the attic. Mandrake comics were read and reread almost every other of my favorite comics from their childhood comics....maybe not as popular as the 1965 Playboy Magazine that was up there....but in the Top 5.

I enjoyed reading the history and origin of Mandrake...very informative and interesting.....your hubs are among the best here in Hub land....voted up and awesome.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on September 02, 2012:

I have read these comics and I used to enjoy them thoroughly. Awesome hub and very well researched. Enjoyed reading. Voted up.

montuckyblogs from Helena, MT on September 02, 2012:

Very well researched article. I like to read hubs and learn something, and you certainly did that for me.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on September 02, 2012:

This is a wonderful presentation. I am not familiar with Mandrake The Magician. I used to read comic books and the Sunday comic strip all the time, so i can't imagine why i didn't know about him. I loved reading the history surrounding him and his partner Lothar. A movie would be a hit i'm sure. Thank you..Fantastic piece...

Mary Craig from New York on September 02, 2012:

A fantastic, comprehensive tribute to Mandrake! You've covered it all as usual. I remember Mandrake but wasn't that interested as a young girl. On the other hand, I've always been a comic book fan. I have had the pleasure of meeting one of the illlustrators of Spiderman and our beloved Stan Lee lives in the area and I've seen him several times...but I digress.

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.l

Michelle Liew from Singapore on September 02, 2012:

Docmo, if we look beyond the entertainment, Superheros can teach us so much about equality and respect, like Mandrake does. Even his name is well constructed!! I have been a fan of Marvel since childhood and till this day admire the way the comic series generates such diverse and profound characters. I even have a game on PlayStation!! Thanks for a riveting read, which I share and tweet.

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on September 01, 2012:

This takes me back. One of my first jobs was a candy store. We sold comic books. Mandrake had his fans. So... how do you keep a kid from eating all the candy? Let him.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on September 01, 2012:

Mandrake and Lothar would love this tribute, Docmo. I'm old enough (keep it to yourself) to remember this comic strip - one of my favorites. Though I don't remember all the other characters you mentioned. Mandrake was my hero and it's about time the movies recognized that. He could become bigger than the Hulk, stronger than the Iron Man, and more amazing than SpiderMan. Thanks for enlarging my Mandrake trivia education. Well done and deserving of an Up.

Dianna Mendez on September 01, 2012:

I remember Mandrake and Phantom comics. I had forgotten about them until I read through your hub. These were popular with everyone and equal the present day superhero craze. I enjoyed reading through the history and the details of the creator as well. Voted up.

Martie Coetser from South Africa on September 01, 2012:

Very interesting article about Mandrake The Magician! Reading comics was forbidden in our home, but I know my father read them all where no-one except my mother could see him. So this Mandrake The Magician looks kind of familiar to me :) Interesting: people's need to read about people with super powers, and so pleasing their own wish to conquer all adversary. Voted up, informative, interesting, well-presented and the works :) Docmo, your hubs always impress!