Sunday, 15 March 2015

King: Mandrake The Magician #1 - Dynamite Entertainment

Despite heroically confronting gangsters, mad scientists and even extraterrestrials since he was first created by Lee Falk in 1934, the newspaper strip character of “Mandrake The Magician” has arguably struggled for any sort of comic book success since the Seventies and is probably best known since that time for his 1995 mini-series written by Mike Barr; albeit even then “Marvel Comics” only ever published two of the three planned issues of “Mandrake”. However following his significant role in the events of the 2013 “Kings Watch” five-issue story-arc by “Dynamite Entertainment” the popularity of the extraordinary hypnotist has enjoyed something of a revival.

Indeed the captivating conjurer’s contribution to Jeff Parker’s modern-day re-imagining of ‘Defenders Of The Earth’ proved such a success that the American publishing imprint of “Dynamic Forces” have now provided the mesmerizing magician with his own title under its “King” imprint; the first of four issues dedicated to portraying the illusionist as a solo adventurer.

Unsurprisingly Roger Langridge’s storyline for this mini-series picks up straight after Emperor Ming’s failed incursion of the planet, and finds Mandrake moodily remembering the fateful day his wife, Princess Narda of Cockaigne, betrayed his love and joined forces with his bitterest foe, the Cobra. What then follows is a basic straightforward yarn which sees the “false wizard” perform a charity gala in order to generate relief funds so as to help those “hit hardest by the recent invasion”. Naturally the aid event is a huge success but it also permits a female thief to break into Mandrake’s occult chamber in Xanadu and release the evil spirit Acheron. Bearing in mind that his long-time associate, Lothar, the World’s Strongest Man, has since become the latest incarnation of the Phantom, the emergency benefit also provides the conjurer with a replacement ‘sidekick’ in the guise of the African magic-user Karma.

What isn’t quite so simple to comprehend however is CEO Nick Barrucci’s choice of artist for this book being Jeremy Treece. The Detroit-based illustrator’s cartoony drawing style, whilst highly animated and furiously detailed, fails to provide any sense of mystic foreboding or sinister skullduggery as his pencils appear far too fun, jovial and light for such a story. Indeed there’s a splendid agelessness to the freelancer’s zanily bouncy characters which just jars with the serious undertones of the script, and genuinely seems better suited to the “Mandrake” cartoon strips of yesteryear than this comic book.
The variant cover art of "KING: MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN" No. 1 by Ron Salas

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