Spotlight on Analysis - Mandrake the Magician
Mandrake is a series about Mandrake, a stage magician and hypnotist, in his diverse adventures in a wide variety of environments. In the beginning Mandrake was described as having real magic powers. This slowly disappeared, or were converted to more (quasi-) scientific ability, such as telepathy or abilities achieved with the help of the Crystal Cube. Mandrake's hypnotic ability was dominant between 1940 and 1960. Then his other abilities increased again, especially with the help of the Crystal Cube.
The other main character in the series is Mandrake's longtime fiancée and now wife, Princess Narda. She abdicated from the tiny European kingdom Cockaigne. Her, first villainous, brother Prince Segrid also belonging to the family. The servant and later partner Lothar, Prince of a small African kingdom, has assisted Mandrake in almost every adventure. A dense recurrent figure is police Chief Bradley in New York, whose name almost never mentioned. Another character who first appeared in the 50s is the magician Theron, grand master of the College of Magic in Tibet where Mandrake was schooled in his youth. Eventually we learn that Theron is Mandrake's real father. In the family is also Mandrake’s unscrupulous twin brother Derek and their sister |Lenore, who is an explorer and adventurer. Since the 1980s the family also counts Mandrake's oldest arch-villain and half brother, Luciphor aka the Cobra.
Relatively few of the opponents returning in the ongoing strips, with the exception of the Cobra and the global gangster league 8 - that like an octopus has eight arms that Mandrake insist on chopping off one after the other. Today, more than eight arms cut off, and the reader has found out who the Octon, the mysterious leader of the organization is - without getting too much surprised.
The household in the lonely castle-like manor Xanadu is also a Japanese chef Hojo and Lothar’s girlfriend Princess Karma. Both are extensions from the 70s. The global police force Inter-Intel with its mysterious chief, acting through a robot (= Hojo) is also late additions. An old friend is Emperor Magnon of the central galaxy, which contributed greatly to the science-fiction element in the stories, which has come to dominate the strips in recent decades.
In the daily and Sunday strips a different personal gallery occurs. As an example, Narda appears not in the Sunday strips until the late 1940's and Magnon occurs almost exclusively in the Sunday pages. The Cobra and the Clay Camel occurs only in the daily strips during Davis' era but in the era of Fredericks also in the Sunday strips. Overall the daily and Sunday strips mixed more under the Fredericks' era.
Visitors from other planets are rather frequent guests in the series and usually has an exotic look, if they do not look like earth people. Underwater civilizations and lost mysterious civilizations in the forgotten corners of the world are also common. Invaders from the Mirror World, about the world that lies on the other side mirrors has been an original and exciting world in the daily stories since 1944. Giants and little people also appears sometimes, while such a thing as supernatural beings more rarely. The Crystal Cube in recent years has had to pay for the attempt to explain Mandrake's magical ability in more so called scientific terms.
The most frequent opponents of Mandrake and his friends have been quite ordinary thieves and bandits, like robbers or scammers of all kinds who tried to cheat people in different ways. Both Davis and Fredericks has also made an effort to draw villains, so that there should be any doubt about the person's character.
An analysis of the motives in Mandrake the Magician should include an analysis of Lee Falk's second creation, the Phantom. This does not fit in this context, but it should be noted that there are many direct parallels between Falk’s two characters and their universe.
During Mandrake’s first few years the magic is consideration, but soon Falk wrote in an element of explanation in the series. Every fantastic event, especially in the daily strips are to be explained so that the reader gains an understanding of what really happened. This gives rise to two very different types of main motif of the same course of events in the stories.
The first is when a fantastic event or incomprehensible events appears to have a natural explanation, usually in the form of one or villain yanking unsuspecting people and unexplained event are involved.
This is very common in the years 1940 - 1950 where Mandrake meet villains disguised as Medusa, werewolves, etc., and his task is to uncover and expose them using his sharp magical skills. The paradox arises from the illusion reveals the illusion. Ie Mandrake illusion reveals the opponent's illusion. Overall, the illusion is a central motif in the stories of Mandrake.
The other main motif is when a fantastic event proves to be an equally fantastic explanation, usually in the form of a science-fiction element of any kind. As for example when Mandrake meets alien astronauts on vacation on Earth or has come quite a long way to conquer our planet in the silence. In these stories, it becomes more a question of disclosure than an explanation and Mandrake are often as surprised as the reader (for not to mention Narda and Lothar).
In the Sunday stories the fantasy angle are common, and it is not uncommon for Mandrake to find himselves in a situation that have a non-natural explanation. Even in these stories the explanation of the mysterious events is important.
One can say that in the Sunday strips, mainly in 1940, there is a certain fairy tale atmosphere. Where Mandrake through long travels around the Earth, meets strange places that enhances the mood of folk tales or fairy tales. The story of the Flame Pearls is perhaps the best example of this.
Another story from 1940 years portrays a visit to the Kingdom of Marvel, a fantasy country where a technology civilization in conflict with an agar civilization.
A common theme of the series is that the main characters are traveling. In Sunday series Mandrakeis usually are invited on long journeys at sea. In the years 1940-1942 he travels with the ship Argos, in the years 1944-1946 with the Raven and he is on a new journey with Argos in the years 1948-1950. And in 1986 Mandrake are invited on board the ship Kraken. In all, many exotic stories of the protagonists depends on that they travel a lot all over the world - and outside it when needed.
During Davis' era it was seldom that it was portrayed that Mandrake had a home. A few times it is described that he spends a quiet evening in an anonymous house when suddenly something exciting happens.
Surprises, unexpected events and strong contrasts are very common in the series. As a true illusionist the author Falk wants to trick us into believing that what we see is something completely different, that truth is equivalent to the action.
The series is almost dialectical in its composition, which is also emphasized by the art style. Primarily in 1940 Davis developed an extremely naive drawing style where people seem to be in a frozen positions, always in the middle between parts of a movement. A drawing of Davis showing a running person gives a feeling that the person has frozen in time.
In many cases one can explain the stories of Falk as a veritable hallucination, where Mandrake magical gesture changes the perspective of what we see and thus increases our empathy and understanding of life. The reality is understood by the opposite or its mirror image. The reality is a reflection that is not always so clear.
Often Mandrake, through his magical gestures, transforms things to their opposites or anything else that is related to the real object through an association or a parallel. The most extreme example of this mirror effect are stories where Mandrake visit or have contact with the mirror world where everything has its counterpart.
Mandrake often encounters lilliput or giants, and in this way the settings understood and described by multiple perspectives. He continues the tradition of "Jonathan Swift" and teaches us to examine life from different perspectives to get a fuller picture of reality. One can benefit from also compare this technique with cartoonist Bill Fingers version of Bob Kane's Batman just how disruption of daily life leads to surprises and astonishing events.
As in the superhero series, or maybe even better as in Dick Tracy world, the bandits have certain external and internal features. There are cat women with vertical eyes, one Medusa has snakes in her hair, etc. The villains in the series is not as obvious as in Dick Tracy, but there are tendencies. Often it turns out that it is hidden behind a fantastic mask to be quite common and not very mysterious.
There are actually four different types of villains in the series that often occur:
- Pirates (land, sea and in the air or space)
- Regular robber
- Fabulous costume villains
- Competitors to Mandrake
Mandrake family has eventually made its impact on the series. From having left Mandrake be without any background the first 15 years the series has in recent years been the other way, and have a lot of focus on his background.
Some mystery about Mandrake and his ability is hardly there anymore. So-called natural explanations have come to dominate over those revealing and surprise, and the series has thus become quite boring in recent years.
But there are adventures with the opposite tendency, for example, during the last few years where Mandrake, include the attack of a time-traveler magicians from the 1400s which apparently uses magic to travel in time.
Falk has shown a very large playfulness in the series, which is particularly evident in the visual results of Mandrake gestures. Perspective changes and contrasts results with a hypnotic gesture results in a joke at the expense villain, preferably with some moral twist at the end.
This was very evident in the period of the late 1930s, when the Sunday series contained many single page episodes built on a surprise joke. Overall, the series of Davis' time in many ways, a humoristic series. Fredericks succeeds not so good with this as his style is based on a realistic drawing tradition.
Another variant of the dialectical perspective is that Mandrake often face an evil version of himself, from his reflection from the Mirror World and the Cobra to bandits who want to learn hypnosis.
Often Mandrake meets wealth and power, a common motif is the rich person who believes that everything is for sale. In previous stories were often wealthy men who wanted Narda, because she was so incredibly beautiful. But Mandrake was able to show that a magical gesture and a noble heart outweighs the money in the bank.
Dreams also play a role in the series, and sometimes an amazing event are explained as the person (often Narda) have been dreaming or something? Another common motif in science fiction episodes are aliens or time travelers that take away their memory of the wonderful experience.
The first 40 years the figures in the series had a pretty square, clearly and naive character. During Frederick's time, Mandrake, and above all Narda and Lothar become more politically correct. Narda can now among other karate, flying airplanes, etc., but has retained his impulsive temperament since the beginning. Lothar is in addition to strong now well trained and rooted in the African American culture. He is being hereditary prince and is engaged to a princess. The ethnic complexity amplified also by Hojo with his double identity and super brain.
Finally the series deserves approach to violence special mention. For there is very little violence in the series. Falk has a slightly different tone in the Phantom, where fights and violence solve almost all problems (albeit with a bit of elegance).
In Mandrake the illusion is what dissolves the threat of violence, often also strike back at the offender or sets the villain in a situation where violence is impossible to realize.
A threat from a pistol dissolves through a magical gesture that turns the gun into something harmless, also jokingly. The smile disarms it dangerous. Conflicts and threats dissolve into smaller components. It is easy ridiculously dangerous and no longer dangerous.
The few times Mandrake and Lothar using rew muscle power it has almost the character of providing a rapid and clinically "clean" cleaning process.
This article is based on a text by Magnus Magnusson from 2003.
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