Dynamite is about to make some magic with the first super magician of comics that was inspiration for other mystical characters like Zatara and Doctor Strange - Mandrake the Magician!
Dynamite’s new King label, which relaunches some of their popular pulp titles as mini-series, kicks off with Mandrake by writer Roger Langridge and artist Jeremy Treece. The mini-series dives more into Mandrake’s history and serves as a great jumping on point for this 80 year-old character. Newsarama talked to both Langridge and Treece about the project, the thrill of working on such a character with a lasting legacy, and what to expect later on.
Newsarama: Roger, Jeremy, Dynamite has this line of pulp comics from Prince Valiant, to Flash Gordon to guys like Mandrake, were you ever a fan of the old Mandrake strips?
Roger Langridge: I used to read Mandrake as a young kid. My mother used to collect the Sundays in a scrapbook for my brother and me; this would have been in the early 1970s. So when I was offered the chance to write Mandrake I thought I'd do it for her, really. I think she would have liked that I ended up being the guy who wrote his adventures.
Jeremy Treece: The Mandrake strips were never presented to me when I was younger, but this project has definitely opened me up to them as I now find myself fumbling through the back catalogue to pick up some -isms from Phil Davis and Fred Fredericks as a nod in respect for the character.
Nrama: So Jeremy, so you've been sort of laying low for a while from sequential comics and doing more of your own thing. What was it about Mandrake that made you want to get back into the fold?
Treece: Mandrake sparked my interest after working with Dynamite on the Flash Gordon Annual. Getting involved with the humorous script of the Ben Blacker/Ben Acker duo was really a great experience. My editor Nate Cosby seen the work I was doing on it and offered me to try out for Mandrake. He sent me the script to see if I’d be interested, and the idea of working with a magical character where really anything is possible was too good to pass up.
Nrama: Does the series lean more of the comedic side or does it play up the more super-heroics?
Treece: The series starts with majestic imagery that supports an action driven book. The title is wonderfully light and fun, and Roger really plays up the fact of how charming the master magician is.
Langridge: Yeah, it's essentially a dramatic story, but Mandrake makes jokes because he's a rounded human being and that's in his character. I'm playing him a bit like a matinee idol from Hollywood's golden age - even in a Alfred Hitchcock movie, Cary Grant would make wisecracks. And Mandrake's a performer, so it seems natural that he'd speak entertainingly. That said, the stakes aren't jokey in any way; the danger in the story is about as serious as it gets.
Nrama: So tell us about the series... who is Mandrake's opposition here? What's going on with his life this time around? Is it more of an origin story or we diving right in?
Langridge: I deliberately wanted to avoid an origin story. I like the idea that Mandrake is a bit of a mystery. In this series we find out a few things about him, but the things we find out only raise more questions, and I think that's as it should be. The newspaper strip started out that way, not revealing his origin for a long time, and I thought that was a really appealing way to handle the character.
We know as much as we need to know about him for the purposes of our story, though – anyone can jump in here and not be confused. In a nutshell, we join Mandrake after Kings Watch, when the earth's technology was incapacitated after Ming the Merciless's invasion attempt and Mandrake's wife, Narda, has left him to become leader of the Cobra cult, Mandrake's greatest enemies. That's about all you need to know. Then we're off and running!
Nrama: Roger, what was it about Jeremy's art that appealed to you that seemed like a perfect fit for Mandrake?
Langridge: Jeremy's got kind of a quirky, modern style: a bit Tim Burton, a bit Skottie Young – and, of course, a whole lot of Jeremy. It's quite different from the established look of the Mandrake strip, but it's entirely appropriate for the kind of story we're telling – he can evoke a kind of gothic, Halloweeny atmosphere, and we're going to be getting a bit spooky before we're done. So, yeah – it's a fresh visual approach, while still hitting an appropriate tone for the story, and I think that will be a bit of a shot in the arm for the feature. And Jeremy's been giving it 110% in the attention-to-detail department. I think people will be blown away, frankly.
Nrama: What do you guys think it is about Mandrake that separates him from other mystical or supernatural heroes? Do you think it's the time period he originated from or is it something else?
Langridge: For me, writing Mandrake, I tried never to lose sight of the fact that he was a professional entertainer first and foremost, so he's naturally a lot more gregarious, charismatic and outgoing than a lot of other mystical characters, who tend to have more than a whiff of the haunted loner about them. The strip has always been about Mandrake's friendships and relationships with others, particularly with Lothar; to me, that friendship is the anchor around which the whole feature revolves. In our story, although Lothar isn't physically there for much of it, the fact of his absence is in its own way a kind of constant presence. I think that willingness to connect with others on a human level, as well as his general charisma and good humor, make Mandrake pretty much unique among mystical characters.
Treece: I'm excited to learn more about Mandrake honestly. This project gives me the ability to follow along with the readers and be just as surprised as they are I hope that the faithful followers will also enjoy the steps forward into that world as well.
Nrama: Lastly, what can readers expect from this series later on down the line?
Langridge: In broad strokes, the story's about loss, redemption, friendship and forgiveness. More particularly, there will be intrigue, thrills, big-ass demons, medieval castles and magic, magic, magic! Mandrake's been "gesturing hypnotically" for years not because he can't do real magic, but because real magic has a terrible price. We'll be exploring that – and hopefully opening up some possibilities for whoever follows us on Mandrake in the future.