Sacha Baron Cohen Is Mandrake The Magician! (... Wait, Who Now?)
Finally! Cease your clamoring, millennials!
Last week, Sony Pictures announced that it had signed action star/sirloin slab Dwayne Johnson to star in a Doc Savage film. Last night came reports that Sacha Baron Cohen has been attached to Warner Bros.' upcoming big screen adaption of classic hero/gadabout/mesmerist Mandrake the Magician.
So basically it's a been a big couple of weeks for characters whose names are on everyone's lips, if we define "everyone" to mean "your gran-gran's mah-jongg circle."
No, that's unfair: Both heroes have displayed remarkable staying power in the decades since they first appeared (Doc in 1933, Mandrake in 1934).
Mandrake, for example, initially made his name in daily and Sunday newspaper comic strips. In 1939 he got himself a 12-chapter Columbia movie serial. He has appeared on radio and in Big Little Books; comics by Harvey, Dell, Marvel and Dynamite; a 1979 NBC TV movie, and was one of the stars of a fondly remembered '80s animated series, Defenders of the Earth.
So: Durable, certainly. But a household name? Not so much.
So here's a primer to get you up to speed:
Mandrake the Magician
Name: Mandrake. That's it. Just Mandrake. Like Cher. But Mandrake.
Occupation: ... Magician. Duh. Look, at least pretend to pay attention.
First Appearance: June 11, 1934, in a King Features comic strip.
Created By: Writer Lee Falk (who would go on to create The Phantom, just three years later) and artist Phil Davis.
Costume: Top hat, tails, vermilion-lined cape. Also, a thin mustache. Think John Waters at the opera.
Special Skills: Can hypnotize anyone instantly. More specifically, by combining his powers of mesmerism with ventriloquism and illusion techniques learned in (wait for it) Tibet — he can make anyone believe whatever he wishes him to.
Over the years, he has inevitably succumbed to power bloat, gaining the ability to fly, turn himself invisible, read minds, etc. But these powers come and go — mostly, he's a master, instantaneous hypnotist.
Sidekick: Mmm. Well, let's go with "companion" here. Lothar is a Prince of Seven Nations (read: jungle tribes), and the Strongest Man in the World.
Love Interest: Narda, princess of the tiny European nation of Cockaigne. No, seriously.
Archnemesis: The Cobra, later revealed to be his half-brother, because: comics.
Other Foes: The Clay Camel! The Brass Monkey! And ... Derek!
... OK, Derek is Mandrake's twin brother, who is really more of a lazy nuisance than a real villain, which is fortunate, given that Derek is a lousy villain name. I mean, it's no THE COBRA!
So there you have it. That's the dossier.
Because Mandrake featured both a uniform and supernatural powers and appeared a full four years before Superman, there are some — notably comics historian Don Markstein — who consider him the world's first superhero.
If so, maybe the upcoming film, set to be directed by Etan Cohen, will give him his due. All we know is that it will bring Mandrake into the modern world by having him be recruited by the American government. No word on whether the Clay Camel will put in an appearance, however, so for now the nation's tweens must remain on tenterhooks.