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Mandrake the Magician… The Movie? Warner Bros Acquires Film Rights

Hollywood has never had a first come, first serve policy for which comics heroes get their own feature films, but the oldest of old-school heroes may finally get his turn on the silver screen: According to The Hollywood Reporter‘s Heat Vision blog, Warner Bros. has picked up the rights to make a Mandrake movie.Mandrake was the creation of Lee Falk, the cartoonist responsible for The Phantom (who got his ill-fated shot at cinematic glory in a 1996 Billy Zane vehicle), and was your typical Golden Age stage magician-as-crime fighter. His adventures began in a self-titled newspaper comic strip in 1934, which is still in publication, albeit now being written and drawn by Fred Fredericks.

The well-dressed Mandrake fought crime in a tuxedo, top hat and dress cape, and wore a sharp mustache. His magical powers included the ability to hypnotize others, and, depending on how one wants to define the term, that may have made Mandrake the first comics superhero; he fought crime with his extra-ordinary powers, although he did it in a comic strip, rather than a comic book. Superman, who gave us the “super-” part of the “superhero” formulation, followed four years later.

Mandrake had dozens of imitators over the years, most notably Zatara — the father of DC Comics’ Zatanna — who debuted alongside Superman in Action Comics #1 and died in 1986′s Swamp Thing #50. (It may be worth noting that Warner Bros. also own the rights to the Zatara and Zatanna characters.)

While Mandrake hasn’t appeared in a feature film before, he did star in a 1939 serial, a 1940-42 radio program, a 1979 made-for-TV movie and was one of several comic strip heroes featured in the 1986 cartoon series Defenders of the Earth. And, of course, he appeared in comic books, from the likes of publishers Pioneer, King and, more recently, Marvel and Moonstone.

The Hollywood Reporter reports a Mandrake film has been in some stage of development for a while now, and that “Warners now wants to give the character a 21st century makeover, the same way it did for Sherlock Holmes, and is on the hunt for new writers.”

One potential pitfall of the franchise is Mandrake’s manservant Lothar, an African prince who dressed like a strongman in an animal skin and fez and left his kingdom to instead served as the white hero’s bodyguard and valet. This… dynamic could prove a challenge for filmmakers in the same way as The Green Hornet’s relationship with his Asian driver and butler Kato or Dr. Strange’s relationship with his manservant Wong — if Marvel ever gets around to a film starring the Sorcerer Supreme. And they better hurry if Warners is working on a Mandrake movie; is there room in Hollywood for two mustachioed mystics?

While early portrayals of Lothar have often been singled out as examples of racist stereotypes and caricatures in comics, comics historian Don Markstein called Lothar “American comics’ first seriously-treated black character,” and that while his portrayal improved over the years — a 1965 revamp of the character changed his speech from broken to fluent English and swapped his animal skins for suits — he was “right from the start” treated as “an intelligent man and valuable ally.”

[Via The Hollywood Reporter]

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