Mandrake and the Phantom were created by Lee Falk. They were both the stars of extremely popular comic strips that were part of King Features Syndicate. Mandrake and Lothar were guests at the Phantom's and Diana's wedding. A bit of dialogue in that strip suggests that the Phantom and Mandrake know each other, but discounting Defenders of the Earth, they haven't actually teamed up before. That makes this Phantom Annual an event that's far more significant than, say, a rip-off of Mothra eating time.
Our story begins with a Big Bad named Locke torturing Dajan Okembe. The night ends badly for Mr. Okembe, and Samicier Goncalves pulls the perfect look for him as he meets death. It's a look that combines surprise and absolute terror.
Dajan's murder pulls in Mandrake, performing his illusions at a nearby show, and Lothar. Lothar began somewhat badly in the comic strip, and it's actually Defenders of the Earth under the direction of Stan Lee that best revamped him for a modern audience. Here, Lothar takes a page from his television incarnation and serves as Mandrake's professional bodyguard. Mandrake considers him a brother. So their relationship has evolved for the better over the years.
Dajan is Lothar's cousin. After some plausible friction between Lothar and Mandrake, over the potential of Dajan's involvement in nefarious deeds, the duo investigate . This brings them into conflict with Locke's men. Mandrake disposes of them using his signature illusions, fertilely imagined by Goncalves. In a latter scene, Goncalves springs a variation of Mandrake's memorable multiplication magic.
In case you forgot just whose book this is, Goncalves reminds you with a stunning splash page of the Ghost Who Walks. Jason Jenson enhances the texture of the art with a deep purple costume sporting eggplant shadows.
Bullock and Grevioux prologue the Phantom's proper entrance into the story with a Bond-like technique. The Phantom is just finishing up a case, and the writers with Goncalves and Jenson make it an exciting one. The Phantom astride Hero gallops into the story naturally. Locke, Mandrake and Lothar come to Bangalla, and the Phantom must protect the McGuffin from the Big Bads that would exploit it.
Not all McGuffins, a word coined by Alfred Hitchcock, mean something to the story. They are the catalysts to the chase or the hunt. The McGuffin in The Phantom Annual is actually another modernization. Not too long ago, there was a big weight loss fad that was based on an African root, and the McGuffin grows from that same branch. The nature of the McGuffin provides a really good threat that demands the Phantom and Mandrake work together.
Mike Bullock and Kevin Grevioux could have slacked off and let the momentum of the event be the story. Instead they draw the potently characterized Phantom, Mandrake and Lothar into a solid story that's evocatively illustrated by Goncalves and Jenson.
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