Mr. Mystic. Artist: Bob Powell.


Medium: Newspaper comic book
Distributed by: Register and Tribune Syndicate
First Appeared: 1940
Creators: Will Eisner and Bob Powell
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Superman is generally regarded as the progenitor of the superhero genre. But many of the superheroes that populated …

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… American comic books during the early 1940s owed more to an earlier costumed, super-powered comics hero, Mandrake the Magician.

These magician heroes came in various sub-genres. Some, such as DC Comics' Zatara and Street & Smith's fictionalized version of Blackstone, wore a stage magician's tuxedo with tails, just like Mandrake. Others, including Fawcett's Ibis the Invincible and All-American's Sargon the Sorcerer, wore an alternate outfit popular among stage magicians, a regular business suit augmented with a cape and a turban. Zanzibar the Magician wore a fez. Mr. Mystic (no relation) was an early example of the turban wearers.

He was a product of the Eisner-Iger studio, which was also responsible for such diverse features as Blackhawk and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle — as well as a similar and very short-lived character named Yarko the Great (who started in British comics in 1939 and made one American appearance, in an issue published the same year by Fox Feature Syndicate). Mr. Mystic made his debut along with The Spirit and Lady Luck, in an innovative Sunday newspaper section designed like a 16-page comic book. The whole package was distributed by The Register and Tribune Syndicate (Jane Arden, Louisiana Purchase), and the first one came out June 2, 1940. The early four-page stories were probably written by the studio's creative director, Will Eisner. They were drawn by studio artist Bob Powell, who was later involved with Cave Girl, The Man in Black, and other lesser known but highly regarded comic books. When Powell went off to war in 1943, Fred Guardineer (who did several of the magician superheroes at one time or another) filled in.

Mr. Mystic's mystic powers, like those of Thunderbolt, Dr. Droom, Iron Fist and many others, came from that most popular of mystic power sources, Tibet. A two-fisted adventurer named Ken, no last name given, crash-landed there while on a mission to ensure world peace. The monks who pulled him from the wreckage declared him an extraordinarily potent prophet, one they'd been expecting to fall out of the sky right about now, according to prophecies going back 70 centuries (longer than recorded history, but who's counting?). Unlike most heroes who got powered up in that locale, Ken didn't have to undergo the tedium of study and sacrifice over a period of years, but was able to make his wishes come true soon as they tattooed an arcane symbol on his forehead. Once the origin was taken care of, he went on to complete his mission — apparently successfully, at least within the parameters of the story; but considering World War II still had five years to run, maybe not elsewhere.

Of the three features in that Sunday comic book section, Mr. Mystic was the least successful. His adventures weren't reprinted by Quality Comics, like the other two, and his was the first of the three series to end. His final adventure appeared May 14, 1944.

During the 1970s and '80s, several of Mr. Mystic's stories were reprinted in black and white, in The Spirit magazine, published by Kitchen Sink Press (which had its origins in underground comix of the late 1960s and early '70s). In 1990, Eclipse Enterprises (Destroyer Duck, Ms. Tree) put out a oneshot comic book, reprinting his first five stories. In 2004, he appeared in a collection of John Law stories published by IDW (Jon Sable). And that's about all anyone has recently seen of Mr. Mystic.


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Text ©2004-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Will Eisner.