Not all comic-book superheroes derive their powers from radiation, toxic spider bites or mutated DNA strands—some are legitimately magical. Now, when I refer to magic, I don’t mean your standard pull-a-rabbit-out-of-a-hat-at-a-birthday-party magic, I’m talking otherworldly hocus-pocus. The kind that involves cheating death by joining your soul with Cthulhu’s next of kin. Challenging mythical creatures and gods to one-on-one combat. Saving the world time and time again with strange incantations that predate modern society—yeah, that kind of kooky magic. So, here’s a short list of the top 10 magicians in comic books. Their powers may vary in significance, but each one is popular in their own way, and has left quite an impact on the world of comics.
1) Mandrake the Magician
Originally created back in 1934, Mandrake the Magician is one of the original comic-strip magicians… and, yes, that explains why he actually looks like your standard, everyday magician. But his power was pretty unique: He didn’t have any knowledge of the occult, but he was an expert in lightning-fast hypnosis, which he could use to make bad guys hallucinate all sorts of nasty creepy crawlies (like giant rats, for instance) and he had limited telekinesis and invisibility. Mandrake was a “gentleman magician,” who decided to use his handy-dandy powers to fight crime during the ‘30s and ‘40s, and he inevitably had a great deal of influence on the next magician on the list.
2) Doctor Strange
Created by Steve Ditko, Doctor Stephen Vincent Strange (aka Doctor Strange) is a former-doctor-turned-sorcerer, and he serves as the Sorcerer Supreme—the last line of defense this world has against all magical and mystical threats. He’s borrowed some of his style from Mandrake, though his powers are far stronger than the latter magician. Also, there’s one other thing that makes the Doc stand out—he’s flawed. While Mandrake was one of the first magicians, Strange is not some aloof magical being: He doubts his abilities, and often has to push his magical skills to the limit. He consistently has to grapple with his failures, both as a human being and a magician, and that makes him far more relatable than Mandrake ever was.
3) Doctor Doom
Just for the record, Doctor Doom does not have a single ounce of warm, fluffy goodness in his body—he’s pure, unadulterated, highly industrialized evil. He’s the archenemy of the Fantastic Four, a gifted inventor and one hell of a sorcerer. Conceived by the legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Doctor Doom is a skilled practitioner of the black arts (due to his love affair with Morgan le Fay): He can summon demons, create force fields and even project energy. In fact, the man’s so evil, IGN listed him as #3 out of the 100 greatest comic book villains of all time.
4) Zatanna Zatara
Okay, so her costume is a little on the impractical side, but it’s actually a clever spin on the old-school costumes that magician’s assistants use to wear back in the ol’ Vaudeville days (i.e. no pants). Most of her powers are based through her uttering reverse incantations, and she’s pretty powerful. She’s joined forces will all the great, including The Flash and John Constantine.
5) John Constantine
To put it bluntly: John Constantine is a smartass. But he’s pure anti-hero, and that’s what makes him so appealing. He chain-smokes and is deeply cynical and sarcastic, but he’s also extremely knowledgeable with magical spells, rituals and curses. He’s even deceived God… so that’s got to count for something, right?
Grigori Rasputin from Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy” is based on the actual Russian mystic of the same name—you know, the one who was stabbed, poisoned and shot and finally died once he was tossed into a river? In all actuality, most of Rasputin’s life story has been exaggerated, which is why Mignola’s version is so much fun. In “Hellboy,” Rasputin survived the attempt on his life back in 1916, and went on to help the Nazis summon creatures from Hell (like Hellboy himself). Later, he made contact with Ogdru Jahad, the Dragon of Revelation, and almost destroyed the world. Of course, it didn’t really work out for the guy. But part of his appeal is that he just. Can’t. Ever. Die.
7) Shazam (Captain Marvel)
Shazam is an ancient wizard (roughly 3,000 years old) who gave a young Billy Batson the power to change into the almost-all-powerful Captain Marvel. Currently, DC now refers to Captain Marvel as Shazam, but one has to consider that his mentor, a 3,000-year-old sorcerer, has to be one of the most powerful magicians in comic book history.
8) Yorick from Y the Last Man
Yeah, Yorick doesn’t have any powers, but the witty twenty-something-magician does know how to escape from a pair of handcuffs, levitate a few inches above the ground and he considers Harry Houdini to be totally overrated (Yorick has quite a thing for Harry’s obscure younger brother and escape artist, Theodore Hardeen). He also may or may not be the last man on earth, so it’s important to give the guy a bit of support.
9) Morgaine le Fey
According to classic Arthurian lore, Morgaine le Fey is the primary antagonist and half-sister of King Arthur. In the DC world, she’s a skilled Homo Magi (a descendent of the survivors of the lost city of Atlantis) who brought down King Arthur and battles everyone ranging from the Justice League to Wonder Woman. She looks upon humans as mere playthings, and is definitely one of the most evil magicians in comic book history.
10) William Gravel
Compared to Morgaine, William is a relative newcomer to the realm of magical superheroes, but that doesn’t make him any less badass. The star of the Warren Ellis-helmed “Gravel” series, which is published by Avatar press and premiered in 2007, William’s a “combat magician” who serves with the British SAS (Special Air Services, a crack special forces unit), and he uses his powers—which range from super-fast reflexes to telekinesis and even pyrokinesis—to take down bad guys that run the gamut from corrupt cops to zombies and more.
Stefan A. Slater is a writer and blogger who has written for Ventura Blvd magazine, Southbay magazine and Nerd Approved Media.