22 May 2012

Happy Birthday TOM MANDRAKE!

Is it always Halloween in the art world of Tom Mandrake?

The Dark Knight of Tom Mandrake, circa 1983

My first exposure to Tom’s art was the BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS work he did in the mid Eighties.  I dug his compositions and use of ink, but found his characters a bit blocky.  By pure chance, I met Tom at a comic show at Eastern Michigan University and he drew a Batman pencil commission for me.  I was blown away- his delicate pencil shading conveyed more depth than the inked stuff in the comics- and hooked forever after that.

The Wraith of the God, by Sir Tom of Mandrake!

For my money, Tom hit his stride in his collaboration with John Ostrander on THE SPECTRE.  It was the perfect match for the character, as Ostrander understood how to blend the horror and mystery genres with the potent consideration of The Spectre as the biblical Wrath of God.  Tom took this narrative as a prime directive to - literally- unleash Hell onto the page.  Serial killers looked more depraved and the tropes of super-villains took on aspects of a Hieronymus Bosch painting.  Like Rodin’s Gates of Hell, the pages became wrought with the writhing damned.

Recently, Tom was featured in BATMAN RETROACTIVE 70’s, a new Batman story set in the conventions of his mid-1970’s appearances.  At the time, Len revived a large number of old villains, slightly updating their goofy appearances to make them more action-adventure story oriented.  While this new story was penned by Len Wein, the writer of those stories and the creator of character Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman in the movies), Tom might seem an odd choice as he wasn’t working on BATMAN at that time. 

Tom's most recent BATMAN publication (2011)

It’s become one of my recent favorite stories.  Len pitch-perfect nailed his style from those old BATMAN comics.  The new Retro story fits to his stories like a lost chapter, advancing the sub plot of Lucius Fox and inserting a new twist into the motives for all of the returning goofy golden age villains.  

Tom’s pages are filled with black- shadows, skyscrapers, and night scenes.  Mandrake returns the Batcave to an appearance of 40 years ago, with huge lumbering banks of computers with magnetic tapes maintaining the Bat Crime files on dated-looking terminals.  The colours also match Tom’s art- deep blues, dark greys, and none of the bright palette found in the reprinted story.

Tom Mandrake takes the Batmobile out for the night! 

I couldn’t resist and grabbed my favorite of Tom’s original pages for the book.  The top panel has Tom’s sole rendering of the golden age Bat-villain 3-pack, THE TERRIBLE TRIO.  This group of gangsters super power was to wear ridiculous masks while plotting crimes.  Then we get classic Alfred and Bruce in the 70’s Batcave illustrations in the center panel.  Finally, the bottom third of the page is the crème de la crème: Tom’s loving take of the classic “Super Powers Batmobile”.  Tom used a great deal of splattered paint to convey the movement and energy of Batman heading off to kick some Batusi.  I love it.

So, if you’re tired waiting for the new season of WALKING DEAD episodes, do yourself a favor and pick up Tom’s SPECTRE comics, or if you need more superheroics with your Halloween monsters, grab his BATMAN AND SUPERMAN VS. VAMPIRES AND WEREWOLVES and it’s sequel BATMAN VS THE UNDEAD and celebrate the man!

Happy Birthday!


  1. Tom Mandrake was like Gene Colan and even (gasp, choke) Kirby to me: I didn't care much for it for a long time. Then, as you say, came Spectre and Martian Manhunter and now he's on Night Force with Marv Wolfman. Excellent work. It took a combination of artist and material, maybe. I didn't like Colan on Daredevil, but I never liked anyone else on Howard the Duck. And Kirby...I got better.

  2. Moody Mandrake, love him!