Pullbox Reviews: The Legacy of Mandrake – a satisfying update to a classic pulp hero

King Features, Red 5 Comics, and StoneBot Studios cast a spell this October as they present a new take on the classic comic strip Mandrake The Magician in an all-new comic book series! Mandy Paz is by all appearances an ordinary teenager just trying to make her way through high school. If she seems like she’s going out of her way to avoid attention, that’s because she’s hiding a big secret-she has powerful magical talents. So, when strange and sinister things start happening in her small town, Mandy decides to take action. And on her quest to chase down the root of the town’s trouble she just might discover the truth about her own legacy.

Anyone who’s read anything I’ve put up on thePullbox (thanks going out to my tens of readers) should be aware that I’ve got a soft spot for the old pulp heroes. The Phantom, The Shadow, Doc Savage, and right in there among the very first heroes is Mandrake the Magician. By his mystical powers, backed up by the more physical skills of his friend Lothar, Mandrake has been battling evil since 1934 when Lee Faulk brought him to the page. Now, Red 5 is reinventing, not rebooting, the classic characters.

Enter Mandragora “Mandy” Constanza Terrado Paz, best friend & fellow crime fighter LJ – son of Lothar, and Alruin… the creepy guy who lives in Mandy’s mirror (more on that later).

Writer Erica Schultz has put together a story that brings in elements of the teen “coming of age” story, without relying too heavily on the classic teen coming of age tropes. Instead of a caricature of what some might think a teenage girl would be, carefully slotted into one of a handfull of defining traits (the cheerleader, the mean girl, the smart girl who isn’t pretty until she takes her glasses off and shakes out her hair) that are relied on way more than they should be. Having participated in the raising of a teenage girl, I can attest that Mandy is much more true to life as she runs the range of attitudes & emotions, making life hella interesting for everyone around her.

Schultz takes Mandy through a character arc that encompasses going to school, embracing her legacy & heritage, learning about her power from sources both good & bad, and coming to grips with the idea that the people she looks up to aren’t perfect. It’s a story that’s aimed at a Young Adult audience but it isn’t dumbed down or condensed to a simple either/or formula. The concepts of “good guys” & “bad guys” aren’t so obvious, and grown ups don’t always have all of the answers dialed in for easy access (shocking revelation #472, we’re winging it way more than we’re happy with). I was pretty impressed with how relatable Schultz’s story was, providing this old fart with an entertaining read even though my young adult years are far in the rear view and I have never actually been a teenage girl.

The collected trade, which I’m sorry to say I don’t have any solid release information on (but all issues can be found digitally here through ComiXology), includes issue #0 with art by Lucas Romero as well as the four issues of the regular run illustrated by Diego Garibaldi. I think I’d identify Romero’s style as very manga influenced with a bit of an edge to it, with a lot of dynamic action to satisfy the short attention span crowd.

Garibaldi’s work has grittier, slightly less idealized edge to his designs. Both styles work in Mandy Mandrake’s world of magic & monsters, and I do have my personal preferences, but both artists are turning in some really good work for this trip back to the classic world of King Features’ original sorcerer supreme.

The stylistic look of Legacy of Mandrake, from one artist to the next, is unified by some really impressive work by colorist Ramon Bunge. Bunge takes the two styles & really brings them together, smoothing over the art shift so it’s not quite as jarring as it could have been.

Other elements that impressed are the backgrounds by J.P. Massa- given some of the epic levels of mystical mayhem being tossed around, there were some pretty cool environments to bask in- and the lettering by Yasmin Govoni & Martin Casanova. The lettering worked great when Schultz’s story dipped into flashbacks, and when she was giving page time to Mandy’s ersatz magical mentor Alruin.

Yup, nothing at all creepy or the least bit supsect going on here… Just a dude trapped in a mirror, hanging out in a teenage girl’s room and giving her tips on magic and life in general.

(Pssst, that’s not a spoiler… it’s called foreshadowing)

While I don’t have info on a release for the collected trade edition, The Legacy of Mandrake is a great entry in the Young Adult urban fantasy section of the bookshelf and all five issues are available now through ComiXology. As a series, it’s a good example of how a story can be geared toward younger readers without feeling the need to talk down to the kids. The happy coincidence to that approach is that it’s totally readable for us old farts.

Final Score: 11/13

Really love these covers by Amelia Vidal
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