"The Mandrake Project is possibly the maddest idea in a career full of mad ideas." Bruce Dickinson's new comic book is weird, dark, funny and far more than a rock star vanity project

The Iron Maiden frontman has roped in some heavyweight comic book names for his latest endeavour - and it's worked rather well

Bruce Dickinson alongside his new comic book
(Image: © Bruce: John McMurtrie / The Mandrake Project cover: Z2)

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The biggest surprise about Bruce Dickinson’s debut comic The Mandrake Project isn’t the sex ritual that appear in its first issue. No, it‘s the fact that the man whose CV includes two novels, an autobiography and the screenplay for a madder-than-a-walrus-on-a-unicycle movie (2007’s low budget/high insanity The Chemical Wedding) has taken so long to get round to it.

But here it is at last. The Mandrake Project is possibly the maddest idea in a career full of mad ideas: an epic, 12-issue comic book series centring on a mad metaphysical story about crazed magicians, a dead twin, trans-dimensional travel, corporate occultism and life after death. The small stuff, then. 

He’s certainly taking it seriously, enlisting the assistance of comics-world heavyweights Tony Lee [Doctor Who/2000AD], cover artist Bill Sienkiewicz [Moon Knight/Marvel’s New Mutants] and artist Staz Johnson [2000AD/Wolverine] to help bring whatever his fevered, Aleister Crowley- and William Blake-fuelled imagination has cooked up.

So far, so self-indulgent rock star side hustle. Except this first issue blows that notion out of the water. Visually, it straddles beauty and anarchy, the moody atmospheres of rain-sodden graveyards and dank occultist’s garrets giving way to trippy alternate dimensions where heavens are full of eyeballs gazing down. 

Issue 1 is titled My Name Is Necropolis, a phrase more clued-up Iron Maiden fans will recognise from the spoken-word outro of The Book Of Souls’ opening track If Eternity Should Fail (itself repurposed from a Bruce solo track purloined by Steve Harris for the Maiden album). It refers to the comic’s (anti?) hero Dr Necropolis, a practising occultist and (*checks notes*) “digital genius” with a dark family secret. 

A preview of Bruce Dickinson's new comic book

(Image credit: Z2)

This first issue breadcrumbs Necropolis’s own story and the bigger narrative he’s part of. There’s some relatively graphic sex magic, a fatal overdose of the hallucinogenic mandrake root that – spoiler! – proves not to be fatal after all, and an encounter with the ghost of William Blake, the early 19th century occultist who features in much of Bruce’s work, from Revelations to 1997’s solo album The Chemical Wedding. And then there’s the scientist Professor Lazarus, head of his mysterious Lazarus Institute, who claims to have conquered death, and his presumably less-than-wholesome links with Necropolis. 

Bruce has talked about his love of Doctor Strange, and the Sorcerer Supreme’s cosmic aura definitely shines on The Mandrake Project. But there’s also a strand of twisted esoterica and black humour that evokes prime Hellblazer, while the nutzoid pyschedelia of the beyond-the-realms of death parts of the comic could have come from Grant Morrison’s monumental The Invisibles. But it’s also very much the work of Bruce Dickinson – the fascination with the occult that has occasionally surfaced throughout his career is front and centre here.

Does it tie with the upcoming solo album of the same name? Apparently not - Bruce has said The Mandrake Project album isn’t a concept record, and this isn’t a tie-in (though there are overlaps). But that works in its favour – weird, dark, funny and occasionally rude, this first issue is more than strong enough to stand on its own two feet, even without the name of The Bloke From Iron Maiden above the door.

The Mandrake Project #1 is available to buy now 

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.