Masked Crusaders, Working Overtime: M.A.S.K. #1 (Review)
Written by: Brandon Easton
Art by: Tony Vargas
Fighting crime, fighting crime… those simple words start the theme song to the 1980’s cartoon. IDW’s made some waves earlier in 2016 when they announced the MASK property was coming to comics. MASK was a short lived cartoon and Kenner toy line from the mid-1980’s. While the cartoon lasted only two seasons, it produced over 70 epsiodes. MASK’s larger cultural awareness is minor compared to other 1980’s toy and cartoon lines. He-Man, G.I. Joe, Transformers, and even Thundercats have tended to be more visible. This limited exposure made IDW’s announcement of a comic series interesting. The central characters and story around MASK were developed for the cartoon, but unlike each of those other licensed properties the lore had not been expanded, reboot, and retooled time and again through other cartoons, comics, and movies. MASK was an unknown.
IDW turned to writer Bandon Easton to create the new series. Easton has written for both comics and cartoons previously, including iterations of Transformers and Thundercats. Easton’s quick pacing fits well with the 1980’s roots of the series, but Easton’s grasp of the source material means that he is not sacrificing narrative or plot in the process. MASK #1 starts off quickly and has the job of catching readers up on the MASK related events of IDWs crossover event Revolution. The story jumps a little too quickly from set piece to set piece, but this sense of pacing is tied more to other #1 issues that take a while to develop rather than Easton’s lack of setup. To Easton credit, readers who did not read the event or the MASK one-shot from the summer are provided enough context to get them quickly engaged in the characters he has created.
The organization of MASK was created to fight Optimus Prime and other Transformers who invaded Earth during the crossover. The founder of MASK wants to defeat the Transformers and use their technology to make humans stronger against other threats. On the surface there is a xenophobic logic there that adds a layer of complexity to the ongoing narrative. The founder of MASK ultimately grows power hungry and turns into the villain and the leader of VEMON. Autobots have Decepticons. G.I. Joe has Cobra. MASK has VEMON. This framing allows Easton to update the original source material but also keep some of the framework for fans who remember the license.
Easton’s interpretation of MASK puts the lead characters on the run, wanted by law enforcement, and hunted by VEMON. This fugitive framework creates opportunities for the MASK team to struggle in battle and to provide moments of characterization. There was a short lived G.I. Joe cartoon that had the team as fugitives and it created a number of both personal and action packed stories. With Easton framing MASK as rogue organization and not an established military force, he has laid a solid groundwork for future stories.