Omnibus Volume 1
(Dark Horse Comics)
Ever since I saw “The Mask”, unbeknownst that there was a much grander source material I’ve been thinking, why isn’t it R rated? Why aren’t there splashes of blood and over the top murder? And with a somewhat long delay I found my answer, but it wasn’t in the televised Cuban Pete version or the cartoon legend everyone remembers and loves. It was in the Dark Horse comic book series where The Mask, created by Mike Richardson, itself starts off in the hands of dear ol’ familiar Stanley and in the process finds its way in the possession of many other people each following their own agenda that is contorted through the Mask’s inner desires to seed chaos and destruction.
Brilliantly showcased with vibrant art that bounces back and forth along the pages in explosions and car crashes and chainsaw extravaganza at its most mundane, the comic series paints the pros and cons of using the Mask and its ricocheted effect on all involved bystander-wise or direct participant. The item, ancient and mysterious and highly dangerous, feeds on the need for revenge, protection, security. It allows the execution of actions unimaginable prior and seemingly asks no price so it ultimately feels like the best and most insane option in succeeding, in prevailing. In that way it transforms mostly noble causes, or noble and explanatory to the self, into dark and grandiose happenings that result in people’s deaths, a result which remains somewhat dampened by the Mask like it’s a periphery occurrence that the user being ecstatic doesn’t register until it becomes too often, too vivid and violent. And while that “blood sacrifice” and hyped state of being probably pleases the Mask itself, the person wearing it however weak in control over its actions does understand at some point that this auto-pilot is too violent and evil to be trusted in a prolonged way.
So they muster enough control to remove it and bury it somewhere before it destroys them and others completely. It however always manages to find its way to a new user, a new person with some desire that he or she cannot complete because of personal weakness and inability to fight. The Mask then shows a fraction of its potential and the person is hooked. It grants immortality, immense power, bends reality and with a pun, a laugh, a jest empowers its user to do the killing while having fun.
Even in the first issue that starts off with Stanley buying the Mask as a gift for his girlfriend Kath, we get where this is going. He’s the little man, the one who gets punched around and he desperately wants to punch back but he is unable. He is weak. The mask sensing that is an enabler, granting that imperviousness to its user to do whatever he or she pleases. The first time he puts it on, Stanley gets that it’s powerful, that he is now powerful as a result. He quickly forgets that the Mask is on him, that it truthfully is in control but he’s fine with that, because to him his actions are his own even being stripped of consciousness or guilt or fear of God even. He is able to take it off but the obsession has already started and he is making plans, writing down lists with names of all the people who’ve hurt him or wronged him in any way. And he even says sarcastically or not about saving the world, about becoming a superhero, but first he goes on down that list of names and he murders those people in a number of fascinating ways. When the Mask gets taken away from him, he panics. Without it he is no one.
What’s cool about this series is that regardless of all the brutal and often graphic violence it depicts, it maintains the cartoony look, vibrant and caricature-like, and the dark humor most people loved from the movie and the cartoon is there, the comedy gut-punching is there and it even has it up a notch or two so it translates as even louder and more maniacal which ultimately is what should be expected and wanted from The Mask. Each representation of the Mask showcases a little bit of its user, so it feels tailored to the person. We get a Mask that is equal parts high-heeled and leather-clad sporting mini-skirts and spikes and suave suits as the boss of the mafia. It’s never righteous, it’s psychopathic but with a pie hiding a bomb so it entertains. The art is on par with the actions and the narrative itself transforming itself to fit the shape-shifting skills of the Mask and for me it is by far the best way to enjoy the story not via one character but through many which allows a grander understanding and viewing of its capabilities.
The omnibus version which I read for vol. 1 is a hefty 370 pages but that gives a better flow to the story in my opinion. It’s easier to read it all at once without missing a beat but if you prefer it separated it appears as a trilogy.
If you’re a fan of The Mask and have somehow missed this comic book series, I highly recommended it. The original is pretty much always the best.
*Images used here belong to their sole creators.