The last time I ever fully read a comic book starring The Mask—whom some of you might know best from a decent 1994 movie starring a youngish Jim Carrey—was all the way back in 1991, with the original mini-series from Dark Horse. Conceived of as a type of ultra-gory anti-hero with a cartoony Tex Averyesque vibe, I thought this character was AWESOME!
Then it got “discovered” by everyone else and thus I dumped The Mask because he got too “commercial” for my rarified tastes. But many, many (many) miniseries later, he’s back once again—this type with a distinctly political tone—in I Pledge Allegiance To The Mask.
The story opens with a highly-sadistic gross pair of foster parents literally torturing the children under their care. But fear not—the Mask comes to the rescue, resulting in a nice bloody shot of his fist literally punching the guy through the mouth so his eyeball pops out. Then the foster mom is force-fed Hershey’s syrup until it shoots out of her nostrils and eye-sockets, and she physically bursts into a pile of goo. The moody painterly style with which artist Patric Reynolds illustrates all this is well-done…though I would note that original The Mask artist Doug Mahnke seemed to capture more of the essence of the character, which is realism + elastic cartoony violence.
It is at this point that I feel I must explain the premise of the Mask character to the neophytes who might be reading this: basically, there’s a supernatural mask (related to Loki, god of mischief) which, when worn, attaches to the person’s face and grants them fantastic strength and cartoon-like powers. So: the person becomes a homicidal living animated character of the ultra-violent “Itchy and Scratchy” type.
Throughout the franchise, various people don the Mask and cause mayhem; one of the first (if not historically in canon, then in the franchise itself) is mild-mannered Stanley Ipkiss, who Carrey eventually portrays in the feature film.
In I Pledge Allegiance To The Mask, the current “owner” of the Mask seems to be one of the foster kids (perhaps grown-up and looking for revenge). Then we are (re)introduced to several characters who apparently have all had their run-ins with the Mask. So much backstory here is hinted at but never explained, that I had to break out The Wikipedia (as one does) to figure it all out.
We have Kellaway, a retired cop who was the host of the Mask in the first few series, and Kathy Matthews, a rising (and corrupt) politician who was Ipkiss’ old girlfriend and had also worn the Mask for a while. Both hear the news that the Mask is back in town (via the murder of the foster parents), and become alarmed, Dr. Loomis-style.
Within this first 1/3-to-half of the issue lies the dilemma for me: there is such a large amount of non-action talky stuff going on about pre-existing characters and situations I’m not familiar with. And because I’m not familiar with this long backstory of multiple series and whatnot—and the parts I was familiar with I read almost 30 years ago—I’m just sort of “lost,” and a certain degree of emotional resonance is forfeited. I have to kind of stop everything and do a deep dive of research to figure out what’s going on.
(And when Kathy Matthews apparently references her ex Ipkiss as having used to “beat the shit” out of her…that sort of stops the narrative dead for me. Ipkiss is the main character of the majority of Mask franchise outside of the comics. Was he really a domestic abuser? Is Matthews just lying about it, as she’s established as being somewhat shady? And is this all relevant to the rest of the plot of this story, or am I being shunted off to research-land again in the middle of the first issue?)
Now, this isn’t a criticism per se of the comic’s writer, Christopher Cantwell, but it all depends on what the “purpose” of this series is. If you’ve been dutifully following the Mask continuity up until now, you’re a True Fan and have probably immediately picked up on the references from the past. But if you’re a person who is thinking of trying out the franchise again after a long absence or perhaps based merely on knowledge of the movie alone (we’ll all going to forget Son Of The Mask)…it’s all a bit confusing.
And the “meat” of this new comic, as far as I can tell, is yet another character, struggling idealist politician Abner Mead…who finds the Mask and presumably will be causing mayhem for the rest of this series.
Given our current state of political affairs in the United States, this premise of a wacky homicidal “Mask” candidate seems relevant; it’s certainly what sparked my interest. It would have been better, I think, to front-load this story with that concept.
But I believe I know what Cantwell did here. This decompressed storytelling probably works a lot better in the eventual collected edition of the entire series. And Dark Horse Publishing stands to make a lot more money off of those sales than these single monthly issues. Which really makes these single issues more of a “sneak peek” of the story as a whole; which is largely what I think direct market monthly “floppy” sales are becoming.
And so…I’m most likely to wait until I Pledge Allegiance To The Mask is completed before I take another crack at it. No harm, no foul. In the meantime, future covers for the series provides us a couple of fun images to reflect upon this Election Day: