Monday, September 27, 2010

Comics: The Mask Omnibus Vol.1

In 1994, a CGI effects extravaganza hit the big screen, and for it's time, The Mask was a pretty decent action-comedy. The movie introduced the world to Cameron Diaz, Cuban Pete, and delighted families with the cartoon antics of Jim Carrey's mystically empowered Stanley Ipkiss. Little did those families know, they were inviting into their hearts a homocidal world of murder, mayhem, and crime-fiction.

The PG persuasions of the film fall away pretty quickly in the comic book original published by Dark Horse Comics. Conceptually envisioned by publisher, Mark Richardson, and brought to life by the crack team of John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke; "Big Head" first appeared serialized in the pages of the appropriately titled athology series, Mayhem (1989), before assaulting four issues of his own mini-series in 1991 in, The Mask.

More Joker than Tex Avery; the comic book Mask has all the mania and hilarity of the film, channelled through the meanstreak you'd expect of an id-empowering magic in the modern world. It possesses a hard edge easily associated with the grim 'n' gritty trends of the eighties, but the first volume Omnibus from Dark Horse also packs The Mask Returns and The Mask Strikes Back into it's 300-plus pages, with a continuous saga that ends with a more bombastic flavour akin to the nineties. Stylistically and visually, it's certainly a book that reminds us they don't make 'em like they used to, particularly if you're conscientious of the fact that there were breaks between issues and mini-series. No mollycoddling in those days!

A bastardly Stanley Ipkiss doesn't get too far past the first fifty pages, but by then, you should be clicked into this blood-spattered four-colour world that his antique store mask has opened up, enough to not care about the movie. Don't mind the spoiler, either! The original is as much about the human condition as it is the insane action, and over-the-top crime drama that unfolds as a result. The attitude of the early work, in particular, possesses the kind of colourfully callous self-interest that suggests both youth in the now seasoned writer/artist combo, as well as arrogantly simpler times of the Reagan era.

Top cop, Lt. Kellaway, remains a constant throughout the entire span of the Omnibus, with the delightfully ludicrous Walter adding a touch of Dick Tracy to the backdrop of mafiosos. In comics right now, it's fashionable to laud strong female characters. Kathy -- Ipkiss' jilting girlfriend -- adds dimension to a blonde co-conspirator that the Diaz film character lacked. In fact, Kathy gets her hands dirty throughout Returns, as both vixen, and 'SUPER-HERO!!!'

I've always been a bit of a grouch when it comes to collected trades. I'm a monthly floppy comic reader and that's the artform and format I appreciated. Yet, when financial times are tough, or for works that are difficult to acquire naturally, I'm happy to make exceptions. Of the exceptions I've made recently, The Mask Omnibus Vol. 1 has been one of my favourite!

It's a fantastic shot of nostalgia, but with a dynamism that justifies it unto itself. The staggered serial nature of the material lends a delicious tone of stream-of-consciousness style writing that appeals greatly to my sensibilities, and is a rarity of modern comics. I strongly recommend checking out the preview available on, and if you're so inclined, using the purchase link provided stage-left [your right]!

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