DARK HORSE/DC COMICS: THE MASK TPB
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
THE MASK TPB collects three DC/DARK HORSE crossover comics. The Mask's crazy adventures are highly entertaining, with art that is reflective of the time period. While none of these stories are perfect, this is a must-read comic for fans of DC Comics.
87 %
Bonkers Misadventures
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If you grew up in the 1990s like me, you probably have fond memories of Jim Carrey’s whacky portrayal of THE MASK. This bonkers character, capable of twisting reality into a cartoon rendering of itself, inspired a cult following. Imagine my surprise when I learned that THE MASK was actually the first comic book adaptation I had seen. THE MASK, published by Dark Horse Comics, has had several ongoing miniseries since 1989. Unlike the Jim Carrey adaptation, THE MASK comic focused far less on humor and more on wanton violence. While the power set didn’t change, Mask’s powers led to death and destruction everywhere he went. This violence was polarizing at its time. Some see it as a necessary byproduct of the Bronze Age of Comics, while others damn it as gratuitous. Despite this, THE MASK’s popularity grew so massive that he found his way onto DC Comics’ pages.

THE MASK guest starred in three DC miniseries in the late ’90s, each showcasing a different side of this chaotic character. For the first time, DC Comics and Dark Horse have returned to these stories, collecting them in a brand new trade paperback titled DARK HORSE/DC COMICS: THE MASK. Three of DC’s most violent characters (Joker, Grifter, and Lobo) each spend a day under the influence of the Mask. This leads to a collection of stories that is at times hilarious and horrifying. At the end of the day though, are these stories worthy of your time and attention?

Deadly Hijinks

Mask
Courtesy of DC and Dark Horse Comics

The first of the three collected miniseries is JOKER/THE MASK, a story by Henry Gilroy and Ramon Bachs from 2000. In this four issue series, the Clown Prince of Crime dons the Mask after a museum heist and falls prey to its deadly lunacy. What does he do with these newfound powers? He turns to Hollywood, where they give him a camera and allow him to blow up buildings to boost their ratings. However, after his own ego leads him to fire and attempt to kill Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and Batman must step in to stop this maniac.

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GRIFTER AND THE MASK was first published in 1996 by Steven Seagle and Luciano Lima. Though Grifter belonged to Jim Lee’s Image brand WILDSTORM at the time, DC acquired the character in 2011’s New 52 reboot. In this miniseries, Grifter is hired by a Las Vegas mob boss to acquire a high-tech weapon from a nearby convention. However, when an anti-gun protester comes into possession of the Mask, his newfound psychotic superpowers convince him to destroy the city. Grifter must face down bandits and the Mask in this two issue series.

Finally, LOBO/MASK, by John Arcudi, Alan Grant and Doug Mahnke, brings the TPB to a close. First published in 1997, this two issue series sees the “Main Man” hired to kill and imprison the Mask for one billion space credits. In this series, the Mask is wanted by an intergalactic council for razing entire worlds to dust. When Lobo finds the Mask in New York City, their battle nearly levels a city block. Mask eventually reveals that his previous owner left him in a trash pile and flew away from Earth. To get the bounty, Lobo will have to trust the green-headed monster. Deciding to split the money, Lobo teams up with the Mask to find its last owner, the universe’s “Ultimate Bastich.”

Collecting the Best

MASK
Courtesy of DC and Dark Horse Comics

While I have very little background knowledge of THE MASK, save for the film adaptations, I thoroughly enjoyed these collected stories. In some ways, the comic book history shown in these pages was nearly enough to sell me the book. By looking at the tonal differences between JOKER/THE MASK and the other two stories, we see different expressed values. GRIFTER AND THE MASK and LOBO/MASK both stayed true to the original comic book. Both are incredibly violent with a touch of satire and humor thrown in. In LOBO/MASK, especially, we see one of the issue’s editors mauled by both characters and Lobo’s disembodied head cursing at the Mask. This really reflects the dark, gritty tones of the ’90’s character archetypes. In fact, by being so over the top in its violence, it almost lessens the blow. The gratuitousness makes it almost silly.

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JOKER/THE MASK, though, seemed to take more inspiration from the Jim Carrey film adaptation. This wasn’t a bad thing, by any means. In fact, starting the book out with a much tamer storyline, filled with explosions and potty humor, made a lot of sense. This story felt exceedingly accessible, and the art style and tone seemed to draw from BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. However, I also found it the least interesting of the three.

While I enjoyed the humor and the dialogue, I didn’t feel like JOKER/THE MASK took any chances. It was a fun read, but it didn’t stand out. The other two stories had their own lightning edge, due to their small page count. They didn’t have the chance to drag on because they were over so quickly. But JOKER/THE MASK seemed to carry on too long, telling the same jokes over and over. This fit the theme of the Mask taking away Joker’s humor, but it felt a bit overdone.

The March of Artists

Looking at the art, Ramon Bachs’ JOKER/THE MASK most impressed me. As I said, much of its style seems inspired by BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, giving it a highly stylized and nostalgic appearance. In many ways, this depiction of the Mask, especially, worked the best because color spilled off the page. The lunacy of the story, of the Joker’s time with cartoon superpowers, truly comes through with this creative team.

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Meanwhile, the artistry of Luciano Lima on GRIFTER AND THE MASK and Doug Mahnke on LOBO/MASK felt very nineties. Don’t get me wrong, the aesthetic was grungy, infusing every page with a dark tone. In fact, some of Mahnke’s splash pages are some of the best in all of comics. I loved the look and feel of the stories, and both artists did a fantastic job with the pencils. Maybe this simply comes down to preference or nostalgia. But much like the JOKER/THE MASK didn’t take chances in its story, I didn’t feel like these artists took many chances with these interiors.

Final Thoughts: DARK HORSE/DC COMICS: THE MASK TPB

There really isn’t a whole lot to say about THE MASK TPB. It was a very good set of stories. While I didn’t like JOKER/THE MASK as much as the latter two stories, all three entertained me. More than that, there is a lot of content in this TPB. Eight issues can tide a reader over for a long while, and the included sketches from JOKER/THE MASK’s Ramon Bachs should excite any aspiring artist. While each of these stories had their flaws, they are all worthy and interesting tales. It was a matter of degrees, of having to actually rank these stories in quality. This is a TPB that any DC or Dark Horse comics fan needs in their collection. The absolute bonkers nature of these three stories will tide you over (maybe) until we get a halfway decent sequel to Jim Carrey’s THE MASK film.

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