The day is winding down, or has officially ended – depending what time zone you live in – as I write this I have crossed into Thursday. But for M.A.S.K. fans this was a special day. It was the release of the first issue of the new ongoing series from IDW Publishing. The series features Brandon Easton as the writer, Tony Vargas providing interior art, and Tommy Lee Edwards as the regular cover artist (there are also a number of variant covers as well).
This is going to be a somewhat comprehensive look at the issue, and as such will contain a certain degree of spoiling. If you do not want to be spoiled, well, you have been warned.
To keep things organized I will be breaking down my review into sections. Hopefully, this will make it easier to follow, and if you are only curious about a certain topic, it will make it easier to find the answers you are looking for.
There are eight covers for issue #1. That’s a lot. As a general rule, I don’t love excessive amounts of variant covers, I do give a pass to one-shots and first issues. That being said, my personal trouble with it is that some of the covers are produced in extremely low quantities which makes it difficult for fans to get them. This is not really a critique of M.A.S.K. or even IDW, just a minor commentary on the practices of the comic book industry. I was fortunate enough to obtain all eight of the covers, and you can view them in the Comics section of the site (as with the other IDW releases, I am only hosting the covers, if you want the story please buy the book and support the creators).
Tommy Lee Edwards – This cover was one of the early promoted images for the series and I have loved it since day one. It’s dynamic, vibrant, and brilliantly executed. Tommy is also able to provide an exceptional blend of classic M.A.S.K. and the new modern style. To me it embodies what a new M.A.S.K. series should be and is my favorite of the bunch.
Joe Suitor – Another cover that was teased around the internet prior to release. This cover has a powerful shot of Matt and Miles back to back. While the characters and their masks are rendered with great detail, the background is lacking. And, while I don’t mind the decision, some fans might be disappointed with the lack of any vehicles present on this cover.
Andrew Griffith (colors by Jordi Escuin) – This is a fun cover. It has a brighter feel, thanks to Escuin’s coloring. This version also has Thunderhawk, Shark, Firefly and Condor mixed into the image. My only critique of this cover is that the characters and the vehicles don’t seem to integrate with each other.
Sketch Cover – If you have one of these, find a talented artist to fill it for you, otherwise there is not much to say about it.
Sara Pitre-Durocher – I suspect this cover will be somewhat polarizing for readers. It is certainly the cover that pushes the farthest from the traditional M.A.S.K. look. There is an extremely strong influence of graffiti and street art in the cover. For myself, I love the cover, as a variant cover. It is not an artistic style I ever expected to see juxtaposed with M.A.S.K. However, I am glad it is not the regular cover, as I believe that it does not convey the tone and content of the book as well as some of the other covers. It would certainly make for a fantastic poster though, I hope IDW takes advantage of that.
Sonny Liew – This cover is a close second for my favorite. Sonny does some really great stuff that is sure to play with the nostalgic feelings in any M.A.S.K. fan. Most obviously, he stylizes the background to mimic the packaging from the original 80s M.A.S.K. toys, including adding text such as CHANGES TO FIGHTER JET … AND BACK! The edges of the cover also have faux distressing. Sadly, this is one of the low quantity covers I mentioned at the beginning, and as such may be difficult to find.
Paul Pope (colors by Jordie Bellaire) – Paul does something a bit different with his cover. He features just a single character, and it is neither Matt nor Miles – it is Brad Turner, speeding down the road on Condor. I am a self-confessed Brad Turner enthusiast and as such, this cover really works for me. Both Brad and Condor are drawn with precision and detail. Unfortunately, this cover suffers from the same problem I had with Joe Suitor’s cover – the background is not given the same attention as the character is.
The eighth, and final cover is a pencils version of Andrew Griffith’s cover. While the image is still nice, I believe that the colored version is more successful.
I did not expect to have especially different opinions about the art when compared to the One-Shot from last month. I was wrong. I strongly believe that Tony Vargas was able to exceed himself. His layouts feel stronger, lending to a well-paced story. The art also appears more confident. Tony does not shy away from close-ups on the character, vehicles or their masks. Something I wanted more of in the One-Shot.
All in all, I think the art Tony created for this issue is perfect. He once again pays homage to the original look of M.A.S.K. while still giving a modern update to reflect the current times. If I wanted to be nit picky, I would suggest that I would like to see a little more grit, stylistically, at times. The story of M.A.S.K. has grown up, and while I’m sure that Tony Vargas is trying to walk that fine line between too retro and too modern, I – for one – am ready for more of the serious adult style.
If there was a flaw with M.A.S.K. #1, I think it must be the constraints put on Brandon Easton due to the ending of Revolution. Brandon is forced to transition from the end of Revolution into the ongoing M.A.S.K. series in just a few short pages and that brevity makes for a tough job. Readers who did not follow Revolution might find themselves confused with some of the goings on referenced in the first couple pages. For those who only have the original cartoon as a source, they would not understand why M.A.S.K. would be in conflict with law enforcement.
Given how well structured the rest of the issue is, I believe that this was mostly out of Brandon Easton’s hands. The rest of the issue reads very much how I expected and hoped it would – an adult version of the M.A.S.K. cartoon. In classic fashion, it pits M.A.S.K. against V.E.N.O.M. (although what V.E.N.O.M. stands for in this incarnation has yet to be revealed).
But, unlike in the 80s cartoons, the stakes are higher, Mayhem is meaner, and the risks are much more in your face. Instead of vague plans for power or money, Miles and his team are pursuing a specific goal – acquiring control of Cybertronian technology, with the end goal of using it to increase their power over the planet. And to do this, V.E.N.O.M. has no qualms about stepping on anyone who gets in their way. In one of the final panels, we see just how ruthless and terrifying the V.E.N.O.M. organization is under the writing of Brandon Easton. Sly Rax, uses his mask to slam two projectiles into Brad Turner’s shoulders, leaving him bleeding as the rest of M.A.S.K. tries to save his life.
As I stated before, this is a level of danger and violence never found in the cartoon. While I am sure that some readers will object for the same reason I am praising it, I relish this new, mature, direction for the M.A.S.K. franchise. I expect that issue two will be even stronger, now that Brandon has been able to move past the events of Revolution and be the sole captain of the ship named M.A.S.K.
Perhaps this is not the most sophisticated of headings, but it is hard to encapsulate the final pages of the issue. In an effort to motivate those reading this to go buy their own copy I will refrain from giving too many details. Suffice it to say, there are some interesting facts and images to be found in the final pages. I will reveal one small piece that is very special to me.
It certainly goes without saying that I am grateful and flattered to have been mentioned in this issue of M.A.S.K., but I would be remiss if I did not also mention all the support that Matt-Trakker.com and Agents of M.A.S.K. provide to the community. All of them are dedicated members of the M.A.S.K. fan community and if you have never visited them before, now is the perfect time to do so.
I’ll wrap things up with one more image from the back of issue #1, once again from Tommy Lee Edwards.