So You Want to Read... The Mask
The Mask is a bit of a cult film these days. With Jim Carrey as the titular character, a ton of groundbreaking (for the time) special effects, a bizarre sense of humor, and a weird obsession with swing dancing has made for a delightful package of madness that most people around in 1994 remember. Some even remember the bizarre cartoon series from the same time.
But did you know it came from a comic book?
The Mask started out as The Masque, a reoccurring black and white comic in the early issues of Dark Horse Presents back in 1987. The comic was highly experimental, with creators Mike Richardson and Mark Badger focusing on an assassin who wore a special mask that seemed to give them superpowers. It’s never been collected and has mostly fallen into the back-issue bins, but the comic is worth looking into for some creative use of art.
The Mask would be rebooted into a more familiar format with 1989’s Mayhem, a black and white anthology book. Featuring early Dark Horse tales of The Mark and Mecha, the Mask would cover Stanley Ipkiss finding the titular Mask in a pawn shop and buying it for his girlfriend. After putting it on as a joke, Stanley finds himself transformed.
Stanley would use the Mask to enact petty revenge against those who slighted him in increasingly violent ways. Some of those scenes would be adapted into the motion picture, but re-done with the movie’s more slapstick tone. The film would also avoid the harsh characterization of Stanley Ipkiss in this iteration, with the worst of his personality traits being given to the movie’s villain instead.
The book Mayhem would spin the Mask off into his own self-titled book in 1991, and the item would change hands frequently. Detective Kellaway, another character adapted into the movie, would actually be the source of the comedic vigilantism that Jim Carrey’s Mask would be known for, albeit with more murder. Ignored in the film adaptation, but carried into the animated show, would be Walter. A silent assassin for the mob, most of the comedy for Walter came from him being mute, insanely strong and dedicated on ending the reign of terror instituted by Bighead.
Yeah, that’s another oddity. Despite being in a bunch of books titled “The Mask,” no one refers to the green-faced character as such. Instead, he is just the Big Headed Person, then eventually Bighead.
The semi-Trilogy would end with 1992’s The Mask Returns. This would feature the Mask falling into the hands of another user, and generally have Bighead fight Walter in increasingly hilarious slapstick comedy with Kellaway trying to help out as well. It would end an explosive finale that seemed to resolve everything.
Written by John Arcudi with art by Doug Mahnke, this book utterly sings across all three volumes. Mayhem was originally black and white, but was re-collected as The Mask #0 and colored in by Chris Chalenor. Chris would also work on the colors for the rest of the series, with Pat Brosseau joining on letters.
In all, the first trilogy is fantastic for what it is: Screwball dark comedy, ultra-violent, and an examination on what lurks inside the darkest corners of a man’s mind. Mayhem, The Mask, and The Mask Returns all are collected in the first volume of The Mask Omnibus by Dark Horse and are easy to find. If you’re going to check out one run of The Mask, this is easily the one to look at.
When the movie came out in 1994, a lot of The Mask was changed in some respects. The murder was still around, but Bighead and The Mask wound up rotating through as many hosts as the book did titles. A bevy of down-on-their-luck characters would discover the cursed mask, and each tale had some kind of Monkey’s Paw effect on the characters. Walter would also get a spin-off of his own as he ran for mayor of Edge City. Sort of.
Of course, it was also the 1990s. Dark Horse got really experimental, and would also have Bighead star in a ton of crossover books. World Tour would feature Dark Horse’s stable of heroes in 1995, while Wildstorm and DC’s Grifter would have a two-issue team-up to fight random white nationalist terrorists in Vegas. The Mask would also highlight with over-the-top characters Lobo and Marshall Law before the final Mask story would be told in 2000.
Joker / Mask.
Shockingly, the Lobo and Marshall Law crossovers are more enjoyable. This mainly stems from leaning into the absurd to an extreme and not caring too much about the plot in general. Joker / Mask runs on for too long on a one-note gag, while the Grifter two-parter spends too much time on setup. It also doesn’t help that the Joker / Mask crossover uses the prop designs from the Movie rather than the comic’s different mask design. But that’s more nitpicking than anything else.
If you want to go more in-depth on the lore of The Mask, the second Omnibus by Dark Horse covers most of the later releases that don’t cross over with non-Dark Horse properties. The books are certainly thought-provoking in their own way, along with a massive amount of ultra-violence, but the collection feels more like an anthology book rather than an overarching plot.
DC and Dark Horse got together to release a collection that covers Grifter, Lobo, and Joker’s run-ins with Bighead. Thankfully, this is still in print so those curious still don’t need to hunt down random out-of-print comics that can run for hundreds higher than the cover price. It is the cheapest of the omnibus formats but is also the shortest.
Finally, there is one more omnibus. Possibly out of print, The Mask Adventures actually collects a year’s worth of comics that actually were made off of the animated TV show. The art style is cartoony and elastic, much like the source material, and acts as a sequel serial to the movie. Insanely pricey, and not available even digitally, this may be cheaper to hunt down as individual issues if you’ve got a-hankerin' for PG Mask action.
The Mask has a convoluted publication history that literally stretches over a decade, with a ton of crossovers and out of print items. If you want to hunt them down, most of them are incredibly worth the read for at least the ultra-violence. The first Omnibus is well worth picking up if you enjoyed the original movie, though, and the comic has aged surprisingly well. Highly recommended, and worth reading.