Holy Crap, Remember… The Mask?

Ah, nostalgia! Be it that old cartoon, a favorite toy or a comic book from days gone by, isn’t it great, when out of the blue, the memories come flooding back, and you’ve no choice but to exclaim “Holy Crap! Remember…?”

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The antihero is one of the more prolific character types in modern-day comics. From the Punisher to Deadpool to the Secret Six, readers love following the exploits of characters who work outside the law and have moral codes that allow a lot more breathing room than your typical superhero. During the late eighties, comic book antiheroes began their rise to prominence, marked by the mainstream success of the first Punisher solo title. At this time, Dark Horse Comics publisher Mike Richardson conceived The Mask, one of the strangest antiheroes in all of comics. Best known for the popular 1994 movie adaptation (not to mention the awful 2005 sequel), the original Mask comic, written by John Arcudi (B.P.R.D.) and drawn by Doug Mahnke (Green Lantern), was a dark, violent book that didn’t focus on a specific protagonist but rather followed the magic facial accessory as it changed owners from one story to the next. Unlike the movies, the mask in the comics turned everyone who wore it into an uninhibited, murderous psychopath who disposed of his victims in darkly humorous ways, sort of like what would happen if real people were subjected to Looney Tunes-style violence.

The first Mask story, originally published in a comic entitled Mayhem in 1989, centered on Stanley Ipkiss, a weak, neurotic young man who finds the mask in an antiques shop and brings it home as a gift for his girlfriend. After putting on the mask, Ipkiss turns into a green-faced killer dubbed by the police as Big Head. He then uses his newfound powers to take bloody revenge on all the people who has wronged him in the past. After killing several people, including eleven cops, Ipkiss is finally shot and killed by his girlfriend Kathy, who turns the mask in to Leiutenant Kellaway, the police officer assigned with catching Big Head. Kellaway eventually puts on the mask, becoming Big Head himself, and goes after the crime lords that run the city, but after his methods become more and more violent, he eventually removes the mask and buries it.

After his five-issue appearance in Mayhem (later reprinted as The Mask #0-4), the Mask returned in several more miniseries and one-shots. The character was so popular that he even got his own crossover one-shots alongside DC’s red-hot antihero Lobo and master supervillain The Joker. Each appearance introduced a new character to wear the mask, though several characters from the original mini made appearances to connect events to the original series.

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The 1994 movie version of The Mask, directed by Chuck Russell and starring a then-up-and-coming Jim Carrey as Stanley Ipkiss, was decidedly more lighthearted than the comics, deciding to focus on the more cartoonish aspects of the book and considerably toning down the violence. In the film, the mask’s effect on the character was determined by what the character wanted to be. For Ipkiss, a nebbishy banker with an affinity for Tex Avery cartoons, the mask turns him into a wild, catch-phrase-spewing party animal who likes to sing Desi Arnez songs and dance with sexy nightclub singer Cameron Diaz, in her film debut. The movie kept a little of the morally gray aspects of the comic, as Ipkiss uses his newfound abilities to rob the bank where he works and as a result gets hunted down by the police, but he eventually uses the mask for good by defeating the local mob boss and getting the girl in the end. This is a much happier ending than having Ipkiss being shot in the back of the head, which would have definitely hurt the movie’s success at the box office.

Riding on Carrey’s rising popularity, The Mask was an enormous hit and later spawned a short-lived cartoon series, with some of the episodes written by co-creator John Arcudi. Strangely, a sequel to the movie didn’t appear until 2005, when the Carrey-less bomb Son of the Mask all but killed the franchise in Hollywood. Few non-comics readers know of The Mask‘s dark origins, so a more faithful movie reboot might be a fun surprise for many. It probably won’t be the huge success that the first movie was, however, so New Line will more than likely let the franchise stay in limbo…that is, until the next Jim Carrey comes along. Until then, fans of the movie and/or cartoon that have not checked out the comic should definitely do so to get their dose of green-faced mayhem with a decidedly more sinister tone.

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Who ARE these people!?

Ben Gilbert is an avid comic and movie fan, father of two amazing kids, and husband to one awesome chick. He resides in the hills of East Tennessee and still doesn't quite know what he wants to be when he grows up.

Comments (11)

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  1. It’s been ages since I read the original books. I’d be all over a more faithful Hollywood reboot. I think the general public would dig on it, too. the property is ripe for that kind of exploration. Just please… No more Jamie Kennedy.

  2. LBiS says:

    You need to start picking stuff that’s alot older than the last couple of things you decided to do a “remember” on. What are you planning on doing remember Beanie Babies next?

  3. Spazzy says:

    Smokin!

    wait..sorry… i had to.. bad spaz! BAD!

  4. ianus says:

    Its o.k., we all do it once in a while. ()+()

  5. TENIME_art says:

    I really liked the Mask/Joker crossover. Good stuff.

  6. Ben Gilbert says:

    Holy Crap, Remember…The Charleston?

  7. BlueMaxx says:

    The Charletston! Whys yes, yes I do. Back in my day, it was the dance of the floozy. For a whole nickel, she’d dance the hoochie-coochie with you. Back then, that was like like the “Cleveland Steamer” of prostitution.

    Alright, old man from the 1920s character’s over. Ha! I honestly just back-issued all the main series. As in all the minis and one-shots that are The Mask’s main continuity, not the crossover stuff. Save that for later, I guess. All I need is issue #3 of the very first self-titled mini and I’ll have the entire main run.

    Vaguely remember The Mask cartoon. I keep thinking of Freakazoid storylines while trying to stir memory. Ah well.

    And yes, despite Jim Carey doing a smokin’ job of the adaptation, it is a very hard “R” rating for the source material.

  8. LBiS says:

    If I was to do a remember, it would either be something like Liquid Television or Sega Channel. Don’t steal my idea either.

  9. Graham says:

    I liked the write up and definitely just checked netflix to see if I could stream The Mask; I can. I think this is well in the chronological bounds of HCR, but it would be fun to really turn the clock back on comics. Next time someone should write about the first comic book ever: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chauvet_Cave

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