Were I to describe an animated, wisecracking, comic book personality that dispatches his adversaries in a variety of hyper-violent ways, most kids today would likely believe I was describing Deadpool. But before Deadpool hit the newsstands in the pages of Marvel’s New Mutants, there was The Mask.
Many moviegoers may be familiar with the 1994 hit film adaptation starring Jim Carrey. While the character of Stanley Ipkiss enjoys an affinity for Tex Avery cartoons and elaborate Desi Arnaz dance numbers in that movie, Carrey’s comic book counterpart was far more brutal, leaving a devastating wake of visceral destruction and violence around those who cross him.
After brief appearances in Dark Horse Presents and Mayhem, the character, created by Timecop talent Mike Richardson, finally headlined his own miniseries under the stewardship of writer John Arcudi (B.P.R.D., Major Bummer) and illustrator Doug Mahnke (JLA, Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein). Ipkiss, an irksome curmudgeon bearing a newly purchased gift for his estranged girlfriend Kathy, is more than a tad downtrodden. He was jumped by the Butchers biker gang, hustled out of money by his local mechanic and holds personal grudges against a litany of people from his past. Thankfully the gift for his gal was a mystical mask that enables its wearer to tap directly into their id, grants them reality-altering abilities and expands their penchant for slapstick humor. With the aid of his newly acquired, green faced alter-ego (referred to simply as “Big Head” for much of the comic book run), Ipkiss devises a list of all those who’ve wronged him (not altogether dissimilar to the manga Death Note), wreaking blood vengeance on his adversaries as well as the police force out to end his reign of terror.
Unlike the feature film however, Ipkiss isn’t the sole protagonist to assume the mantle of the mask. When the mysterious artifact falls into the heroic hands of police investigator Lt. Mitch Kellaway, will he turn toward altruism or persist in the bloodletting? What happens when Ipkiss’ put-upon girlfriend Kathy dons the mask? All this and more can be found in the pages of The Mask Omnibus Volume 1 which chronicles the original four issue miniseries of The Mask as well as The Mask Returns and The Mask Strikes Back followup arcs.
The early ’90s were formative years for Dark Horse. Esoteric titles such as Paul Chadwick’s Concrete or Mike Mignola’s Hellboy flourished, sharing shelf-space alongside more mainstream fare such as DC’s Superman and Marvel’s X-Men. The Mask deserves its distinctive place in that pantheon, elevating off-brand storytelling to the comic book reading, Saturday morning cartoon watching, moviegoing masses.