Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Masked Man #1

The Masked Man #1, December 1984, Eclipse Comics
by B.C. Boyer

From paper bags to Kevlar cowls, masks have played a critical role in superhero literature, which is an ironic characteristic as the founding father of the genre, Superman, didn't wear one. In fact, contrarily, Superman obscured his face in his civilian identity with Clark Kent's glasses, implying that his superhero identity is his primary mode, the one in which he feels the most natural and comfortable. The Man of Steel was certainly more public than Clark Kent, which explains the importance of obscuring one's identity in the first place; as proactive crimefighters, superheroes would be the inevitable target of attack, and subsequently their loved ones, as well. The mask offers a sense of safety -- the ability to save lives while preserving the sanctity of one's own.

The mask can have another effect, as well. If nobody know who you are, really, you can do anything you want. Wearing a mask (and getting away with it) is an instant all access pass for the id unleashed; therefore, the mask is also a test of your priorities. Do you wear the mask to fight crime, something you'd never do if folks knew it was you, or do you streak in the girls' locker room, something you probably shouldn't do either way. The Masked Man opts for the former, and in this first issue, we readers get a real sense of the white collar hero's integrity. Told from the perspective of a disillusioned fan/journalist, when this tale begins the Masked Man is introduced as a media pawn for a political hopeful. Interestingly, the Masked Man doesn't say a word throughout this issue, as the depressed fan recounts his first encounter with the vigilante, then we see the Man himself struggle with the mayor's lofty and manipulative plans. Finally, in that last culminating moment where the Masked Man has a decision to make, he speaks up, proclaiming a bold, inspiring war cry, "Suck . . . my . . . armpits!"

Okay, "Avengers Assemble!" it ain't, but it conjures just as much enthusiasm in the context of this story's tension. This issue reminded me of yesterday's anticlimactic Sheena adventure, rife with plenty of talking heads yet hardly any swinging fists. This issue's cover would lead one to believe that he's in for a modern swashbuckling wallop; alas, we don't even really see any armpit sucking. It's all captions and word balloons . . . which isn't a problem, mind, just an unexpected twist. If the Masked Man truly represents the common man, I wonder if the implication is that the common is more tough talk than anything.

This issue is not the first time we've seen the Masked Man in A Comic A Day. Like his appearance in Eclipse Monthly #1, this issue offers excellent insight into his company's mission in entertainment and his future as a hero of the people. Both the introductory and supplemental essays about the behind-the-scenes of the creative teams' inspirations reveals that, sometimes, the best practices in comics require no masks. Sometimes, we just want to read a comic book at face value. This comic book narrowly yet succinctly pulls it off . . . even with the mask on.

No comments: