Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Alex Ross and Dennis Calero
There is something inherently attractive about hero team-up comics, even if you don’t know a thing about the heroes in question. Thus why Avengers titles tend to sell well regardless of the team, and why Masks brings together a group of heroes from the pulp era. But while team-ups generally need to rely on strong characters and story, Masks doesn’t really go past being a cool team-up.
Taking place in 1930s New York City, Masks starts with a political takeover by the Justice Party, who’s turning the city into something resembling a fascist state. Masked police officers are arresting people for the smallest of crimes, and everybody is being bribed by the party to keep it happening. It’s up to The Shadow, Green Hornet, The Spider, a new version of Zorro, and more heroes to come together and stop them.
The big plus side of Masks is how the Justice Party is used. They’re a very obvious flip of the coin from the vigilante heroes, and one that’s handled very well. This only really comes across in the final 2 issues, but when it does come across, it’s pretty hard-hitting. The standard villain speech of “Join me” has some real weight here that has to be considered by the heroes, and it’s tied in with a message of hope. That even if there was a Justice Party, there’s a force that would stop it.
What doesn’t work at all here is the heroes themselves. I feel no attachment to them at the end of the day. It doesn’t help that the only one here I know anything about is Zorro, and that’s the classic version. There’s two big problems here. The first is that it keeps skipping between heroes, so you don’t get enough time with any of them. This especially hurts the fringe heroes. I couldn’t tell you a thing about Miss Fury or The Spider at the end of the comic. And they’re also just all too similar. Their smaller differences would surely come out individually, but together, it’s this mass of people that might as well be the same person. And there’s just not enough conflict within the team that tells me the differences, either.
One of the other big problems with Masks is how it tells the story. Constantly, a scene with a character will end with them reacting in shock. Cut to a different group of characters, cut back, and…we never find out what they were reacting to. At best, it’s a bunch of guards, which at some point is just status quo. Setting up cliffhangers that don’t pay off is just cheap. And finally, there’s the use of Alex Ross on just the first issue. I have nothing against Calero’s art, but very little can match up to Ross’ meticulous painting. And it probably takes a lot of work, hence why he only did one issue, but why not just have Calero on the whole series?
If you’re a huge fan of all the pulp heroes here, then you’ll probably enjoy Masks. Casual readers can just forget about it, as there’s no reason to care about the people here and not enough identity to them.