Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Ten Funniest Moments from Arcudi & Mahnke's Mask comics:

 Ah, The Mask. This is a series I’ve wanted to cover for some time now. Mix in the Creeper, the Joker, toss in a little Dial “H” for Hero, throw in a dash of Tex Avery, a dash of Freddy Krueger, a pinch of The Toxic Avenger, and voila; you have Big Head aka The Mask.
 This was a series I genuinely looked forward to when each issue came out (Which wasn’t too frequently since each new “chapter” was released as a mini-series). It was a brilliant send-up of the revenge fantasy aspect of the superhero genre: “I must share these powers with mankind, use them to protect and serve others in need---but first…”
 I don’t mean to give the wrong impression of course, the big attraction of the series by and large was the psychotic over-the-top mayhem (Appropriately enough, the version of The Mask that everyone is familiar with debuted in a series called Mayhem) that whoever wore the titular mask would get into.
 It could be silly and light-hearted:
 And it could also be nightmarishly terrifying:
 So since January is list month, I thought I’d rattle off what I consider the funniest moments from the “original” John Arcudi/Doug Mahnke run. One of the more underrated aspects of the series is just how funny other characters could be besides whoever was currently Big Head, so I’ve made sure to spotlight some sequences where he doesn’t even appear.
 And don’t worry folks, I’m not neglecting the other non-Arcudi & Mahnke Mask series or the prototypical “Masque” run by Mark Badger from Dark Horse Presents, but a retrospective of funny moments from those series will have to wait for a different time.
 10) Single friggin’ file children!
 Part of the fun of the Ipkiss-focused stories was seeing the deconstruction of traditional revenge fantasy tropes, like the ‘asshole victim” whom everyone hates. For example, in this bit, Stanley goes after his former first grade teacher who had once humiliated him. At first the class finds his antics funny:
 Then not so funny, even a boy who she had previously humiliated…
 Now that is how you pull off black comedy. It’s funny, but you know those kids are all going to need therapy.
 9) Night of the Return of the Living Ipkiss…kinda (seriously, that’s the title):
 The subsequent Mask series released after the 1994 film had been both increasingly silly and increasingly lighter in tone, without the dark humor and splatter-based gags of the original. Even the last Arcudi/Mahnke series, The Mask Strikes Back, had been considerably less violent than what had come before. The 1994 film and the subsequent (quite good) cartoon series had also firmly implanted the idea into people’s minds that Stanley Ipkiss was the one true mask-wearer, and people complained about him not being featured in the comics (even though he was dead as a door-nail by the end of the original Mayhem run).
 So for the anthology Decade: A Dark Horse short-story Collection, Arcudi & Mahnke made sure to bring Stanley back, scarier and more vengeful than ever:
 Unfortunately, he proved no match against the power of…continuity!
 Never has a Fuck You to people unfamiliar with the original series been funnier.
 8) What’s wrong with your faaaaaace?
 One of the great things about Arcudi & Mahnke’s run was how they both evolved but never lost sight of what made the earlier stories work. For the last mini-series, Mahnke really jazzed the art up with a 90’s ambience and Image Comics-style cross-hatching, leather jackets, chains, etc.
 But none of that overrode the ‘charm” of the series. Here, for example, is a one-page sequence of Big Head after willingly allowing himself to be arrested. Simple, but I know a classic gag strip when I see it:
 Gotta love those facial expressions, and the ‘zoot suit” line. Hmmm, I wonder what they were referencing?
 7) The Wild Ride of Uhh Jerry:
 The entire sequence in the first mini-series of Stanley’s battle with the Edge City PD is hilarious, but this part just cracks me up. Stanley steals a police car with some poor Schmuck in it, and hilarity ensues:
 “I’ll never shop here again!”. What a perfect one-liner, and what a funny gag that would have  been if Uhh Jerry didn’t interrupt the flow by pointing out the cops. He is a true force of chaos, a kindred spirit to Big Head/Stanley. His being in the back seat symbolizes…something.
 Unfortunately, poor Uhh Jerry comes to a sad end when Kellaway rams the car off the road in a last ditch attempt to catch Stanley. He will live on forever in our hearts. *Sniff*
 6) The only time in history that a balloon animal has been funny:
 In the second mini-series (although it is collected as one with the first), Kellaway obtains the mask and uses it to become a crime-fighter, engaging in the sort of crime-fighting that Stanley always said he was going to do, but never got around to because he was too busy murdering everyone who had so much as looked at him funny.
 Kellaway’s tenure as Big Head, unfortunately, wasn’t much cleaner than Stanley’s, despite his heroic pretensions.
 Among the first bad guys he goes after are some convenience store robbers. We know they’re evil, because they shoot old ladies:
 Ooh, I wonder what’s in store for them? Could it be….a gruesome revenge? Kellaway corners the two and...
  Pretty different from how that same gag went down in the movie, huh folks?
 5) Stanley predicts what will probably be lyrics from the next hit rap song in 2013:
 Evil. Pure evil, but admit it, you laughed. Ouchie.
4) The worst henchmen always make for the funniest henchmen:
 Proving that The Mask wasn’t just built around the gory antics of a green-faced monster, Arcudi and Mahnke more than amply demonstrate their ability to milk comedy out of ordinary people (well, okay, they’re mobsters but you get the point):
 Never let it be said that Arcudi and Mahnke don’t expand on throwaway gags; the two halfwit hit men actually do end up attacking the place during lunch hour:
 3) Walter meets Don Mozzo:
 As great a bunch of characters as those two hit men were, the greatest criminal in the series is undoubtedly Walter, who becomes the main villain of the strip for the rest of the Arcudi/Mahnke run. In fact, now that I think about it, Walter may just be the best character in the series period, greater even than Uhh Jerry. Research indicates that he may, in fact, be the greatest character in comics history. He may even rival Armless Tiger-Man!
Walter is a hulking, mute mob enforcer who is inexplicably impervious to harm. He’s part silent mob goon, part Frankenstein Monster, part Hulk, Part Solomon Grundy, part Terminator, part Jason Voorhees, and part Harpo Marx. He doesn’t say anything, but you can bet he makes his presence felt, like this sickeningly funny sequence where he meets up with the series’ other main villain; Don Mozzo (the same mob boss from the previous sequence):
 Scorcese eat your heart out.
2) Walter obtains the mask:
 Eventually, in the last issue of the last series, Walter finally obtains the mask. Considering how powerful he already is, how much more powerful can he possibly get? Oh boy, the heroes are fucked…
 This actually made me laugh out loud the first time I read it. Walter went on to become a recurring villain on the cartoon (where this sequence was pretty faithfully adapted) and got a justly deserved limited series of his own called Campaign of Terror.
1) Wait…..whaaa?
 Aaaand number one on the list!
 I think of all the Arcudi/Mahnke mini-series, the second part “Mask Justice” starring Kellaway is my favorite. The internal conflict going on with Kellaway is fascinating, the consequences of vigilante tactics are dealt with more realistically than almost any superhero comic I’ve read, and the creator’s comedic timing is at it’s best.
 And then we have this sequence, where Kellaway saves a stereotypical Italian truck driver while disguised as a stereotypical Italian barber. What follows is quite possibly the most WTF moment in the whole series:
Um, well, we do indeed live in the same world as Frank Sinatra, so he’s right I guess.
Well, that wraps this up. Don’t try on any strange masks, avoid hulking mute mob enforcers, and remember kiddies, this is Sinatra’s world.