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Review – Masks #1

Caliburn24 with the answer to the question, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?”  The answer is in Masks #1, which is a limited series published by Dynamite Entertainment.  It features some iconic pulp heroes in the Dynamite stable; The Shadow created by Walter B. Gibson in 1931 based on the long running radio serial, The Green Hornet, created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker for the radio serial that started in 1936, and is probably best known for the television series starring Van Johnson and Bruce Lee. Unfortunately, it ran for only one season (1966-1967) as a spin-off from the Batman television series, and also The Spider, created by Harry Steeger in a pulp series that began in 1933.  In addition to these heroes, is the swashbuckler, Zorro, who appeared much earlier than any of the other heroes, in 1919 written by Johnson McCulley.  All of the creators get a nod in the credits page.   
Zorro is of course popular in serials, but also came to fame in Guy Williams’ portrayal in Disney tv series from the `50’s.  His placement here is a bit mystifying except that he is under Dynamite’s banner since the adventures of the character were in California and about a century before the comic book takes place.  What is intriguing is that the creators of Green Hornet also worked on Lone Ranger so Britt Reid is a descendant of Dan Reid.  What is really mystifying is the line-up of pulp heroes seems to exclude Doc Savage.  It may be that the rights are still in the hands of DC from the First Wave series.  The best team-up of pulp heroes was the Doc Savage and Shadow, which ran in Shadow Strikes #5-6 and Doc Savage #17-18 for DC and a two issue mini-series at Dark Horse.  They had the magnitude of being a nostalgic look at heroes on the level of a team-up between Superman and Batman.
Masks #1 features the return to interior art for Alex Ross whose last interior work was pencils for the JSA Kingdom Come Special in 2009.  He contributes one of the covers along with three other artists, a good symmetry to the characters.  In New York of the 1930’s, at an alleyway in the dark of night, the Green Hornet and Kato are beating up some criminals.  The Green Hornet employs his gun that fires the Hornet’s Sting which shocks targets.  Ross constructs the fight on a single page, at one point the angle is so extreme it looks like the heroes are flying down a wall to sock the bad guys.  They interrupted by the sinister voice of The Shadow.  I will tell you that hearing Orson Welles speaking as The Shadow in recordings of the radio show sent shivers up my spine and his laugh is more disturbing than the laugh of any Joker.  Ross moves into a full page reveal of the Shadow over the shoulders of Green Hornet and Kato.  Green Hornet thinks that The Shadow is another henchman so Kato throws a kick with an extreme worm’s eye view of shoe.  The Shadow dodges him and hits him in the solar plexus which is not difficult to see because Lamont Cranston is a master of martial arts.
The criminals start to run off and The Shadow pronounces his guilty sentence before gunning down Arnold Purvis with his trademark .45s.  The Shadow tells the recovering heroes to check the Cobalt Club before he disappears with his laugh trailing in the night.  Kato is impressed.  The Cobalt Club the next day is filled with patrons including visiting wealthy publisher, Britt Reid.  He overhears some conversation about a Justice Party being formed in NY. Reid is brought to the table of Lamont Cranston with his companion, Margo Lane, also sitting at the table.  It is a shame that such a valuable member of The Shadow’s team is only given the edges of panels and not on the adventure outside of the club.  Plus, there is also the missing Shreevy, Green Hornet has Kato, Shreevy is his driver with a taxi cab.  Maybe the following issues will bring in more of the characters.  There also needs to the appearance of Black Beauty, Green Hornet’s car.
The artist, Rafael Vega, is arrested by racist cops.  There is a splash page of his drawing of Zorro.  There is a newsreel, “The March of Time”, that shows the Justice put together by Governor Whiting to enforce the law in black armor and masks.  Vega is in court trying to beat the phony vagrancy charges.  Zorro leads Green Hornet and Kato down to the street in a splash page.  They battle the Justice Party enforcers who are protected against their weaponry.  This is also a confusing part of the comic book since The Shadow has other abilities beyond the physical, the ability to “cloud men’s minds”, women not so much.  The tide of battle seems to turn with the appearance of The Spider.  The heroes are circled by the Justice Party enforcers shown in a full splash page.  The series has great potential with art being shifted to Dennis Calero for the next issues.