Less terrible than you thought it was: THE MASK

A little lecture in comic book history for youse all today. Unless you're a semi-virginal hermit Geek Lord like myself, the only incarnation of The Mask you're likely to know of is that 1994 Jim Carrey piece in which he acts like a Looney Toons character and pulls Cameron Diaz. The 'real' Mask (or 'bighead', as the comics call him) is a hardcore mamalover with an affinity for OTT violence, gruesome revenges and explosives.

A list of all-time cinematic disappointments: Aliens vs Predator, Judge Dredd, the Futurama movies, and the new Texas Chainsaw Massacres. Up there with the best of them is The Mask. Yes, the one with Jim Carrey and very especially Son of the Mask. Superpowered babies are all fine and well, but I want bazookas and mean-spirited anarchic violence. With a side order of tartan trousers, if you please.

The (real) Mask is an outstanding, highly underrated little comic book in which loser Stanley Ipkiss (not even remotely resembling Jim Carrey) finds a mystical mask and sets about performing bloody revenge upon anyone who's ever wronged him. Think of it as an an evil My Name is Earl with a magic mask, bazookas and invulnerability. This Mask also conjures up a Tommy Gun outta machine guns. But where Jim Carrey wasted the bastard thing, The Real Mask blows everyone to shit with it. The Real Mask wastes a precinct full of cops and very violently murders anyone who gets in his way. Like Wanted or Kick-Ass, it's a large dose of wish fulfillment fantasy for those unsatisfied with their lot in life. The comics are highly immature and probably quite irresponsible, but just too damn fun not to enjoy.

As an idiot child, I loved The Mask movie. I collected the action figures and tie-in comics and even hunted down the TV series on VHS. Classic escapism. Then, aged probably 13ish, I happened across my father's own comic book collection. After I'd done with about 20 years' worth of back issues, I started on the more underground stuff. Amongst it, The Mask. I was captivated.

In his further adventures, The Real Mask would go head-to-head with Lobo and Batman. He'd become a Dirty Harry-esque vigilante, a mafia don and a woman. Pah, the most edgy thing Jim Carrey thing did in the movie? Well, he stuck his tongue out a lot and accidentally robbed a bank. It's your classic case of a concept being utterly wasted in the name of mass appeal. Sure it might not have made as much money, but a true interpretation of The Mask could've been a cult classic. My dreams had it directed by Sam Raimi (think Darkman) with maybe Bill Murray as Ipkiss and Michael Keaton as Lt. Kellaway. I may never get to see that movie, but at least I'll always have my retarded imagination.

There's an argument that the movie is actually a quite literal adaptation of the source material. After all, The Mask isn't so much a character itself - it merely accentuates an individual's worst qualities and gives them a few superpowers to play with. So one could argue that in the case of Jim Carrey and Jamie fucking Kennedy, the host bodies were just a pair of childlike losers. That is, they didn't have the personality for violence and nastiness. It's a good theory, but who really needs to see Carrey and Kennedy gurning like idiots again? They have their own inane little franchises for that (Ace Ventura and The Jamie Kennedy Experiment) whereas there's only one The Mask. I doubt we'll ever see a decent adaptation of the comics now.

If you've not read them all ready, I'd highly recommend the Dark Horse omnibus editions which collect the best Mask stories. Arcudi's writing is fun, angry and sharp; Doug Mahnke's artwork is an ever-improving thing of grotesque beauty. Unlike that unremarkable movie and its terrible sequel, The Mask books reward revisiting again and again.


  1. Awesome history.

    That movie I love actually, the first one, avoiding the sequel, and I enjoyed reading comics based off the movie concept of the character.

    I was made aware, I think thanks to Wizard Magazine, of the violent version of The Mask but the more family friendly one is the one I grew up on and prefer.

    That said to each their own, and you'd better believe if there was a violent Mask movie I'd see it.

  2. Thanks dude. Don't get me wrong, I do have a soft spot for the Carrey movie - it's just I'd rather see a faithful version of the character than another zany Jim Carrey comedy.