The Mask Omnibus Volume 1 was available for free on digital during the pandemic, giving readers a chance to see John Arcudi’s run on The Mask. Unlike later series including the divisive I Pledge Allegiance to The Mask series, this original run presents something a little more. But what exactly does this series have that succeeding storytellers don’t have?
The Mask Omnibus Isn’t Formulaic
The initial stories involving Stanley Ipkiss and Police Lieutenant Kellaway set up the formula later series use. In it someone with troubles acquires the Mask, and when they wear it, the Big Head persona allows them to cut loose. Nothing from legal boundaries to the laws of physics can stop them. Unless they’re either not wearing the mask or their conscience kicks in. Playing the same tune, however, gets boring, and writer John Arcudi knew that better than anyone.
In addition to those above characters, the rest of Arcudi’s run plays with this formula. In the Return of the Mask section, the reader finds the usual formula only to change directions mid-way. This becomes a means of character growth to Kathy, Stan’s girlfriend, who once wore the Mask to kill him. She knows how dangerous the Mask is and is even hold onto her sanity, unlike Stan or Kellaway. Four teens later wear the Mask in The Mask Strikes Back. Most of them don’t even have chips on their shoulders, and the effects vary. One of them Hugo, never even gives into the insanity after seeing the psychedelic effects.
What Arcudi demonstrates in The Mask Omnibus is a two-fold message. The Mask might give its wearer power, but it’s an addiction that can control them instead. Furthermore, wearing the Mask doesn’t automatically drive people insane, even without an emotional crutch. Sometimes it just takes recognition of the harm it can cause.
Which admittedly can be a little tough when looking at Doug Mahnke’s artwork in The Mask Omnibus. In the first couple of stories, he does the pencils, inking, and some of the coloring. His illustrations display a great range of styles. Even at the most mundane moments, cartoony thoughts permeate and foreshadow acts by the Mask. When Big Head does make an appearance, the wild effects evoke a sense of both humor and unease. Because what might’ve looked funny at first can become terrifying the next moment. Take when Big Head stuffs a muffler into a conning mechanic’s head and determine whether it’s funny or disturbing.
One man doing this alone, however, isn’t easy. In the Mask Strikes Back, inkers Keith Williams and Rich Perrotta bring out a style that emulates Mahnke’s. It’s not perfect, but it adds a bit of extra detail absent in The Mask Returns like shading lines. In addition to Mahnke, the colorists’ Matt Webb, Chris Chalenor, and Gregory Wright each contribute certain effects. Webb utilizes a wide range of colors that never blend in with one another and provide an amazing amount of detail. Chalenor keeps things simple but uses the right amount of contrast to keep the reader’s attention. Wright meanwhile uses color as a mood indicator for the background and effects to evoke feelings. Green and yellow in particular, evoke intrigue.
Letterers Pat Brosseau, David Jackson, and Lois Buhalis each display their styles through Big Head. Throughout The Mask Omnibus, the persona displays a distinctive font and word balloon. Brosseau and Jackson give the character an uneven and rough design that displays the character’s chaotic nature. This is in stark contrast to characters who try to keep things under their control with a rounded rectangle balloon. Buhalis, in the meantime, retains the rough word balloons but with an assortment of even but different range of fonts in Big Head’s dialogue. Not least of which is the wordmarks that decorate these word balloons. It matches with the Big Head design that steals whatever moment he appears in.
The Mask Omnibus is #1
The first Mask Omnibus has everything that sets up subsequent stories. A zany main character that brings out people’s creative sides and a story that causes the characters to let loose. The only thing to really add to the series is what John Arcudi brings up later. The mask bringing out people’s outrage is one scenario too many. Arcudi displays that in order for the Mask to truly make a comeback, writers have to get more creative in their approaches because he finished his story with the Mask in this neatly wrapped package.