In the 1980s toy company Kenner created the toyline MASK. (It’s an acronym.) The toys featured small action figures wearing masks that supposedly gave them superpower or weapons. They also have vehicles that could flip up weapons, extra modes for other terrain, and even flight capabilities. I actually have a few of the figures and of course I’ve reviewed the mini-comics for Free Comic Inside as well as the issues I own of the DC comics shelf run. I also looked into the IDW series that apparently didn’t pay attention to any that in favor of their own story.
Now I finally get to talk about the show since, although it’s been available on streaming services in the past, Shout Factor has the show out on home video for those of us who like physical media. As per usual they’ve posted the first episode to their official YouTube channel so tonight we get to revisit the 80s! MASK began with a five episode miniseries, like a number of shows being previewed back then, but instead of a multi-part story they had five standalone stories, which would continue into the full series.
The show follows the adventures of rich guy Matt Trakker (back when rich guys were allowed to be seen as crimefighters without being Batman or Iron Man) and the Mobile Armored Strike Kommand (I didn’t say it was a good acronym) in their battles with Miles Mayhem and the Vicious Evil Network Of Mayhem or VENOM (someone was obsessed with acronyms at Kenner). Matt also has a son named Scott, confirmed adopted in the comic but never stated in the show, and his robot pal T-Bob, who can change into a motorscooter. Admit it, you’d want one if you were a kid
or maybe even now. The show had a heavier sci-fi bend than the other media surrounding the toyline so tonight watch as VENOM tries to steal a meteorite that can heal others and turn it into a weapon. Enjoy “The Deathstone”. Well, that’s not a name that screams enjoymen…you know what I mean.
As a kid it was funny seeing how the members left their personal lives (and other people) hanging to go out and save the world but as an adult I have to wonder how some of them kept a job. Assuming they get paid by either Matt or the Peaceful Nations Alliance that they worked for in the comics, is their boss in on their cover?
Scott doesn’t get a good showing in this episode but he and T-Bob do make up for their mistake and their contribution varies from episode to episode. In some episodes they just serve as a comic relief break, in others they get involved when they shouldn’t, and still others they sort of get pulled into it, and that’s usually when they end up doing the most good. However, I think fellow DIC show character Penny Gadget should have given them a few lessons in being useful instead of an occasional impediment.
The show had to alter the agent/vehicle connection a bit from the toys. Originally Alex and Buddy just manned the gas station base and didn’t come with any of the vehicles. Matt actually came with both the Thunderhawk car/jet and the Rhino rig/tank/mobile base station. However, he only had the boring Ultra Flash mask that “pretends” (the packaging’s term) to fire beams of light when he was in the Rhino rather than the overpowered Spectrum mask of Thunderhawk. Serious, Spectrum can scan anything with “spectrum” in the term. Audio, visual, electromagnetic…probably episodes of Captain Scarlet & The Mysterons whenever they said “Spectrum is green”. And someone really needs to explain how “spectrum hangglider” works because it doesn’t even make sense for the mask’s stated ability. None of the other masks had that feature, and Bruce’s mask “pretended” to have an anti-gravity power.
Conspicuously absent are the two female characters. While MASK agent Gloria Baker and her submarine Shark car was one of the recurring group (and possibly dating Matt), Vanessa Warfield and her flying Manta car was usually part of Mayhem’s regular flunkies. Vanessa is memorable both because of how weak she saw men (she’d fit in so well on Twitter these days) but being the only one of the token girls to get their own toy. Shark was designed but not put into production if memory serves. Of course Vanessa and Manta only got a toy near the end of the line, when Kenner tried to freshen the line by going with a racing theme.
This theme continued into the show, as for some reason MASK and VENOM were now racing each other, with VENOM occasionally using the race as cover for some criminal scheme but usually just tried to cheat with their transforming vehicles. MASK of course still had their transforming cars, making me wonder what racing committee allowed people with super-powered masks and transforming vehicles turn their races into a more serious version of Wacky Races. They also dropped the secret identity angle for the MASK agents, there were episodes where neither leader shows up, a strange will they/won’t they between Vanessa and Brad Turner (probably the most unlikely ship you could think of), one episode adapted the minicomics origin of the conflict, and while there was occasionally a decent story the quality had dropped out. This was the last season for MASK as a show and the toyline ended about the same time, Kenner later being bought by Hasbro. I think Matt was even part of GI Joe for a hot second (everybody was part of GI Joe by this point).
The toyline got a spiritual successor in the VORTech line, which was the same vehicle concept but now the figure’s masks were just fancy helmets. The show depicted humans and either robots or cyborgs fighting for the future of humanity but frankly it wasn’t very good. It died a quick death.
Numerous streaming sites already carry the show, including Shout Factory TV, our “benefactor” for tonight’s Showcase. It doesn’t seem to have the “racing season” though. I guess the rights holders would rather forget that. They also have the series available on home video.