Review by C.J. Bunce
If you’re a connoisseur of classic superheroes, you’d be remiss not to grab the trade edition of Dynamite Comics’ Masks series for your bookshelf. Inspired by a 1938 story by Norvell Page called The Spider vs. The Empire State, it’s an examination of pre-World War II Law vs. Justice, as nine classic pulp superheroes unite to fight a fascist political party blossoming in New York, bent on taking over the country.
Writer Chris Roberson looks at justice through the eyes of each of these classic superheroes, each having a different take on the evolving political climate, and how to deal with the story’s bad guys. Where the original source material was a story featuring The Spider, here the heroes take a backseat to The Shadow, whose perfectly shadowy dialogue manages to allow him to steal the scene in each of the story’s eight chapters. The book starts with a bang–a chapter we previewed here at borg.com in its original printing as Masks, Issue #1, back in November 2012. Alex Ross provided the interior art for the first chapter, and as much as we’d hope for a full book featuring Ross’s art, artists Dennis Calero provides an excellent look at the 1930s with a very pulp novel feel.
The antagonist of the book adds yet a tenth pulp hero to the book. The results of his villainy actually propel the story from the first scene via an army of masked black-suited police officer enforcers doing the bidding of the antagonist’s crime world minions as they infiltrate New York via the Justice Party. Much substance is here in this story, although the many characters and giving them all their due tend to convolute the story in places. A district attorney who refuses to enforce the new laws is blinded and takes on the persona of The Black Bat, who befriends a Latin artist inspired by the legend of Zorro, a man who is imprisoned on his arrival from the West Coast. Marla Drake witnesses oppressed citizens on the streets and ducks into a back room to don her Miss Fury persona, to bump into the Green Lama beginning his own one-man battle against the masked police.
The Green Hornet and Kato begin the story in a way that parallels some other classic looks at social strata in comic books. They begin to unravel the distinction between the Law–here oppressive laws that restrict freedoms and result in the citizenry hauled off on trains to work camps–and Justice–knowing when to protest and refuse to comply with laws that fail society. Along the way The Spider and The Black Terror join in, and even Zorro makes an appearance and The Shadow’s classic companion Margo Lane.
Only Dynamite Comics could create the playing field for all these characters to come together because of their many licensing arrangements. Each of these characters has or had its own series or mini-series with Dynamite, and the monthlies are among the best in comic book publishing. The result of combining the characters here is an action-filled battle that rivals Alan Moore’s fiction-character packed The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
The trade edition also includes a stunning 70 pages of bonus content, which is reason for fans of the monthly limited comic book series to also check out this collected edition. The content includes a script from the series and full-page spreads of alternate covers of each issue, as well as reprinting the one-of-a-kind incentive sketch covers created by series artists. It also includes sketches and plenty of Alex Ross character development material.