Monday, February 4, 2013

Pulp Noir Monday: Masks

The Four Variant Covers of Masks #1.
©2012 Dynamite Entertainment.
We're back to Monday again, and Monday's theme is on the Pulp Noir era - comics, games, movies, and other media that are set in the Pulp era of the 1930s and 1940s.

So far, I've covered the TV show, Tales of the Gold Monkey, and an RPG gaming supplement, Heroes of Rura-Tonga.

Today's post is about a fantastic comic book called Masks, from Dynamite Entertainment. Masks is an eight-issue limited series, currently on its third issue, which features many of the great pulp-era heroes from the past, all working together toward a common goal. You get the Green Hornet and Kato, Zorro, the Shadow, the Spider and Ram Singh, Miss Fury, the Black Bat, and more. Really, the only pulp character I could think of that I'd want to have seen included was the Phantom, but I'm sure it came down to a rights-issue.

This isn't going to be a full-on review, as the story is still unfolding and I don't want to give up any spoilers for those who plan to read the series. Instead, here are some things to whet your appetite.

What's It About?
(This all comes out in the first couple of pages of issue #1, so I'm not spoiling anything here).

The story takes place in 1938 in New York, where a political party called the Justice Party has swept both city and state-wide elections. However,  the Justice Party is controlled by powerful criminal syndicates, and the elected officials end up being extremely corrupt and power-hungry. There are shades of Nazism to their actions, as they institute a police-state and begin rounding-up "wrong thinkers" and the like. Only a few masked vigilantes stand against them...

Who Are the Creative Team?
The story is written by science-fiction author and comics veteran Chris Roberson, known for many SF short stories, his alternate-history series Celestial Empire, and also his comics work on Fables, House of Mystery, Superman, and Superman/Batman.

The art for the first issue is entirely done by fan-favorite Alex Ross, who provides the pencils, inks, and colors, painting the entire issue. This is Ross' first fully-painted interior work since DC's Justice in 2005.

Starting with issue #2, the interior art is done by Dennis Calero, known for his work on X-Factor, Legion of Super-Heroes, Cowboys & Aliens, and Kolchak.

The covers for each issue are done in four variants by different artists: Howard Chaykin, Jae Lee, Sean Phillips, and Alex Ross. Each cover is printed at 25% of the total print run, and it should be easy to get any of the particular four covers you're looking for.

Cool Bits
Seriously, you've got the Green Hornet, Kato, the Shadow, the Spider, Zorro, Miss Fury, and the Black Bat teaming up to fight against a bunch of corrupt politicians and the crime syndicates that back them. That's cool!

Roberson does a great job illustrating the differences in the personalities and methods of each hero, who may seem, on the surface, to all be a bit interchangeable given their origins. The Shadow, in particular, stands out a a hero who would prefer to work alone and doesn't necessarily think the other heroes are all that helpful. We also get to see rich playboys Britt Reidd and Richard Wentworth comparing the sizes of their fortunes and their choice for their aides/side-kicks.

Who Will Like It?
Obviously, if you're a fan of pulp-era heroes, then this is right up your alley. As it's a limited series of only eight issues, it's not a huge commitment, and will most likely be collected as a trade paperback after issue #8 has come out, so you don't need to go search for the individual issues at your local shop, unless you want to try to collect all of the variant covers.

Even fans of standard super-hero stories, or period-piece mystery fiction, may want to give this a try. Given that it features all of the characters in one story, you get a good glimpse of each one and how they operate, in the event that you want to delve deeper into an individual character later on. It's also a great introduction to the genre if you haven't really followed it before. You don't need a prior knowledge of any of the characters to enjoy this story.

Any Good Fodder in Here for My Role-Playing Games?
Of course! The setting, with its corrupt politicians controlled behind the scenes various criminals would make an ideal backdrop for a straight-up pulp-era game. The work's been done for you with character names, the organization itself (Justice Party), and even drawings of the main characters that you can show your players for maximum effect. This would be good for systems like the original TSR Gang Busters or perhaps a version of d20 Modern, using the d20 Past supplement.

The inclusion of heroes with a very slight mystical bent, like the Shadow's ability to "cloud men's minds" is a great launching off point for examples of how to include "super-hero" type characters in an otherwise semi-realistic pulp-era setting. In this case, I think a system like Savage Worlds would be absolutely perfect, although many of the current super hero RPG systems could probably work, with a little tweaking, as well.

Again, the system of choice is up to you - this is really about the setting and the types of characters you can create as inspiration.

Is It Good for Kids?
I think this one is probably fine. There is, of course, the ubiquitous super-hero type violence (punching, guns shooting, etc.), and it is a pretty dark setting in terms of how corrupt the government is. However, there is no swearing and no sex, so you'll have to balance how important the "sex vs. violence" thing is for your kids. In America, we seem to be okay with our kids being exposed to graphic violent images rather than sexual ones. To be safe, you might want to wait until your kids are around 9-10 or older before letting them read this. It's actually officially rated "Teen+" so let that be a guide for you.

  • Format: Eight 32-page full-color issues
  • Where to Buy: Try to buy it at your local comics shop. If you don't have one, try Dynamite Publishing's website here, where you can order it.
  • Price: $3.99 per issue
  • Rated: Teen+
  • More Information: The Dynamite Publishing press release for Masks
Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: A glass of La Granja Syrah/Garnacha with lunch
Listening: "Lush Life" by Sarah Vaughan


  1. Fun Fact: The background of this series - the takeover by the Justice Party, etc. - is taken directly from a trilogy of original Spider novels, currently being marketed as "The Spider VS the Empire State" or the "Black Police Trilogy".

    Anyway, I read a digital copy of the first issue of this a while back - looking forward to picking up the collection!

    1. That's cool - actually, I didn't know that (about the storyline). I actually know woefully little about the Spider. This is my first real exposure to him.

      Thanks for commenting!


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