Masks, Volume 1 by Chris Roberson and Alex Ross

My review can be summed up in 2 words: THE SHADOW!!! Need I say more?

Ok, now a more serious review. This book is like any comic crossover out there. The potential is enormous, the payoff… not so much, but it’s not a waste either. It suffers from the same misbegotten belief that every featured character is an equal to one another, and it’s just not so. Maybe it is from a marketing standpoint when trying to sell spin-off titles of otherwise unknown characters to modern audiences… I’m sure that was the intent, based on some of the ads for Miss Fury, etc. Green Hornet will find his own limited audience, as will Zorro, but these days these are (sadly) niche characters.

Marketing or no, the “fact” remains (in my not-so-humble and completely biased opinion reinforced by years of reading those old novels) that the undisputed king of the pulp era is the Shadow. He towers head and shoulders above the rest. His only potential rival for the popular top spot (Doc Savage) is licensed to a different company (and thus “out of the country”). That means that despite the equal treatment and screentime given to D-listers like the Green Lama and cheap knock-offs like the Spider, this is the Shadow’s mission. He starts it, he enlists his newest agents in the field, he organizes the plan, he leads the charge, and ultimately *spoiler alert* he finishes it as only he can and will.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to see the other players, especially after DC and Marvel have defiled their multiple generations of superheroes for me. I’m a fan of the Green Hornet and Kato, I love Zorro in his original incarnation (thus I’m willing to give his descendant a chance to shine), and I enjoy seeing the pulp characters cross paths like this. But this book serves to prove what I’ve always known all along: the Shadow is an unstoppable force of righteousness and sanctimonium; these other characters are simply out of their league. And I think the writer understands that implicitly, which is why it played out as it did. Now I really want to see that crossover with Doc Savage. Or with the Phantom, as he is also potentially the only other one who could stand toe to toe with the Shadow.

This story is 8 parts, and parts 1-6 serve as build-up to give you an idea of what the Shadow, I mean, of what our group of vigilantes are up against. It’s a story that really isn’t that unrealistic for that time period, and one could argue that it’s not that unreasonable to consider something like this happening today either. It’s just a question of using an already corrupt and broken system to perverse ends. Anyway, part 7 is the villain’s monologue, and part 8 is the Masks debating how to end it while *spoiler alert* the Shadow dismisses the arguments of all concerned and dispenses his brand of justice.

To be fair… if you know the Shadow, you know how this plays out before it begins. That’s half the fun. The other half is watching everyone else squirm while he does it. It’s truly a joy to see him written so perfectly, and that’s why I rank it as highly as I did. Without him, probably 3 stars. The Shadow makes every pulp better.

5 stars

masks