Normally I read super-hero comics. You’ll see me talking a lot on The Avengers, X-Men, Green Lantern… But with this week’s journey to my local shop I decided to step out of my comfort zone and try something different. Looking at the shelves at the store, I saw a brand new issue #1 of a title called Masks. I had never heard of this title before, but the cover looked interesting and the characters even looked a tad familiar. There were 2 things on the cover that sold me on the book and I had to pick it up (but more on that below).
After reading this comic, I decided 2 things: 1) A strong story does not need a super hero involved, it just needs strong characters; and, 2) “team” books (if you want to call this book that) don’t need your so-called heavy-hitters to be amazing. Wait, no super-heroes, you say? Well, no super-heroes of a sort. No, Masks is more of a mystery/detective/crime story. It’s based around the era of characters who were popular on radio shows back in the 1930’s. No flight, no super-strength, no spaceships… Just the urge to do justice.
For many following Dynamite Entertainment books, they do a lot of crime-style titles. There are a lot of tie-ins with other franchises in other mediums, such as Battlestar Galactica and Stargate. Now, you may say “those aren’t crime books” and you’re right, but it shows the versatility of this studio – they don’t limit themselves. If Masks is any indication, their goal is to tell a strong story, plain and simple.
The gist of the book: Justice has gone the way of the dodo. Although there is the word of law, that does not always equate to justice. So it’s up to the crime fighters of the era to ensure that justice prevails. And that’s where our story starts. We see many of Dynamite’s crime fighters coming together in one book to fight the injustice going on. As an example, the police can stop anyone and arrest them if they consider them a vagabond – turns out that’s illegal. They can pull out a megaphone and announce that all citizens must pay a random tax in cash at any time they choose to announce it, and if you don’t pay you get arrested. So the fighters have had enough of the unjust law.
Enter in the Dynamite crime fighters of The Shadow, The Spider, Zorro, and Green Hornet and Kato. Yes, all of those classic fighters of injustice in one book. No super-heroes, just plain heroes, fighting crime for the betterment of the people. These are characters I remember listening to in old recording from the 1930s radio shows that my family had. Many of us know these characters only of late, but the fact that the unjust society demonstrated in this book (which also appears to be from the 1930s) could, in fact, happen today… Well, this was a great book. And I must say my favorite read of the week.
So, I said there were 2 things on the cover that sold me on this book, but I indicated 5 characters. Which of those characters hooked me? None of them. That did not make this book a must-get. No, what made this book a have-to-buy were the names of the creators associated with it: Chris Roberson and Alex Ross.
I only discovered Chris Roberson not too long ago, but after picking up the iZombie trade paperbacks put out by DC/Vertigo I could tell he could portray one heck of a good story. I mean, he made me give a damn about a zombie… How rare is that? But here he was able to give a great story about justice, even when the law has things wrong. We have crooked cops, we have vigilantes, and we have persecuted people, and it’s not overdone nor is it done to the point where you’re yawning and just want it done with. Roberson got the tone and the message right, and it was an amazing fit for this story.
But a strong story needs a strong artist. If you’re a comic fan and you don’t know the name of Alex Ross, you have to be relatively new to the field. His artwork is gorgeous, and everything in this book is penciled and then painted by Mr Ross. Yes, that’s right; for those not familiar with his work, it is painted. The detail is astounding, the shadows in the alleys and for such a crime story are phenomenal. I have enjoyed Alex Ross’ work in other titles, such as Marvels and Avengers/Invaders and even though he can do super heroes, I think this is the work I have seen which I have loved the most. The detail blows me away as I flip through the book again, and I cannot think of anyone more suited to pair up with Chris Roberson for this title than Alex Ross. Dynamite blew it out of the water here.
So now that I’m done gushing…
This book is definitely worth a read. I buy a lot of books every week – this week had 27 titles I picked up – but from the stack this one is rising up to the top of the pile as my pick of the week. Part of it is because it’s different from my normal take, but because the creative team just got it right. I don’t profess to being huge fans of these characters in the past, even though I had a familiarity, but it didn’t matter – I could get into this title without the background. And if a writer can do that and introduce a non-team just like that… Well, need I say more?