It looks like Dynamite has a hit on their hands! After much anticipation, Masks has finally arrived. The crossover event brings together all the heavy hitters from the pulp era: Green Hornet and Kato, The Spider, The Shadow, even Zorro (yes, Zorro!), with more lesser known characters debuting in future issues. The series has generated so much attention thanks in large part to all of these characters already being part of amazing title's in their own right. The Spider and The Shadow are currently not only Dynamite's best books, but two of the best books all around. The success has already been reflected by the advance reorders for Masks #1 shooting to the number one position, beating out such megaweights as AVX: Consequences and others. This kind of success leads one to hope the "Big Two" concept is headed for extinction. As the release date arrives, the actual comic proves worthy of all the hype.
The issue opens with the Hornet and Kato cornering a couple of thugs, demanding answers about "Boss" Rothko, a kingpin from Chicago who the duo has followed to New York. It seems a new political faction known as the "Justice Party" has risen to power in NY and it is being backed by crime boss's from major cities. This Justice Party slowly brings about a near-fascist state, complete with a new police force staffed by criminals. This plot (based on the pulp novel trilogy, "The Spider Vs. the Empire State") may seem far-fetched to us now, but in the historical backdrop of the 1930's it was all too realistic. In the period between the Great Depression and the beginning of WWII, America was at one of its lowest points. The economic successes of the fascist parties in Europe were widely praised, Hitler was TIME's "Person of the Year", and an attempt was even made at a military coup of the White House by a group of politicians and business leaders calling themselves the American Liberty League. In light of this context, the "Justice Party" is a frighteningly plausible scenario. An army of Black Police enforcing ludicrous new laws is too much for common working men to deal with alone, but will our heroes be enough to overcome this regime?
One of the hardest parts of writing a mini-series of this scale is introducing the plot and characters without boring the reader with long blocks of text. Chris Roberson handles this quite well. He begins the book in the middle of some action and parses out the Justice Party story by fluidly working it into several different scenes. At the same time he introduces the main characters in the series (as well as Margo Lane). One of the main worries going in was how Roberson would handle having so many iconic characters sharing the page, but it never even becomes an issue. All of the masked men so far have parts to play in the story and fit seamlessly together when necessary. Attentive readers will also notice some out-of-costume heroes in minor background roles that will likely pop up more prominently later.
If you've read anything about Masks, you know that Alex Ross hasn't done full interiors on a comic since Justice finished its run in 2007. This issue shows that not only has he not lost his touch, Alex Ross was born to paint this book. His work on various cover's for Dynamite's pulp line has been top notch and Masks is like getting a cover-quality painting for every single panel. The action sequences are where his ability really shines and you can check the preview pages for perfect evidence of that. One thing about this fully painted style is that less active panels tend to come across as stiff and lifeless, like a still life painting. Ross manages to avoid that here. In the most low-key scene, Britt Reid, Lamont Cranston, and Margo Lane talk at a nightclub table and every detail from the background scenery to the smoke trailing from Cranston's cigarette as he takes a puff is perfect. Ross nails Cranston particularly well. His weathered, almost ugly face, his mishapen nose, deep lines, creepy eyes, and even slight raise of an eyebrow has "The Shadow" written all over it. This dead-on depiction of a character is exemplary of the work throughout the comic. It really is a shame this is the only issue Ross will be painting.
Dynamite comes out of the gate firing on all cylinders with Masks #1. It's an exciting and intriguing ride that promises even bigger things to come. This is definitely one you'll be reading more than once. The only question that remains is, will they be able to continue to deliver? Dennis Calero is slated to take over on art fro the rest of the series. Ross is an impossible act to follow, but I have faith Calero will carry the ball well. For now, Masks #1 is an outstanding beginning.