Masks #1

Team-ups and crossovers always offer up the promise of excitement and adventure, or at least more heroes for the cover price. In the case of "Masks" #1 from Chris Roberson with dazzling art by Alex Ross, there are plenty of heroes, excitement, adventure and even the requisite "misunderstanding" that leads to the protagonists doing battle against one another instead of alongside each other.

All of this is lavishly illustrated in the amazingly comfortable painted tones of Alex Ross' work. Ross is so meticulous in his details that some panels appear to simply be hand-colored photographs. The characters, regardless of setting, are all strikingly detailed and almost tangibly realistic. Ross's painted panels are like mini splash pages with energy and depth. Each panel studied alone would provide students of Ross' style with plenty to be excited about, but combined those pieces become a stunning narrative. Although his characters are so detailed as to appear frozen in photographs, Ross imbues them with enough motion and constructs the panels in such a manner that the characters are nearly alive on the page. In addition to the grand detail, Ross also uses color to tell his story. Green Hornet's "Masks" #1 opening scene is washed in emerald hues, but when the Shadow enters the scene and the palette shifts to black and red. The Cobalt Club, naturally, is bathed in blues. So much of Ross' work is subtle, but it all comes together in such a magnificent boisterous way.

The story by Chris Roberson is centered around a fairly simple plot: a corrupt bureaucracy leads to a uniting of heroes. Truly, it almost doesn't matter what story this collaboration of legendary characters is built around, so long as the writing is solid (it is), the characters are active (they are) and the fight is intense (it is). Roberson dials up the intensity in the Shadow, who very nearly becomes the star character for "Masks" #1, save for the fact that his paneltime is surpassed by the Green Hornet and Kato. The aforementioned fight features the Shadow remarkably holding his own against the masked identities of Britt Reid and his valet. As such, Roberson and Ross combine to create a memorable fight sequence that had me both amused and impressed: chuckling and cheering.

My biggest gripe with this latest offering from Dynamite Entertainment is that the editing on "Masks" #1 could have been a lot tighter, especially since "gentlemen" and "gentleman" are used to refer to the same single male character on facing pages and parallel panels. For a period piece, where the term would presumably be used more, I hope this error turns out to be an exception.

I haven't been plugged in to any of the Dynamite pulp hero comic book series and truly only became consciously aware of this series within the month. Given the talent involved, I decided to pick this one up and I am now locked in for "Masks" as long as the creative of "Masks" #1 sticks around. Roberson and Ross have a great, fresh handle on these characters that I'm enthused to keep investigating their world.

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