Revving Up Hasbro's "MASK" For a Modern Comic Audience

M.A.S.K. is back and ready to roll out against the evils of V.E.N.O.M. in an all-new comic series. IDW Publishing, already known for the continued adventures of Hasbro's Transformers and G.I. Joe in comics, adds the fondly-remembered '80s property to its publishing slate when the series, by writer Brandon Easton and artist Tony Vargas, debuts in November.

Now-defunct toy manufacturer Kenner developed M.A.S.K. as a toy-television franchise in the mid-80s. Like so many toy lines of the time, M.A.S.K. was built around a central storyline that revolved around the heroes of the title organization going up against Miles Mayhem and the nefarious V.E.N.O.M. Characters on both sides sported superpower-granting helmets and drove seemingly normal cars, motorcycles and planes that transformed into crazy, militarized vehicles. When Hasbro purchased Kenner, it absorbed the series and even added M.A.S.K. leader Matt Trakker to the ranks of G.I. Joe in action figure form.

In late-2015, Hasbro announced plans to create a shared movie universe encompassing properties as diverse as ROM, Micronauts, Visionairies and, of course, M.A.S.K. With the franchise now on an upswing, Hasbro and IDW have teamed for an updated take on the classic concept. CBR News spoke with Easton and Vargas about bringing new life to these concepts, paying homage to the originals and what you can expect when the series launches!

CBR News: "M.A.S.K." was a very of-its-time animated series and toy line. What were the key elements of the original that appeal to you today, as creators?

Brandon Easton: I love the idea of a show that combined all the elements of popular action adventure animation of the '80s. Vehicles with alternative modes, military action, sci-fi and superheroes with advanced technology -- it was a very unique mix that hasn't been fully realized as a concept. That's something I'm looking forward to exploring in this series. 

Tony Vargas: For me, it was the opportunity to reinvigorate a beloved television show from my youth. It's a chance to take something that by today's standards has simple designs and modernizing them for a more informed and tech-savvy audience. It's going to be interesting to see how it all irons out.

Have you gone back to the original cartoons for any kind of research? If so, have there been any elements that surprised you?

Easton: Yes, I've been watching some of the episodes I remembered enjoying as a kid. I can't say that there's been any new surprises, but I've been impressed by how cool the vehicle designs were. The Thunderhawk, Switchblade and Condor are ridiculously cool and still resonate with me as a former toy collector. 

Vargas: I watched four episodes of the first season to refresh my memory a few weeks ago. I went through a checklist of which character was riding what vehicle, trying to get a deeper understanding of what the show was about. My perspective of the show has changed a bit since kindergarten. 

The designs were very simple, and as a kid, I would look at them and not think much of it. The designs seemed like they were limited to the capabilities of toy development in the '80s; it really influenced the aesthetic of the show. Looking at it now, I see what I like and what I don't, and I want to make something that will appeal to everyone's sense of awesome. 

The vehicles were a huge part of the original's appeal. Tony, as you mention, they looked super-modern to us as kids, but they hid something even cooler underneath. Was that one of the guiding design principles this time around, too?

Vargas: Of course! You can't even talk about M.A.S.K. without mentioning Thunderhawk or Boulder Hill, the transforming service station. At the time, these vehicles and locales were some of the best there were. We're looking to keep that sense of nostalgia while at the same time adding a few new bells and whistles to keep you involved.

How established is this organization as you kick off the series, and what purpose does it serve?

Easton: I can't say too much, but our version of the team will have to prove they deserve to pilot these sophisticated machines on what could be described as suicide missions. Many of the characters will have dark and/or complicated pasts -- the M.A.S.K. team might be their final shot at redemption, or at least a steady paycheck. Everyone will have a different reason for being there, but soon they'll cross an intense threshold and -- to steal a cliche -- their lives will never be the same again. 

On the other hand, how dangerous and effective is this new take on V.E.N.O.M.?

Easton: This team is going to be made up of highly efficient terrorists who strike a tight balance between killer instincts, military precision, technological savvy and sociopath tendencies. Our V.E.N.O.M. is not a team of bumbling crooks with cool weapons; these people are serious, and they won't back down from a fight with anyone. I generally dislike cowardly villains, and the best stories have villains who don't fear the heroes. This version of V.E.N.O.M. will have no problem going after M.A.S.K. in broad daylight, or they might attack using stealth, or they might try a long game of intimidation. As M.A.S.K. grows more capable, so will V.E.N.O.M. It's going to be one heck of a war. 

The masks themselves probably needed some upgrades as well. What were some of the key elements you wanted to keep and ones you wanted to change?

Easton: The '80s versions of the masks were cool for the time, but everything resembles the early Apple Mac computers. Those things were blocky and unwieldy. I wanted the modern versions to be streamlined, like our smartphones and tablets. Some will include holographic elements. I see these masks as weaponized Google glasses. I've definitely refined some of the masks' abilities while leaving other the same as the old show. It's going to be cool to see how readers vibe with the new designs. 

What kind of dynamic do Matt Trakker and Miles Mayhem have?

Easton: There will definitely be a teacher/student kind of bond in the early days, until Trakker learns what kind of man Mayhem really is and what he's capable of. Matt definitely admires Mayhem for his leadership role and friendship, but there's so much more to their backstory that readers will learn during the first year of stories. 

In addition to Miles and Matt, the franchise features a small army of characters on both sides. Can you talk about some of the classics who will make a reappearance?

Easton: Expect to see different versions of the original characters. Obviously, you'll have Trakker and Mayhem, but the first year or so we'll see Gloria Baker, Vanessa Warfield, Sly Rax, Bruno Sheppard, Brad Turner, and Julio Lopez. Absolutely no T-Bob. 

I know you're still in early days of the series, but can you say anything about what readers can expect from the first story when it hits in the fall?

Easton: Action, intrigue, widescreen style adventure and a strong emphasis on establishing what makes these characters tick. It will be very cool for the readers to get to know the 21st century versions of the heroes and villains and we're working hard to make sure that fans of the old show and this new take will be satisfied. 

"M.A.S.K." debuts from IDW in November.

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