Big Head is back in Dark Horse’s The Mask: I Pledge Allegiance to the Mask #1 after a decades-long hiatus. The devilish, green mask is once again exerting its influence over Edge City by manipulating wearers into committing signature acts of comically repugnant violence, but the green-headed character that’s been explored many times over the years has been modernized in the political noir take of I Pledge Allegiance to the Mask. It seeks to stir up feelings of unbridled determination and a taste of grim, sometimes justified revenge in its characters and readers, and it succeeds in that mission, even if this welcome to newcomers could be more accommodating.
Whether this is your first encounter with the mask or this is something familiar, it’s impossible to discount that the new series has one hell of an opening. It’s the sole display of the mask’s sheer barbarity and the twisted means it employs to reach its ends, but it’s graphic enough to hold us over until the next issue. A heavy jab straight through someone’s head and an unprecedented shower of chocolate and blood is enough to wake up anyone and set a darker tone for the mask that’s manifested itself here. This appalling, but still satisfying, opening is punctuated by the deepest of shadows and depictions of people who manage to look just as revolting as the wearer of the mask, even lacking its sickly green colors. It feels like a part of Edge City you’re not supposed to see, but it's one you can’t bear to look away from.
With such a strong opening, it makes sense that I Pledge Allegiance to the Mask would have to tone it down afterwards. Things brighten up and become as calm as one could hope in a mask story as characters, new and old, are (re-)introduced. Topics encompassing political and social issues like racism, poverty, domestic abuse, militarized police forces, quid pro quo politics, and sexual harassment permeate the first issue. The usage of the phrase “Make America Green Again” on the cover and its inner page does come off as a bit heavy-handed. It’s clear the Edge City presented here shouldn’t seem too implausible, if you can ignore the image of a cartoonish mask. How well it manages to satirize politics will only be made evident in later issues, though it’s off to a decent start by framing this new mask wearer as a motivated, but seemingly directionless, conduit for the mask’s power.
Kellaway and Kathy return with their own motives, both core characters in series like The Mask and The Mask Returns, which are each older than 25 years by now. These two anchor the story in the events of the past after people have mostly forgotten the horrors of the mask. They're joined by newcomers like the faltering political candidate who’s now wearing the titular source of power during a presidential bid. The only problem with these characters is that, if this is truly your first foray into comics featuring the mask as it was for me, it’s not a clear introduction.
There’s at least some sort of jumping-on point here since the narrative is modern, but it’s hard not to feel like you’re missing something if you lack prior knowledge. Knowing the gist of the mask’s power won’t rid you of a nagging feeling that you’re missing something as we’re reintroduced to Kathy and Kellaway, and the only remedy for that is to revisit the past series or digest a summary of past events before opening these pages. One could argue that the pair are just as central to the history of the franchise as the mask itself is, and that you should have an understanding of their importance. It feels like an oversight to not give people a better concept of continuity, especially since it has been so long since the mask graced comic book stores.
Despite its twisted sense of humor, not even a chuckle was to be found in this first issue. That’s expected to some degree when it seems to be going for more of a “well ain’t that the truth?” reaction with its critiques of politics and darker inhibitions, but the gruff nature of the characters and the consistently dark colors and depictions of the world can be a bit tasking without the comic relief of the mask itself. The characters are captivating in a bleak, haunting fashion, and this version of the mask hinges on the uncanny more than expected, so it’s easy to get behind those components. I Pledge Allegiance to the Mask seems like it has something to say and show that’s worth reading, and hopefully it remains captivating enough to deliver on its promises.
Published by Dark Horse Comics
On October 16, 2019
Written by Christopher Cantwell
Art by Patric Reynolds
Colors by Lee Loughridge0comments
Letters by Nate Piekos
Cover by Patric Reynolds with Lee Loughridge