M.A.S.K. Episode #1 - The Deathstone
MASK (or M.A.S.K. depending on how you choose to spell your acronyms) was a cartoon that debuted in 1985 and aired for several subsequent years. It centered around the Mobile Armored Strike Kommand, a mysterious organization that protected the world from the nefarious machinations of VENOM, the Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem. Every episode focused on VENOM's attempts to steal some bizarre artifact or wreak havoc with some new superweapon and MASK's subsequent attempts to stop them. Both teams had normal looking vehicles with hidden powers. They also had masks that gave them special abilities, hence the forced acronym. Much like G.I. Joe and Transformers, not every character appears in every episode. In fact, this show seems suspiciously like a cross between those two products. There has been much speculation that Kenner, whose toys were faring poorly in the mid-80s, specifically created MASK to cut into Hasbro's market share. Needless to say, it worked. Without further ado, it's time to meet the teams as they appeared in the show's pilot episode.
Matt Trakker is the leader of MASK. He is also dirty rotten filthy stinking rich. I don't recall the show every telling us where Matt got all his money, but he lives in a big ass mansion like he's motherfucking Professor X or something. His mask of choice was called Spectrum and it could do whatever the writers thought was convenient. In general, its powers seemed to be related to light and sound: x-rays, laser beams, ultrasonic waves, that sort of thing. Oh, he could also use it to glide. Don't question it. One of the weird things about MASK is that characters would wear different masks depending on what vehicle they were in. The masks that I'll be showing you are generally considered to be those characters' classic masks. Although he was rich, Trakker drove a shitty red Camaro. Or so it seemed. In times of need, Matt could transform his shitty red Camaro into a shitty red flying Camaro that could launch missiles. Did I mention this show had a toyline?
Brad Turner is the team's obligatory motorcyclist/helicopter pilot, because when you have a toyline, it's important to have diversity. You can't just release five bland variations of the same poorly crafted lion toy. I'm looking in your direction, Voltron III. The thing is, Brad had a motorcycle that turned *into* a helicopter. Even though it was one of those garish Japanese motorcycles, it was still pretty fucking badass. According to the show's lore, Brad's motorcycle has an anti-matter ray which can create temporary holes in solid walls and blow up enemy missiles. Brad was also the proud owner of the Hocus Pocus mask. Unlike Matt's mask, it didn't have a whole bunch of bullshit powers that changed from episode to episode. No, Brad's helmet only had one bullshit power: it could project 3D holograms of anything. These holograms fool not only humans, but complex weapons systems as well. In the episode that I'll be discussing today, Brad uses Hocus Pocus to divert a heatseeking missile from another MASK member's vehicle. Even when I was 7 that seemed a little weird.
Bruce Sato is the team's mechanical engineer and design specialist. He's Chinese, so he has the obligatory accent. And in a move that is *so* not racist, someone decided that he should constantly speaking in obtuse proverbs that only Matt can figure out. Here's an example:
Bruce: Matt, this is Bruce. Regarding the spacecraft, if a fish flies, look not for a fish but a bird inside.
Buddy: There he goes again Matt, not making any sense!
Matt: Makes PLENTY of sense, Buddy. VENOM obviously used their helicopter inside a phony UFO shell. Way to go, Bruce.
Click here to hear it!
Bruce got to drive Rhino, the team's big rig. It was easily the biggest and therefore coolest MASK vehicle. When things get rough, Bruce employs the Lifter mask. The Lifter mask has the ability to summon General Gao, who uses his superior swordplay and delicious chicken to thwart VENOM. Actually, Lifter fucking lifts things. Clever, huh?
Alex Sector is the team's resident scientist and computer expert. He also bears a striking resemblance to a younger, beardier version of Patrick Stewart. Like Bruce, Alex rides around in Rhino. Alex isn't used a whole lot in this episode. He *should* be next to Bruce in that shot of Bruce wearing the Lifter mask, but he's not. Other than a brief shot from the back, Alex isn't shown in mask at all during this episode. So instead, you get a shot of the Alex toy wearing it. The sad thing is, that's pretty close to actual size. In order for the figures to fit into the vehicles, they had to be kinda small. Anyway, Alex's mask is called Jackrabbit. It allows him to fly.
Hondo MacLean is the team's weapon specialist. His vehicle is a pickup truck that turns into a pickup truck with guns. It also had a spiky spare tire of doom that could be launched at enemies. Hondo kinda got screwed over. Everyone else gets cool masks, but he just gets a stupid looking mask that only covers half of his face. To make matters worse, the Blaster mask's only ability is laser beams. Guess what? All the cars already shoot fucking laser beams. Not only that, but "laser beam" is one of Spectrum's 8 million abilities. Finally, Hondo looks more than a little bit like Cyclops with that thing on. Dammit Hondo. You suck.
Dusty Hayes is a former stuntman/daredevil and he's the team's best driver. This is pretty funny, because in the horrible second season which was based entirely on racing, Dusty was relegated to hiding in a fucking billboard. In this series, however, Dusty drives Gator. Gator is a jeep that transforms into a speedboat. It also had a freeze ray. It's pretty damn cool. Despite driving Gator, Dusty still sucked. He had an annoying Southern accent that made him sound like a gay Jimmy Carter and on top of that, his mask also sucked. The Backlash mask creates sonic booms. Yawn. Street Fighter's Guile was much cooler and not even he could make Sonic Boom into something interesting.
Buddy Hawks is a master of both disguise and impersonation. This is a fairly useless ability to have when you spend most of your time in an armored vehicle, but it comes in useful every once in a while. He's also in charge of basic maintenance of the MASK vehicles. Buddy spends most of time as Hondo's copilot. His mask, Penetrator, allows him to fuck women through their clothes. Actually, it allows him to pass through solid objects, which is almost as cool. Although the mask looks yellow in the capture above, it was actually green. That's what happens when you hire Korean sweatshop workers to animate your cartoon for 20 cents an hour.
Scott Trakker is Matt's annoying prepubescent son. He is always getting into trouble because Matt is too preoccupied to watch him. To be fair though, Matt is kinda busy SAVING THE FUCKING WORLD. Also, Scott doesn't have a mom. It must suck to be Scott. Scott's primary form of supervision comes in the form of T-Bob, a fairly useless robot that can transform into a motor scooter. Imagine a robot that has the poor design features of R2-D2 and the effeminate personality of C-3P0: That's fucking T-Bob. Scott and T-Bob had two primary functions on the show. First, they served as half-assed comic relief. Secondly, they usually appeared in annoying PSAs at the end of each episode.
And now, the bad guys. As you can see, I've become increasingly lazy and used one shot with all three VENOM agents. That's right, there were only three VENOM agents in this episode. Meanwhile MASK had seven agents, a kid, and a robot. Sometimes I think VENOM always lost because they were usually outnumbered. But I digress...
The guy in the middle is Miles Mayhem, leader of VENOM. With his mask on, he often gets mistaken for Cobra Commander. People seem Mayhem on the street and whisper among themselves: When did Cobra Commander get so fat? Poor bastard. Mayhem's your typical cartoon bad guy, he wants money and power. Well, I suppose that everybody, good and bad, wants money and power. Mayhem is just better at networking than most of us. Mayhem pilots a helicopter that transforms into a jet, because sometimes you need to fly and other times you need to fly faster. Even so, it was a nice looking toy. Mayhem's Viper mask, which he doesn't bother to take advantage of at all in this episode, spits acid.
To the left of Mayhem is Sly Rax. Sly is VENOM's weapons specialist. He had a motorcycle that turned into a submarine, which was fairly cool. Rax's mask, Stiletto, shot tiny pointy things at enemies. This became slightly confusing, because at one point MASK agent Gloria Baker had a vehicle that was also called Stiletto. That's some weak ass planning right there. Rax also doesn't use his mask in this episode.
The third and final VENOM agent in this episode is Cliff Dagger. Here's a better capture of his mask. Dagger is VENOM's demolitions expert. He drives a Ford Bronco which holds a concealed laser turret. I bet OJ wishes he had had one of those. His mask is called Torch and it serves as a flamethrower. Like Mayhem and Rax, he was too fucking stupid to use his mask at all during this episode. Mayhem, Rax, and Dagger were the core of the VENOM team. All three of them appear in almost every Season 1 episode. Rax appears less in Season 2 and Dagger doesn't appear at all. As I pointed out before though, Season 2 sucked.
Episode #1: The M.A.S.K. Formula In Action!
Every episode involved some sort of evil VENOM plan. If Mayhem wasn't trying to steal some lost treasure or powerful artifact, he was testing out some unnecessarily complex new weapon. In this, the first episode, he wants The Deathstone. I bet you'd like to know what the fuck a Deathstone is. Well, it's a meteorite that emits some special type of radiation with magical lifesaving powers. However, if the stone is split into pieces, the radiation somehow changes into "bad" radiation with untold destruction powers. Mayhem disguises his Switchblade helicopter as a UFO and steals it from the scientists who discovered it. He then cuts it into three pieces which he intends to sell to the highest bidding rogue nations. Hmmm... isn't that what the Bush administration told us Iraq was going to do? Isn't that what Kim Jong-il is almost definitely planning to do? I think it's obvious what happened here: Miles Mayhem is none other than Saddam Hussein! That, or Karl Rove is a MASK fan. Feel free to believe whichever of my idiotic theories is more geared toward your political beliefs.
Eventually Matt gets wind of VENOM's evil plot and tries to stop them. In this case, he rescues some scientist chick who had her car forced off a cliff by Dagger and Rax. Luckily, she landed in water, and all cartoon characters who land in water survive regardless of how far the fall is. She had been taping the meteorite's effects and happened to tape its theft as well. She gives the tape, which has survived both gravity and water damage, to Matt. This is kind of an odd thing for her to do. MASK is a secret organization and no one knows that Matt Trakker is the leader except for his teammates. Matt is apparently a famous philanthropist, but the dumb bitch still should have turned the tape over to the fucking police. Anyway, Matt watches the tape on his ridiculously big supercomputer and spots VENOM operative Cliff Dagger. Now it's on.
Matt asks his computer what personnel are best suited for the mission. You see, although Matt is capable of masterminding advanced tactical maneuvers when the team is in the field, he apparently doesn't have the skills to select his own team. The MASK computer tells Matt what each team member does and reminds him which toy that team member can be purchased with. For example, Dusty comes with Gator. Sometimes they were sneaky though. Due to the show, Alex is primarily associated with the truck Rhino. But Alex did not come with Rhino; Rhino came with Matt (with Ultra Flash mask) and Bruce. Alex was packaged in with Boulder Hill, the team's super kickass headquarters. To the untrained eye, it looked just like a gas station. But hidden inside those gas pumps were laser guns.
Once Matt figures out who the fuck he's going to use, he sends out the MASK signal. All MASK team members have medical alert bracelets that go off when they're needed. At this point, I should probably mention that although Matt Trakker is rich and an alleged humanitarian, he apparently doesn't pay anyone in MASK. Asshole. As a result, everyone else has to work a second job. Bruce is a toy designer. Brad is a rock star. Alex owns and operates an exotic pet store. Buddy is a fucking gas station attendant at Boulder Hill. Hondo is a high school history teacher. But Dusty was the worst off. Dusty worked IN A FUCKING PIZZA PARLOR. Anyway, as soon as the watch starts beeping, a MASK member must immediately drop whatever he's doing so he can help save the day. As you can see, Dusty, who only has a crappy minimum wage job to begin with, risks his financial security to preserve peace and freedom. I'd almost envy him if it wasn't for that stupid accent he had. Brad also ran off in the middle of several concerts without even attempting to apologize. Axl Rose got away with it, and he's real, so I guess I can forgive a fictional character for doing the same thing. This makes me wonder... Could the riots that Axl caused be MASK-related?
After the call is put forth, everyone assembles at MASK's secret facility hidden deep within Boulder Hill where they are briefed by Trakker. It is here that their masks and vehicles are lodged. The team picks them up and heads out. This phase isn't very interesting.
After the mission objectives are laid out, the MASK team attempts to stop VENOM. Guess what? They always succeed. In this case, the team uses their supercomputer to track the meteor's radiation signature and organize a strike to reclaim it. Unfortunately, Scott wants to see the team in action and stows away in the back of Firecracker, Hondo's pickup truck. During a heated battle, he is thrown from the truck and Hondo gets seriously injured protecting him. VENOM escapes in the ensuing chaos and Scott also runs away. MASK's mission has now taken on a new sense of urgency; the meteor's magic powers may be the only thing that can save Hondo. However, the meteor is now split into three pieces that are all going to different buyers, so the team can't track its radiation signature anymore. It looks like VENOM is going to win. Meanwhile, Scott feels guilty about almost killing Hondo, so Scott and T-Bob start tracking Mayhem. When he finally finds Mayhem, he realizes he's in way over his head. While Mayhem is talking with a buyer, Scott sneaks into Switchblade and contacts Alex with the coordinates where the meteor pieces are supposed to be sold. Alex patches in Matt, who asks Scott to get back to the house immediately. After unsuccessfully trying to pilot Switchblade, Scott and T-Bob escape in a random truck. The team splits up and goes after meteor fragments. Dusty goes after Rax, Brad goes after Dagger, and Matt goes after Mayhem while Bruce and Alex take the injured Hondo back to Boulder Hill. Dusty and Brad succeed, but Mayhem manages to get away. It looks like Hondo is gonna die. Matt returns to the Trakker mansion and tells the others that he failed. Moments later, Scott comes bursting through the door with the third meteor fragment. Apparently it was hidden in the truck he stole. The meteor is reunited and Hondo is saved. Unfortunately, Hondo still sucks.
Despite being somewhat predictable and more than a little corny, MASK was a pretty good show and a damn good toyline. The characters were interesting, the vehicles were great, and the show's action sequences were choreographed well. I never realized it at the time, but the show's battles played out very similarly to the battles that my friends and I would have with the toys. Any time one of our characters or vehicles was in danger of getting killed off, we'd always find a way to pull some new ability out of our asses. If someone tried to blow up my Floyd Malloy, I'd bullshit some forcefield. That's the way it was on the show too. Despite all the laser guns and missiles that MASK and VENOM had, very rarely did a vehicle receive anything other than minor damage. There were messages about teamwork and shit woven into the show, but they didn't fucking beat you over the head with it like today's cartoons do. In fact, I don't think the word teamwork was ever actually used on the show. You know why? Cuz it was fucking self-evident. "Let's use our teamwork, Pikachu!" Fucking Pokemon.
Was MASK nothing more than a cheap attempt to indoctrinate children with a pro-war attitude? Recently, I conducted an interview with famed MIT professor Noam Chomsky* on the matter:
Syd Lexia: OK... I think it's running. (pause) Yeah, the recorder's on. Let's begin. I'm Syd Lexia, and I'm here with MIT professor Noam Chomsky. Today's topic is MASK, the 1985 cartoon. Where do you want to start? You had started to say something about the parallels between MASK and G.I. Joe... How they both had cheesy PSAs and stuff...
Noam Chomsky: Well, first of all, both shows are little more than jingoistic attempts to ease American children into the subliminal acceptance of U.S. hegemony. MASK was the more interesting of the two shows because it was more explicitly frank than G.I. Joe. The heroes in MASK conceal their identities. They are anonymous, much like American G.I.s who are currently dying en masse in Iraq. Their individual identities are meaningless so long as they can carry out the orders of their power-hungry government. When they die, they are easily replaceable; there is always another who can wear the mask.
SL: Um yeah... that's not really what the show was about. No one ever died on MASK. The show was about millionaire Matt Trakker and his independent multicultural coalition of secret agents, collectively known as MASK, who fought the international terrorist organization VENOM.
NC: You are either unable or unwilling to see the truth. It is very fitting that MASK is controlled by the very wealthy; most US foreign policy decisions are also made by old money. The American democracy is an illusory one; the United States was designed to be an aristocracy and so it remains. Matt Trakker is replete with the dark avarice that burrows its way into every rich man's heart. Any decisions that he makes are made solely to further his own prosperity.
SL: Again, I'm going to have to correct you. MASK isn't out there trading blood for oil, or whatever the hell it is that you think is going on. You're trying to oversimplify things to fit your worldview. Can you please -
NC: Their secret headquarters is a gas station.
SL: Yes, it is. But -
NC: What else could you possibly want? There is no more clear symbol of blind capitalism than the plenteous petroleum reserves that lie obscured in the sands of the ancient eastern deserts. Rather than praise their actions as courageous, the leaders of the cartoon world in which MASK exists should arrest them... Mixed into the premium gasoline that fuels the MASK vehicles is the blood of innocent Iraqi civilians. By waging their so-called preventive war, MASK is murdering Muslim babies.
SL: FOR FUCK'S SAKE, MAN! YOU HAVE NO FUCKING CLUE WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT! Christ, now I'm shouting. I hope you're happy. I'M FUCKING SHOUTING!
NC: Do not direct your animosity at me. It is your ignorance of the horrible actions that have been carried out by the American government that causes you to lash out toward me. Disingenuous media conglomerates have manufactured your consent. You hate me because of your intense adulation of your country of residence. If you were not so very myopic, you could begin to understand wherein I am right.
SL: No, no, no. If I hate you, it's because you have consistently failed to stay on topic. Not only that, you've tried to conceal your poorly thought-out arguments by being verbose and pretentious. "Plenteous petroleum reserves"? Just fucking say oil fields, you asshole. You also accused me of being some sort of flag-waving redneck who is too stupid to understand you. Oh, and not once have you mentioned VENOM. Not fucking once. You're off in fucking fantasyland, lecturing me about MASK's involvement in Operation: Iraqi Babykill.
NC: VENOM's name is also acrimoniously apt. It is an adroit allusion to the venom that the rest of the world feels toward America. What right do we have to play world police? What right to do we have to interfere in the actions of others? If you knew some of the things that your precious American government did, you would see that VENOM's actions are no worse.
SL: Again with the insinuations of mindless patriotism. That's very classy, Professor Chomsky. We can't judge VENOM? Did you ever see the first episode? They steal an artifact of untold destructive power with the clear intent of selling it to the highest bidder. You see the problem there? Do you?
NC: I don't think you -
SL: Fuck it, you don't get to respond. This interview is over.
Below are some bonus downloads. There's two movie files, the MASK intro and the very first PSA. Scott, T-Bob, and Matt have a very important lesson to teach you about your balls. The files are both encoded in DivX. If you don't have DivX, then I guess you're fucked.
A M.A.S.K. PSA.
The M.A.S.K. Intro
*I may not have actually interviewed Noam Chomsky. I woke up one morning passed out on my keyboard with an empty bottle of King of Spirits Gold Absinth in my hand and a transcript on my screen.
Posted by: Syd Lexia
ILLUSION IS THE ULTIMATE WEAPON.