Masks: What You Need to Know by Jerry Whitworth
Announced around San Diego Comic-Con International 2012, the Dynamite Entertainment series Masks featuring notable early and pre-comic book heroes has made its premier recently. From the minds of Chris Roberson (Superman, iZombie) and Alex Ross (Marvels, Kingdom Come), Masks takes place in the late 1930s when a corrupt political party takes root in New York prompting the city’s heroes to combat this nest of villainy as a band of outlaws. The series essentially combines several of the heroic properties licensed by Dynamite of early heroes that inspired comic book’s iconic characters (though, notably absent thus far is the Phantom and Lone Ranger, save that the latter could be represented by Green Hornet as his ancestor). Unlike with Ross’ Project Superpowers (which performed a similar treatment to Golden Age comic book superheroes that lapsed into public domain), the creator provided interior art for the series’ first issue.
GREEN HORNET and KATO
First appearing in 1936, Green Hornet was the titular star of an action-adventure radio series created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker (creators of the wildly-popular radio character Lone Ranger), partnering with Japanese martial art expert/mechanic/chauffeur Kato to fight crime (though, Kato would alternate nationalities over the years from Korean to Filipino to Chinese). The series was similar in tone to Lone Ranger, with the exception that the Ranger operated in the wild west and the Hornet in the modern day city and where Hornet employed a gas gun in place of a revolver with silver bullets, relied on a highly capable non-white partner in Kato in place of Tonto (though Kato may have also drew inspiration from Mandrake the Magician’s Hojo), and rode inside the technological marvel Black Beauty in place of upon the noble steed Silver. In reality, the Green Hornet was Britt Reid, publisher of the Daily Sentinel newspaper and great-nephew of Ranger Reid (aka the Lone Ranger), who became a hero to combat crime by posing as a villain as a means of infiltrating the underworld. The character proved to be another hit, inspiring comic book heroes like the Sandman, Crimson Avenger, Blue Beetle, Vigilante (who was an amalgamation of Green Hornet and the Lone Ranger), Batman, and Darkwing Duck. Green Hornet would be translated into various media, including film serials, comic books and strips, prose fiction, and a feature film. However, likely the Hornet’s most memorable adaptation was as a television series capitalizing on the success of the Batman television series. As shows like Wild Wild West and The Avengers became popular featuring martial art fighters, Bruce Lee started down the road of international fame in his portrayal of Kato in the series (leading the series to be dubbed the Kato Show in Hong Kong). In March 2009, the Green Hornet franchise would be licensed to Dynamite Entertainment.
Originally the mysterious narrator of the Detective Story Hour radio series in 1930, the popular voice of the Shadow would inspire the creation of The Shadow: A Detective Magazine featuring the character under the pen of Walter B. Gibson (under the name Maxwell Grant) in 1931. In what would be called an antihero by today’s standards, the Shadow was a mysterious highly-trained individual who worked in the military before becoming a man of espionage and a mercenary who amassed a large fortune. Training in Eastern Asia in their foreign ways, he would acquire various skills including martial arts and the ability to cloud the minds of men employing hypnosis, able to appear invisible to them and could induce fear and madness for those weak of will. Growing bored with his lifestyle, this man (who would eventually go by the name Lamont Cranston) would decide to battle crime in New York City as the Shadow because he could see no greater challenge. Donning a black slouch hat, black business suit, and black cloak with a red interior, the Shadow brandished a pair of .45 pistols in a bloody bid to stamp out evil. The popularity of the character in his pulp magazine led to his radio series featuring his adventures and would go on to star in comic strips and books and short and feature films. The success of the Shadow would inspire many heroes to follow including the Green Hornet, Spider, Whisperer, Sandman, Batman, Darkwing Duck, and V of V for Vendetta. In August 2011, Dynamite Entertainment would license the Shadow.
Created by New York-based writer Johnston McCulley in August 1919, Zorro was a swashbuckling masked pulp magazine hero set in the wild west of California. In a time around Spain’s rule of California was challenged by Mexico seeking independence, California-born Spanish nobleman Don Diego de la Vega observes the harsh treatment of the common people and uses his wealth and noble education to become their champion. Borrowing several qualities from the Scarlet Pimpernel, Diego becomes the masked Zorro basing himself in a cave beneath his estate. Joined by his trusty steed Toronado, deaf mute servant Bernardo, and Fray Felipe (heralding back to Robin Hood’s Friar Tuck), Zorro wields a whip to swing above his enemies and a rapier sword to dispatch villains (as well as leave behind his trademark “Z”). First appearing in All-Story Weekly, Zorro would go on to be featured in short stories, novels, serial and feature films (in America, Mexico, and across Europe), live action and animated television series, radio serials, comic books and strips, and computer and video games. The character would go on to inspire the Shadow, Solomon Kane, Green Hornet, Phantom, and Batman. Dynamite Entertainment would license Zorro in March 2007. As the events of Masks take place some hundred years after Zorro’s day, the story will feature a modern day inheritor. Considering Dynamite previously produced a series teaming Zorro and the Lone Ranger, it’s likely the connection to Green Hornet could be touched upon.
Created to capitalize on the success of the Shadow, the Spider was a thinly-veiled copy of the Shadow who wore a virtually identical costume and wielded the same weapons save he also sported a cape and vampire make-up. As the Shadow could cloud men’s minds, the Spider was instead the Master of Men and could use his voice to control the minds of the weak (his voice could also perfectly mimic that of others). The Spider distinguished himself as being more gruesome in his execution of justice than his progenitor. This personality matched his menagerie of rogues who engaged in wanton violence, willing to slaughter thousands in their bids for power. First published in October1933 in a self-titled magazine, the Spider was in reality New York City millionaire and playboy Richard Wentworth. Perhaps borrowing an element from The Thin Man, Wentworth was joined in his adventures by his fiance Nita Van Sloan. The Spider also had an expanded cast in Sikh manservant Ram Singh (perhaps inspiring Mandrake the Magician’s Lothar), chauffeur Ronald Jackson (perhaps inspiring Green Hornet’s Kato), and butler Harold Jenkyns (perhaps inspiring Batman’s Alfred Pennyworth). On occasion, the Spider would assume the identity of Blinky McQuade to infiltrate the underworld for intelligence perhaps inspiring Batman’s Matches Malone. The Spider would go on to be featured in film serials and comic books. Dynamite licensed the Spider in August 2011 and tweaked the character having him use web guns similar to DC Comics’ Tarantula and Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s Silver Spider. His costume was changed to match more in line with his film serial appearance and some similarities to Venom of Earth X (Alex Ross having designed both the latter and Spider’s new look).
Created around the same time as Batman and likely inspiring Dr. Mid-Nite, Two-Face, and Marvel Comics’ Daredevil, the Black Bat first appeared in July 1939 in Thrilling Publications’ Black Book Detective. District Attorney Anthony Quinn saw his career come to an end when a criminal splashed acid in his face taking his sight and disfiguring him. However, after a dying police officer offered Quinn his eyes, the former DA would accept the donation and afterward realized he could now see in both light and darkness. Returning to his career as a DA albeit continuing to let others believe him to be blind, Quinn would also use his abilities to take down criminals that escape justice in the guise of the Black Bat. Dynamite Entertainment would announce plans to adapt Black Bat in October 2012.
Created by Tarpe Mills in 1941 as a comic strip, the Black Fury featured the adventures of wealthy socialite Marla Drake as she fought crime in a skintight catsuit. The character is notable as being the first superheroine created by a female creator. Eventually going by the name Miss Fury, the strip would run until 1952, be reprinted by several publishers, and her likeness infrequently used by other companies (including a cameo in Marvel Comics’ The Twelve). It’s likely Miss Fury’s costume would inspire Catwoman’s change to a skintight catmask and purple skintight dress and cape in Batman #35 (June-July 1946).