Make it So: Masks the Movie by Jerry Whitworth
Collected last September, Masks was one of several series teaming some of the properties licensed by Dynamite Entertainment (alongside series like The Lone Ranger/Zorro: The Death Of Zorro, The Prophecy, Lords of Mars, The Shadow/Green Hornet: Dark Knights, Codename: Action, Kings Watch, and Justice, Inc.). Among its contemporaries, the series stands out teaming the likes of the Shadow, Green Hornet and Kato, Zorro, Spider, and others. Its story is based in 1938 (the year Superman premiered and changed the face of the comic book industry) as a new political party emerges and sweeps control of New York. Known as the Justice Party, regular police are disbanded and replaced with the Black Legion who enforce the totalitarian rule of the new regime with an iron fist. As it’s learned this party is in fact controlled by organized crime and founded by a former crime fighter named the Clock, the various mystery men of New York are forced to ban together as the city’s last hope for justice. With superheroes taking over Hollywood, it’s likely studios are looking for the next concept not tied to Marvel or DC Comics (as the former is largely tied to Disney and latter to Warner Bros). Further, while the pop culture presence of characters like the Shadow, Green Hornet, and Zorro are fading, its arguably greater than something from another publisher like Image or Dark Horse (Spawn and Hellboy notwithstanding). Lets take a look at how this story could be made for the big screen.
Considering the failure of The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, hopefully lessons have been learned about how not to make a non-Big Two superhero film (like comedy should be a small part of the package, not a huge chunk of it). Further, with The Avengers and upcoming films like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, the potential of a team-up film should prompt the capability to materialize something like Masks (considering the various properties licensed for it) as well as establish a baseline for what works. Along with the aforementioned Green Hornet, the Shadow and Zorro benefit from having films in fairly “recent” history (The Legend of Zorro in 2005, sequel to a 1998 film starring Antonio Banderas, as Alec Baldwin’s Shadow was twenty years ago). A harder sale will be characters like the Spider, Black Bat, Miss Fury, Black Terror, and Green Lama. Not to mention, their presence making for a fairly bloated cast as The Avengers had six members (opposed to Masks‘ nine) several of whom had films leading into the ensemble project. Characters like Black Terror and Green Lama felt out of place in the series and whose role wasn’t quite significant to the plot could rather easily be cut. It’s likely Miss Fury was added to the cast for the sake of a female hero which could go either way towards being adapted (she could be in the film for the same reason or excluded because her role wasn’t integral). Black Bat will undoubtedly be ripped by the audience as being some amalgamation of Batman and Daredevil, but considering he emerged about the same time as Batman (where a deal was worked out behind closed doors for both characters to coexist) and predates Marvel’s Daredevil by twenty five years, chances are good he could remain (which is fairly important to the plot, as he has a connection to the series’ main villain). Now, the Spider was largely invented originally to be a clone of the Shadow. However, when Dynamite picked him up, they altered him so the similarities were not so exact (such as incorporating elements of his film serial costume). Regardless, though, in a film with the Shadow and Green Hornet, the Spider seems rather redundant (despite having a significant part in the story). What maybe a huge change but could help the project would be a substitution with the Phantom.
The Phantom is owned by King Features and licensed to Dynamite. When people talk about King Features, they often mention Flash Gordon. However, I would think the Phantom as notable as Gordon today. Where as Flash Gordon was at one time the company’s biggest draw, his star has faded significantly in recent history. The character maybe remembered best today for his feature film in 1980 starring Sam Jones or one of his animated series (Filmation did a series in 1979 and animated film three years later as Marvel Productions did Defenders of the Earth in 1986, which also starred the Phantom). Sci-Fi Channel would produce a Flash Gordon live action television series in 2007 that lasted one season. As for the Phantom, in addition to the aforementioned animated series, there was the cartoon Phantom 2040 in 1994, live action film in 1996 starring Billy Zane, and television mini-series on Syfy in 2010. However, what would make the character work for Masks is that he’s a masked crimefighter with the same recognition of the likes of Green Hornet, the Shadow, and Zorro (distinguishing him from fellow King characters Flash Gordon and Mandrake and making him a more suited candidate than the Spider).
In the series, the main villain is the Clock, a former district attorney named Brian O’Brien (Tony Quinn, the Black Bat, would succeed him) who became a costumed hero (historically, the first masked hero in the history of comic books). Along the way, O’Brien had a change of heart about the best way to combat injustice, borrowing a note from the villain Big Shot and deciding to become the puppet master of a movement he hoped to help him eventually control the entire country. While something like this works well for the series, whose generally pulp magazine characters had no powers, a feature film might need something more. Something that comes to mind immediately was a foe of the Spider called Iron Man (twenty four years before Marvel’s Iron Man) who formed an army of men outfitted with large suits of power armor to takeover New York City (early super science already played to great success similarly in Captain America: The First Avenger). If indeed the Phantom could be made available for the film, the Eastern Dark could have a presence to necessitate his involvement. A notable organization after the Shadow would be the Black Dragon Society and a frequent foe of the Green Hornet was Mister X.
While producing a single film in-and-of-itself could be a strong sell for making Masks, likely the bigger draw could be if successful, a new franchise could be established. Already mentioned, Dynamite has produced several (generally unrelated) team-up series that could be fertile for film development. Success with Masks could lead the Phantom into a Kings Watch film, the Shadow into Justice, Inc., and Green Hornet into Codename: Action. Putting it another way, King Features could get its own playground, Conde Nast (who owns the Shadow) its own playground, and Green Hornet continues the original franchise by bringing Captain Action into the mix and set-up the Spider as a stand-in for the Shadow. In essence, one film could spawn three film franchises if done right. And, of course, based on its success or failure could open up brand new doors for these characters, be it animation, action figures, and so on.
What do you think? Comment below