The origins of the mask are unknown. Allegedly, it comes from a remote jungle (possibly Africa) where an explorer stole it from a tribe during one of their rituals in honor of the mask itself.
The Mask is not a fixed character but an entity with no name trapped inside an old jade mask. Once donning the old mask, the wearer becomes endowed with superpowers capable of bending reality, and behaves dangerously violent as the mask brings out the wearer's dark personality. The wearer has the power to do nearly anything he or she wants to, to the point he or she becomes a living killer cartoon.
Different characters wear the mask throughout the story, each with a different outcome driven by their ambitions and emotions. The only constant is a large, green and bald head, large teeth and mouth, and a bizarre voice. For this reason, police and newspapers always refer to him or her as "Big Head".
The base concept of the character was created by Mike Richardson in the early 1980s. The idea was to create anti-hero of bizarre nature, with a weird sense of humor, and whose actions were unpredictable to the reader. He or she would be a mix between Steve Ditko's The Creeper and Bob Kane's the Joker. However, such concept would not become a reality on paper until 1985 when a first sketch of The Mask was made for APA-5, an amateur press publication created by writer Mark Verheiden.
When Mike Richardson founded Dark Horse Comics in 1986, the concept of the Mask was pitched to writer/artist Mark Badger and the result was a strip called "Masque" as part of the early Dark Horse Presents series. The character was different from what Mike Richardson had originally sketched. In addition, the increasing complexity of the plot and the difficulty in meeting deadlines forced the team to consider ending the strip after 21 issues. With the help of artist Chris Warner, Richardson was able to revert back to its original drawings and start afresh.
In 1989, the new look of "The Mask" (as the character would be officially called) was launched as part of Dark Horse's series Mayhem. Chris Warner had recommended two new aspiring talents for re-launching the character: writer John Arcudi and artist Doug Mahnke Their interpretation of Richardson's base concept was to create an anti-hero half-way between Tex Avery's crazy cartoons and The Terminator's destructive force, and the end result was the "whacky" character as we know it today. Arcudi and Mahnke published four stories on Mayhem, which would be later collected as The Mask #0. The series Mayhem was cancelled after four issues but in 1991 Arcudi and Mahnke continued the Mask's story with a self-titled four-issue limited series.
Arcudi and Mahnke contributed to The Mask title until the series The Mask Strikes Back in 1995. After four additional four-issue series and three crossovers in the late 1990s, the last issue of The Mask to date was a cross over with The Joker/Batman in 2000 and no further issues have been published ever since.
Major Story Arcs
Stanley Ipkiss as Big Head
The story starts in the fictitious metropolis of Edge City. Stanley Ipkiss is looking for a gift to give to his girlfriend Kathy. As he's looking in an antiques shop, he finds an old mask that calls out to be tried on. When Stanley tries on the mask the same night to scare his girlfriend, he turns into the green-faced anti-hero that will be later dubbed "Big-Head" by police and reporters. Stanley goes on a rampage, getting revenge on all the people he has ever had a grudge against, including his first grade teacher and some bullies from his old school. When Stanley takes off the mask, he begins to experience changes emotionally and becomes abusive toward Kathy. Kathy kicks Stanley out, but keeps the mask, as it was a gift. Stanley feels that he needs to steal the mask back but he is caught by police while breaking into Kathy's apartment. He thinks the only way out is as "Big Head" and for the first time the mask is shown as an item you cannot live without. During his attempt to escape, Stanley nearly destroys an entire neighbourhood and kills everyone (including police men) in a deathly rampage. When Stanley gets back to his home, he is shot in the back by Kathy, who then realizes that Stanley is Big Head.
Lt. Kellaway as Big Head
Kathy takes the mask and gives it to Lt. Kellaway. She warns him not to put it on and explains that the mask is responsible for creating Big Head. Lt. Kellaway ignores her warnings and puts on the mask as a joke, unwittingly becoming the next Big Head. Lt. Kellaway decides to use the mask powers to hunt down all the criminals that have put his job in peril and make Edge City a better place to live in. He starts a feud against a Mafia gang headed by Don Mozzo, who seeks the help of Walter, a behemoth-sized mob muscle-man that never speaks. Walter survives Big Head's deadly attacks, from gun shots to electrical circuits in his mouth, and the dumb, muscled henchman quickly appears to be the first and only character able to hurt (but not kill) Big Head. As news of Big Head spread again, Kathy becomes suspicious and visits Lt. Kellaway many times to enquire about the mask. The lieutenant excuse is that this new Big Head is a copycat. In the meantime, Lt. Kellaway's attitude becomes more and more aggressive to the point he is no longer a masked vigilante but a vengeful executioner. In another deadly climax where Big Head attempts to get a confession from district attorney while blowing up an entire police force, he comes close to kill his colleague and friend Lionel by putting dynamite in his mouth. Lt. Kellaway's consciousness comes to the surface as he realises what is happening and saves Lionel just in time despite the mask's voice persuading him to finish the job. After fleeing to his apartment, Lt. Kellaway decides to bury the mask in his basement, vowing never to let it be worn again.
The Mask Returns
A group of Mafia hit men are sent to kill Lt. Kellaway in his apartment. In a last attempt to save his life, he attempts to unbury the mask before being shot in the back and falling into a coma. The hitmen take the mask without knowing its power and on the drive back home they bully their very insecure getaway driver, Nunzio. When one of the hit men places the mask on his head as a joke, the third instance of Big Head is born. Nunzio starts his revenge by killing all thugs and crime lords in order to become Edge City's pre-eminent crime boss. With Lt. Kellaway still in a coma, Kathy realises someone else is using the mask and takes the matter in her hands. She approaches Big Head as an escort, making him fall head over heels, and at the right moment she convinces Nunzio to take off the mask after which she shoots him. In a desperate attempt to run away from Nunzio's henchmen, she has to give in to the mask and wear it to save herself. In the meantime, Don Mozzo returns from Miami once he learns Big Head is back in town and manages to get Walter out of prison to ask again for his services against Big Head. But Big Head is nowhere to be found as Kathy rejects the idea of wearing it and she finds out the mask is indestructible as she tries to break it into pieces. When Don Mozzo's men bomb Nunzio's ex-HQ, Kathy gives in to the mask to avenge the innocent people injured outside the building. At the same time, Lt. Kellaway wakes up from his come to learn Big Head returned and he is suddenly convinced Kathy has become Big Head. Don Mozzo lures Kathy in a warehouse by the dock where Walter waits for his revenge. As the two battle to the death, none of them seem to die and Kathy suddenly can no longer bear the madness of the mask. She takes it off and surrenders it to Walter, but before he has time to wear it, Lt. Kellaway hits him with a car sending both Walter and the mask into the sea as the warehouse falls down into flames. Kathy and Lt. Kellaway are safe and to their surprise the police thinks they managed to kill Big Head once and for all.
The Mask Strikes Back
Four young students, Rich, Ben, Hugo and Archie, are struggling to start their lives as adults. Rich in particular is fascinated with the Big Head crime spree and he can't let go. One evening, while walking by the burnt down pier where Big Head was last seen, he finds a mask buried under the rubble. Once he realises its source of power, he becomes the next wearer and shares his discovery with his friends. In turns, each youngster wears the mask to fulfil their dream only to realise one by one how they easily lose control and cannot think straight with the mask on. In the meantime, Lt. Kellaway and Lionel receive a call about a badly burned big man who has been found and submitted to hospital. At arrival they discover the man has escaped but the trail left behind can only point to Walter. After getting in touch with some of Don Mozzo's henchmen, Walter hears on the radio that Big Head has returned to Edge City and he starts hunting him down. The first face off between Rich as Big Head and Walter quickly makes the news, and both Lt. Kellaway and Kathy suddenly realise the mask was not destroyed by the fire. They meet Rich's friends during the fight who deny any involvement and Lt. Kellaway decides to follow them to put a stop to the carnage. After Rich's efforts to use Big Head to rebel against authority, Ben's attempt to become a big heavy metal star as Big Head and Hugo's paranoia when viewing the world through Big Head's eye, Archie decides to wear the mask (even though he wanted to dispose it from the start) and tries it out as a superhero. He stops some criminals from stealing a lion's golden tooth at Edge City Zoo but at the same time he frees some of the animals and he comes across Walter once again. After another endless fight, Big Head escapes before the police arrives but Walter also manages to escape while being escorted by police. Rich, Ben and Hugo follow Archie all the way to a cemetery and so do Lt. Kellaway and Kathy after revealing the truth to Lionel about the mask. Here, Walter attacks Archie as Big Head despite Lt. Kellaway's attempt to shoot him. Archie finds out Walter is interested in the mask and all of a sudden a lion escaped from the zoo attacks Walter throwing him into the water. Lt. Kellaway convinces Archie to take off the mask, warning him that people will get hurt even if you only wanted to help. However, as Archie returns the mask, Walter jumps out and grabs it with the intention to wear it. He tries it on two or three times with no effect. Disappointed, he throws it far in the sky with all his strength before Lt. Kellaway can stop him. The mask is lost once again.
The Hunt for Green October
The mask has become popular among criminal organisations and now many fanatic groups are searching for the mask all around the world, from the deep jungle to large metropolis. In the meantime, Ray Tuttle, a failed, penniless artist in Sky City, struggles to support his family after an accident at a theme park killed his wife and traumatised her now dumb daughter. He is angry and frustrated but tries to keep her daughter Emily happy and live a normal life together. On 29th October, a tramp stops at his shop to sell him some junk items worth re-selling as second hand and among a few items of interest he also buys a mask for six dollars as a gift for his daughter. That same night he founds out the man responsible for the accident at the theme park five years ago, Nathan Hathaway, is now opening a new casino. In a moment of rage he wears the mask and turns into Big Head. His revenge first targets financial buildings, from insurance companies to the financial district, and then bullies at his daughter's school. Big Head hits the news once again and the first to fly to Sky City is Lt. Kellaway, who tries to get support from local police without any success. On 30th October Ray as Big Head storms the new Sky City casino to cause mayhem on its launch day and attempts to kill Nathan Hathaway. Lt. Kellaway's intervenes to stop him and convince him the mask is not the answer to this problems - unfortunately without success. Following the carnage at Sky City casno, Ray's daughter becomes a fan of Big Head, unaware it is her father, and decides to dress as Big Head for Halloween. By Halloween, Big Head whereabouts are known beyond Sky City and a team of Neo Nazis who have been searching the mask for its power, arrive in town. They are quickly followed by mobsters, ninjas and samurai; they all realise Lt. Kellaway appears where the mask resurfaces and decide to follow him. Thanks to Lionel, Lt. Kellaways finds out about Nathan Hathaway and Ray Tuttle, and he now has Ray's address. However, in Ray's apartment there are now dozens of copies of the mask Ray made overnight as Big Head but does not remember. When the Neo Nazis catch up with Lt. Kellaway and Ray, nobody seems to know what happened to the mask. Apparently, Ray is unaware he threw it away in a park but Emily finds it after being rejected by her school because of her Big Head costume. Emily comes to the rescue as Big Head in a final fight off against neo nazis, samuaris and ninjas that culminates in a huge explosion. Lt. Kellaway falls unconscious during the fight. When the fight is over, Emily takes off her mask, now being able to speak, and she convinces her dad to drop the mask as they both decide to leave Sky City with some of the money Big Head took from the casino. They finally lock the mask away in a safe deposit box and start a new life together.
A low-profile criminal robs a bank and wondering whether move on a straight path. He empties all safe deposit boxes and comes across a green mask. Police arrives and the criminal thinks of disguising himself with the mask before coming out of the vault guns blazing. He turns into Big Head, who in turn creates a portal and drags himself in it. The portal opens a door to the Dark Horse Comics universe and Big Head lands on the inter-dimensional rift known as 4he "Vortex". In the meantime, the alarm is ringing at the Vortex and army personnel is rushing with Dr Snider to address an imminent attempt suicide by General Blaire. His identify crisis after poor military decision leaves him no choice but to jump into the portal, and it happens as Big Head arrives. The army defending the Vortex takes Big Head as another "demon" from another dimension. In a moment of confusion, the criminal takes off the mask and escapes seeing the new universe as a chance to redeem his life. In dropping the mask, it lands on General Blaire's face, and he then starts a long, Freud-like psychological journey through Arcadia in search of his ID, Ego and Super Ego identities through Big Head's mayhem and destruction. The story travels through Steel Harbour, Arcadia and Golden City, and it narrates the deeds of both General Blaire and the low-profile criminal from our Earth. While the latter tries to get a honest job, the former fails to find his true identity and only creates havoc in the criminal's file who ultimately fails to get the on the straight path.Throughout all this, Big Head clashes with many superheroes such as X, Ghost, King Tiger, Barb Wire, The Machine, and many others. Both the criminal and Big Head end up back at the Vortex where they started their self-exploratory journey. General Blaire takes off the mask to throw it away in the portal, dissatisfied with his failure but feeling still enriched by what he learned. Dr. Snider tries to convince him to not to throw the mask as he is curious to understand its powers. However, the general still throws it away and at that exact moment the criminal jumps into the portal to wear the mask once again. Back to Earth as we know it, the portal allows the criminal to arrive before the robbery takes place. He still carries it out but takes a different escape route: he puts the mask away in the wrong safe deposit and jumps out guns blazing without the mask, dying under police fire.
Jump to Las Vegas
Toys in the Attic
Grifter/The Mask (1996)
Grifter is sent to break up a weapon smuggling operation at a gun show in Las Vegas. At the same time, an anti-gun demonstrator comes across the mask in a Las Vegas and becomes the next Big Head. Grifter thinks Big Head is the bad guy at first, until he realises he is not and teams up with him (although with some difficulty) to stop the smuggling ring.
The start of this story picks up from where the Southern Discomfort story ended. It is the only crossover linked to the main storyline.
Lobo vs. The Mask (1997)
Lobo is hired to find the "Ultimate Bastich". The hunt leads to him to Earth where a thief has become Big Head. After a battle that decimated tons of people in Manhattan, Big Head finally agrees to help Lobo find the previous wearer. After causing mass destruction, Lobo finally seizes the mask for himself. He puts the mask on and destroys many planets. A black hole then sends Lobo back in time for a month. Ironically, he finds out he is the "Ultimate Bastich". Lobo then takes the mask off and puts it where the thief found it before. Lobo manages to break the time loop and turns his past self for a money reward.
Marshal Law vs. The Mask (1998)
Marshal Law is on the verge of retiring and hang his cape, after finally getting over his hatred of superheroes. In an attempt to experiment a cure for the superhuman serial killer known as The Sleepman, a team of scientists decides to apply a green mask relic to bring him back from his catatonic state. Once the wearer, The Sleepman escapes to go on a rampage of destruction and self-glorification. Marhsal Law is called in once again to take down his arch-nemesis and re-open old wounds. As the two fight across the landscape of San Futuro, Marshal Law struggles to take down a superhuman serial killer who is now immune to ultra-violence and can warp reality according to his psychotic whims. In the end, The Sleepman is overwhelmed by the mask's powers and takes off the mask. Once returned to the team of scientists, fully aware of the havoc it can create, everyone is taken by surprise as Marhsal Law himself wears the mask to "express" his alter ego.
The Joker finds the mask by change while attempting to steal artifacts from the Gotham City museum . Not knowing the power it possessed, he puts it on and becomes invincible. He uses his new found strength to attack Batman and nearly cripples him. The mask causes tension between Joker and Harley Quinn, who ultimately seeks help from Poison Ivy to help remove the mask from him. Later, Lt. Kellaway joins Batman to work together and try defeat the Joker. Batman tricks the Joker into taking off the mask by saying he'd lost his own style and it is no longer funny.
This crossover uses the art and style of the comics inspired from the animated series. It is the only crossover with a character outside of the Dark Horse Comics universe.
The mask gives its wearer cartoon-like powers, such as being able to pull a giant bazooka from their pocket or eating a a whole car. It is an unlimited power which allows the wearer to do anything they wish to do until they decide to take the mask off.
The wearer is able at any time to:
- Change their appearance or the size of their body features
- Regardless of what the shape of their body is, the wearer will always show a large green head unless in disguise to fool his/her adversaries
- Move and travel in a matter of seconds, bending the rules of space and time
- Create objects by mimicking reality or sourcing from the wearer's imagination
- While the wearer brings imagination to reality, he or she cannot change objects which belong to reality or the rules they are bound to
- Immune to any injury inflicted, whether minor or fatal
- Although the wearer is invincible and cannot feel pain, he or she bleeds like a normal person
The forces behind the mask are completely irrational beyond man's comprehension. The mask itself has no personality or own agenda. Depending on his or her personality, the mask brings the wearer's inner self out and uses the wearer's imagination to unleash its power. The will of the wearer "fuses" with the mask's thirst for violent devastation through fun and games.
At first the wearer takes advantage to wear the mask and carry out his revenge against any form of injustice, whether personal or public. However, over a period of time, the wearer loses control and he or she becomes a personality imprisoned behind the mask while witnessing the mayhem he or she is causing as Big Head. It is important to note the mask is not attached to the wearer's face; it simply needs an act of good will from the wearer to take it off and give it up.
The Mask: Official Movie Adaptation
After the success of the movie, Dark Horse created a comic of the movie version. This version include little bits that did not feature in the movie, like when Stanley gets his watch stolen by a gang of thugs before he attacks them with the balloon animal routine.
Differences Between Comic & Movie
There are several noticeable differences between the comic book version and movie version of the Mask. The first is the names of the characters. In the comics, the wearer is referred to as Big Head, which led to later comics portraying the character with an actual big head. In the movie and cartoon version, the character is referred to as "The Mask"
The comic's plot-line is about various people becoming Big Head and causing bloody chaos wherever they go. The movie and cartoon plot-line has Stanley Ipkiss as a good-hearted but pushover of a man who uses the Mask to protect his home city and the world.
Big Head is psychotic and extremely violent. He plays the role between anti-hero and villain, depending on the wearer at the time. The Mask, on the other hand, is much more comedic, like a regular cartoon character. He is portrayed as a mischievous and wacky character who just wants to have fun, but does heroic deeds if necessary. Big Head handles most personal grudges by killing his targets, while the Mask pranks his enemies, such as giving them wedgies. Big Head uses actual weapons like guns and axes, while the Mask uses slapstick comedy and prank items. Big Head is more straightforward his battles, while Mask unleashes cartoon insanity and confusion in his.
The Mask had also shown to be much more powerful than Big Head. His reality warping powers exceeds Big Head's only ability to conjure items out of thin air. He can alter his size and shape, pop out of pictures, transform into various people and objects, and do virtually anything. However the Mask has been shown to be vulnerable to some things. In the cartoon series, when a villain named Channel Surfer trapped him in a TV show, the Mask's own powers were unable to get him out. On another occasion, when Stanley developed a cold, it affected the Mask's powers when he put it on later. This is a noticeable difference from Big Head, who was instantly healed whenever the mask was put on.
In the movie the Mask was created by Loki, the God of Mischief. When the wearer dons the Mask, they get a small portion of his powers. It should be noted that this origin only applies to the movie version of the Mask.
As seen in the second movie, it is possible to pass on the reality bending powers to a child. This was done while the wearer made love with his wife. The resulting child exhibits shape shifting abilities just like the wearer of the mask, although this trait more closely links to Loki's original abilities.