The cult-favorite 1980s animated series M.A.S.K. is in the midst of a revival with both IDW Publishing and Paramount Pictures working on bringing the Hasbro toy franchise back to life in comic books and movies – and now one fan wants to be the one to write it. And he has some history with masks.
Mike Quackenbush is a professional wrestler and founder of CHIKARA. Based in Philadelphia, the wrestling organization mixes the masked theatrics of lucha libre style wrestling with pop culture – specifically comic books and cartoons – to create a unique kind of pro wrestling. The worlds of comic books and pro wrestling have a strong connection going back decades, and Quackenbush himself has written CHIKARA tie-in comic books in addition to, of course, wrestling, writing, producing and promoting the company’s over dozen shows each year.
And while M.A.S.K. may not have the comic book credentials other toy properties like G.I. Joe and Transformers have, it has its own unique history. In the 1980s, DC ran two tie-in series to the toy line/animated series, drawn by none other than Superman legend Curt Swan. That series, along with special comic books inserted into the toy packages themselves, told the origin story of both the M.A.S.K. team and their adversaries in VENOM.
As a long-time M.A.S.K. fan with a writing background, for the past few weeks Quackenbush has been using social media to petition IDW for a shot at writing their upcoming licensed series. Newsarama talked with the wrestler/writer to talk about the cult popularity of the franchise, to find out how he’d handle the IDW series if he’s chosen to write it, and his thoughts on how it will be integrated into the modern Hasbro G.I. Joe movie-verse.
Newsarama: Mike, what drives your fandom for M.A.S.K.?
Mike Quackenbush: The greatest theme song ever? In part. What a great concept, though. The entire universe of M.A.S.K. is fertile land waiting to be explored. The cartoon, the comic books…and the abrupt way it vanished from pop culture all begs to be revisited, and honored. Just watching a single episode makes you want to dive deeper into it.
Nrama: M.A.S.K. has been in the news recently -- back in December that it was being incorporated into the G.I. Joe movie universe, and now that IDW is working on a licensed comic book series. Is it nostalgia, or do you think there's some timeless in the M.A.S.K. property that can be seized upon?
Quackenbush: There’s been talk in the last three or four years that the classic iteration of M.A.S.K. as we all knew and loved it, some 30 years ago, is being completely reinvented. The name will stay the same, but everything else will change. So no doubt there is an effort to bank on a known entity, but my gut tells me the end product won’t be one leveraging nostalgia to succeed. The current version of Transformers we see on the big screen seems only marginally related to the G1 ‘bots we all grew up with, I expect something similar awaits Matt Trakker and his teammates.
Nrama: Why do you think comic books is an apt medium for M.A.S.K.?
Quackenbush: Comics have been tied to M.A.S.K. since Kenner first put ThunderHawk on toy shelves. Some of the origin story was told in the comics that were packaged in with the M.A.S.K. toys. That origin story wasn’t told in any other medium. A comic book allows you to go places that a cartoon aimed at boys age 8 - 12 never went. And especially now, as comic books keep me connected to the properties I loved growing up, that’s where this belongs. When M.A.S.K. gets to the big screen, as the December 2015 announcement indicates it will, it’s going to be pared down. Look at the last two G.I. Joe movies: Small teams with fewer characters. You know what I loved about Larry Hama’s G.I. Joe comics? There were dozens and dozens of characters, plots and sub-plots, and no such thing as a “special effects budget” to hold him back.
Nrama: So why do you think you'd be a good fit to write it? Make your case!
Quackenbush: The short version is: this is my passion project, and I’ve been a writer my whole life. I first started drafting a plot ideas for a M.A.S.K. revival comic 17 years ago. It’s been on my mind for a long time, and if it is at last going to be done, I want it to be of the highest possible caliber, and I want to do right by the existing audience M.A.S.K. has in place. My idea would be to pick up right where the animated series left off. There are lots of unanswered questions. Some continuity issues that need to be resolved, too. What’s happened in the intervening years? Why did they stop? Did VENOM just go away? Do the agents of M.A.S.K. still grab coffee from time to time? Does a modern world need M.A.S.K.? What sort of thing might compel them to dust off their masks one more time?
Nrama: For the uber-fans of M.A.S.K. out there, what can you say that you think would win them over about your creds for the book?
Quackenbush: I am as passionate a M.A.S.K. fan as you’re going to find. And all those weird loose ends left over from the cartoon and comic, I’d like to have the chance to tie them up. Who was Andrew Trakker exactly? How can the “racing episodes” just be explained away? That sort of stuff is part of the greater M.A.S.K. continuity and it’s got to be justified in a way that allows the story to progress.
Nrama: You've done some comic book work in the past, with spin-off comic books to your wrestling promotion, CHIKARA. Have you done any other comic book or written work?
Quackenbush: Right. My comic stuff is limited to the CHIKARA cast of characters. Some print stuff, and our old web comic too. I’ve written a bunch of books, and I spent a decade freelancing for magazines as well.
Nrama: Although it's not the written word per se, you've written CHIKARA since the beginning -- creating characters, storylines, dialogue and stories arching over years. How would you compare writing that to writing comic books?
Quackenbush: It’s episodic storytelling with an ensemble cast of characters, so you can see the immediate points of intersection. Things are not storyboarded, panel by panel, but taking that away…remarkably similar pursuits.
Nrama: Are comic books something you want to do more of, outside of M.A.S.K.?
Quackenbush: Certainly. I love the medium, and I love the type of storytelling it enables.