Hasbro's cult-favorite toy line M.A.S.K. is returning in an all-new ongoing series from IDW Publishing, and is doing it as part of a over-arching crossover called IDW Revolution which brings G.I. Joe, Transformers and more all into one cohesive universe.
Former Agent Carter writer Brandon Easton and artist Tony Vargas are collaborating together on this reinvention of the 1980s toy/animated franchise, honoring "the spirit" of the original while being unafraid to modernize it and improve on the formula.
Newsarama talked with both Easton and Vargas about the modern-day M.A.S.K. series, reinventing the villain Miles Mayhem, and how the franchise fits within IDW's newly-minted Hasbro universe.
Newsarama: Brandon, how would you describe your take on M.A.S.K.?
Brandon Easton: This version of Mobile Armored Strike Kommand is contemporary with a slight touch of nostalgia to satisfy the original fans of the 1980s series. I'd describe it as a vehicle-based action adventure sci-fi thriller comic book with updated versions of the classic characters. Unlike your average comic book that has a singular emphasis, M.A.S.K. is unique in the sense that it combines military action, vehicle combat, changeable weapons and helmets that grant superpowers. If the balance isn't right, it falls apart so I've been working hard to incorporate all those elements in a logical, but extremely exciting storyline.
Tony Vargas: If you can imagine taking an old computer and a brand new tablet PC equipped with AR capabilities, smashing them together to make a nice M.A.S.K. jelly.
You'll look at the characters and vehicles and know right away its M.A.S.K. That's really the goal of revitalizing any existing property - to maintain what made it great and really looking for opportunities to make it even better.
Nrama: Can you describe Matt Trakker in this for us?
Easton: He's an engineering genius with a natural talent for science who comes from a deeply troubled background. The loss of his father at a young age sent Matt sprawling into grief, and because he couldn't handle his emotional pain, he became a bit of a delinquent. However, he was always smart enough to know how to work the system. Right before the M.A.S.K. training begins, he gets himself into some serious trouble so he had little choice but to join the boot camp. A core part of this series will be to chronicle Matt's growth from an insecure recruit to the resolute leader of M.A.S.K.
Vargas: He's resourceful, highly intelligent and (initially) distracted individual who underneath the confidence and square jaw is a little uneasy about his direction in life.
Nrama: How is his relationship with V.E.N.O.M.'s Miles Mayhem?
Easton: It's going to be very different from the original dynamic on the TV series. Mayhem isn't going to be the same old snarling bad guy with ridiculous plans that are easily foiled. Our version of Mayhem is much smarter, much more respected and incredibly dangerous. The best way I can describe their relationship is to think of Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman from the submarine thriller Crimson Tide. These men respect each other because of a shared world view, but beyond that, when Matt gets in the way of Mayhem's grand design, things go south quickly.
Vargas: Our version of Mayhem is a devious, charismatic mastermind lacking in morals and has little regard for human life. He's just a greedy jerk when it comes down to it. He's not a fumbling low IQ kind of villain.
Nrama: USA Today describes this version of M.A.S.K. as having a "Fast & Furious spin." Can you comment on that?
Easton: The Fast & Furious franchise is one of the most successful movie franchises in history and there's a reason for that. The 21st century audience craves speed and spectacle. The modern audience also wants to grow with the characters over time. The funny thing is that if you look at the original TV show for M.A.S.K. and compare it to Fast & Furious, there's already many similarities. You have a diverse group of people from different walks of life who come together to stop various threats. In this version of M.A.S.K., each character ends up in the training program because it was their last chance to find redemption. I believe there's considerable story potential for character growth by having a ragtag team of people with murky histories instead of a crew of cookie-cutter "good" and "bad" guys.
Vargas: Yup! Fast paced action, deep character development and an amazing story! All of that is backed by a world filled with technology, allowing for some pretty awesome possibilities.
Nrama: What will the first storyline be about?
Easton: Most details from the first arc have to remain classified for a few months. We're going to slowly reveal more of the story over the summer months but in the meantime, fans should be assured that we're coming up with a heck of a story world for everyone to get immersed in. Expect tons of action, speed and intrigue. Oh yea... Killer artwork from Tony Vargas. I've seen some of the concepts and they've blown me away. I can't wait to see the response from the readers. I truly believe that this will be one of the most attractive looking comics on the market when it hits later in 2016.
Nrama: How will M.A.S.K. tie in to IDW Revolution?
Easton: The M.A.S.K. team is very much a part of the Revolution story line. The team shows up early in the event and has a major impact on the outcome. I guess you could say that much of what M.A.S.K. will become is tied to the climax of Revolution. The upcoming M.A.S.K. one-shot is somewhat structured around Revolution so you should consider M.A.S.K. a vital element to the new order within the Hasbro titles. Fans will have to wait to see where we go with all of this.
Nrama: Are there particular characters from the other books you think M.A.S.K. would be particularly conducive to share a comic book page with?’
Easton: Absolutely. There will be characters from the other books showing up - not on a regular basis - but there will be some "bleeding" in from the Hasbro comics from time to time. I'd love to include Storm Shadow, Destro or Roadblock into a M.A.S.K. story because there's a natural connection with the Joe-verse in terms of character styles and technology. I really like a lot of the Cobra characters so who knows who might pop up in the series? Generally speaking, M.A.S.K. has quite a few characters that need to be explored so I'll be taking my time with that instead of a revolving door of guests. I believe the audience appreciates getting to know the core characters first.
Nrama: How much did IDW & Hasbro already have laid out before you joined this project?
Easton: There was a concrete framework in place but I was given some freedom to set up the rules of the world and the relationships between the cast. We're still ironing out some wrinkles here and there, but production is well under way.
Vargas: Before I signed on, Brandon submitted a pitch, which I read and got hooked on. It was a really fun and immersive plan he had for the future of the comic and I was happy to be a part of its development.
Hasbro and IDW are giving us a pretty wide playing field with very few restrictions. As things progress in the development of the book that may change, but for right now...weeeeee!
Nrama: What were you inspired by in revamping M.A.S.K.?
Easton: So many things! First, for the driving sequences, I loved the anime film called Redline. There's also classic westerns like The Magnificent Seven or The Wild Bunch in terms of character interactions. Obviously, I've been re-watching the original show and looking for unresolved plot threads or interesting moments that were never expanded upon. I'm having a total blast reliving my childhood.
Vargas: I was inspired by the nostalgia that people seem to have when they speak about the show and the characters.
It was obvious from the beginning that what people loved about the show would have to be maintained, but also not be doggedly adhered to. My goal was to embed the spirit of the show, while extending an olive branch to newcomers and fans of the series, to enjoy a fresh take on the look and feel of the universe M.A.S.K. lives in.
Conceptually, there are just way too many opportunities to exploit newer technological advancements and to speculate how much further into the future we can go with our tech. Limiting ourselves to only recreating what was in the original show, I feel, would be a detriment to the story as a whole. I'm glad we took the chance at deviating from the original.