1984: The Masked Man

The Masked Man (1984) #1-12 by B. C. Boyer

Wow! Coming to The Masked Man is so jarring. After plowing through all the comics that arrived via the Pacific Comics bankruptcy, it’s so strange being back with a comic that’s firmly in Eclipse’s aesthetic.

The Masked Man had run in the Eclipse anthologies, and going by the letters pages there, it was the most popular feature.

Which the inherited Pacific comics are dominated by horror and science fiction, and with some of the most famous artists in comics (Al Williamson, Berni Wrightson, etc) or British nihilistic hyper-violence (Axel Pressbutton), that’s definitely not The Masked Man.

The first issue is a reintroduction to the character, but not a strict retelling, so it’s not boring for somebody who’s recently read the anthologies.

Boyer is a pretty straightforward artist. His figures are a bit stiff, and it’s solidly on the more cartooney side of mainstream realist comics. He very occasionally plays a bit with the comics format (like with the exploding border up there), but it’s not his main interest.

No, these are stories about an upstanding guy who’s put a mask on to fight crime, and the stories are often a bit on the maudlin side. Or should I say emotional? (Above we have our hero not letting himself be taken advantage of by a sleazy politician.)

There’s a backup feature in most of the early issues, all written by somebody called E. Yarber, but with a variety of artists. These are mostly small vignettes with a humorous twist ending, and after every one of them I felt myself going, “well, that was a bit clumsy, but that was a cute ending, huh?”

Here we have Val Mayerik doing the artwork, so I was expecting heads to inappropriately start exploding, because that what he usually does, but no. The Masked Man is family oriented.

In the first issue, Boyer writes about how he sold The Masked Man (originally called The White Collar Man; the name was changed by editor Dean Mullaney). tl;dr: He sent it to Eclipse and they said yes.

Boyer does something on the letters page I can’t recall anybody else doing: Each issue he’ll send a page of original artwork to a randomly chosen letter writer. Perhaps I can do the same! I’ll send an original jpg to a randomly chosen commenter! That’s the ticket.

Oh, yeah, there’s a lot of villains shooting at our hero and his friends, but they’re the ineptest people ever, and here Boyer has a bit of fun with that.

While every issue is a complete story, and there’s various subplots developed throughout the series, I think the best bits really are these absurd action sequences. As the issues progress, we get less and less of them, though.

The second issue has three stories that were intended for Eclipse Monthly, but were stranded when that anthology was cancelled. Shuffling them around an doing that new first issue was a smart move.

The Masked Man isn’t just a comedy/action comic book: There’s a lot of these dramatic scenes where children (here’s Aphidman) reuniting and coming to an understanding with their parents (here’s J. Judah Johnson). It’s definitely the most prominent theme: Everybody’s losing or finding their parents.

Kelley Jones shows up doing the inks to one of the backup stories.

Have I mentioned the weird thing the printer that Eclipse uses did on most of the comics? Put glue in the centre margins of pages 10-11 and 22-23. Sometimes there’s so much glue in there that you can’t open the pages properly without ripping the paper, like here.

The single weirdest feature of The Masked Man is the jealousy between the hero’s sidekick and the hero’s girlfriend. And the sidekick isn’t gay; that’s mentioned explicitly (in the anthology stories), he’s just doesn’t want his friend to have a sex life of something.

It’s a bit of a head-scratcher.

Boyer’s politics, on the other hand, aren’t very difficult to suss out. Here we have some strident activists making their case as clearly as I guess Boyer sees their issues.

And you also see some angles that Boyer perhaps shouldn’t have attempted to draw humans at.

Oh, yeah, Eclipse had that flood around this time, and lost their entire backstock.

And with #9, Boyer steps into the comic to announce that it’s been cancelled (due to low sales). The storyline can’t be said to have come to any sort of conclusion: There were a lot of stuff that didn’t go anywhere much. But it’s a nice final issue.

And cat ⊕ yronwode ends it all by writing a bit about Boyer, who turns out to be the kind of guy who goes to church (no!), but perhaps slightly more surprising, has a janitorial service as a day job. That he’s now going back to full time.

But then! Issue ten! It’s just one year after #9, but in the meantime the black and white boom had started, which was a period you could publish the phone book in 32 page slices and sell tens of thousands of them. As long as those 32 pages were in black and white.

Collectors, eh?

Boyer uses the opportunity to stage a comeback, and retools the artwork and makes it more broody and serious.

And at this point I thought he was going to go full on boobs-and-guts slaughtering (with those knives attached to Elektra’s, I mean, Blade’s hands). But, nope. The book basically remains as before, only with a bit fewer jokes.

Boyer promises three specials per year instead of a continuous release schedule.

Hey, that’s a kinda fun internal ad. Larry Marder, Matt Feazell and Chris Ware. Never to be seen on the same page again.

The second of the b&w issues go to a cheaper, off-white paper, which is a good sign that it’s not selling very well.

(And again with the parent/child thing.)

And… Yes. Boyer says that sales have been halved, but I don’t know whether that’s from the colour issues or from the previous one. The black and white bust was harsh, but relying on collectors to feed you isn’t a good idea.

And the, with issue 12, it’s cancelled again.

This comic has never been collected or reprinted, which is both surprising and not: There’s a reason that The Masked Man was the most popular feature in the Eclipse anthologies. It’s funny, has pathos, lots of action, characters that aren’t completely stock characters, and artwork that’s… OK.

But that’s really on a story by story basis. The longer subplots are either annoying, involve complete MacGuffins, or go nowhere. If these stories were published in a complete edition, you’d feel cheated, because there’s no story arc here.

B. C. Boyer returned briefly to comics in the 90s with Hilly Rose, and cat ⊕ yronwode returned with him as the editor.

But what did the critics think? Joe McCulloch blockquoteth in 2011:

The Masked Man, by comparison, was a warm bath for genre fans, blending odd, stiff comedy and maudlin drama with the occasionally inspired visual bit of time distortion or long panning, then pouring the works into a whole tub full of fuzzy nostalgia for an indistinct Better Times, impliedly before the mess of darkening, complicated corporate superhero characters, when real heroes relied on their guts, represented the best, and always did the right thing.

It’s an interesting take; go read it all.

Leon Hunt wrote this at the time (from The Comics Journal #92):

I had written the first half of this review shortly after the first appearance of Boyer’s work at Eclipse and reflected my dismay at Boyer’s back-up strip for Don McGregor’s Sabre, “The Incredible Seven,” a noxious blend Of amateurism and cynicism that first drew my attention to this artist.

[…]

I’m also using this review as a way of trying to understand how someone can produce—and have pub. lished—something as awful as “The Incredible Seven.”

[…[

With all this success and popularity, one might conclude that Boyer has improved enormously since previous efforts. I would argue that it is more likely that he will now probably never improve.

Hm! I think he doesn’t like Boyer’s work!

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