Writers: David Michelinie & Bob Layton
Artists: Dick Giordano (p), Pat Broderick (i)
Publisher: Future Comics
The book opens with a group of bank robbers coming under attack by Deathmask who deals with these criminals in a highly ruthless manner, that leaves all three villains dead, while the bank employees & customers he rescued are actively terrified of him. We then follow Deathmask as he visits his informant Travis Sayer, who lets him know of a shipment of black market medical supplies that are arriving in the country, and we see Deathmask takes a moment to question if he's real doing good, or is he merely sating an inner desire for violence with his war against crime. After looking in on the FBI agent who has latched onto the trail of the deathmask, and is following the path it took, after it was unearthed in an Indian burial site, the book looks in on our villain from the previous issues, the shady business tycoon, Adonis DuLac who has discovered his men that were attacked by Deathmask have transformed into raging beasts who will carry out his commands. What's more he suspects these creatures are immune to Deathmask's magic, a theory which he is soon given opportunity to prove later that night when the masked vigilante arrives to disrupt the medical supply shipment. What follows in a heated battle where Deathmask discovers that his magic has no effect on the creatures, and they manage to drive him off the top of a high cliff to his seeming death.
I realize that it's a little early in the game to be forming lasting opinions of the character, but I have to say I'm a bit concerned that the writing may be pressing the hard-edged vigilante card a bit much, as it's a bit difficult to really invest any interest in the problems of this character when he's presented as the most evil creature in the book. Now I'm not saying the violence has to be toned down, but rather the evil that he runs up against needs to be more vile both in action & intent, so that when Deathmask starts to carry out his horrific attacks, one is able to partly justify the severity of the attacks by being able to point out something that these villains had done that clearly placed them in the "beyond redemption" level of evil doing. Now there's a scene during the opening battle where one of the villains order the death of a hostage, where upon he suffers the fate that he had planned for the hostage, and this is about the only death handed out by Deathmask that didn't feel like he was using excessive force. However, this issue also has him asking the question of whether he's a monster, thanks to the terrified reaction he receives from the civilians he's "rescued", and this seems to suggest that the writing does recognize that Deathmask's use of excessive violence goes far beyond the level of what the situation really called for.
One of the problems I had with the early issues of this book was that the book had yet to introduce a threat that actually threatened Deathmask, and while there's a certain appeal to watching a hero mow their way through the opposition, and the early issues always need to go a bit overboard when it comes to establishing how big a threat the lead character can be, I can't tell you how delighted I was by this issue's final pages. Yes, Deathmask finally runs up against a threat that actually challenges him, and we're offered up a cliffhanger that actually comes across as highly exciting. It's always been my belief that a hero is only as good as his villains, and up to this point the book has been largely driven simply by the sheer brutality that Deathmask employed in his battles, as the villains he had been facing posed little to no threat, and were little more than cannon fodder to be ripped apart in some mildly clever displays of violence. Then again stylized violence does have it's place, as the Friday the 13th films are entirely driven by the various kill scenes that each movie offers up, as are most of the cult classic slasher flicks that have populated the screen since Janet Leigh took her ill-fated shower at The Bates Motel. Still, this type of violence can only carry a book so far before the reader starts looking for something more, and this issue's final pages offer up exactly the type of encounter I had hoped to find.
Dick Giordano's work isn't exactly the most detailed work I've come across, and there are panels where I'm rather unimpressed by the lack of detail. On the other hand one can't argue that the art doesn't know how to tell a story, as the material is very easy to follow, and the big impact moments are visually strong. From the sheer brutality of the attacks that are made in this opening sequence, to the highly charged sense of danger that is established during the final battle, the art does understand how to deliver a visually engaging read. The design for the creatures that attack Deathmask in the final pages are also quite strong, as one does get the sense that these monster could be a very real threat. The various magic spells that Deathmask employs are also well presented, such as the frozen bullet, or the barrage of needles that he brings up to attack our villain before his inhuman henchmen make their arrival. The issue also does some solid work of the out of costume material, as we get a pretty solid look at how the deathmask was found, as well as the unwavering determination of the FBI agent who is dogging the trail of the mask, and its current owner. I also want to make mention of the cover as it's a visually exciting shot, and I love it when the title logo of a book is worked into the cover art.
My enjoyment of this series is somewhat undone by it's rather unsympathetic lead character, as there are moments in this issue where it's quite difficult to even consider the character to be a hero, given the excessively violent means that he employs in his war on criminals. There's a scene in this issue where the criminal has surrender, with his hands up, and Deathmask rewards him with an extremely gruesome death, and this scene is followed up by a rather odd scene where Deathmask actually seems genuinely confused that the people he rescued wouldn't want him around. Still, it's not often that we see this degree of violence for a character who is apparently suppose to be the hero of the book, as the only one that comes to mind is the Punisher, and even then the criminals he guns down tend to be pretty nasty pieces of work themselves. I truly feel this book would be better served if the villains were a little more wicked though, and the creatures that attack Deathmask in the final pages certainly look like a move in the right direction.
What did you think of this book?
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