The Mask

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Comedian Jim Carrey took on the title role of 1994’s The Mask. (New Line/Dark Horse / The Kobal Collection.)
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Adventures of The Mask #1 ™ & © 1996 Dark Horse Comics, Inc. (Cover art by Bruce Timm.)

The Mask

(pop culture)

Superheroes have always offered vicarious empowerment to the average, the meek, and the disenfranchised. When orphan whelp Billy Batson transforms into the mighty Captain Marvel by shouting “Shazam,” for example, one thinks, If only I had such a gift.

Stanley Ipkiss might disagree with you. This human doormat is the lowest of losers—until he buys an ancient mask in a curio shop. Donning the eerie visor, he is transmogrified into a mischievous oddball with a green cranium and a devilish, toothy sneer—plus malleability, invulnerability, and the power to pull objects (especially weapons) out of thin air. Meet the Mask, or “Big-Head,” as he is known in public, who embarks upon a mission of revenge against his tormentors. Premiering in Dark Horse Presents #10 (1987), the Mask is a vengeful, human Bugs Bunny with an “R” rating—unlike that “wascally wabbit,” however, when the Mask blows up someone, he or she stays dead. As the body count increases in Big-Head’s wake, resolute cop Lt. Kellaway is determined to stop this crazy killer, and the heat is on hapless Ipkiss.

The Mask was envisioned by Dark Horse Comics president Mike Richardson, writer Randy Stradley, and artist Chris Warner, but given life by writer John Arcudi and illustrator Doug Mahnke. Dark Horse published multiple storylines featuring the mask (the object) falling into the hands of (make that onto the faces of) a variety of people, with the moral to the story (if there was one) being, vengeance carries a price. Each person who has worn the mask has been intoxicated by its power, but eventually beset by disaster. From his Dark Horse Presents appearances the Mask clobbered his way into a four-issue miniseries titled Mayhem (1989), then into a succession of miniseries and specials all his own, including The Mask (1991), The Mask Returns (1992), The Mask Strikes Back (1995), and The Mask: Toys in the Attic (1998).

A nonlethal, kid-friendly version of the character became a movie icon in The Mask (1994), a box-office smash starring rubber-faced comedian Jim Carrey as Ipkiss/Mask, and featuring a scene-stealing dog named Milo. The Mask is also noted for its breakout performance by Cameron Diaz as a femme fatale turned Ipkiss’ love interest. A hefty special-effects budget brought to life the Mask’s implausible Looney Tunes-inspired antics, and Carrey (in the role) coined a shortlived catchphrase: “Ssssmokin’!” A spate of merchandising accompanied the film, and Son of the Mask made it to movie houses in 2004. The Mask, promoted as “From Zero to Hero,” spawned a television cartoon spinoff (19951996) in both syndication and on Saturday mornings, which in turn inspired a Dark Horse comic book in the “animated” style, Adventures of the Mask (1995–1996). Other animation-based and traditional Mask comics followed for a few years, including a four-issue Dark Horse/DC crossover teaming Big-Head with Batman’s arch foe in Joker/Mask (2000). — ME

References in classic literature ?
Jones, now taking the mask by the hand, fell to entreating her in the most earnest manner, to acquaint him where he might find Sophia; and when he could obtain no direct answer, he began to upbraid her gently for having disappointed him the day before; and concluded, saying, "Indeed, my good fairy queen, I know your majesty very well, notwithstanding the affected disguise of your voice.
To which the mask answered, "And are you so little versed in the sex, to imagine you can well affront a lady more than by entertaining her with your passion for another woman?
But they could discern nothing but a man of middle height, dressed in black, apparently of a certain age, for the end of a gray beard peeped out from the bottom of the mask that hid his features.
Charles accompanied these words with a look designed to penetrate the mask of the unknown headsman.
Without reflecting that this is the only moment in which you can study character," said the count; "on the steps of the scaffold death tears off the mask that has been worn through life, and the real visage is disclosed.
The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat.
He was standing close by the lady in the mask, who was playing with pretty good luck now, and looking on much interested at the game.
But neither bent the knee, for the young bridegroom replied in a tone that startled all listeners as the mask fell, disclosing the noble face of Ferdinand Devereux, the artist lover, and leaning on the breast where now flashed the star of an English earl was the lovely Viola, radiant with joy and beauty.
Your master, Poole, is plainly seized with one of those maladies that both torture and deform the sufferer; hence, for aught I know, the alteration of his voice; hence the mask and the avoidance of his friends; hence his eagerness to find this drug, by means of which the poor soul retains some hope of ultimate recovery--God grant that he be not deceived
His crown was a fillet supporting carved feathers of the same metal as the mask.
Through the slits in the grotesque mask she could see his eyes upon her and she guessed the sardonic smile that the mask hid.
But having been thus distinguished I could do no less than follow her with my eyes to the door where the chain of hands being broken all the masks were trying to get out at once.