produced by DIC Enterprises, originally aired from September 1985 to November 1986, available on DVD and YouTube
GI Joe meets Transformers…what could possibly go wrong?
M.A.S.K. is a classic cartoon from the 1980s cartoon boom that is more fondly remembered than actually enjoyed. Many of the episodes are recalled with the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia because, upon re-watching, the show really doesn’t hold up. Part of that may be due to the toys being excellent (more on that, perhaps, in future weeks) and part of it may just be to the novelty of the series itself. A lot of what we know to be trite and cliche now were still quite new in the mid-1980s. But whatever the case, M.A.S.K. is not a cartoon that has aged well.
M.A.S.K. (Mobile Armored Strike Kommand) is a quasi-secret organization of do-gooders who primarily oppose V.E.N.O.M. (Vicious Evil Network Of Mayhem). M.A.S.K. is led by super-rich philanthropist Matt Trakker who founded the organization and filled its ranks with the 1980s’ version of cultural and ethnic diversity. It’s not really clear where Trakker got his money, or how he hasn’t spent all of it already, but generic rich guy is a staple in these sorts of shows.
Counter to this, V.E.N.O.M. is as evil as M.A.S.K. is good, with a similarly vague origin and goal. Founded by Miles Mayhem, a crime boss that looks more like a corporate CEO than an 1980s cartoon criminal mastermind, V.E.N.O.M. is engaged in various criminal activities around the world.
The show has some gaping plot holes right from the start. Even though M.A.S.K. is supposed to be secret, just about everyone seems to know Matt Trakker is the founder of M.A.S.K. or is at least connected to it. On top of that, there doesn’t seem to be much of an origin to M.A.S.K. It just sort of came into existence to combat V.E.N.O.M., except V.E.N.O.M. exists because of stolen M.A.S.K. technology.
Likewise, V.E.N.O.M. doesn’t seem terribly ambitious in its criminal goals, at least not compared to its 1980s counterparts. While Cobra from GI Joe was bent on world domination, V.E.N.O.M. seems perfectly fine with random exploitation and money-making schemes. A lot of their crimes seem downright petty at times.
Another major problem with the show is the inconsistent power and technology level, namely in the form of the powers found in the titular masks/helmets. The M.A.S.K. vehicles make sense as a sci-fi element; they’re exaggerated and over-the-top but not entirely unplausible. A car that can reconfigure into a small airplane? Sure, why not. A helmet that embues flight or anti-gravity properties powerful enough to push a falling aircraft the size of a harrier jet out over the ocean? That’s stressing the believability of a show that, otherwise, seems to inhabit the real world.
Story – 3 out of 5
M.A.S.K. combats V.E.N.O.M.’s newest dastardly plot to make some money. The vast majority of the plots are pretty typical cartoon tropes, with very few surprises. By and large, each episode is by the numbers. There’s nothing too surprising, but with 75 episodes, the show manages to cover some ground.
Art -3 out of 5
Pretty typical for the 1980s. The heroes and villains are all pretty colorful, especially when in their M.A.S.K./V.E.N.O.M. get-ups. All the male characters are in phenomenal shape with huge, broad shoulders (though, thankfully, not He-Man exaggerated) while the token women are noticeably curvy without being too overt. The vehicles themselves are quite distinctive in their look and are well-drawn.
Animation – 3 out of 5
Nothing really outstanding but no real weaknesses either. The show was pretty uniformly by-the-numbers.
Characters – 2 out of 5
The characters are, as stated above, the 1980s’ version of diverse. For example, the token Asian on the team, Bruce Sato, Asian, talks almost exclusively in enigmatic Confucian riddles that no one by Matt Trakker understands. The one female on the team, Gloria Baker, is the only character without a call sign.
There’s a token effort to provide some diversity to the characters’ backgrounds (Hondo MacLean is a history teacher while Brad Turner is a rock star), but this has little effect beyond showing us what they’re doing when they get the call from Matt Trakker to drop whatever they’re doing (which they always do without fail). Once the actual adventure begins, pretty much all signs of character diversity is limited to their accents.
Acting – 2 out of 5
Bad. While not truly terrible, not a single performance is at all remarkable or anything more than simply adequate. Part of this is likely because the characters are never given much of a chance to meaningfully emote, leaving the voice actors with very little to work with. Some of the accents are truly over-the-top but some of them aren’t too bad.
The single biggest problem is Matt Trakker, voiced by Doug Stone. While he’s a decorated voice actor, he’s summarily terrible in this show. Maybe it was the directing, maybe it was the technology, but his performance is always a low monotone, to the point that when Trakker is speaking, you often have to turn up the volume to understand what he’s saying. The performance is consistently lacking in any real inflection and drags down whole segments of the show.
Overall – 2 out of 5
The only thing that saves M.A.S.K. from a One is that the formula it relies on works fairly well. There’s nothing really good about the show beyond the premise, while the superficial plot issues and flat characters really kill whatever good it might have had. It’s easy to see why this show didn’t last long, no doubt carried predominantly by the above-average toyline. If you were a M.A.S.K. aficionado, I urge you not to rewatch the show, lest you find yourself wondering what in the world you were thinking as a kid.