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M.A.S.K.: A. C.A.R.T.O.O.N. O.F. T.H.E. 8.0.S.

07 July 2010

Continuing the line of rants about classic 80s cartoons, today we’re talking about M.A.S.K.

90s Cartoonists: no, that’s not ‘The Mask’, the Jim Carrey movie spin-off cartoon that was pretty fun in its own right, but M.A.S.K., Mobile Armored Strike Kommand. From the way of thinking that brought you Mortal Kombat and Krush, Kill ‘n Destroy.

M.A.S.K. was a cool 80s cartoon in the same vein as any other cartoon from that era: a colourful cast of good guys and bad guys duking it out, status quo plot-of-the-week episodes and public service messages at the end telling us to look both ways before crossing or an angry Joe is going to pop up from the bushes and tear you a new one. There were two nifty gimmicks in play: both sides had supercharged helmets (the titular ‘masks’) and transforming vehicles. Some of the vehicles were pretty cool (villain Miles Mayhem had a helicopter that could transform into a jet which was mindblowing), some of them less so (the big red truck that could... tilt its exhaust pipes a little. Or something). The mask powers, on the whole, were dumb. One always got the sense that they’d all be better off just carrying guns instead of using unwieldy helmets with a voice-controlled attack of dubious usefulness.

And that’s probably the reason that, as cool as the cartoon was in the 80s... it hasn’t aged particularly well at all. I saw some episodes a few years back, and then I watched some yesterday, and it was all pretty cheesy, hamfisted and boring. It seems 80s cartoons can be divided into two groups: the ones that held up and the ones that didn’t. Transformers, Thundercats and C.O.P.S. (Fighting crime... in a future time!) are still enjoyable to watch today. M.A.S.K. and Bionic Six, to name a few, are not.

I already named the first reason, the inherent dullness of their powers. The cartoon exploits these in the most facile of ways. Rocks falling down? Here’s anti-grav helmet guy. Death ray shooting? Anti-death ray helmet guy. Jimmy can’t pay for his medication? Affordable health care helmet guy. I couldn’t believe the awful delivery of the lines in the cartoon either. Whenever someone activates their mask power, they revert to the most deadpan of voices: ‘flame power... on’. I guess in the 80s, voice recognition software was in a pretty bad place.

A second reason is explained in the intro of the cartoon (which in all respects is super exciting), in the line ‘Trakker’s gonna lead the mission and Spectrum’s got such super vision’. This alludes to the premise that the good guy team is always lead by Matt Trakker and his Spectrum mask, with the team consisting of a different roster of heroes every episode. The problem is that these guys (and gals) are so shallow and flat that it’s hard to care for them. Along with the facile plots, the show makes it really hard to believe in any of it. A comedic bit has Matt Trakker’s son Scott accidentally knock a golf ball through the window. In what has to be a Vicodin-induced stupor, Matt gazes at the golf ball with an aloof half-smile. What’s going on in that man’s skull? Is he shooting for Most Indifferent Dad Of The Year?

It’s a shame, too, because I still think the M.A.S.K. toy line was one of the best in the world. It was so great to have all those transforming vehicles and tiny guys; it was like they took the best things from Joe and the best from Transformers and put them together to create plastic magic.

M.A.S.K.’s dullness is extra surprising if you look at its heritage. This was a DIC show produced by Jean Chalopin, who was also responsible for classics like Inspector Gadget and Jayce & The Wheeled Warriors: shows that have far better stood the test of time. I guess you can’t always be on the ball.

But the ultimate redeeming quality of any cartoon? Awesome intro.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0BzBFWt8V8

Roderick