I mentioned in this article how much I enjoy mini-comics. (By the way I still need a good storage method.) Not the kind some cartoonists make, although I love a good story of any format and size. If you’re a Masters of the Universe fan you know exactly which ones I mean. These mini-comics used to be the only way to sell the world of the toys until the FCC, pushed by Ronald Reagan, allowed for animated series, like He-Man & The Masters of the Universe or Transformers. Even after that, Masters of the Universe continued to add comics in their toys, which continued in the “He-Man” spin off line.

However, it isn’t just toys that contained these comics. Drake’s Snack Cakes had two different series of Marvel Comics and DC has partnered with General Mills cereals on more than one occasion. (They even have a cross-promotion now, but not in either of the cereals I eat. Donations welcome.) I even remember a pair of sneakers I had as a kid had a mini-comic strip that told you how cool the shoes you just bought were. That’s long since disappeared by the way.

Since I need a little time and I’ve started reviewing mini-comics on my site, I thought I’d transport one over here so I at least have something to post. You might think I’d be starting with Masters Of The Universe, arguably the king of the pack-in promo mini-comics. This is not the case, as I was prompted to officially start this series after listening to the first episode of MASKast, a podcast reviewing the 80’s animated series M.A.S.K. (short for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand–no wonder Johnny can’t read). In it they mentioned that one of the three mini-comics, produced for Kenner by DC Comics–who later produced a mini and ongoing series–told the origin of M.A.S.K. and V.E.N.O.M. (the Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem), but they didn’t seem to know a lot about it. Since this was later made canon for the cartoon during the “racing” series of the show (where the two groups dropped crimefighting and crimedoing to take part in cross-country races–yeah, I don’t get it either), I thought it was a good one to start with, even if most of the Clutter Reports readers may not have seen either.

This whole thing started over choosing pizza toppings.

MASK comic #1: Flaming Beginnings
PACKED WITH: Not sure. I do know that only the first series of MASK vehicles came with this. I’m thinking my copy came with either Switchblade or Thunderhawk, both of which I still own. Note that not every comic I’ll review in this section is one I own. Some will be downloaded from the internet because the odds of reprinting them are rather low. (That’s why this is part of Comic Spotlight and not a “Scanning My Collection” series.) When I do know which specific toys or products these comics came in I will list them.
PRODUCED BY: DC Comics. Granted I only know this because there’s an ad on the inside cover to subscribe to DC Comics titles and they worked on the sold-in-stores issues. Some mini-comics were produced by the company themselves but like this one and MOTU the toy company would outsource to regular comic producers.
CREDITS: For this comic there were no writer/artist credits. I just want to have a layout for the review.

STORY: Matt Trakker and Bruce Sato (the Rhino team) are hanging around Boulder Hill (the gas station that is secretly MASK headquarters; another issue would take place with that playset’s figures) when Mile Mayhem sets a trap by faking a pilot’s crash landing and parachuting onto his head. As the heroes take the “pilot” in to check his injuries, Matt notes that he reminds him of his late kid brother, Andy. Then the flashback begins.

In the past, Andy and Matt actually worked for Miles, then the head and founder of an organization dedicated to preserving peace. Miles is upset that he isn’t getting recognition for his hard work, but Matt convinces him that their work is more important than publicity. Then Andy reveals that he has invented masks, vehicles, and weapons that can surprise the enemy. Mayhem steals the plans and uses them to form VENOM. Andy is killed during the theft, but is able to give a warning and another set of plans to Matt, who uses the plans to form MASK.

Back in the present, Bruce notices that the pilot hasn’t blinked once and decides he must be a robot. (The pilot, not Bruce.) Mayhem, who has been listening thanks to a radio built into the robot, remotely activates a timed explosive. Only the Rhino rig is available, so Matt & Bruce use it to get the robot away from the station and when Mayhem tries to stop them he gets a face-full of exploding robot and beats a retreat. Matt calls this the first round (although I thought they had been doing this for a while by now) and knows they will fight again.

And thus a toyline and cartoon series were born. {click for full size}

ANALYSIS: This story is not bad but it has its share of flaws. Not that Mayhem knows who Matt is and where MASK Headquarters is. While VENOM was kept in the dark about the MASK members’ true identities on the show they knew who they were in the comics. The mini-series even has a story where Miles has Scott and T-Bob kidnapped to lure MASK into a trap. Other elements of the show, like Matt being rich, the Peaceful Nations Alliance (which wasn’t in the show proper for the first few episodes), aren’t present in the two minis I own. (Three were produced that I know of, but I only have this one and the third one.)

I have trouble believing that Miles made such a quick heel turn from preserving peace to being a thief or terrorist. (DC’s shelf-series even had VENOM as the strike arm of a terrorist group known as Contra-World.) As an adult I find it odd that a kid that looks like he’s fresh out of college if not high school could create such elaborate technology, but I can suspend my disbelief for the sake of the story.

I do have to ask, though, why Miles went through the trouble of rigging a robot with a timer to explode, but he activates it by remote control? And why a timer that gives the heroes more than enough time to get it away from their base? You have a remote detonator. Just rig it to blow the moment you hit the button (and why take so long to use it?) and BOOM! You’ve taken out the leader and second-in-command of your enemies. Bad move, Miles.

In the end it’s worth reading (you should be able to find all three online at fan sites) if only for the origin story. For that and selling the Rhino and Switchblade toys it does its job. But it’s back to organizing the big comics and trying to get ready for convention season. I’m going to be busy for a while.