PopCultHQ received a preview copy of MASKS #1 from Rats & Crows Publishing. Just hitting newsstands this past New Comic Book Day (NCBD), Wednesday, November 23rd, the creative team for this ongoing graphic novel series features writing from Daniel Warner, with art by illustrator Matias Zeballos.
Synopsis for MASKS #1:
Writer: Daniel Warner
Artist: Matias Zeballos
$7.99 (print)/$4.99 (digital)
In 1965, an unexplained phenomenon divided the people in two. Maskless – honest and direct, what you see is what you get, and Masks – shady and never trustworthy, never what they seem to appear. The ensuing conflicts brought the world down to rubble in a matter of decades.–
A century later, in 2066, a Bookkeeper roams the desert that used to be called California, looking for a book that is said to get rid of Masks, to bring peace and balance to the world. Only can it? Can anyone? To answer these questions, the Bookkeeper has to find the book. And so, the journey begins.
Right off the bat, you are immersed into a seemingly dystopian future with an Old West feel. But what separates the story found in MASKS from other series depicting a dehumanizing society in the coming years, is that it’s not a future that could potentially happen due to scenarios or conflicts. Writer Daniel Warner introduces us to a world which begun a century prior (1965), thus our story is one of a people who have endured this division for 50 years beyond our own present day. The landscape found within issue one is that of decades of separation, conflict, and survival. Sadly, it is not too different than the current climate today, which surprisingly bears well for this title.
Warner’s writing assures its readers that he has a grand vision of this world. With this premiere issue clocking in at 56 pages, he has the opportunity to lay the foundation for this era, this environment, and the mysterious Bookkeeper, of whom we are following. Warner magnificently keeps you in suspense as to the true nature of this Bookkeeper. Is he the protagonist of the series? If he is, why is he a Mask (one who shouldn’t be trusted)? Can he be trusted? What are his intents? What is he ultimately trying to achieve?
This rather inquisitive nomad roaming into dilapidated Western towns is an intriguing character who I feel hasn’t quite unveiled his true persona. Though seemingly meek and curious, he later reveals himself to have more of a, shall we say, outgoing personality? The way this story read and is laid out, especially how it wraps up, I almost feel as if this issue would be better labeled ‘Chapter One” instead of “Issue One,” as it has the length and air of a story which could open and close in such a manner. Bottom line, I love what Warner has here and am impressed with his different approach to a dystopian future. The Old West element is a great way to keep all of the players in MASKS, as well as its readers, grounded into this world. Not all futuristic and technological, but subtle and believable as a possible scenario.
Illustrator Matias Zeballos has delivered a fantastic look and feel of Warner’s environment. The authentic look of the aged poker cards to the weathered appearance of the broken-down and barely hanging on vehicles to the texture employed in the buildings and earth. The look is superb and ripe for this story. Zeballos does a great job at capturing the “creepy” factor of the masks and the cryptic presence behind them. My only issue was a few instances where it felt like the art didn’t quite blend in with the background or surrounding. Almost like a layered animation cell where it stood out a bit too much. This was only in a few cases, as I swiftly progressed through the story without it occurring again. Zeballos is quite adept when it comes to detailing backgrounds, scenery, and secondary objects key to the story (the structure and architecture of the buildings, the vehicles found throughout and their worn condition, the wood grains, the backs of the poker cards, etc.). Whereas many artists focus on the characters and everything in the foreground, Matias shows that nothing is an afterthought.
PopCultHQ’s overall assessment:
MASKS #1 initially felt a little slow at first, but granted when you have over 50 pages to work with, you have the luxury of spreading things out a little. It’s all about finding that right amount of story to divulge in one issue. By the end, I felt satiated by what was offered; not too little revealed, and not too busy. Once the Bookkeeper meets the Townsmaster of Settlement, and he retells the history of the Masks and how the world came to be as it is now, the pace picked up. We get a terrific scene at the end which shows us a glimpse of what we can expect in future issues from this wandering stranger. One issue I had was with the caption boxes. Generally, caption boxes are of interior dialogue from whoever’s story we are following, and if there’s a change from which the captions are originating, an artist or letterer may change the look or color of that box to help the reader differentiate just from whom the caption is coming. In a few instances, I was a little confused as to from whom the dialog in the captions was coming. Again, just a couple of brief instances that made me pause while reading.
Warner has a solid story and has been paired up nicely with artist Zeballos to create this Old West/New West hybrid of a society. The stage is set nicely for this world to expand, but I feel we’ll also gain some more insight into the past and how it evolved into its present day situation. Within this one issue, you get a strong sense that Daniel Warner has great things in store with this title, so much to the point that you want him to reveal more of his narrative, which ultimately should translate into guaranteed readers already on board for issue two. If Team Warner/Zeballos continue the pace of this issue and add to its already solid storyline, MASKS has the potential to be a lasting sci-fi series and something unique not currently being offered.
PopCultHQ’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
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Writer – Daniel Warner
Publisher Rats & Crows Publishing: