M.A.S.K. was an animated television series directed by three Japanese studios - KK C&D Asia, Studio World, and Ashi Production; with Korean studio Hanho Heung-Upnote and produced by the French-American DIC Entertainment (Jean Chalopin & Andy Heyward). It was based on the toyline of the same name sold by Kenner.
A total of 75 episodes were broadcast from 1985 to 1986 in syndication. One of many cartoons produced during the 1980s as a vehicle for toys, M.A.S.K. (which is an acronym for the Mobile Armored Strike Kommand), was essentially a mashup of G.I. Joe (with the whole "opposing factions of terrorist and peacekeepers" thing) and Transformers (with the converting vehicles; here, the gimmick wasn't transforming robots, but seemingly ordinary vehicles that turned into heavily-armed fighting machines). It featured a special task force featuring an array of characters, led by Matt Trakker, with transforming vehicles engaged in an ongoing battle against the criminal organization V.E.N.O.M. (an acronym for the Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem), with an emphasis on super-powered helmets called "Masks" worn by the characters.
The series, like with these types of shows, focused mainly on the vehicles and characters from the toy line. More characters were introduced, both from M.A.S.K. and V.E.N.O.M., as the line expanded. There is a storyline difference in the mini comic books which came with each toy. In the comics, Miles Mayhem knew the identity of Matt Trakker and had originally helped start the M.A.S.K. team but betrayed him later by killing Matt's younger brother Andy.
Besides the cartoon and toys, there were also various merchandising products like sticker books, coloring books and party goods to capitalize on the success of the show, as well as a Comic-Book Adaptation from DC Comics.
In that series, the M.A.S.K. team is sponsored by an organization called the Peaceful Nations Alliance, with a guy named Duane Kennedy as their rep. Their exact relationship wasn't explained. Duane and the P.N.A. did appear in the cartoon, although in a smaller role. Similarly, V.E.N.O.M. didn't exactly have a clear goal as to what they did. They weren't the typical villains who sought global dominance, and their schemes mostly revolved around illegal activities and the like. The comics tried to give them a more fleshed-out background, where they were seemingly the main force of a bigger evil group called Contraworld. Like with M.A.S.K. and the P.N.A., their relationship wasn't explained in detail; what Contraworld was trying to use the agents for wasn't clarified either.
Twenty-five years after MASK left the airwaves, the line was "adopted" by G.I. Joe when a new Matt Trakker action figure was released as part of the Joe figure line under the name "Specialist Trakker", with a character bio explaining MASK and VENOM as special ops units of the Joe Team and COBRA.
In 2011, Hasbro released a one-off comic titled Unit: E, which attempted to crossover Hasbro's more famous lines such as G.I. Joe, Transformers, Jem, and other, not-so-famous (or even out-of-left-field) properties like Micronauts, Action Man, Stretch Armstrong, and even Candy Land. Here◊, it seemed to have been roughly merged with another Hasbro property, C.O.P.S.; it took place in a futuristic, (even more) dystopian Detroit, where the government has left the Motor City's people to fend for themselves, resulting in widespread chaos. An ancient workshop belonging to the "League of Ancient Wheelmen" was found and used by Matt Trakker (now a police officer) and a new team of civil servants, who use the tech they found to help Detroit's citizenry and combat the decay, as M.A.S.K.
December 2015 saw Hasbro and Paramount announcing the formation of a shared Hasbro movie universe (using the G.I. Joe movies as a starting point), which will include this series, as well as the Micronauts, the Visionaries and ROM. 2016 had IDW Publishing announcing a rebooted comic based on the series, to be part of the new Hasbro Comic Universe, starting with the crossover Revolution; Miles Mayhem here was previously a member of Joe Colton's Adventure Team, and parts of the M.A.S.K. tech was reverse-engineered from Decepticon Triple-Changer Blitzwing (M.A.S.K. having started as an anti-Transformer initiative operated by the Earth Defense Command as a subdivision of the GI Joe Team); after the events of Revolution, a M.A.S.K. ongoing started, with Matt and the rest of M.A.S.K. now on the run, trying to track down Mayhem ( who had turned traitor and been working with Baron Karza; when that went south during the Revolution, Mayhem vanished, but has now reappeared with several former M.A.S.K. agents, now operating as V.E.N.O.M). Tropes for that adaptation can be found here.
In January 2018, Paramount announced that M.A.S.K. had been dropped from the Hasbro cinematic universe—but in April they revealed that there would still be a M.A.S.K. film, which would be directed by F. Gary Gray (Friday, The Italian Job (2003), Straight Outta Compton, The Fate of the Furious) and developed as "a contemporary subculture movie with a youth empowerment angle".
M.A.S.K. contains the following tropes:
- Actually Pretty Funny:
- At the end of "Mystery of the Rings", Matt Trakker chews out his son for disobeying him and informs him that he is grounded. T-Bob asks to take Scott's picture because it could be the last time they'll ever see him smile. Matt responds to T-Bob's statement by laughing.
- When Scott is asked how he successfully cleaned the ice cream off of T-Bob in "Bad Vibrations", he hesitates before answering in an ashamed tone that he ate the ice cream off of T-Bob because he didn't want it to go to waste. After Matt and the other members of M.A.S.K. laugh at this revelation, Scott soon laughs as well.
- Agony of the Feet: Miles Mayhem and Vanessa Warfield get zapped in their feet by shrunken members of M.A.S.K. in "Disappearing Act".
- And Knowing Is Half the Battle: Every episode ends with Scott and/or T-Bob being taught an important safety lesson. Amusingly, some episodes of the second season have members of V.E.N.O.M. learn and teach these safety lessons instead.
- Animesque: The cartoon was a Japanese-American co-production, which was common in the 1980's.
- Avengers, Assemble!: Just about every episode, Matt Trakker has his computer "scan personel files for the M.A.S.K. agents best suited for this mission." The computer names the agents it selects, followed by their special skills and the vehicle they drive or co-pilot. After each is named, a little vignette shows the agent being alerted, dropping whatever he is doing, and running off.
- A few episodes would include "[Name of Agent] pre-selected" if one of the team was already with Matt, or "[Name of Agent] unavailable" if they were incapacitated or injured.
- Badass Driver: Pretty much all of them, but Dusty Hayes, Gloria Baker, Brad Turner, Ali Bombay, Sly Rax, and Floyd Malloy stand out.
- Bald of Awesome: Alex Sector and Boris Bushkin are both bald and members of M.A.S.K.
- Big Badass Rig: Rhino, Outlaw, Goliath, Bulldog.
- Big Bad: Miles Mayhem is the main villain due to being the leader of V.E.N.O.M.
- Calling Your Attacks: Most of the time—not always—characters using their mask's powers would call out something like "Lifter, on!" or "Whip, on!" depending on the name of their mask. The series was inconsistent about this, though, and sometimes just seemed to be an excuse for the target of a destructive power to get out of the way.
- Card-Carrying Villain: You don't call yourself "vicious evil" for no reason.
- Chainsaw Good: Lester's Iguana vehicle has a chainsaw blade on the back and a shredding sawblade on the front.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Bruce Sato, Hondo MacLean, Julio Lopez, and Cliff Dagger were all absent from the show during the second season.
- Conveyor Belt o' Doom: Matt gets trapped on one in "Lippizaner Mystery".
- Cool Car: Several that were based on Real Life cars would have been cool all by themselves. The fact they transformed just made them cooler.
- Cool Old Guy: Alex Sector.
- Cool Shades: Brad Turner, Sly Rax, and Lester Sludge.
- Demoted to Extra: A lot of the characters who weren't downright Chucked were subject to this in the second season. Most notable being Scott, who was a major character in the first season but in the second season only appeared in the PSAs at the end of the episodes "For One Shining Moment", "High Noon", and "Cliff Hanger". "High Noon" is also the only season two episode to feature T-Bob, but, like Scott, he only appears in the PSA at the end and he also doesn't have any lines.
- Disappeared Dad: In "Green Nightmare", Matt confirms that "My father... has left us".
- Do Not Call Me "Paul": Floyd Malloy objects to Vanessa calling him Floyd in "Challenge of the Masters", insisting that she instead call him "Birdman".
- Dude, Where's My Car?: Gloria Baker, although a champion race car driver, does not receive Razorback—Brad Turner does.
- Dumb Muscle: Cliff Dagger and Bruno Sheppard.
- Early Installment Weirdness: In the early episodes, V.E.N.O.M. has generic Mooks at their disposal. Matt also had a much lower and quieter voice compared to the later episodes and several of the Mask abilities looked very different. Bruce's Lifter, for example, looked like a green forcefield in the first episode, while later episodes portray it as yellow rings made of energy.
- The Engineer: Buddy and Bruce, both of the Mechanic subtype. They seemed to be the ones called on to repair the team's vehicles in the field.
- Ejection Seat: The Rhino semi-trailer track sported one for the passenger side that ejected anyone in the seat sideways, out of the car.
- Everybody Laughs Ending: Fairly often, an episode would end with the heroes laughing.
- Expository Theme Tune: The theme song explicitly mentions that the titular organization always saves the day from V.E.N.O.M, that Matt leads the mission and how his mask has super vision.
- Eye Beams: Most of the masks emit their special powers from the mask's eyes. Matt Trakker's Spectrum/Ultra Flash, Bruce Sato's Lifter, Dusty Hayes' Backlash, Hondo McLean's Blaster I, Gloria Baker's Aura.
- Most frequently (but not always) in the heroes' masks; the villain masks usually had their emitters in the forehead or shoulder pads.
- Flight: Granted to a limited extent to Alex Sector by his Jackrabbit mask and Matt Trakker's Spectrum mask.
- Fun with Acronyms:
- M.A.S.K. stands for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand and V.E.N.O.M. stands for Vicious Evil Network Of Mayhem.
- In "Curse of Solomon's Gorge", T-Bob complains that he has a FLU, which he clarifies means "faulty leakage unit".
- Gainaxing: Vanessa Warfield's breasts can be seen jiggling when she's running in "Riddle of the Raven Master".
- Genre Shift: The first season was more of a generic action-adventure series, and M.A.S.K. members maintained secret identities. The second season was based around racing vehicles and had V.E.N.O.M. aware of the M.A.S.K. team's identities.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar:
- Buddie Hawks' mask is called Penetrator. It allows him to pass through solid objects by vibrating. Its alternate name, Vibrator, is not much better.
- In "Counter-Clockwise Caper", T-Bob is mistaken for a slot machine by a man who appears to be inebriated.
- Gilligan Cut: In "The Scarlet Empress", T-Bob states that he'll never turn into his scooter mode so that Scott can ride to the waterfall, only for the scene to cut to him doing exactly that.
- God Guise: T-Bob is mistaken for a god by an Incan priest in "Secret of the Andes". He is encouraged to go along with it because the Incan priest may reveal the location of El Dorado if he still believes T-Bob to be a god.
- Happily Adopted: Scott Trakker is said to be Matt's adopted son. Throughout the series, it is clear that he loves his adoptive father as if he was his natural father.
- Hard Light: The explanation for the holographic pilots in the Split Seconds vehicles.
- HeelFace Turn: Part of Boris' Back Story.
- Hollywood Acid: Miles' Viper mask fires globs of corrosive acid.
- Human Popsicle: The episode "Secret of the Andes" had Matt Trakker and his son Scott discover and thaw out a frozen Incan priest.
- Husky Russkie: Boris Bushkin is Russian and also very huge and strong.
- I Am Very British: Alex Sector speaks in a posh British accent.
- Identical Twin ID Tag: Maximus Mayhem differs from his twin brother Miles because his hair is a lighter shade of gray, he wears a monocle, and his mask has a green stone on it instead of a red one.
- I Lied: In "Assault on Liberty", V.E.N.O.M. threatens to destroy the Statue of Liberty unless it's paid a huge ransom. Near the end, Mayhem smugly says "I would have blown the statue up anyhow, just so they would know who they're dealing with." This is immediately followed by M.A.S.K. pulling a Big Damn Heroes moment.
- Initialism Title
- Intangible Man: Buddy Hawks when he uses his Penetrator mask.
- Invisibility: Jacques LaFleur when he uses his Maraj mask.
- It's Always Mardi Gras in New Orleans: The setting of "Mardi Gras Mystery".
- Kid-Appeal Character: T-Bob.
- Last-Name Basis: This is how the VENOM agents are usually referred to (e.g.: [Miles] Mayhem, [Cliff] Dagger), except for Vanessa Warfield.
- Lighter and Softer: The Racing Series when compared to the first season. Whereas the first season is about secret agents fighting terrorists, the Racing Series features these terrorists and secret agents participating in races.
- Literal Ass-Kicking:
- Near the end of the episode "Ghost Bomb", Sly Rax and Vanessa Warfield get shot at and react by running away while clutching their rears in pain.
- "Disappearing Act" has Miles Mayhem and Vanessa Warfield get shot in their asses with lasers.
- Machine Monotone: The computer voice that recommends which agents might be best suited for the mission of the episode does this.
- Mad Libs Catchphrase:[MASK agent], [Missions specialties/other data], Vehicle code name: [name of MASK vehicle]"note
- Mask Power: This show runs on it, as every mask grants its wearer a superpower.
- Master of Illusion: Brad Turner when he uses his "Hocus-Pocus" mask. And possibly the vehicles' engineers.
- Merchandise-Driven: Every character got at least one toy and vehicle release. Most had two, but Matt Trakker had seven different toys.
- Mind over Matter: Granted to Bruce Sato by his Lifter mask.
- Nerd Glasses: Nash Gorey.
- New Powers as the Plot Demands: Trakker's Spectrum Mask. While most of the other masks only have one power, his can be used to glide, fire laser blasts, or broadcast across a range of frequencies.
- Nice Hat: Buddy Hawks and Cliff Dagger.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Sly Rax sounds like Jack Nicholson. Ace Riker sounds like John Wayne.
- No One Could Survive That!: Uttered in the first two minutes of the pilot episode, "The Death Stone".
- "Not Wearing Pants" Dream: Discussed by Dusty Hayes in the episode "Eyes of the Skull".Dusty: Without my mask, I feel like I'm in one of those dreams where you forget to put pants on.
- Number Two: Implied to be Alex when he takes command after Matt is bitten by a poisonous snake in "The Everglades Oddity".
- Off-Model: While the series was of average quality for 1985 standards, there are a few episodes that stand out in this regard. Some, like "The Deathstone" and "High Noon" would do this to increase the overall quality. While others, such as "Race Against Time", would be full of choppy and glitchy animation that would leave one wondering how the episode even managed to air in that state.
- Official Couple: Matt Tracker and Gloria Baker. Most obvious in "The Counter-Clockwise Caper".
- Old Master: Bruce Sato, but "talk the same way as him, he does not".
- Playing with Fire: Cliff Dagger when he uses his Torch mask.
- Poison-and-Cure Gambit: VENOM attempts this in "Cold Fever".
- Portrait Painting Peephole: Scott Trakker is seen looking through the eyes of a portrait in "Riddle of the Raven Master".
- Product Promotion Parade: Matt's Avengers, Assemble! sequence invariably was one of these.
- Reset Button: In "Eyes of the Skull", Mayhem acquires a magical Crystal Skull that gives him X-Ray Vision, which he uses to find out the identities of the M.A.S.K. members. Since this knowledge would have changed the status quo of the series, when the skull is destroyed he forgets everything he learned through it.
- Retool: The majority of the series is about MASK operating in secret to stop the evil schemes of VENOM. VENOM does not know the real people behind the MASK organization. Each episode starts with a mystery which the MASK team needs to solve before confronting VENOM. Both the vehicles and Masks are show to be damaging weapons. The second season, known as the Racing Series, throws all of that out of the window. Instead, MASK and VENOM compete in races with each other, know each others identities and the majority of the weapons and masks both teams use are focused on stalling the opponent rather than hurting them. Another noticeable change is the absence of Scott and T-Bob. The lesson at the end of each episode that's normally presented by them is now presented by members of both MASK and VENOM.
- Ridiculously Human Robot:
T-Bob: You saved my life!
- T-Bob sometimes displays emotions, complains of being tired, and engages in other un-robotlike behavior. This is even Lampshaded in one episode:
Scott: I hate to tell you this, T-Bob... but you're not alive.
T-Bob: Oh. I forgot.
- In one of the And Knowing Is Half the Battle segments, Scott positions a ladder on T-Bob's foot. The robot complains about feeling pain. Both Matt and Scott find this amusing and burst out laughing.
- Right-Hand Cat: The episode "In Dutch" had Miles Mayhem conspiring with a nameless villain who carried around a white cat.
- Robot Buddy:
- T-Bob is a robot and Scott Trakker's closest friend.
- The second season introduced one for V.E.N.O.M., the drone pilot for the Buzzard's core fighter that was shown out of the vehicle in the series.
- Secret Keeper: Scott is implied to be this, since he knows the true identities of both the MASK and VENOM agents, but it's never explored.
- The Smurfette Principle: Only one woman in each faction, and Vanessa and her vehicle never got a toy till the last two waves. At least Gloria technically got two rides (however, there was never a Shark toy; there was a Gloria figure made for the Split Seconds series, though).
- Sneeze of Doom: Played Straight in "Curse of Solomon's Gorge" with (believe it or not) T-Bob. Yes, this series had a sneezing robot.
- Southern-Fried Private: Dusty comes close; he's got the voice and the mannerisms, but not the mistrust of others.
- Spiritual Successor: Ten years after the end of M.A.S.K, Kenner (now under Hasbro ownership) created Vor-Tech: Undercover Conversion Squad, another cartoon-backed toyline about two rival teams of agents fighting with superpower-granting helmets and transforming vehicles. According to one of the writers involved in the Vor Tech cartoon, the brand was created by Hasbro as a way to reuse the M.A.S.K toy molds (as the then-recent Jim Carrey movie apparently made using the M.A.S.K name not viable).
- The Starscream: Sly Rax in the comics.
- Straw Feminist: V.E.N.O.M.'s sole female member Vanessa Warfield occasionally shows shades of this, most notably calling Brad Turner a "male swine" in the episode "Race Against Time" and making misandrist remarks about men being weak and easy to beat in the tie-in comics by DC Comics
- Super Senses: Matt Trakker's Spectrum mask grants him super vision. The theme song even says so.
- Super Strength: Granted to Nash Gorey by his Powerhouse mask.
- Swiss Bank Account: Miles Mayhem is mentioned to have a Swiss bank account in "Bad Vibrations".
- Third-Person Person: Bruno Sheppard refers to himself in third person in "Race Against Time".
- Those Two Bad Guys: Sly Rax and Cliff Dagger would often play this role, especially in the early episodes.
- Title, Please!: As usual with DiC productions of the era, the episode titles aren't shown onscreen.
- Too Smart for Strangers: The PSA at the end of the episode "The Ultimate Weapon" involved Matt Trakker warning Scott about the dangers of hitchhiking. Fortunately, Scott's friend avoids anything unpleasant when Scott offers for him to walk with him and his dad to the ball game.Matt Trakker: You never know who's going to pick you up. The person who picks him up could be a V.E.N.O.M. agent, or worse, a child molester.
- Toyless Toyline Character: Shark, Gloria's vehicle in the cartoon. Gloria was the very last figure, but came with a different vehicle as part of the Split Seconds line.
- Transforming Vehicle: The basic premise.
- Tsundere: Vanessa Warfield towards Brad Turner in the second season.
- 20 Minutes into the Future: Which almost justifies all the Family-Friendly Firearms; the directed-energy weapons both on the vehicles and the masks.
- The Un Favourite: Nash Gorey by all the other V.E.N.O.M. agents.
- Vocal Evolution: In a couple of early episodes, T-Bob sounds somewhat like Kermit the Frog and doesn't stutter.
- Villain Exclusivity Clause: Wolf Mayhem.
- We Will Meet Again:
- Miles Mayhem often says something like this when M.A.S.K. defeats him.
- Lampshaded in "Where Eagles Dare":Mayhem: I'll get you, Trakker! I'll get you yet!
Matt: (singsong) You keep telling me that, Miles.
- Whip It Good: Vanessa Warfield when she uses her Whip mask.
- Wrecked Weapon: The heroes' transforming vehicles were occasionally damaged or shot up, but never really destroyed. But in one memorable episode the Big Bad gets his hands on an experimental melting-ray and dissolves Hondo's truck, Firecracker, into a puddle of goo. He's naturally dejected at the loss, but at the end of the episode, he gets Hurricane, a brand new transforming '57 Chevy to replace it. By contrast, later seasons simply gave the characters a second vehicle with no real fanfare.
- Writer on Board: Scientologist writer Jeffrey Scott's episode "The Star Chariot" involves an ancient spacecraft left behind by Ancient Astronauts. The ending has Scott and T-Bob apparently killed, then beamed away to an alien world, resurrected by aliens, and beamed back offscreen. All in two or three minutes.
- Xtreme Kool Letterz: In this series, Command begins with a k.
- Yes-Man: Nash Gorey just can't stop flattering Miles Mayhem on how brilliant he is.