I was raised by a single mom who worked multiple jobs to provide for me. One of those jobs was to manage the toy section in G.C. Murphey’s, a now defunct department store chain from the 80s. Listen, my mom was already a saint, but the fact that she got an employee discount in a toy section at a department store elevated her to Pantheon tier in my eyes.
My first love was GI Joe and Star Wars, but I had plenty of room in my heart for another 80s toy line: M.A.S.K.
Nerd Nostalgia: Looking Back at MASK, the great 80s Cartoon and Toy Line
M.A.S.K. stood for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand and was the result of GI Joe and Transformers having a love child. So if you think that MASK’s jump the shark moment was right out of the gate, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. And you can mock, but at the end of the day Fonzie jumped over a shark on water skis and you didn’t.
Matt Trakker (two Ks, of course) was the leader of the good guys in MASK. They battled Miles Mayhem, the leader of the villainous organization V.E.N.O.M. (Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem). Everyone drove a tricked out vehicle that could pass as a street car until it transformed into a heavily armored and weaponized doom mobile.
And, also, every one of the characters wore a mask, because battling VENOM in transforming vehicles wasn’t enough kool to toss at kids. But imagine that your Toyota Camry suddenly had rocket launcher that sprung out the fenders and you drove it wearing an Iron Man helmet. Yeah, you’d change your name to Matt Trakker in a heartbeat.
Here are some of the most popular toys in the line:
- The Thunderhawk was a Chevy Camaro that was driven by Trakker himself. It had retractable wing cannons because, you know, the doors folded up like wings so the Camaro could fly, as is typical.
- The Rhino was perhaps the 2nd most popular vehicle. The Rhino was a tractor rig that transformed into a mobile defense unit.
It had a bumper that turned into a battering ram, smokestacks that turned down into cannons, and the rear ejected and turned into an ATV.
- The Condor was a motorcycle that turned into a helicopter, while VENOM had a motorcycle called the Piranha that had a removable sidecar that doubled as a submarine. They go low; you go high.
- My favorite was the Gator. The Gator was a jeep. But the entire body would pivot up, allowing a speed boat to shoot out the front. Dusty Hayes was the driver, but I pretended he was Dusty Rhodes, the American Dream.
- The base of operations was a filling station called Boulder Hill. This HQ had everything a kid could dream of: an anti-aircraft current, a helipad, and gas pump lasers.
The 1st series of MASK was in 185, with the 2nd series following shortly thereafter in 1986. They were developed by Kenner, who wanted a toy line to compete against Hasbro’s Transformers and GI JOE. Ironically, Hasbro has long since purchased Kenner, so there is word that MASK will be a part of the shared movie universe that is being developed by Hasbro.
Later series show the focus shift from a military tech angle, instead making MASK and VENOM be the names of rival drag racing teams. But it wasn’t the same after that and it’s fate was sealed.
The crown jewel was the cartoon, which ran 75 episodes. I could describe it, but YouTube has the intro. Just watch below and try to tell me that’s not the catchiest theme movie of all time.
M.A.S.K. is seeing a bit of a resurgence of late. First, there is the aforementioned shared movie universe with Paramount Pictures, but on a smaller scale, IDW is publishing some MASK comics.
It really was a fun little toy line and I got dozens of hours of playtime with them, even if looking back you realize how cheesy they were. But do look back at them. I discovered an entire website dedicated to the toys, cartoons, and everything else related. It’s ran by Mr. Albert Penello, so give it a look if you are looking to extend this little journey down nostalgia boulevard.
Until next time, make sure you get out there an battle against the evils of VENOM.