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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Batman: Masque

(A Suspended Animation "classic" from 1998.)

In 1911, one of the most durable villains in popular culture made his first appearance, Gaston Leroux's "Phantom of the Opera.” The murderous yet tragic Eric has been a staple of stage and screen ever since the novel was published. Actor Lon Chaney's silent film is probably the best known interpretation of the character.

Now the Phantom has entered the comic book realm in one of DC Comics' better Elseworld stories, Masque.

Much of the strength of this story rests on the art of Mike Grell. He has merged Leroux's plot into a Batman story rich with Gothic atmosphere. Grell has always been a superb draftsman. His brooding atmosphere is enhanced by Andre Khromov's subdued colors.

The story takes place in the nineteenth century. Since Edgar Allan Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" first appeared in 1842, the story can not be set earlier. The Batman mythos fits this turbulent era easily.

The title "Masque" has multiple meanings. It could refer to Poe's story, to a ballet based on that story, and to the masks work by Bruce Wayne and others.

Leroux's Eric is replaced by Harvey Dent. Here, Dent is no attorney but a star dancer who is badly scarred when his mask ignites. This version of Two-Face becomes obsessed with a ballerina who is courted by Bruce Wayne.

The only flaw in Grell's script is truncation of time. Dent's transformation into Two-Face seems abrupt; however, the compression of time does heighten tension.

Re-readings of "Masque" revealed allusions to Bram Stoker's “Dracula,” particularly Batman's horse-drawn, hearse-like carriage which resembles one in several Dracula films.

For $6.95, this is a good example of Grell's art. If you like heavy Gothic atmosphere, you'll give this a high A.

If you don't have some issues of my favorite, Grell's Jon Sable: Freelance, prices are very reasonable. His Warlord and Green Arrow (both From DC) were also excellent.

Dr. Jon Suter