In Joshua Williamson & Mike Henderson’s Golden Age superhero/mafioso comic, mobster Bobby Silver has a complicated relationship with the Sicario crime family. Despite being a loyal foot-soldier for most of his adult life, he has Don Sicario on his own personal hit list since Sicario had his father murdered. After taking out Doctor Daylight (a masked hero who Silver informed to) and bringing some serious super hero heat down on the Family, Bobby links back up with henchmen Marco and Tony Sicario (son of Don Sicario) to investigate a rash of robberies affecting storefronts under the mob’s protection. Bobby, Marco and Tony all find out that the perpetrator has stugots made of steel and they chase the thieving robot into the sewers of Golden City.
Masks and Mobsters, from MonkeyBrain Comics is set in the ‘simpler times’ of America when good guys were good and bad guys were bad. Good guys caught the bad guys and everyone cheered though this wasn’t always the case. Similar to shows like Boardwalk Empire, Masks and Mobsters’ characters aren’t so cut and dry. Writer Joshua Williamson (@Williamson_Josh) applies the same moral ambiguity seen in modern portrayals of organized crime to the world of Golden Age superheroes. He also scrutinizes a forgotten side in these super-hero/super-villain wars: the human criminal element. This issue Williamson adds another dimension to the mix: super-science. Faced with electrified gauntlets or man-crushing robots controlled by an evil scientist, the mafia needs to step up as they can’t lose any more ground to the super-powered freaks running amok. Mafia goons versus an evil genius – who do we root for in this scenario? Because we’re not beaten over the head with the idea that these guys over here are the heroes and these guys over here are the villains, we get to really investigate their actions and motives.
We get to ask ourselves what we would do in that situation – a rare joy in most superhero comics. Thanks, in part to Mike Henderson’s art (@MikeSHenderson), Masks and Mobsters also delivers on the promise of its mash-up premise. The look and feel of the comic is straight out of Prohibition-era Chicago with masked heroes and villains in the mix. Henderson captures that dirty 30’s hue on each panel, but knows the perfect time to infuse a little ‘Von Doom’ into his palette to highlight the super-science elements in the story.
It’d be easy to compare Masks and Mobsters #2 to the Sopranos meets Superman, but surprisingly the Venture Brothers comes to mind when reading this comic. Not for the comedic aspects, but because both take on classic genres in a previously unexplored way. The Venture Bros examines the adventure/mysteries (Johnny Quest, Hardy Boys) of the fifties through different perspectives (villains, boy adventurer, body guard) and Masks and Mobsters does the same for Golden Age superhero comics. In that same vein, they both explore the duality of being a hero/villain by putting their characters in unconventional and morally divisive situations, subverting common archetypes and rooting out a character’s true nature.