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"Where illusion is the ultimate weapon"

Yet another 80s cartoon manifestly bonded to its toy line, first airing on September 30th 1985, with the last new episode shown on December 26th the following year.

The series revolves around MASK (Mobile Armored Strike Kommand) toiling to save the world from the scheming agents of VENOM (Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem) as they attempt to take over the world / 'destroy MASK once and for all!'

The Cartoon

The cartoon was a French-Canadian production from DIC Enterprises Inc. The first series was an astounding run of 65 episodes aired over an 89 day period, each approximately twenty minutes long. There was no pilot or introductory episode; the viewer was flung right into the action, and hence, the history of the two organisations is a little hazy. Matt Trakker is a millionaire whose mansion acts as a front for the headquarters of his team of agents and their high-tech vehicles. A comic book produced later tells of how the 'masks' in question (each imbued with a special power) were created by Matt, his brother Andy, and Miles Mayhem, who betrayed the siblings, killed Andy, and stole half of the fancy hats for his own evil purposes. Vowing to prevent Mayhem from spreading destruction throughout the land, Trakker uses his copious cashflow to construct a fleet of incredible vehicles. To an innocent bystander they appear to be normal cars, trucks and motorcycles, but at the touch of the button they convert to jets, helicopters, boats and powerful weapons platforms. Of course, Mayhem has a dastardly troupe of his own, and equally impressive equipment, leading to many an action packed encounter.

The format of the show is inescapable. It invariably begins with an evil plot and a first strike by VENOM against some facility or project, leading to Trakker asking the MASK computer to "select the agents best suited for this mission". A montage follows, showing the chosen agents drop what they are doing as their special wrist communicators go off, and running out of their civilian workplaces (often leaving a comedic situation in their wake) as the robotic female voice blurts out their name, vehicle and special talents.
Here’s a sample of the characters:

The goodies:

Matt Trakker – founder and leader of MASK, most often seen piloting Thunderhawk, a shiny red Camaro which transforms into a jet (although the term 'transform' isn’t heard on the show, probably as a futile attempt to avoid comparison with Transformers). His mask, Spectrum (which has 'such super vision', as the theme tune reminds us) was just one of many – he wore a different one when he rode along in Rhino, for example.

Bruce Sato – a Japanese mechanical engineer who helped to design all the vehicles, he drove a big maroon truck called Rhino, which bristled with guns and rockets when converted. His mask was called Lifter, and could, shockingly, lift things, whilst making a great 'wawawawawa' noise. Often spouted highly suspect 'ancient proverbs' (such as "If a fish flies, look not for a fish, but a bird inside") to the bamboozlement of his colleagues, but supposedly knew what he was talking about.

Alex Sector – bald, beardy, English guy, and very clever scientist to boot. He was the co-driver of Rhino (presumably they needed two people to handle such a big lorry), and had the Jackrabbit mask, allowing him to jump exceedingly high.

Brad Turner – A bona fide rock star, normally in the middle of a gig when VENOM attacked, and never seen without sunglasses. He rode Condor, a green motorcycle that turned into a mini helicopter, and had a hologram projecting mask called Hocus-Pocus. None of the other MASK agents ever made fun of this fact on screen, but you have to wonder.

Gloria Baker – token 'strong female character', racing driver/black belt, but despite this they still couldn’t be bothered to produce a toy of her vehicle, Shark, a sports car that changed into a submarine. Her mask was Aura.

There are many other MASK agents, such as Buddy Hawks, who looks after Boulder Hill. This is the secondary base of operations, where all the vehicles are kept, and it’s linked to the mansion by an underground monorail. It looks like a regular gas station in civilian mode, but converts to a full-blown fortress when under attack.

Also of note are Scott Trakker and T-Bob; Matt’s son, and his bumbling sidekick robot, often found stowing away on secret missions and generally sticking their noses in, usually in a 'very irresponsible but accidentally heroic' fashion. It is never revealed where the elusive Mrs. Trakker is, so it’s a good job T-Bob is there to entertain Scott, really, what with his Dad busy saving the world and his mum AWOL.

The baddies:

Miles Mayhem – owner of what must be the greatest villainous name ever conceived, leader of VENOM, and pilot of Switchblade, a big blue helicopter that becomes a jet fighter. Has a brilliant bad-guy moustache, wears an admiral-style uniform with lots of medals pinned to it, and has a mask called Viper.

Cliff DaggerMoronic minion #1. Big and burly, with an eye patch and beret, he drives a black SUV called Jackhammer, which switched to a sort of armoured car mode during battle. His mask is Torch (you guessed it; shoots fire), and he is one of the least intelligent characters you will ever come across in a cartoon series.

Sly Rax – Moronic minion #2, but mostly because he is dragged down by Dagger. He rides Piranha, a purple motorbike-and-sidecar that converts to a submarine, and owns the Stiletto mask which shoots out little things which have the exclusive purpose of pinning people to walls by their clothing. Nice 'tache, nice goatee.

Vanessa Warfield – that’s right, Generic Evil Lady. Quite nasty in fact, compared with the rest of them, often using her Whip mask to make the oafish Dagger and Rax do as they’re told. Drove a pinky-purple Nissan 240 (no, really) which could sprout wings and missile launchers.

There were many fewer VENOM than MASK characters overall, presumably because it is a lot easier to wreck things than to prevent such wreckage, and this imbalance was reflected in the toy range.

Once the MASK agents are chosen, they all scamper to HQ and take part in the fantastic sequence of energising and donning the masks, which isn’t always shown in full. Then follows pursuits and fighting, and eventually a happy ending, usually with all of MASK standing around laughing at T-Bob who has just fallen over.
This, however, was not the very end of the episode... what followed is legendary...

Safety Tips

Every instalment ends with an advisory scene, involving the some of the characters in an everyday situation, and somebody pointing out a particular danger and talking candidly RIGHT AT the viewer, warning them not to 'play with matches' or 'get in a car with a stranger':

T-Bob: H-h-h-hey, Scott, dive off the rock, I-I-I-I’ll take your picture!
Scott: Waaait a second T-Bob; I don’t know how deep it is! Dad, can you check?
(Matt Trakker dives down to the bottom of the lake in futuristic SCUBA gear, then surfaces.)
Matt: It’s plenty deep enough, but you’re very smart to check.
(to camera) You should always be certain that water is deep enough before you dive in, even if it’s a swimming pool.

Playing in the snow, getting horses to trust you, eating strange berries ("but they look so pretty!"), sunbathing for too long, making hoax fire service calls; it was all covered by those caring guys at MASK.

But the real gems were imparted to us by the VENOM agents:

Lester Sludge (wearing only a towel): I’m ready for a deluxe bath! Let’s see... bubble bath, squirt gun, radio-
Miles Mayhem interjects: Radio?! You don’t take a radio near the bathtub, Lester!
Sludge: You don’t??
Mayhem: Of course not! Electricity and water don’t mix. It’s not enough that I have to worry about MASK; now my agents are trying to electrocute themselves!

Absolutely priceless.

After the first series, the show took a break for a year and then came back with another run, the 'Racing Series'. It ran parallel with the new set of toys, but lasted only 10 episodes. It was not a format that lent itself well to variance – Trakker and Mayhem were the leaders of two opposing racing teams, and so each instalment revolved around a race (with a side-order of explosions and danger). They appeared much less prolifically, and the plots tended to focus on some of the new ancillary characters, but it was doomed by its early-morning timeslot.

The Toys

Kenner were the people behind the MASK toy range. Highly featured, brilliantly detailed, and truly accurate representations of the cartoon depictions, they converted wonderfully between modes and each came with a 3" figure and a little mask (both of which were ridiculously easy to lose). Wings popped out, cannons sprung forth, spoilers lifted and missiles fired, and each one came in a nicely designed red box with great artwork.

The first run was made up of five MASK vehicles, three VENOM vehicles, the Boulder Hill playset and a little T-Bob model (which could convert to a scooter for Scott to ride). The following year came another release of eight vehicles, and then in 1987 the 'Racing Series' was brought out.

Soon after this, the final range was issued. This consisted of the 'Split Seconds' series; a bunch of vehicles that converted into two separate machines, one to be ridden by the agent, and the second to be driven by their 'clone' (represented by a single-colour translucent moulding of the same figure). By now, there quality of the toys was waning (though the detail was still there, with great decals and well-made products, the imagination was lacking), but they were still wonderfully fun little bits of kit.

The final toy released was the Laser Command playset made up of two vehicles: a VENOM-owned pickup truck and MASK’s Hornet. Using infra-red, Hornet could make the pickup truck 'explode', and body panels would fly off. Without a doubt the best thing about it was that Hornet, a little aircraft type thingy, transformed into a ... packing crate...

It was a signal that the time had come for the MASK dynasty to end.

References:
Mostly my own videos and memories, plus a little bit of help from
http://www.albertpenello.com/mask/
http://www.kryptonsite.com/mask/
http://www.tvtome.com/tvtome/servlet/EpisodeGuideServlet/showid-12284/MASK_1985

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