Monday, October 25, 2010

My World : The Masked Menace


The Masked Menace first appeared in 1941 as a "foreign saboteur" who fought the original Ultimate American. Though his initial scheme to blow up American dams was foiled, the Masked Menace quickly established himself as Ultimate American's arch-enemy in the minds of virtually everyone by sheer persistence. And when the United States officially entered World War II, he began to more blatantly express his allegiance to the Axis powers - particularly the Third Reich.

The Masked Menace's true identity was a matter of considerable interest to the U.S. government, due to his fifth columnist activities and apparent ability to travel across the world at will. Suspicions eventually zeroed in on one Wilhelm Krupp, a member of the German American Bund. However, as federal agents sought the Bundist for questioning, they discovered him murdered in his apartment. That evening, Ultimate American caught the Masked Menace planting TNT at a munitions factory.

The end of WWII did not spell the end of the Masked Menace. His anti-American rhetoric faded away, to be replaced almost entirely with a focus on crime. The Masked Menace continued in this vein until 1948, when he was gunned down by his own gang. That seemed to spell the end of the infamous villain.

Somewhat inexplicably, the Masked Menace returned in 1954, claiming to be the original and refusing to explain his resurrection. He briefly espoused a belief in Communist doctrines quite at odds with his wartime views, but later became entirely intent on elevating himself to a position of power. This phase of the Masked Menace's career lasted until 1965, when he was caught up in the detonation of a bomb intended for his old foe the Ultimate American.

The Masked Menace resurfaced alive and well in 1968 and captured the second Ultimate American, prompting the original to come out of retirement to rescue his successor. The two heroes teamed up to fight off their adversary, but this was only the beginning of the third stage of the Masked Menace's reign of terror. He eventually challenged Ultimate American II to a "final" battle in 1977 that ended when he accidentally stabbed himself with his own knife and plummeted from the top of the Mando Building. This seemed sure to be the last chapter, but the Masked Menace's body was not recovered afterward.

The Masked Menace made one final comeback in 1984, and engaged Ultimate American II in a fierce duel to the death. He lost, and as he clearly died for at least the fourth time, the Masked Menace crumbled to dust. He has not returned since, but if history is any indication, it is only a matter of time.


The Masked Menace arose out of a desire to do a purely Golden Age of Comics, 1940s-style super-villain, and then follow him through the decades. I rejected a lot of names and looks before I settled on the "Masked Menace" seen here. I like him chiefly because he displays certain parallels to the Ultimate American and because his design does not owe any specific debt to a certain ideology. That's sort of important, because a character tied explicitly to Nazism is a lot harder to use outside of the WWII setting. All you have to do is compare the latter-day fortunes of the Red Skull and Captain Nazi to see what I mean.

Speaking of the Red Skull, he's probably the character most people would compare to the Masked Menace. There are inevitable similarities, but only in the broadest sense. To me, the Masked Menace is a kind of Everyvillain from his 1940s era. He just had to adapt with the times, and like the Skull, that wasn't always an easy or logical fit.

I enjoyed working a certain element of mystery into this profile, and weaving together a string of unexplained and increasingly improbable returns from the dead for the Masked Menace. That sort of thing was the stock-in-trade of super-villains in a more innocent era, and it was a lot of fun to see how many different demises I could use. Of course, these unlikely escapes would seem to indicate that there is more to this story that will be told someday.

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