Welcome back to LRM’s Retro-Specs! There are a ton of toys out there. However biased I may be, the 80s toy boom is still untouchable. Sure, many may be trying to ride the coattails of another success story. Regardless, we get some of the best toys, cartoons, and comics to this day! Want a successful 80s toy? Make it transform. Transformers, GoBots, you name it. Another fun, transforming 80s classic comes to us in the form of Mobile Armored Strike Kommand. Better known as MASK!
Toy giants Kenner jump into the mix creating the MASK toy line in 1985. It is not quite the same as Transformers and Gobots. What makes them different is that the vehicles are manned by humans and transform from one mode of transportation to a completely different style!
Of course we have the archetypal good vs. evil scenario. And any franchise would not be from the 80s without the typical outlandish names and acronyms. The dreaded villains of MASK are VENOM The acronym meaning: Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem (totally 80s).
The idea comes from recent college grad. at the time, Bill Kramier, who dreams of being a car designer having his BFA in Industrial Design. He lands a job with Kenner and is the first to design the transportation transformations. Kenner is coming off the success of their Star Wars toy line. But, sales begin to diminish. Kramier is let go, yet eventually brought back.
Kramier sees the opportunity as a dream job since he came in for work in a three-piece suit while other executives were on the floor playing with potential prototypes. Sign me up! The idea Kenner envisions is to take everyday vehicle interests (like Hot Wheels), yet combine them with other diverse forms of transportation all in one:
“As I recall, management wanted a full range of vehicles developed for commercialization. I conceived the Slingshot van because of the popularity of the custom van craze. I wanted to have the jet fire off the launch pad, but the safety engineer shared his concerns. I also had launching middles (which had to pass a choke tube safety test), but we chose drop bombs so we wouldn’t have projectile issues.”
Can’t Have An 80s Toy line Without Tie-Ins
If there are toys in the 80s, a cartoon is sure to follow. Or vice versa. DIC Entertainment is a company 80s and 90s kids are probably familiar with. They are a huge force behind our favorite weekday afternoon and Saturday morning programs.
An initial 65 episodes are made covering 13 weeks. Assistant Director Michael Maliani suggests that the joy of making original material is great. However, there is a huge amount of influence from the toy company to promote their story. In the end, the toy company gets the final say.
Because of this the voice-cast did not necessarily know what exactly they were auditioning for. However, once they are given more direction from the toy company, the end product turns out well.
While the series boasts a diverse group of characters, referring to genders and ethnicities, it still fits the usual 80s cheesiness. But, isn’t that what we know and love them for?
Not surprising, MASK also has a comic tie-in. The series has two volumes from 1985-1986 for a total of 13 comics. Although, in 2016 the series gets a new, modern adaption (more on that later).
MASK Racing Hits A Wall
MASK unfortunately falls victim to the overload of toys/cartoons in the mid to late 80s. It is interesting looking back. I always thought some of these shows were on for years only later realizing that is due to reruns. By 1986, MASK has a total of 20 toys and a full season of shows.
Season 2 is completely different due to fear that the franchise is slowing down. The second season still brings MASK vs. VENOM, but usually competing in different races. Only 10 episodes make up Season 2. While the cartoon may seem to be slowing down, the toy line hits a second and third series. The third being some of the most detailed.
With the cartoon fizzling out, the toy line pushes forward with its final, fourth series in 1987. The series is known as “Split Seconds” which is ironic, because that is about as long as this final series lasts. Tonka eventually takes over Kenner this same year.
The toy, cartoon, and comic series are all great. In order to keep up with the competition, the main battle is to make the line as unique as possible with some promotional offers. Back in the “proof of purchase” days, you had the opportunity to get your very own MASK stopwatch!
I mean, it looks like any other stopwatch, but has the series logo on it. Of course it is something you had to have. Send in two proofs of purchase from buying MASK toys and that bad boy is all yours? Plus, you get the chance to win a trip to the 1988 Indianapolis 500 and ride in the pace car! Bad ass!
With the line eventually simmering out, there is a last gasp effort. Independent toy consultant group, Marvin Glass & Associates, creates is a cool “Wearable Warriors” concept that makes the prototype stage. This would have been really awesome.
The idea is to make wearable toys: bracelets, sunglasses, etc. that could transform and contain characters. Unfortunately, to be functional, the accessories needs items such as watch batteries which are not as accessible as they are today. Therefore, they pass on the idea. I for one definitely would have rocked this in elementary school!
End Of The Line
Hasbro buys out Kenner and Tonka in 1991. There is a revamping of MASK as Vor-Tech in 1996. Unfortunately, it does not take off. By 2000 Hasbro merges all companies under one roof.
Nostalgia Leads To Revolution
We eat up all the nostalgia we can take in. Well, I do at least. IDW Comics acquires numerous licensures over the years. They go on to create Revolution in 2016. The comic contains some major 80s Hasbro players including MASK, Transformers, G.I. Joe, ROM, Micronauts, and Action Man.
A solo MASK comic comes from the Revolution storyline from Brandon Easton. While planning installments eight through ten, the run is unfortunately canceled. Easton planned on bringing in characters from the Transformers line. However, it is something we are not able to see.
Of course if it’s nostalgic it must be followed with movie rumbling, right? There is an initial MASK VHS movie that I rented from Blockbuster back in the 80s. It had the huge, chunky plastic cases many VHS tapes came in.
But of course we would love something live action. Indie film director David Guivant makes a somewhat CGI fan film a few years back. More recently, there are suggestions that Fate of the Furious director F. Gary Gray is attached. Although, who knows if anything will come of it.
I have a few of the MASK toys, which I always enjoyed. Firefly and Hurricane are by far my favorites. I do remember the cartoon, but the toys are awesome and just different enough from Transformers and GoBots to stand out to me. I remember my dad getting me a few, and that is the point of why they are made. Voice actress Sharon Noble suggests this about the characters and how audiences connect:
“There was something in the MASK series that struck a chord with young boys at that time. I think part of it is the father/son relationship between Matt and Scott . . .”
I very much agree with Noble’s words.
RELATED: The 80s Toys That Need To Come Back From The Dead: Super Naturals And Visionaries I LRM’s Retro-Specs
Not to mention that Matt is a single-father raising Scott. Maybe the connection is a bit stereotypical, but also a strong foundation for many father and son relationships: cars. Merge that with typical 80s pop culture popularity and what do you get? MASK, which will always hold nostalgic love from us 80s and 90s kids.
Do you remember MASK? Which is your favorite vehicle? Be sure to check out the other amazing content we have on the site, and leave your thoughts in the usual spot. Thanks for reading!
Sources: The Roarbots, Transformerland, M.A.S.K. Fandom, The Roarbots