"Masks & Mobsters" #1 is the best title yet from the creatively electric Monkeybrain Inc. This book from Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson presents a noir styled mob crime world rife with super powered heroes who don masks and capes, clashing spectacularly with their cultural opposites. What results is a book with a very specific mash up tone and a broad spectrum of opportunities to play these tropes against each other. The cover bills this title as a crime anthology, making this opening issue read like a brilliant short story.
Williamson and Henderson populate most of these pages with mobsters and only let the masks appear sparingly, grounding the book for a crime story and world with just a soupcon of the incredible -- which comes in the form of Doctor Daylight. Were these larger-than-life characters played at full bombastic contrast, the book would split itself in half. Instead, these creatures of the impossible are woven into the criminal world, creating an authentic feel for the book with the possibility of anything happening. Even Doctor Daylight's only giveaways are his staff and domino mask, everything else is congruent with the period and tone of the '50s.
The issue revolves around Bobby Silver, a hired gun and man with a grudge held too long. He becomes embroiled in some backstabbing affairs and the appearance of the masked hero doesn't clear up much of the grit. In only 14 pages, we come to know and like Bobby as a hard man. The story concludes for him, for now, and readers still have ample space to explore the rest of his life and his world.
Mike Henderson's gray tones are perfect for the book. He draws a poker game as deftly as he does a deathly bullet wound to the head. Henderson builds this world through deft costume design and character presentation, bringing relevant action to the table without having it dominate the book. The visuals elicit the feel of a quintessential crime comic on every page.
"Masks & Mobsters" #1 is a twist on a mash up we all thought we'd seen before. There has been crime in superhero comics, but Williamson and Henderson put a little cape in our crime comic. If the title continues to drop self-contained stories each month for $0.99, then it deserves to live a long and prosperous life. Considering there are 14 pages for the dollar, this is easily the best comic for quality/quantity/price available this week.