The premise for Masks and Mobsters promises so much, and the surprising thing is that Joshua Williamson's new series for MonkeyBrain is that he delivers on all of it. The idea of this anthology series (drawn by a rotating artist every new story, starting off with an on-point Mike Henderson) is that during the depression era, gangsters were living fat off bootlegging, blackmail and revenge. But even while the world was filled with wise-guys and horse heads in beds and fish-sleeping absentees, this was a time when artists and writers started to create the superhero genre. Williamson takes the idea of superheroes rising in this backdrop and makes it literal. In other words, this is what happens when superheroes step in to stop mobsters from ruling society.
It's brilliant, and smart. We get the worn-teeth grit and flippancy of gangster stories like Goodfellas set against golden Superman-esque heroics. For this first issue, we follow gangster Bobby Silver, as he tries to work his way through this war in one piece, despite everything going to hell. Williamson manages to really grasp his characters immediately, a massive benefit in a short-form comic story. He draws into stock stereotypes when he needs to, but never with the sole intention of exaggerating the story — the contrast between the mob and the superheroes is an important factor, and playing both of them up for full effect means he can have them smash against each other in a more convincing manner.
Henderson is a great fit for the first issue, with a storytelling style which plays into the need to fit more into each page. With the reduced page rate, Williamson and Henderson still manage to find inventive ways to include cliffhangers and surprises, done through sudden twists in tone. At several points Henderson manages to hide a twist until the very last second, working in sync with the script to fool readers into following the page one way, before wrenching back and catching them off guard. Williamson's script is very funny, and plays into genre to great effect.
Actually, Masks and Mobsters is perhaps the strongest work from MonkeyBrain yet. A whipsmart script, combined with a subtle and sketchy art style which enhances each page, makes for a fun, surprising ride. The premise alone is enough to warrant a look: the execution guarantees that you'll pick up the next issue.
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet's 139th most-favorite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. He's on Team X-Men, you guys.