Masks & Mobsters, another great title from digital publisher Monkeybrain Comics, is a crime anthology written by Joshua Williamson, with art by Mike Henderson, with guest artists Jason Copland, Justin Greenwood, Ryan Cody, and Seth Damoose popping up throughout. Masks & Mobsters takes place during the 1920s, its stories relating what happens when superheroes (masks, as the mobsters disdainfully refer to them) first start showing up in Golden City, putting the squeeze on the local crime syndicates, and how the criminal underworld retaliates. The art is all in glorious black and white, which perfectly captures the rough edges of the crime world, while also bringing a simple elegance to the time period. There are shadows galore, and Henderson and the other artists use them effectively, an element of danger and mystery hanging over each issue. This first print collection is being published in a classy hardcover by the Image Comics imprint Shadowline, and includes the first ten issues, which are two more than are currently being offered digitally. Also, each issue has a page of rough artwork showing character or cover sketches, which helps give an idea of how this world is continually growing and developing not only through Joshua Williamson’s stories, but also through the artwork.
Masks & Mobsters exists in a world of crime, violence, honor, mystery, and danger, though there are some genuine laughs and small flickers of hope, too. As this is an anthology, each issue works as a stand-alone, but what is absolutely wonderful about the storytelling is that all of the issues are in some way connected, and a through-line is established as the stories unfold. The ways Williamson accomplishes this are very subtle and simple, but very effective. First, we consistently follow a few of the same characters around, mainly low-level mob enforcer Bobby Silver, and so as names are repeated or mentioned, we are able to piece together relationships and past events. Second, actions have consequences. A decision that Bobby makes in the very first issue has ramifications that run throughout the book, affecting both mobsters and masks. Events in one issue will drive a character to action in another issue. Character’s personalities and emotions boil and roil between issues, creating a real dynamic sense of time and space that catches you unawares, but which your subconscious has been relishing the whole time.
While some of the stories are dark, brooding noir tales and others are lighter and more comedic, they all cohesively form a whole, and come together to tell a larger story about Golden City and the toll the escalating power struggle between good and evil has on the city and its denizens. Most of the stories come from the mobsters’ point of view, and they obviously have a very specific opinion of the masks, but even when a story comes from a mask’s point of view, they are often not all gleaming knight-in-shining-armor role models. In fact, at times you feel they may not be much better than the criminals they’re fighting. Underneath the masks or behind the guns, it turns out anyone can be petty, jealous, angry, or vengeful, and that is what makes Masks & Mobsters so entertaining and exciting. As the stories weave in and out of different perspectives, the line between mobster and mask becomes blurred, because even though the art is black and white, the world of Golden City is all grays.