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By Thomas Wheeler

In the 1980's, arguably the three biggest names in the action figure world were G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Masters of the Universe. But they were not alone. There were other popular toy lines, which, while perhaps not quite achieving the same level of popularity of the big guns,managed multi-year successful runs, a considerable presence in the toy stores, and more often than not, decently popular animated series.

Certainly one of the main contenders in this "second-tier" of action figure series that is very well regarded to this day would be M.A.S.K., which stood for "Mobile Armored Strike Kommand". Okay, so they weren't the greatest spellers in the world.

Produced by Kenner, the line debuted in 1985. The toy line was a very clear effort to emulate the success of two Hasbro products, both G.I. Joe and Transformers, in that the concept had teams of human heroes and villains, that made use of vehicles that were capable of transforming. The name "MASK" (I'm sorry, I'm just not going to keep typing all those periods) was derived from the fact that both the good guys and the bad guys wore special helmets or masks, each of which had its own distinct property. Everything from the ability to shoot lasers, a flamethrower, enabling the wearer to fly, to the truly bizarre like the ability to shoot an impenetrable bubble to one that could even shoot miniature totem poles.

The lead characters in the concept were the heroic Matt Trakker, and the villainous Miles Mayhem. According to the most accepted origin story, the two of them developed the MASK technology together, although Mayhem would steal it for his own evil purposes, founding the organization called VENOM (which stood for "Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem" - points for spelling in this case, anyway).

Of course, many characters on both sides were introduced, and were just about as well-rounded as any other 80's animated characters. Matt's adopted son Scott tended to steal the show on more than a few occasions, accompanied by a robot called T-Bob that looked faintly like R2-D2 and was just about as cowardly as C-3PO.

Other good guys in the cast of heroes included the likes of Bruce Sato, Alex Sector, Dusty Hayes, and Gloria Baker.

VENOM didn't have much use for kids, but some of the more prominent characters on their side of things would include Sly Rax, Cliff Dagger, Vanessa Warfield, and eventually, Miles Mayhem's brother, Maximus Mayhem.

The G.I. Joe vs. Cobra similarity is obvious, but in all honesty, it didn't go quite as far in practice. The MASK team was not affiliated with the military. Conversely, the VENOM organization was less inclined towards global domination and more interested in making as much money as possible through high-level criminal endeavors.

The animated series ran for 75 episodes, and the toy line had a healthy run of three or four years, which is better than a lot of toy lines today, and not to shabby for the time, either, given the competition.

So, why do I bring all of this up in a G.I. Joe review? I'm getting to that.

In the mid-1990's, Kenner was merged with Hasbro. This obviously included the rights to properties that Kenner had produced. This, obviously, included MASK, which had not been based on any previously existing concept, such as Star Wars or Indiana Jones. In the mid-90's, there was little thought of bringing MASK back.

Technically, there still isn't. However, if one wishes to get into a little fictional speculation, it could probably be argued that, much like comics companies have characters which exist in their own "universes", such as Marvel and DC, with occasional crossovers, it could just as easily be argued that there is some sort of "Hasbro-verse" out there. We've seen G.I. Joe cross over with the Transformers. The European-based Action Man character was given a 3-3/4" G.I. Joe action figure in one special set several years ago. One of the COPS, a Hasbro action figure line from the late 1980's which was set at some unidentified point in the 21st century, had a file card that contained background information that identified him as the son of one of the G.I. Joe team members (The COPS member was Checkpoint - his father, if you did a little research, was Beach-Head.) Clearly there was a certain amount of "common universe".

Might it extend to Kenner, though? There didn't seem to be a lot of reason to ask the question. An d yet it did come up every so often. MASK, conceptually, certainly shared elements of G.I. Joe and Transformers. The TOYS weren't compatible. MASK figures, while decently made, were barely two inches in height. But there was still a sense of "What if...?"

Which brings us to today, and the modern G.I. Joe action figure line. Hasbro announced a while back that MASK founder MATT TRAKKER would be joining the G.I. Joe team! Okay, that's really cool in my opinion. I love this sort of unexpected crossover. I knew that when Matt Trakker, officially dubbed "Specialist Trakker" on his package, came out, I would have to have him.

So, let's start with the packaging. With this line, which started during the Real American Hero's 25th Anniversary in 2007 and has since become known as "25th-style", referring to the figure format as much as anything, Hasbro has tried, for the first time since the original line ended in 1994, to recapture the original package design. And they've done a good job of this.

The package card is mostly black, with a red, yellow, and white explosion effect around a painted image of the character. The G.I. Joe logo is at the top, the figure is packaged to the right, and the illustration is to the left. The back of the card bears a smaller version of the G.I. Joe logo, small illustrations of figures currently available, along with the figure's file card. Really, it's very nicely done.

Needless to say, seeing a MASK character on such effectively "retro" packaging, underneath a G.I. Joe logo, was pretty wild in and of itself. Seeing the MASK logo itself in the upper right corner of the package, just above the G.I. Joe logo, was something even wilder. To be fair, it's not QUITE a duplicate of the original logo. The word MASK is not present. Instead, the entire acronym has been spelled out - MOBILE ARMORED STRIKE KOMMAND - but everything else is completely identical.

Let's consider the character of Matt Trakker with a run-down on his background:

Son of Andrew Trakker (MASK Episode 39, Green Nightmare), Matt Trakker was a millionaire businessman, who's work spanned from oil drilling (Ep 46, Secret of the Stones) to Military Aircraft Contracting (MASK episode 23, Vanishing Point). He's also the head of the charitable Trakker Foundation, which makes various humanitian works all around the world.

Matt Trakker is an accomplished pilot, and all around adventurer, having traveled all over the world.

M.A.S.K. was formed under the Peaceful Nations Alliance or P.N.A. Originally under the joint leadership of Matt Trakker and Miles Mayhem, as well as Matt Trakker's younger brother Andy, they sought to work for world peace anonymously.

Miles Mayhem grew dissatisfied with working this way, and believed that they could make a fortune if they were paid for their efforts.

Andy Trakker, Matt's younger brother, was a brilliant engineer who had designed masks and transforming vehicles in order to aid in their fight. As these plans were being finalized, Matt Trakker set up a meeting with the two brothers and Mayhem.

Matt Trakker arrived late to the meeting, only to find the office in flames. Andy died in Matt's arms, revealing that Mayhem had betrayed them, and stole half of Andy's plans.

Mayhem would use these plans to create VENOM, while Matt would use the remaining plans to found MASK. (Flaming Beginnings Mini-Comic, packaged with early toys. Supported by episode For One Shining Moment.)

While M.A.S.K. was not military, in all versions of the story, they work with the Peaceful National Alliance to some degree. Matt Trakker does reveal in the episode Vanishing Point that he does work with U.S. Air Force as a civilian investor in military aircraft -- which leads pretty closely to his current G.I. Joe connection, as you'll see when I get around to the file card.

So - how's the figure? Well, he's about twice the size of his ancestor, for one thing. But that aside, Hasbro has done a really impressive job here. The original Matt Trakker was dressed in a pale grey bodysuit with red trim. His headsculpt showed a heroic, square-jawed individual with blonde hair. Those attributes have been superbly duplicated here, although the grey is a paler color than the original MASK figure, and the blinde hair is a little more muted from its original "straight yellow"

Trakker is wearing a chestplate that nicely emulates the design of the original figure, which was actually part of the mask. The somewhat loose- fitting straps on the harness that the new figure is wearing are an amazingly good match for those molded and painted on the original Matt Trakker.

Articulation is excellent, although I've never been especially pleased with the loss of waist articulation and the substitution of the mid- torso articulation. I just don't think that it works all that well on G.I. Joe figures. That sort of thing works well if it can really be incorporated into the design of the figures themselves. It works okay on Clone Troopers. It can work on super-heroes if you're careful about it. It just doesn't seem to work terribly well - or anyway, look that good - on G.I. Joes. Fortunately, in Trakker's case, the chestplate conceals it rather nicely. Trakker is otherwise articulated at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, legs, knees, and ankles - which is a lot more than the original Matt Trakker could say, who was only poseable at the head, arms, and legs.

Matt Trakker comes with a helmet which is a superb match for the original, obviously enlarged for scale. This is based on Matt Trakker's main MASK, which was called "Spectrum", which actually had several powers. It had the ability to shoot a laser, create ultra-sonic waves, and a feature that would let him hang glide using electric waves.

I have to believe that this figure was something of a "labor of love" for someone at Hasbro, someone who was a longtime fan of MASK, saw an opportunity to do a little tribute for a toy line and a character that are unlikely to come back in full force, and work him into a concept that has remained highly popular for over a quarter of a century.

Trakker does not come with any of his original vehicles, obviously. He does come with a helicopter backpack. It is admittedly an odd-looking thing, and the predominantly bright green coloration, unlike anything Trakker himself is wearing, hasn't helped the overall impression. Still, for what it is, it's a decently deigned little device. According to some reports, Hasbro has said that the color scheme was a nod to a MASK vehicle called "Condor", which oddly enough did not include a Matt Trakker figure.

One of the biggest treats is the file card, which not only gives Matt Trakker an entirely reasonable speciality on the Joe Team, but incorporates both MASK as well as VENOM into the G.I. Joe universe very effectively. It reads as follows:


File Name: Trakker, Matt Primary Military Specialty: Vehicle Designer Secondary Military Specialty: Advanced Technology
Birthplace: Classified

Specialist Trakker leads a secret unit which develops ordinary-looking vehicles that convert into advanced combat vehicles. Joining forces with the G.I. Joe team, the Mobile Armored Strike Kommand (M.A.S.K.) team battles V.E.N.O.M. (Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem), the unit Cobra formed to construct its own converting vehicles. Specialist Trakker uses his next-gen technological devices to preserve peace throughout the world and stop the corrupt forces that are using the same technology to amass power in a quest to control the world.

"We have a responsibility to use our ingenuity and advancements to help the world - and stop the power-hungry despots and criminals who hunger for their own glory."

What does the future hold here? Who knows? Hasbro has said there are no plans for further MASK characters, and clearly, their emphasis at this time is going to be on the forthcoming live-action movie, which certainly has no MASK elements in it. On the other hand, once you start something like this, it's a little hard to stop, and I know any number of people - myself included - that would at the very least like to see a Miles Mayhem figure out of this.

What's my final word here? Whether you collect the current G.I. Joe line extensively or not, if you, like me, remember the 80's, and have even the slightest fond memory of MASK - you need to get this figure. It's one of the coolest toy crossovers I've ever seen, the figure is well made within the current G.I. Joe format, and it's a nice tribute to a concept that has perhaps been not as well-remembered as it should be.

The G.I. Joe (MASK) SPECIALIST TRAKKER figure definitely has my highest recommendation!