MASKing my nostalgia

Submitted into Contest #120 in response to: Start your story with the line ‘Back in my day…’... view prompt

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Coming of Age

I am unashamedly a child of the 80's.

After speaking to a good friend, he told me that I should start writing short stories and articles featuring different 80's toys/ cartoons, etc. So, with his encouragement and that of my wife, I set out to write this series.

So with that in mind, here we go…"back in my day"...

To get things started let's go where illusion is the ultimate weapon. Mobile Armored Strike Kommand. Otherwise known as M.A.S.K. Seriously? Kommand...with a "K". I guess it makes the anagram complete, however there are plenty of other "k" words that I think could have been used. Knights (too British sounding for a US 80's kids cartoon, sorry UK) Um..Killers? (Definitely would not be approved by the censor board.) Kittens? OK, perhaps Kommand is not so bad. M.A.S.K. holds a special place in my heart. I even included it in a chapter of my book entitled "Stuff in My Attic", in the coming weeks, I will share various insights and stories behind the beloved toy line.

For those not familiar with M.A.S.K. it is an cartoon and toyline produced by Kenner in 1985. An amalgam of GI Joe and Transformers, about a covert specialized military team that operates vehicles that convert into other vehicles. Each operative wears a helmet (mask) that performs a variety of technical wizardry. Of course no 80's action cartoon would be complete without the inclusion of the forces of the "bad" guy. GI Joe had Cobra, M.A.S.K. had V.E.N.O.M. (Again with the anagrams...oh Kenner, you sneaky devils!) It stands for Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem. Mayhem here being Miles Mayhem the leader of the baddies.

Today, I would l like to take a closer look at the first M.A.S.K. toy I was able to own. "Condor" piloted by Brad "Chopper" Turner, part-time rock star, and agent of M.A.S.K. Brad's vehicle was a green racing motorcycle that converts into an open-top attack helicopter. First show appearance was in episode 1. His Hocus Pocus mask projects realistic sometimes "hard light" holograms. In preparation for writing this series, I watched a few episodes of the old cartoon. Wow. It kinda holds up. Sure, it has a campy 80's vibe to it, but that is half the fun.

This particular toy paved the way for my love of the cartoon and toy line. My parents soon bought me other M.A.S.K. and V.E.N.O.M. toys.

The first releases of the toys had slightly smaller masks that were often one solid piece. (No holes) When an executive made the assumption that the masks could easily be made a choking hazard, they enlarged them and included holes into the design. I had the first series smaller helmets on mosts of my figures. Speaking of figures, you may notice (hard to tell on some pics) that the figures don't have the articulation of their GI Joe cousins, or the level of detail that you would think by today's standards. This is due to the smaller nature of the figures. Instead of the standard 3 3/4 inch figures that most toylines used. Kenner opted to go smaller to make the vehicles more portable and affordable. Good thing too, as financially savvy parents were able to stock up on this fantastic toy line.

I remember playing with Brad "Chopper" Turner for hours, showing my grandparents (and anyone else who would listen) that my motorcycle could change into a helicopter!

In my 40's I appreciate these toys all the more. (Now if I can afford to get some!) The box art was/ is phenomenal, the concept, the camp factor, it all adds up to a ton of enjoyment.

This time we continue our look into the M.A.S.K. line of toys from Kenner from the 1980's.  This article is somewhat short however the subject is special to me. Read on to find out why.

As a young lad in 1985, I was keen to "keep up with the Jones'" and collect as much as I would be allowed from the major toy lines that really appealed to me.  M.A.S.K. was no exception.  I had told my parents about them and my mother bought me Condor. (Which we looked at last time.)  So when Christmas rolls around that year, imagine my surprise when I received Thunderhawk with the leader of M.A.S.K. Matt Trakker

I remember opening the wrapping and I can remember I sat in my pajamas with a large gaping mouth in shock at how I was one lucky boy to receive such a prestigious gift.  (I also seem to recall that I also had received so many GI Joe figures that year that my parents couldn't even wrap them all but that is a story for another time/place.)   The box art was great showing Thunderhawk in action on the front.  Accented in the classic M.A.S.K. red and white.  It was a sight to behold.

In addition to being a what could only be described as a classic red sports car (Z Type 85 Camaro) with gull-wing doors, it was the leader of M.A.S.K.'s signature vehicle.  It featured heavily in the cartoon and perhaps featured the easiest vehicle transformation of any toy of the line.  With a push of the button, and a pull on the running boards, the sports car soon would be in "jet" mode.  The rear spoiler would pop up at the same time as the doors, exposing the turbo thrusters.  By pushing on these thrusters, one could release the bombs that would be found on the under carriage. Undoubtedly, these are the easiest parts to lose, and if you happen to find a complete Thunderhawk for purchase, it can increase the price greatly to have these small bombs included.

The graphics on the car scream 1980's hip.  A purple high tech looking graph with a lightning bolt that represented speed, the car/jet was the epitome of cool.

Looking at the leader of M.A.S.K. himself, Matt Trakker with Spectrum Mask.  Just like the rest of the toys in this line, he would have different helmet versions. (Shown below.)  However, it does surprise me that this particular toy line varied from the other toys of the time because you would only see one maybe two iterations of the "leader" character. (Optimus Prime, General Hawk for example)  M.A.S.K. however gave us 7-8 variations!  (Action packs included...more on those later.)  The Spectrum mask allowed Matt to hover/fly, read various heat signatures, analyze various materials (such as how much of a particular metal was in a rock wall) among other things as the writers saw fit.  Truly a weapon fit for a leader. 

Many years later, I found my Thunderhawk (mostly complete) and was shocked to find the real rubber tires were still intact and stickers in good condition. (A rarity as many would dry rot away if not properly stored.)  I found Matt Trakker and his mask Spectrum and proudly told my 8 year old son of the great times I had with that toy as I presented it to him.  He played with it for a while, and I am sure that when my ex and I divorced, she left it in the house she abandoned to be disposed of.  It is now probably sitting in a landfill somewhere.  Sigh....oh well.  At least my son got to share in my childhood if only for a brief time.

When I was younger I was a poor student and my parents certainly were concerned with how it made them look.  They tried to bribe me with toys on my wish list if I made the honor roll.  One of these most coveted toys was the Boulder Hill playset for the M.A.S.K. line of toys by Kenner.  This toy was at the top of my list.  I remember working so hard all semester for it.  I did my homework nearly every night.  (I had a hard time doing homework.)  I tried really hard to do well on my quizzes and tests.  I never worked so hard up until that point.  I just kept thinking I would get Boulder Hill so my M.A.S.K. guys would have a headquarters to fight the evil force of V.E.N.O.M.!  I pictured putting the bad guys in the cell, and making the boulder roll off the mountain, crushing vehicles.  I imagined many hours of playtime with this toy at the top of my list.  

I did not get the Boulder Hill playset.  Ever.  I was two grades short of making the “B” honor roll. (Mostly “B’s”)  I was not even that far off of the 2 grades, I remember receiving a C and a C+.  Don’t ask me which subjects they were because I cannot recall at this time.  I do remember being devastated.  I remember crying.  I remember thinking from that crucial moment, “If this is what life is like when I try hard, I don’t want to try hard anymore.  There is no point.”

Ah the intricacies of a youthful mind full of ignorance. 

What are you nostalgic for? 

November 12, 2021 18:09

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4 comments

Howard H
05:59 Nov 25, 2021

Hello Mark, I enjoyed your colourful romp through toys and figures from the 80’s. The recollections and minute details of the toyline helped to characterise the wonderful world of Kenner to perfection. I loved the twist at the end which enhanced the narrator’s disappointment with his real life and was somehow prescient of the modern era’s withdrawal from social media or a techno detox. There was a dark humour entwined amongst the plastic detritus of your Lycra clad superheroes that resisted ridicule and harkened for a justified escape from ...

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Mark Alan
12:54 Nov 26, 2021

Thank you for your kind words. I was told some advice once from a fellow author. "Your reader can smell a lie a mile off, so if you write anything based on your life don't try to hide anything." I found that I really enjoy writing from a personal perspective to emotionally connect with my readers much like Robert Fulghum in which I try to include some philosophy. (From a technical aspect, I try to imagine that I am having a cup of coffee and chat with them.) So glad you enjoyed it. Mark

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Alice Richardson
09:09 Nov 20, 2021

Nostalgia handled nicely without too much stodgy sentimentality.

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Mark Alan
18:34 Nov 20, 2021

Thank you!

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