So much more than a comic, Bad Mask is an entire experience that thrusts the reader into the story. It’s up to you to put the pieces together, and that makes this a multimedia reading experience unlike anything else.
In simple terms, Bad Mask is the story of a teenager named Gabby who has chosen to join a terrorist group known as Bad Mask. Bad Mask claims that their goal is to make the world a better place for all of humanity, and they are constantly thwarted by a peacekeeping robot called Metal Metro. But as Gabby progresses further into the Bad Mask organization, she learns that neither Metal Metro nor Bad Mask are all that they appear to be.
I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, especially when I was confronted with numerous pieces of information; including trading cards, newspapers, and comic books, but I loved the experience of reading Bad Mask. This is a story with lots of information, and the reader is free to delve into as much or as little of it as they like. While I took the time to look at every piece, I will admit that I skimmed more than fully read a few pieces, as they got a bit long and started to lose my interest. However I didn’t feel that I lost any of the story by reading this way.
The writing and overall plot structure were the standout stars of Bad Mask for me. It was clear that every element and piece had been planned and was part of the larger story, and letting the reader know right away in the opening letter the proper order to read the documents was a useful way to prevent confusion, and to keep the reader from being overwhelmed by all the parts. The writing in each piece was spot on, and the way that Jon Chad adapted his writing style was laudable. The writing in the newspaper element was vastly different from the writing in the comic book, which differed from the archived correspondence between characters, and so on. It truly felt like I was reading each of the items, and that helped pull me deeper into the story.
I enjoyed Chad’s artwork as well, and I was pleased to see that he adapted his art style in the same way as his writing. For example, the art on the trading cards and in the comic book felt like a throwback, containing elements of the golden and silver ages of comics, while all of the art associated with the events surrounding the Bad Mask organization felt more modern. There was a definite cartoonish style to the art of the Bad Mask members, and I enjoyed their outlandish depictions, as this fit with the extreme personalities and actions of the organization.
Allowing the story to unfold across multiple forms of media is a neat idea, but one that presents a challenge for including this title in a library collection. First, simply keeping track of every physical piece and making sure they stay together could be tough over multiple circulations. Second, the presence of online components that are crucial to the story could create a barrier for some readers, unless they have access to the Internet and a device which can download and play video and audio files. While I enjoyed discovering the URL in the physical materials (as well as the passwords needed to access the materials on the website), I could see how this might prevent some readers from getting the whole story.
I would have a tough time deciding where to place Bad Mask in my collection, because there are elements that could appeal to a wide variety of ages. No publisher age recommendation is given, but I would probably lean toward putting this in my teen collection. Many adults would enjoy the complex storytelling and social commentary in this book, but the physical appearance makes it look like it’s intended for a younger audience. The bold colors and cartoon style might entice elementary school-aged children, though some of the vocabulary and complicated ideas would be over their heads. This book contains few red flags; most violence is referenced rather than depicted, and the depicted violence focuses on robots, not humans. There is one odd segment addressing a robot’s sexual preferences which felt out of place, but is easily overlooked in the vast array of material.
by Jon Chad
BOOM! Box, 2017