While most people know The Mask as the 1994 Jim Carrey kid-friendly comedy, the comic book origins of Stanley Ipkiss are much, much darker.
Most people know The Mask through Jim Carrey’s zany, slapstick, kid-friendly 1994 comedy, however the property has its roots in comics beginning in the late ’80s and those roots are bloody, twisted and insane.
New Line Cinema, a studio most known at the time for the Nightmare on Elm Street series, originally wanted to adapt the comic into a horror movie, which makes total sense when one considers the source material. However, the idea eventually morphed into the comedy that fans know and love to this day, starring Carrey in one of his early breakout roles in a year that cemented his status as a comedic powerhouse – 1994 also saw the releases of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber. The movie was a huge hit, spawning an animated series and an eventual sequel with 2005’s Son of the Mask. However, it’s truly difficult to overstate just how different the comic book and movie versions of Stanley Ipkiss turned out.
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Movie Ipkiss was a down-on-his-luck, loveable pushover who happens upon the mask while trying to save what he thought was a stranger’s life (turns out it was just trash floating in the river). Meanwhile, even before comic book Ipkiss ever falls under the influence of the eponymous headgear, he’s showing some serious signs of sociopathy, imaging different, vivid ways to murder a biker gang he’d been assaulted by. Comic Ipkiss obtains the mask in a local shop, where he purchases the Jade antique for his girlfriend Kathy.
On his way home, he’s already hearing the mask talking to him, but brushes it off. When he eventually tries it on, he’s instantly transformed into the zoot-suited, big-toothed, living cartoon most people know from the movie, although in the books he’s referred to as Big Head. Wasting no time, he immediately goes after the biker gang and decimates them in spectacular fashion, setting one member on fire before materializing an Uzi from thin air to take out the stragglers. And that’s only the beginning. Big Head returns to his old elementary school where he kills a former teacher because she embarrassed him once, and on his walk home assaults a child that was bullying a meeker kid.
While Spider-Man’s creed is that with great power comes great responsibility, Big Head’s is basically the antithesis of that. And with every second Stanley spends in the mask, he loses more and more of his true self. He begins wearing army fatigues all day, keeping an eye on the news for anyone he deems deserving of his brand of “justice,” complies a kill list of anyone that’s wronged him (including one guy he decides deserves to die for owing him $60) and becomes verbally – and almost physically – abusive toward Kathy. The story culminates when Stanley is suddenly and unexpectedly shot several times in the back by Kathy after she’d put on the mask and let the pain of all of the trauma she’d been dealing with out in lethal fashion.
And that’s it. So ended the story of Stanley Ipkiss in the comics, but the story of the mask was far from over. Kathy turns the mask over to the same Lieutenant Kellaway seen in the movie. In short order, Kellaway puts on the mask himself and becomes the new Big Head, using his newfound powers to take down the city’s mobsters and crime lords. The mask finds itself in the hands of a plethora of other characters throughout the ensuing sequels and spin offs that ran fairly regularly all the way through 1998. In 2019, Dark Horse rebooted the series with I Pledge Allegiance To The Mask, which actually saw Big Head become president of the United States. He even recently had a crossover with Joker and there’s talks of a female-led The Mask reboot movie.
There are some scenes that are similar in both the movie and book, but only just. The two sketchy mechanics that are some of Ipkiss’ earliest victims in the movie? On screen they’re wheeled out on stretchers; on the page, they’re carried out in body bags, with one being impaled through the head with various tools, Pinhead-style, and the other having an entire muffler shoved down his throat. The movie scene in which Carrey’s Mask is surrounded by police and defuses the situation by starting a huge mambo dance number? A similar standoff takes place in the book, except there he just murders every responding officer with a flamethrower and machine gun.
However, the movie leaves out what may be the most disturbing ability the mask affords Ipkiss. He can replicate anyone’s face and to revert back to Big Head, he bloodily peels the flesh off to reveal the green visage underneath.
So, while the film adaptation may have been fun for the whole family, Stanley Ipkiss’ relatively short tenure in the comic books was more of a blood-soaked rampage of insanity. Juxtaposing both versions of The Mask might mean that Jim Carrey fans are in for a surprise, just as fans of the comics likely would have been surprised to see the sanitized version of the character on film.
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