Golden Age Insanity looks back at characters that appeared during the Golden Age of Comics between 1939-1951. It was a period of comics unfettered by censorship and was the birthing ground of some of the most insane characters in comic history. You can read past editions here.
Laughing Mask appeared in Daring Mystery Comics #2-7 which was published from February until May, 1940. Dennis Burton was an assistant district attorney who also fought crime as the Laughing Mask.
In his first appearance, Burton investigates a series of train wrecks and discovers that the wreckers were intentional. Disguising himself as a railway oiler, he overhears a plot to sabotage a passenger train. Following the saboteurs to their hideout, he learns that these accidents are the work of a mobster named Lester Deeks. This plan is an attempt to force the public service commission to revoke the railroad’s license so the mobsters can buy the company on the cheap.
Burton really sucks at spying and ends up getting caught and beaten up. However, Deeks and his men are not overly smart either. Instead of killing the intruder, they leave him tied up in the attic.
Left alone, Dennis quickly breaks free from his bonds and changes into his alter-ego the Laughing Mask. If you’re wondering what inspired the Laughing Mask identity you’re out of luck because this story doesn’t give a shit about origin stories.
Spying on the mobsters again Laughing Mask overhears how Deek sent some of his men to blow up a railbridge. With no time to lose, does our hero rush off to save the day?
Laughing Mask ambushes the mobsters inside the house and mows them all down before walking to the rail station, because apparently he’s a lunatic.
There, Laughing Mask murders more criminals and hitches a ride on the train where he throws one of the mobsters off the train to his death.
With the train stopped, Laughing Mask then runs to the bridge where he leaves one crook alive and forces him to sign a confession before turning him over to the authorities.
What makes Laughing Mask an insane character is the fact that he usually deals with criminals by ambushing them and blowing their brains out. In 8 short pages she manages to slaughter an entire gang except for one guy! Let’s also not forget the fact that he literally runs everywhere.
Remember, this guy doesn’t have any superpowers except for he’s a homicidal lunatic.
Purple Mask? More Like Dickhead!
For some reason, in the following issue of Daring Mystery Comics, they decided to change Laughing Mask’s identity. They gave him a purple helmet that makes him look like a circumcised penis and call him Purple Mask. Why? Fuck you, that’s why. The creator of Purple Mask doesn’t give a shit about exposition like this as it takes time away from all the insanity and mayhem.
Do you think the change in name and costume made Dennis Burton any tamer? Guess again!
In his second appearance, Purple Mask investigates the death threats made against Frederick Swabert. His father, during the “Panic of 1907” hid his family fortune in his mansion fearing that the banks would lose all his money. Over 30 years later, the money still hasn’t been found.
Apparently, nobody thought to check the architects plans until they are stolen by the crooks looking for the money. Purple Mask shows up at the mansion and begins gunning down the mobsters looking for the money. Then this happens…
The hidden room with the money is surrounded by a moat filled with powerful acid, because everyone in the world of Purple Mask is an insane lunatic.
Just to demonstrate how insane Purple Mask is, when having to choose facing this maniac or trying to leap across the acid, the last crook decides to take his chance with the acid…
Master of Disguise and Death
In his last Golden Age appearance, Purple Mask goes after a gang of crooks who have robbed the National Bank.
In this story, Purple Mask utilizes a series of disguises while following the crooks. I suppose that the writers ran out of inventive ways of drawing Purple Mask shooting people in the face.
First, he disguises himself as a farmer while tracking the criminals through the country.
This disguise also includes a massive basket of eggs for some reason. This seems like an excessive flourish considering that you’ve got to lug the damn thing around.
Through most of this story Purple Mask seems to forget his best fighting technique: Running into a room and shooting people to death. Instead, he tries to beat up the crooks. It goes about as well as you’d think…
If you think not having guns makes Purple Mask any less insane, you’d be wrong. After a second failed attempt at catching the crooks…
If jumping out of a window and shooting at a car from a motorcycle isn’t insane enough, Purple Mask leaps onto the car and begins throwing crooks out of it until they agree to stop.
Whatever Happened to laughing mask?
After four issues, Purple Mask was retired out, likely because he proved unpopular. According to comic book historian Michael J. Vasallo, Purple Mask was retooled into a new character called the Falcon, and no, not the one you’re thinking…
However, since both characters had different names, they are considered separate characters by Marvel Comics these days.
Still, Laughing/Purple Mask languished in obscurity until 2008 during Marvel’s 70th Anniversary. It was during this time that Marvel revived a number of their obscure Golden Age characters. I suspect that expiring copyrights were likely the motivation for doing something like this. Anyway, they got J. Michael Straczynski to pen a series called The Twelve.
It was a story about twelve war-time heroes being put into suspended animation by the Nazis who hoped to learn the secrets of creating superhumans of their own. Which is a really poorly thought out plan given that most of the people they kidnapped were normal guys who use guns.
This happened a short time before the fall of Berlin in 1945 and these heroes were forgotten about until the underground Nazi bunker was uncovered in the present day.
As you can guess, Laughing Mask was one of the vigilantes that made up “The Twelve”. The series was mostly about these characters trying to find their place in the 21st Century and murder mystery that involved a homophobic android (!!!)
Credit where credit is due, Strazynski decided to address the fact that the old Laughing Mask stories were insane and that Burton was a lunatic. In this series, he is arrested for murders he committed back in the 1940s.
Eventually, Laughing Mask gets a new government job where his love of murder can be best used — in Middle East.
Other than that, Laughing Mask has not appeared in much else, and all these appearances take place during World War II. The first was a one-panel cameo in issue #8 of The Marvels Project, another look back at the Golden Age.
In 2010 he appearing in The Twelve: Spearhead one-shot, which featured a scene where Laughing Mask takes pleasure in executing Nazi soldiers that have been captured.
Next time on Golden Age Insanity we’re going to take a look back at Doll-Man, the diminutive hero who always needed to over compensate!