Behind the Masklaw

Along with my friend Brandon A. Mayo, I’ve been making this comic called Hawk & Croc off and on since 2003. I mention this kind of a lot on here, since that’s where a bunch of my drawing energy has gone in the last two decades.

But a lot of the characters that we put in that comic are characters that we created before it ever started. And today’s subject finds his origins all the way back in the early 1990s.

In 1993, Street Fighter was one of the hottest video games in the world, and its developer, Capcom, came to an agreement with Hasbro to create action figures based on the Street Fighter characters. I ended up getting a lot of them for Christmas that year, and collected many of the rest the following year. But one of the only characters I was never able to obtain was Vega.

image from YoJoe.com

Well now hold on, that Vega looks CLOSE to the video game character, but what’s with all that extra gear on him? Ah, see, it turns out that Hasbro’s initial SF figures MOSTLY re-used bits an pieces of pre-existing G.I. Joe toys with new heads. Vega got his new head, but that figure is actually a redeco of Banzai, released earlier in the year as part of the Ninja Force sub-line of Joes.

image also from YoJoe.com

While I never got a Vega figure, I WAS able to get hold of a Banzai figure, I think for my birthday the following summer. I used some white-out and a sharpie to paint his mask white and add the “7”-looking design, but otherwise left him with the cool black-and-pink designs. And you can’t see it in the above photo, but Banzai has a blonde ponytail, as well.

Around this time, I started coming up with my own characters to begin building my own universe of superheroes and supervillains, mostly combining bits and pieces of already-existing characters and remixing them into something new. And I still have this drawing:

You have no idea how hard it is admit I did this terrible drawing.

It’s not dated, but it’s pretty obvious to me that I was trying to create my own version of Vega, but with claws on both hands like Wolverine, except he had FOUR claws on each hand! And rather than a full face mask, it was just the top half. But look at that mask — It’s pretty obviously (at least to me) ripped off of Banzai’s mask. Then there’s the shuriken attached to the stripe on the leg just like the GI Joe figure. And the nunchaku looped into the sash, just like Banzai & Vega have strapped to their chests.

Here’s another crazy thing: I remember the living room I was sitting in when I was drawing this. I don’t remember my exact inspiration behind the character, but I do remember sitting in the living room in North Quincy, Massachusetts and adding the slash marks under the name, thinking that would look cool. And I know my dad moved out of that house in 1995, because one of my last memories of being there was watching the 1995 edition of the WWF King of the Ring Pay-Per-View, and being disgusted that Mabel won that tournament. Therefore, based on when I would have acquired the Banzai figure, that means this drawing is definitely from either the second half of 1994 or the first half of 1995, when I was 12 years of age.

Eventually, “Mask Claw” needed to be colored in. Well, I couldn’t use pink like the Banzai figure, because then people would realize I ripped him off. And I didn’t want to use purple or yellow like Vega. So what could I do? Oh wait, didn’t Hasbro re-use that mold in a third figure?

Image also also from YoJoe.com

So in 1994, Hasbro was not only releasing a second wave of Street Fighter figures based on the live-action film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, they ALSO picked up the rights for Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter’s biggest rival in the arcades. And just like with SF, they recycled pre-existing GI Joe figures to make the Mortal Kombatants. So above is the Johnny Cage figure that came in a two-pack with Goro, which is actually a completely DIFFERENT Johnny Cage figure (except for the new head) than the regular Cage release. And look at that cool blue color scheme!

Certainly, if I gave the character claws like Vega, the mask of Banzai, and the blue color scheme of Johnny Cage, nobody would ever realize that I just took this one toy and mixed up all three versions of it to create a new character! (I mean, it’s 2020 when I’m writing this and nobody ever has, so I guess I was right.)

At some point I shortened the rather literal “Mask Claw” into “Masklaw,” as in, “He wears a MASK, and takes the LAW in to his own hands – CLAWED hands!” It’s still kind of a silly name, but it’s a little less obvious than naming him entirely based on what he’s wearing. Naming a character “Mask Claw” is like calling someone “Shirt Jeans.”

Over the years, as I’d re-draw this guy, I gave him a tank top and forearm guards that his claws to pop and retract from (like the X-Men’s Wolverine), and I redesigned his mask to be more angular and blade-like than just using Banzai’s, further distinguishing him as my own character.

Masklaw joined Hawk & Croc in January 2004, as the dark wizard Ministry (definitely more on him later) formed the Cult of the Quagmire out of the other exiting H&C villains. He stood with his back against a wall for a few appearances, until finally doing something of value in strip 110.

Glass shatters and the date of this comic is 3/16. Wrestling fans will appreciate that.

Masklaw’s appeared in various Hawk & Croc stories since, maintaining that same look throughout the years. I finally took his hair out of a ponytail in 2018, when he was including in the most recent story Brandon & I worked on, the 10-page Hawk Solo: A Hawk & Croc Story, where he… well:

And that’s the last time we’ve seen Masklaw. Now he’s no longer under Ministry, and has taken over as the leader of an entire clan of ninja.

But it ALL started with that doofy-ass illustration inspired by some GI Joe, Street Fighter, and Mortal Kombat toys that I drew when I was 12.