Who was that masked man?
Who indeed? Well when I was a boy it was the Lone Ranger. Now there was a real hero in his light blue, lace-up skin-tight shirt; all white hat, red scarf, and pearl-handled pistols with real silver bullets which were always ready to be whipped out at the merest sniff of a bad guy. Back then he didn’t seem at all camp, not even Red Indian camp, but these days? Well, let’s just say that I’m not at all sure why he was hanging around with Tonto. Perhaps it was the feathers?
Not that it matters; whatever he was, he was a real masked hero and the first masked man I remember seeing on TV, apart from maybe El Kabong, although he was a cartoon horse.
Of course I read The Man in the Iron Mask and The Mark of Zorro at around the same time. Masked heroes seemed to be the thing back then, and my childhood days were spent viewing the world from behind a strip of black cardboard which I kept in place with two elastic bands that were, rather painfully, tied around my ears.
A little later I discovered American comic books and suddenly a whole new world of masked men was available for me to become: Batman and Robin, The Arrow, Captain America, Daredevil, The Black Hood, Flash, Doctor Fate, Spider Man, several of the X-Men, The Spirit, Green Hornet, Green Lantern, The Shield, The Phantom, even that rather silly Plastic Man.
I never quite worked out how putting on a pair of glasses changed Superman into an unrecognisable Clark
Kent. A mask would have been a far
better disguise, he didn’t fool me once; so I hardly ever became Superman. Most
superheroes had dual identities and were anonymous, choosing to duck in and out
of their invincible personas rather than be ‘super’ permanently.
Of course, their masked identities excited me because I wanted out-of-the-ordinary heroes with virtues and powers that I could only dream of. I’d pretend, as I read those beautifully drawn comics that, since nobody is supposed to know who the man behind the mask is, I was the hero and for a moment or two I stopped being ordinary and became someone else - someone who could fly, become invisible, run at the speed of a passing train, even control people’s minds.
It’s a habit I’ve never been able to break and I still do it to this day; not the flying, invisibility, or the running, but I’ve worn so many masks over the years that sometimes even I wonder who I really am.