Most of Batman’s best known villains date back to the Golden Age of comics, but a few that were created after the character’s original heyday have also gone on to become iconic as well. Ra’ al Ghul, Bane, Harley Quinn…and the Black Mask. This Gotham baddie is set to debut in the upcoming Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), played by none other than Ewan McGregor. But just what’s the story with this Black Mask guy anyway? Don’t worry, we’re here to catch you up.
Black Mask debuted in Batman #386 in 1985. His first appearance showcased his origin story, as we were introduced to him first as Roman Sionis. Like most Batman villains worth their salt, Black Mask has a tragic and operatic backstory. Born to wealthy socialite parents, Roman Sionis was the heir to his father’s large cosmetic company Janus Cosmetics.
When his negligent and uncaring parents disapproved of a woman he had fallen in love with, he burned their mansion down and murdered them both. After inheriting the company, he created a new line of cosmetics that was not properly tested, and which ended up disfiguring several women. His company was left in ruins; on top of that, his girlfriend broke off their engagement in front of his company board. Ouch.
Bruce Wayne ended up absorbing Sionis’ company into Wayne Enterprises, but the damage was done, and Roman was humiliated. Wayne became the new target of all of his hatred. In a supremely Goth moment, a now mad Roman carved a mask out of the ebony casket of his deceased father’s tomb. He then became the crime lord known as the Black Mask, joining the ranks of Batman’s deadliest foes.
At first, his mask was more of a contorted face than anything else. But eventually, the mask itself took the shape of a far more terrifying ebony skull. Doubling down on the Goth of it all, the headquarters of his new criminal organization was his family crypt. Black Mask began to lead what he called “the False Face Society.” Like him, his new acolytes all had to wear masks that represented their true inner selves. And just about all their true selves were apparently super creepy animals.
Black Mask and the False Face Society became a threat not only to Batman, but also his allies, tangling on more than one occasion with the Birds of Prey. He found himself square in the middle of such major Batman storylines like The Last Arkham, Knightfall and No Man’s Land. Eventually, Black Mask’s misdeeds caught up to him, and he was shot and killed by Catwoman. His corpse was later resurrected as a member of the Black Lantern Corps during the Blackest Night event.
While most of the broad strokes of Black Mask’s pre-New 52 history remained, he would then on be described as having a split personality in the vein of Harvey Dent/Two-Face. He was also given powers of a sort, as his mask had tech inside of it that allowed him to mentally control the weak-minded.
Sadly, Black Mask was not portrayed in the classic Batman: The Animated series. A Bruce Timm B:TAS version did make an appearance in the tie-in Batman: Adventures comic, but that’s it. But he did show up in the 2004 animated show The Batman, played by Dexter’s James Remar. He was also the main antagonist of the animated film Batman: Under the Red Hood, and showed up in Batman: Brave and the Bold. But many younger fans first discovered him via the Batman Arkham series of video games.
We know little of what Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Black Mask will be like. In every photo released so far, he is without his iconic mask; we’ve just seen him as Roman Sionis. On one level this makes sense, as you’d want to capitalize on McGregor’s famous face as much as possible. But given that the character’s name is Black Mask, we had better see Ewan wear the creepy mask at least at some point! Here’s hoping for his creepy False Face Society too!
Featured Image: DC Comics