Black Mask (comics)

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Black Mask I

Cover to Batman #636 (January 2005).
Pencils by Matt Wagner.
Publication information
PublisherDC Comics
First appearanceBatman #386 (August 1985)
Created byDoug Moench
Tom Mandrake
In-story information
Alter egoRoman Sionis
Jeremiah Arkham
Team affiliationsFalse Facers
Gotham mafia
The Society
Black Lantern Corps
Notable aliasesOrpheus
AbilitiesSkilled hand-to-hand combatant
Enhanced stamina and endurance
Underworld connections
Hypnosis-like mind-control via mask
 
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Black Mask is the name of two supervillains in DC Comics.

Publication history[edit]

The first Black Mask was Roman Sionis, an enemy of Batman. He first appeared in Batman #386 (August 1985). The character was created by Doug Moench and Tom Mandrake.[1]

Fictional character biography[edit]

Roman Sionis[edit]

Black Mask I

Cover to Batman #636 (January 2005).
Pencils by Matt Wagner.
Publication information
PublisherDC Comics
First appearanceBatman #386 (August 1985)
Created byDoug Moench
Tom Mandrake
In-story information
Alter egoRoman Sionis
Jeremiah Arkham
Team affiliationsFalse Facers
Gotham mafia
The Society
Black Lantern Corps
Notable aliasesOrpheus
AbilitiesSkilled hand-to-hand combatant
Enhanced stamina and endurance
Underworld connections
Hypnosis-like mind-control via mask

Black Mask's origin story was established in his first appearance. Roman Sionis was born to wealthy and utterly self-absorbed parents who cared more about their social status than their son; moments after his birth, the doctor carelessly dropped him on his head. Roman's parents were less concerned about their son's well-being than in covering up the entire incident so their high society friends would not find out. As a child, he was attacked by a rabid raccoon at the Sionis family country estate; his parents forbade him to mention the incident to anyone.

Further adding to the cauldron was his father's "friendship" with fellow Gotham City socialite Thomas Wayne; both of Roman's parents disliked Wayne and his wife Martha, and were quite vocal about it in private, but they continued to associate with them to ensure their social status, to the extent of literally forcing Roman to become friends with their son, Bruce. His parents' hypocrisy had a deep impact on him, and he grew to hate and resent them and the "masks" they wore in public.

After graduating from high school, Sionis was given a high ranking position inside his father's company, Janus Cosmetics. There, he met and fell in love with Circe, a working class secretary. His parents did not approve of the relationship and made it clear that they wanted him to break it off. Enraged, Sionis burned down the family's mansion, killing both of his parents. Upon their deaths, he inherited the family fortune and business. Sionis lacked his father's business acumen, however, and eventually ruined Janus Cosmetics by funding a failed line of face-paint make-up. In desperation, he threw large sums of money at the staff chemists to create a product to save the company, and what came back to him was a kind of waterproof makeup. The product was rushed to market without proper testing, and once it hit the market, it turned out to be a deadly toxin which disfigured several hundred women.

Circe, now Sionis' fiancée, broke up with him in front of his entire staff. Bruce Wayne, now the head of Wayne Enterprises, offered to bail out the company on the condition that Sionis give up control and allow Wayne to appoint his own Board of Directors. Sionis agreed, but was furious at the humiliation he had suffered. Unwilling to blame himself for his failures in life, Sionis broke into the cemetery where his parents were buried; seconds before he could unlock the Sionis crypt, however, a lightning bolt struck him, blasting the door open and hurling Sionis headfirst into a nearby stone. Sionis took the incident as an omen of his "rebirth", and entered the crypt, smashing his father's ebony casket with the stone. From the shattered pieces of the casket, Sionis carved a mask that symbolized his new identity: the crime lord Black Mask.

Within a month, Black Mask had assembled dozens of petty criminals around Gotham into what he referred to as the False Face Society, using the Sionis crypt as his base of operations. Each member of the False Face Society wore a distinctive mask (presumably from Sionis' own collection), which Black Mask promised would allow them access to baser instincts and more powerful identities. The False Face Society spread rapidly through Gotham, eventually attracting the attention of both the police and the Batman.

As his underlings buried Gotham beneath a crime spree, Black Mask himself began his vendetta against those who he believed had wronged him. He murdered three Wayne Foundations executives, using masks that had been laced with a concentrated form of Janus Cosmetics' toxic makeup. This done, he kidnapped Circe from her new career as a magazine model and forced her to don a mask laced with a diluted form of the makeup, sparing her life but permanently disfiguring her face. Black Mask then demanded that Circe rejoin him, or face the "full facial treatment", as the Wayne executives had. Left with no choice, Circe agreed, and was given a "mannequin" mask intentionally designed to mock her former life.

In the meantime, Batman had deduced Black Mask's true identity, and correctly predicted that Bruce Wayne would be Sionis' next target. Hoping to set a trap for Black Mask, he held a masquerade ball at Wayne Manor, knowing that Sionis would not be able to resist attending. True to his predictions, Sionis, with Circe as his "date", infiltrated the ball and mingled with the guests. Sionis subsequently lured Bruce to the mansion's conservatory, intending to kill him with a gun. Bruce successfully fought off and disarmed Sionis, forcing the latter to flee the premises and allowing Robin (Jason Todd) to trail him to his hideout in the Sionis crypt.

The Dynamic Duo soon followed Black Mask into the graveyard, fighting off the hordes of the False Face Society with ease. Black Mask himself, however, escaped through a false bottom installed in his father's coffin, and fled the graveyard in a hearse. With the Batmobile hot on his heels, Black Mask drove to the Sionis family estate, chalking up his failure to kill Bruce Wayne to the "weakness" of Roman Sionis, and intending to fully sever the aforementioned identity from that of Black Mask. As Batman and Robin battled with the remaining members of the False Face Society, Black Mask entered Roman Sionis' old bedroom and set fire to the old toys inside, intending to burn the mansion to the ground.

Though empowered by the symbolic act, Black Mask's sense of invincibility was short-lived, for he emerged from the room to see that the entire membership of his False Face Society had been defeated by Batman and Robin. Completely unhinged, Black Mask fled back into the burning bedroom. In an attempt to save him from a fiery death, Batman flung a Batarang-attached cable around Black Mask's knees, causing him to fall face-first just as the bedroom's rafters were beginning to collapse. The rafters pinned Black Mask's face into the pile of burning toys; though Batman and Robin were able to tow him out of the fire, it was soon revealed that the flames had burned the mask into his face, ironically accomplishing his wish to obliterate all traces of Roman Sionis.

Black Mask was subsequently sentenced to Arkham Asylum. Though the False-Facers and Circe would later cross paths with Batman multiple times, Black Mask himself remained behind bars until he was freed by the criminal mastermind Ra's al Ghul, along with all of Arkham's other inmates. Black Mask was not amongst the inmates who followed the Joker's lead and looked for the mastermind behind the breakout. Thus, he never took part in the "war" against Batman's allies and loved ones, and it can be presumed that he never discovered the immortal terrorist's involvement. As this tale was the last "canonical" one to take place on Earth-One, it can be assumed that Black Mask remained at large.[2]

Following Crisis on Infinite Earths, Black Mask remained an inmate at Arkham Asylum. He was amongst the inmates that Jeremiah Arkham unleashed onto Batman during the events of "The Last Arkham", and was presumably beaten senseless along with the other inmates.

Black Mask returned to crime after an unspecified breakout at Arkham Asylum, evidently retaining most (if not all) of his pre-Crisis history. He soon began the False Face Society anew, rising through the ranks of Gotham's underworld while at the same time continuing his vendetta against Bruce Wayne by ordering the False-Facers to burn down various Wayne Enterprises-owned buildings around Gotham. The rash of arsons attracted Batman's attention once more, prompting him to disguise himself as a new recruit to the False Face Society, that was christened "Skullface" by Black Mask himself.

Though "Skullface" was able to foil another arson attempt by the False Face Society with the help of Robin (Tim Drake), he was unable to stop Black Mask's new right-hand man, Tattoo, from kidnapping Lucius Fox, the "mastermind" behind the Wayne bailout. The Dynamic Duo was eventually able to save Fox from suffering the same fate as Circe and the previous Wayne executives, but Black Mask himself was able to escape capture, leaping off a pier while Tattoo held Batman off. The Caped Crusader, already in the throes of a mid-life crisis, took his failure to capture Black Mask as an enormous blow.[3]

Black Mask remained at large throughout the events of "Knightfall" and "Zero Hour". He resurfaced shortly thereafter, still leading the False Face Society, and killed rival mobster "Dirty Dan" Doyle in an ambush shootout.[4]

Later still, Black Mask was approached by a young hoodlum named Johnny LaMonica, AKA the Black Spider, who wished to join the False Face Society. Finding Lamonica irritating, Black Mask demanded that the young man "make his bones" first by crashing another masquerade ball being held at Wayne Manor. The Black Spider did as ordered, but failed to hurt a single person, and was barely able to escape Batman.

Batman would later learn, however, that LaMonica was in fact a double agent for mobster "Turk" Ottoman. Realizing that Black Spider intended to kill Black Mask one way or another to make way for his true employer, the Caped Crusader tracked both men to an abandoned theater. Though Batman arrived too late to stop Black Spider from knifing the False-Facers inside the theater, he was able to prevent LaMonica from shooting Black Mask. Deeming the armed Black Spider to be the greater threat, Batman fought with LaMonica, having no choice but to allow Black Mask to escape in the confusion. The subsequent night, Batman would stage a desperate and violent manhunt for the crime lord, but to no avail.[5]

Black Mask and his False-Facers continued to play roles in several different events where Gotham's organized crime was concerned. When the vigilante Lock-Up surfaced in Gotham, for instance, Batman (in coordination with the Gotham City Police Department) used one of the False-Facers as bait, publicizing the man's role as an informant for the police. Though the trap was primarily intended for Lock-Up (who would logically be enraged at seeing a criminal "walk" without serving his sentence), Batman had correctly anticipated that Black Mask would be after the man as well; along with Robin (Tim Drake) and Nightwing, he easily beat back the squad of False-Facers that Black Mask sent to kill the "traitor".[6]

In "The Cult" storyline, Black Mask reappears as a crime boss, having given up his vendetta against Bruce Wayne. Forging alliances with the Penguin at some times, working alone at others, he controls much of Gotham City's underworld until the city is destroyed by an earthquake in the "No Man's Land" story arc.

Sionis discards the ebony mask, believing his scars to be a sign of his strength and determination to survive. By now completely insane, he leads a cult whose trademark is ritual scarring, killing anyone who refuses to join, destroying any buildings left standing under the quake by claiming that they are remnants of the 'lie' of civilisation that was exposed as false by the quake. He leads a powerful group until Batman and Huntress dissolve it by defeating him in battle. Sionis is imprisoned in Blackgate Penitentiary, but he escapes before the city is made a part of the country again.

In Catwoman #16, Black Mask begins a drug trafficking ring and decides to move his organization into Gotham's East End, drawing the attention of Catwoman, who had sworn to protect that area of the city.

Catwoman interferes in Black Mask's plans, stealing money from him and giving it to the poor, and injuring many of his men. Black Mask decides he wants to remove the problem, and so finds an old friend of Selina Kyle's, Sylvia Sinclair, who is working in the Gotham mobs. She reveals Catwoman's secret identity to him, and he begins a campaign of terror against her. He blows up the new youth center she had endowed with the stolen money, hounds her, and kidnaps her sister and brother-in-law. Black Mask tortures Catwoman's brother-in-law to death with power tools in front of her sister, and then makes the woman eat pieces of her husband's corpse, including his eyeballs.

Catwoman arrives to find her brother-in-law dead, her sister insane, and her friend Holly Robinson on the verge of being tortured. She attacks Black Mask, and the two of them fight across his penthouse. At the end of the battle, Black Mask falls from the top of the building, leaving everyone to assume he is dead.

When Tim Drake quits his role as Robin in the War Games arc, Batman chooses Stephanie Brown, aka The Spoiler, to replace him. Batman quickly discovers that her lack of focus and inability to follow orders make her a danger to herself and others, and fires her. Desperate to prove herself, she takes charge of one of Batman's contingency plans: To get all of Gotham's crime lords under the control of Orpheus, an agent of Batman, and therefore under the control of Batman himself. The plan fails because Spoiler is unaware that a key contact with the crime lords, Matches Malone, is actually none other than Batman himself. When "Matches Malone" does not appear as expected, the tension at the meeting accidentally degenerates into a firefight, leaving many dead and wounded. This creates a power vacuum that quickly erupts into a brutal gang war on the streets of Gotham.

In War Games Act Two, Spoiler seeks out Orpheus, believing that if she could enlist his help there could still be a chance to bring the plan to some sort of successful conclusion. As she finishes telling Orpheus his role in the plan, Black Mask murders him by slitting his throat in front of Spoiler. He then tortures Spoiler to obtain information about the rest of the plan.

Black Mask assumes Orpheus' identity, using face putty and padding, fooling even Batman and Onyx. As Orpheus, he fans the flames of the crisis, driving Gotham's criminal element into a frenzy, seeking to kill any member or associate of the Batman Family. He then returns to torture Spoiler for his own enjoyment, only to find that she has escaped. Black Mask soon tracks her down again and they fight. Spoiler defeats Black Mask and gets away, but is left with severe internal injuries.

Black Mask then infiltrates Oracle's Clocktower in an attempt to expose her to the mob. Batman attacks him in a blind rage and Oracle, fearful for Batman's life, is forced to activate a self-destruct device in the tower to get Batman to save her.

In the end, Spoiler supposedly dies due to the injuries inflicted on her and the willful negligence of Leslie Thompkins (although a recent retcon establishes that Leslie had faked Stephanie's death).

Black Mask then becomes the overlord of the Gotham underworld, recruiting Mr. Freeze as an enforcer and even gathering enough financial resources to purchase an Amazo android and a large supply of kryptonite, although the Amazo is destroyed by Batman and Nightwing when it is activated prematurely and the kryptonite is stolen by the Red Hood.

Allied with reporter Arturo Rodriguez, Black Mask begins a campaign to discredit Batman. While Rodriguez slams Batman in the press, Black Mask commits a series of murders disguised as Batman. This plan is complicated by the arrival of the Joker; Black Mask is intent on killing the Clown Prince of Crime and framing Batman for it, but the Joker wants to kill Black Mask, because he robbed him of the opportunity to kill another Robin. The two nearly kill each other before Batman intervenes. Batman eventually exposes Rodriguez and finally captures Black Mask. However, while being taken to jail, Black Mask kills the escorting officer and escapes again.

The assassin Deathstroke later approaches Black Mask, offering him a place within The Society. Eager to strengthen his increasingly tenuous grip on the underworld (Batman and the new Red Hood had both been targeting his operations), he accepts, and Captain Nazi, one of the Hyenas, and Count Vertigo are sent after Batman and Red Hood. However, Batman defeats them all, and ultimately prevents the Society from securing a foothold in Gotham.

In an attempt to "improve himself" after this debacle, Black Mask threatens the most important people in Catwoman's life, from Slam Bradley to Holly Robinson. Enraged, Catwoman retaliates by blowing off his jaw with her gun, killing him.[1]

After the shooting, Selina Kyle passes the mantle of Catwoman to her friend Holly. Not long after, Holly is arrested for Black Mask's murder.

During the Gotham Underground storyline, the death of Black Mask causes dozens of would-be crime bosses to try to fill in the vacancy created by Black Mask's death.[7]

In Blackest Night, Black Mask comes back from the dead as a Black Lantern to show Catwoman why "shooting him in the head, was a bad idea". In October 2009, DC announced they were taking a month off from primary Blackest Night comics by "reanimating dead runs" and tying them into the event. The campaign involved releasing the next numeric issue of a comic run that had long been cancelled by DC and associating it with the Blackest Night (i.e. bringing the 'dead' back to life, so to speak). As a result, Catwoman #83 was released on January 13, 2010, 'reanimating' the cancelled series for one issue involving Selina Kyle being confronted by Black Lantern Black Mask. In an attempt to scare Catwoman, the Black Lantern Black Mask goes after her sister Maggie, who had been institutionalized after he killed her husband and forced her to eat his eyeballs. He demonstrates the ability to fly and reorganize the very structure of buildings. Maggie Kyle, previously near catatonic, is shocked back to motion and speech after seeing her sister placed in the same situation her husband did not escape. Both escape physically unharmed but the incident causes Maggie to believe her sister has been taken over by a demon. Poison Ivy manages to stop Black Mask by trapping him inside a mutated Pitcher plant, its digestive juices dissolving his body as fast as his ring could regenerate it. The plant itself is transferred to Slaughter Swamp, which is nearby.[8]

Black Mask II[edit]

Dr. Jeremiah Arkham, as the new Black Mask, orders his predecessor's men to destroy his asylum in Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1. Art by Tony Daniels.

In the Battle for the Cowl storyline, a second crime lord, Black Mask II, emerges. He has drugged Arkham Asylum's inmates, including The Great White Shark, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Mr. Zsasz, Jane Doe, and The Scarecrow, with a substance that can kill when triggered. Black Mask is quickly acknowledged as the leader of the group when he blows up the asylum, and then prepares for his ascension by destroying Two-Face's and Penguin's reign and becoming Gotham City's crime lord once again. In a recent Batgirl storyline, he had Scarecrow develop a new recreational drug, "Thrill." In a change from previous appearances of the character, "Battle For The Cowl" issue #3 displays a character implied to be Black Mask referring to himself as "we".

The new Black Mask absorbs Penguin's mob and kicks Two-Face out of Gotham, becoming the city's sole crime lord. He is shown to be behind the separate actions of several Gotham criminals like Firefly, Victor Zsasz, Jane Doe, Clayface, Alyce Sinner, Fright, Dr. Death and Hugo Strange, providing funding in exchange for favors.[9] However, in "Life after Death", he is targeted by both the National Guard and the returning Falcone crime family, led by Mario Falcone, forcing him to retreat to an area in Gotham called Devil's Square.[10]

Black Mask's identity has been revealed to be Dr. Jeremiah Arkham, who became Black Mask after suffering a psychotic breakdown from exposure to a variety of mind altering chemicals from various Batman villains .[11] He and Fright have become lovers. Following his capture and defeat by the new Batman, Dick Grayson, he is imprisoned in the rebuilt Arkham Asylum. He also starred in the three-issue follow up, Arkham Reborn, where he begins manipulating patients, a plotline that culminated in Detective Comics, with the revelation of his role as Black Mask and his incarceration in his own asylum. However the new head of Arkham, Dr. Alyce Sinner, who had secretly been manipulating events in Arkham Reborn, continues her work for the Church of Crime and allies with him.

Powers and abilities[edit]

Black Mask usually carries at least two automatic pistols and has used a sword in various comic books. He is a capable hand to hand fighter, able to hold his ground against even accomplished martial artists such as Batman and Catwoman. He can take high amounts of damage while continuing to fight. Black Mask's most important weapons are fear and intimidation. He is known for his brutal and sadistic torture techniques, especially on the face. Black Mask also uses his connections to gather information on his enemies, and then hits them at their weak points, such as family and friends.

His black mask, per the events of the New 52, has hypnosis-like mind-control abilities which also extend through the material of the masks of his gang, the False Face Society, rendering them under his direct control.

Other versions[edit]

Crimson Mist[edit]

Black Mask makes a brief appearance in the Elseworlds storyline Batman: Crimson Mist, attempting to stave off a rampage by the maddened vampire Batman. During the ensuing bloodbath, he initially rejects joining an alliance with Two-Face and Killer Croc, mistakenly believing himself to be untouchable. This is a decision Sionis comes to severely regret when Batman assaults his hideout and butchers the entire False Face Society, leaving their severed heads outside Blackgate Penitentiary as a warning to other criminals housed there. [12]

In other media[edit]

Television[edit]

Black Mask in The Batman.

Film[edit]

Video games[edit]

Black Mask as depicted in Batman: Arkham Origins.

Miscellaneous[edit]

Action Figures and Toys[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Wallace, Dan (2008). "Black Mask". In Dougall, Alastair. The DC Comics Encyclopedia. London: Dorling Kindersley. p. 52. ISBN 0-7566-4119-5 
  2. ^ Batman #400
  3. ^ Batman #485-486
  4. ^ Detective Comics #684
  5. ^ Batman #518-520
  6. ^ Detective Comics #697
  7. ^ Gotham Underground #1
  8. ^ Catwoman #83 (January 2010)
  9. ^ Batman 688-691
  10. ^ Batman 691-697
  11. ^ Batman #697 (March 2010)
  12. ^ Batman: Crimson Mist
  13. ^ "Schedule for Channel 9, Oct. 31st, 2010". Tvtonight.com.au. 2010-12-19. Retrieved 2010-12-29. 
  14. ^ "The World's Finest - New Cast Details For Upcoming "Batman: Under The Red Hood" Animated Feature". Worldsfinestonline.com. 2010-03-23. Retrieved 2010-12-29.