What makes Black Mask the pettiest villain in Gotham City and a serious threat for the Birds of Prey
With no powers or impressive intellectual capability, the villain makes do with sheer, petty hatred.
Gotham has more than its fair share of the criminally insane, the mentally reclusive, and the thematically questionable, but with their grand ambitions and sometimes impressive dedication to their cause and craft, Batman’s rogue gallery of villains are often artists in their own rights. They may be malevolent and deserve every minute of their time locked up in Arkham, but they all tend to have grandiose ambitions whose scale, if not intent, can be appreciated. The upcoming ‘Birds of Prey’ movie will feature Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), an artless thug who makes up for his lack of craft with a pettiness about as intense as the Joker’s insanity.
Unlike most villains of Gotham City, Black Mask (Roman Sionis) did not have it rough growing up. He was the spoiled child of a rich family, even if his parents were somewhat neglectful. His villainous origin was all of his own making. When he was old enough, he murdered his parents to gain control of the Sionis family wealth, and took control over the family company, Janus Cosmetics. He proved to be a poor businessman, running the company to the ground until he was forced to release an improperly tested product that opened Janus Cosmetics to enough lawsuits for the company to need a bailout from Wayne Enterprises. Wayne Enterprises’ main condition for the bailout was to demand the resignation of Sionis as Janus Cosmetics president.
Having lost everything, an embittered Roman Sionis visits his parents’ crypt, where he smashed apart his father’s ebony casket. He then took a piece of his father’s coffin and carved it into a mask, adopting the Black Mask identity to begin a career as a Gotham crime lord. Founding the False Face Society, Black Mask wasn’t all that more successful as a crime lord than he was a businessman, and in one encounter against Batman and Robin, he fell face-first into a fire he started. While Batman and Robin were able to save him, Roman’s mask had caught fire, leaving a black mask permanently charred onto his face.
With Arkham’s infamous revolving door, however, Black Mask would repeatedly escape imprisonment to continue his criminal career, at one point even entering a rivalry with Catwoman. He kidnapped, tortured and killed Catwoman’s sister and brother-in-law to get to Catwoman, as well as kidnapping Catwoman’s close friend Holly to get Catwoman’s surrender. His rivalry with her saw him attack her friends, associates, even charitable organizations she’d helped set up. It’s a rivalry that ended with his death when Catwoman, driven to the brink, shot him through the head in cold blood.
In the New 52, which refreshed the DC Universe and altered its history somewhat, the reality is changed just enough to reveal that Black Mask didn’t die from being shot in the head but instead was merely injured, and it wasn’t long before he was back to his petty, criminal ways.
Black Mask occasionally employs the use of powers, but for the most part, he is just a thug with a theme. He remains a threat not because of his intellect, or abilities, but simply because his hatred is enough to keep him coming back like a weed that won’t die. He blames everyone in the world but himself for things that go wrong, and he’s raised pettiness to an art form.
Ewan McGregor, in an interview with Men’s Journal, said Black Mask is “an absolute narcissist, spoiled in his upbringing to the point of having no contact with what life or people are about, who has a skin this thin and wants nothing more than to be the center of attention.”
Black Mask is the kind of villain who’s easy to hate. There’s no sympathy to be found with the character, he’s just a terrible person. He’s the perfect villain for a movie that’s meant to be more fun than it is an examination of the dark and lonely criminal psyche. He’s not to be discounted as a threat, but it’s going to be a joy watching the Birds of Prey take him down.
‘Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)’ releases in cinemas on February 7, 2020.