The sirens are whirring as we wait for the arrival of Gotham City Sirens, and all ears are pricked on who could be playing the film’s big bad. While David Ayer is yet to give us a solid confirmation, a cryptic tweet seemed to allude to “The Mask” coming to Gotham. No, not Jim Carrey’s ghoulish green visage; a wholly darker version of a man behind a mask.
That’s right, if the corners of the internet are to be believed, Sirens could be the first live-action outing for Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask. Since his introduction in 1985, we have seen the cosmetics king with an obsession for more than just mudpacks and charcoal scrubs do everything from rule Gotham, kill a Robin, and burn his parents – all from behind the comfort of your average beauty counter.
Sure, Black Mask may not seem like one of Batman’s most notorious foes, but he definitely is, and more than a match for a cat, a plant, and a jester. Better get working on that makeup: here are 15 Things You Need To Know About Black Mask!
15. He Had A Feral Origin Story
Batman has always had some unusual origins stories, and Black Mask has one of the more obscure. This is no escape from the Lazarus pit or Max Schreck pushing him out of a window to be licked by cats. In terms of ludicrous origin stories, Roman Sionis is right up there, because Black Mask was bitten by a raccoon!
That’s right, Batman #386 introduced Black Mask in a three-part story that continued in Detective Comics #553, and Batman #387. Doug Moench’s story gave us “a villain for the ’80s” who was a million miles away from the Black Mask he grew into.
Sionis was the poor little rich boy who was largely neglected by his parents. As a child, Roman ran off into the woods and came across a racoon. Feeling drawn to another creature “trapped” in a mask, Roman approached the creature, which then attacked him. Stumbling through the woods, Roman was caught in a rabid fever, where it said he fell into hell thanks to the raccoon.
Although Sonis would recover from his brief spell with rabies, something about that day stuck, similar to Bruce and his bats. Given that Sionis is meant to be a dark reflection of Wayne, it is an interesting comparison to draw.
14. He Is A Master Of Torture
While Black Mask steers clear of Batman’s superpowered foes, he relies on his intellect and wicked torture skills to rule over the underworld of Gotham. After reading about the Spanish Inquisition, he became obsessed with physical pain. Hhis own mask seared onto his face, Roman saw it as him surviving his own personal torture. To him, torture is an art form.
Sionis is known for his sadistic tactics for extracting information. His torture dungeon beneath his luxurious penthouse is one place to keep off your bucket list. Several Batman characters have found themselves at the mercy of Sionis, including the likes of Stephanie Brown, Catwoman, and even Batman himself.
Black Mask’s methods were on display during Catwoman Vol 3, when Selina Kyle interrupted Black Mask’s drug trafficking ring to give the money to the poor. Enraged, Black Mask kidnapped her sister and brother-in-law, torturing the latter to death with power tools and forcing the former to eat pieces of her own husband. Catwoman arrived to find her sister insane and Sionis on the verge of moving his torture onto Holly Robinson.
13. He Once Had Mind Control Powers
After several convoluted and temporary deaths, Sionis joined the rest of the Batverse for the New 52’s reinvention in 2011. The revamped Black Mask had a split personality, with Sionis and the mask as two separate entities. In a strange move, Tony Daniel gave Black Mask magic powers (well, sort of). Along with Mr. Freeze’s maligned new origin, Black Mask’s latest addition included mind-control powers and an alteration that the majority of fans still despise.
Black Mask’s new powers are first seen in Arkham Asylum, when the Talons attack during the Night of the Owls storyline. Dr. Jeremiah Arkham gave Sionis his mask back as a way to influence other inmates into defending the asylum so Arkham could safely tuck himself away. The power was actually pretty useless because it only worked on the weak-minded, meaning that Batman was about as hypnotized as we are by Uri Geller.
12. He Has Some Serious Family Problems
If you thought there were skeletons in the Wayne Family closet, the Sionis clan had a veritable graveyard in theirs. As heir to a bountiful cosmetics company, Roman hated the “masks” that his parents wore, and began a controversial relationship with a supermodel named Circe. It was a relationship that was bonded by murder when Circe gave an ironclad alibi for Roman’s next crime.
After a lifetime of failing to live up to his parent’s high-society standards, Roman opted to kill them off by burning down the family home during his first issue (with them inside). Roman soon found himself leading a gang of loyal hoodlums who too would wear masks. Dubbed the False Face Society, they would often gather in the Sionis family crypt to plan their wicked schemes.
After the irony of his parent’s death, it was fire that was the final straw to push him into his Black Mask persona. In a fight with Batman in Roman’s old bedroom, he was pinned under a burning timber in yet another house fire, which permanently melded his mask to his face.
11. He Owns/Owned Janus Cosmetics
While Mr. and Mrs. Sionis spent their relatively short lives building up Janus Cosmetics, Roman had no intention of following in their footsteps – for a while anyway. It may have been a name more suited to Harvey Dent, but how ironic that the company which gave Roman his fortune was named after the Roman god of beginnings and endings, who also had two faces.
After the well-timed death of his parents, Roman was CEO of Janus Cosmetics, effectively bankrupting the company with his innovative line of liquid mask makeup that won’t come off under water. It may seem like a novel idea for those rainy Halloween nights, but after disfiguring hundreds of patrons, Gothamites weren’t so impressed. Sionis was ousted from his position and the company was forced into a buyout by Wayne Enterprises.
It was the Wayne takeover that ultimately turned Roman to his life as Black Mask. After his drop from power, it also caused Circe as the “Face of Janus” to ditch her lover. A scorned Roman to track down Circe and other board members (including Bruce Wayne). He forced Circe to wear a diluted version of Roman’s toxic face mask, which resulted in horrific scarring.
Although Janus didn’t appear in Tim Burton’s 1989 masterpiece, we did see the Joker take on a slightly similar role to Sionis, complete with poisonous makeup. Also, note that Jerry Hall’s Alicia met a similar fate to Circe, complete with scar-hiding mask.
10. He Didn’t Appear Out Of Comics Until 2002
Roman Sionis may have been knocking around since 1985, but it took until 2002 for him to move out from the pages of comics books. Sadly absent from the spectacular Batman the Animated Series, Sionis should’ve finally got his time to shine in Kemcos’s game Batman: Dark Tomorrow – instead we get another dark piece of Batman history. Black Mask served as a relatively major part of the storyline, and although he isn’t the final boss battle, taking him down as the first boss wasn’t exactly one of the game’s hardest battles.
Appearing specifically on the Gamecube and XBox, Dark Tomorrow was poorly received by critics, not only due to broken game dynamics, but also a lackluster original story. Everything was wrong, from the dodgy graphics, right down to including Sionis’ hammy villain voice, provided by Oz’s Michael Wright.
The storyline focussed on lesser-known villains and saw Black Mask caught in a bitter war with The Ventriloquist. Sionis and his gang fought with weapons supplied by Ra’s Al Ghul. which actually could’ve worked. It’s just a shame that the game didn’t.
9. He Was Also Part Of The Crimson Mist Storyline
If you are a fan of Batman and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then Batman: Crimson Mist is right up your alley. Taking Batman into a strange new realm of Nosferatu, the Elseworlds spin-off saw Black Mask run into a fanged foe in Bruce Wayne. There was plenty of red ink used on the pages of Doug Moench’s graphic novel and the final part of the Batman and Dracula trilogy, particularly when it came to Sionis.
In the 1994 prequel Bloodstorm, a vampiric Batman was staked in the heart to save Gotham from his bloodthirsty ways. It wasn’t until 1999 that the story was resurrected, but Crimson Mist started with Alfred reviving Bruce so that Gotham once again had a savior. It didn’t go to plan, and a blood-rage Batman was driven mad by his body’s own decay and began draining the blood from his previous enemies.
Among the casualties were Penguin, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Riddler, and Black Mask. Sionis got one of the more gory farewells when the False Face Society were first decapitated, then Black Mask himself. Their heads were displayed on the fences of Blackgate Penitentiary as a warning to those who attempted to take on the Vampire Batman.
8. He Has (Sort Of) Appeared In Live-Action Before
If Black Mask comes face first into Sirens, it will technically be his first live-action outing since his conception. However, the Sionis dynasty has at least been hinted at before. Fox’s Gotham is known for its backtrack into the young days of Jim Gordon and focuses on the city’s dark underbelly when the criminals were a little more youthful.
The show’s eighth episode, imaginatively titled “The Mask,” introduced us to Richard Sionis. As the head of an investment company, Sionis literally forced job applicants to fight to the death for the job using only office supplies – think of it a bit like The Belko Experiment. With an office filled with ornate Kabuki masks, it didn’t take long for viewers to deduce that this was Gotham’s own version of Black Mask.
After offering the surviving applicants $1 million to kill off Jim Gordon, the job still wasn’t done. Thinking he could do a better job, Sionis donned one of his masks and took a katana to Gordon. Unsurprisingly defeated by the show’s protagonist, Sionis found himself committed to Arkham Asylum, where he had eyes for Barbara Kean. When several inmates broke out to form their own supergroup, Sionis declined to join The Maniax and was violently butchered in front of the rest of the group.
7. He Braved No Man’s Land
There are several must-read stories for Black Mask. His addition to the acclaimed No Man’s Land is probably the most interesting of all. Following the 7.6 magnitude earthquake in Cataclysm, Gotham was sealed off by the U.S. government, leaving behind the dregs of society. It was a storyline that ran throughout 1999 and is one of the ultimate DC crossovers, featuring just about every Gotham character and beyond. Black Mask is no exception.
While Sionis was only a small part of the story, he provided some of the leftover citizens with the latest accessory – a mask made of their own bloody flesh. It was a particularly dark chapter of the No Man’s Land and at times Frank Teran’s artwork looks like it would be at home in The Walking Dead comic books. Similar to how the Arkham games carved out parts of the city for Batman’s foes, No Man’s Land saw them each claim their own little bit of the destroyed landscape.
Putting his cosmetics knowledge and vanity to good use, Roman assumed control of Gotham’s fashion district, complete with an even larger False Face Society.In the two-part “Mosaic” chapter, Sionis had completely lost the plot, leading a new chapter of his gang as a cult. Instead of wearing masks, club membership involved scarring your own face to fit in. It didn’t take long before he was wearing his mask behind bars, but Greg Rucka’s return of Roman was a scary reimagining of the man behind the mask.
6. He Appeared In Animated Form In 2006
While a man who effectively has a skeleton for a face may seem a little too scary for the kiddies, Black Mask eventually also made it into animated form. Randomly, it was a 2006 episode of The Batman that arguably made him scarier than ever, as Black Mask’s head was literally created as an irremovable mask. He also had no fingerprints, which made him almost impossible to track down. Portrayed by voiceover artist and Dexter star James Remar, Black Mask’s identity was never revealed, so it is only to be presumed to be Roman.
First appearing in season 4’s “The Breakout” when he held the city to ransom, this Black Mask made sporadic appearances after that and certainly lived up to his crime lord credentials. The unknown character was also featured several times in The Batman Strikes, a spin-off comic for the show.
While Black Mask has gone on to appear in several other animated versions (most notably Under the Red Hood), The Batman represents the most eerily ominous. Remar’s performance was chilling, and in fact, would make him a great contender to portray the role in live-action.
5. He Killed A Robin
Joining the relatively small ranks of those who have killed a Boy (or Girl) Wonder, Black Mask did what even the A-list Batman rogues couldn’t accomplish and actually killed off one of his flying sidekicks. Featuring massively in the achingly long War Games storyline, Black Mask put and end to the life of Stephanie Brown, aka Robin #4.
As for Stephanie, her recent sacking as Robin forced her to exact her War Games plan and teach Bruce a lesson. It resulted in her being tortured by Black Mask and a scuffle which involved her being shot and hurtled down a flight of stairs. Stephanie made it to hospital, but soon died with Batman by her side.
Okay, they may have retconned the story in a controversial plot during Robin/Spoiler Special #1 in 2008, where it was revealed that a near-death Stephanie had begged Dr. Thompkins to fake her death, the reasoning was so that criminals like Black Mask couldn’t use her for information. Well, there goes that murderous honor – but let’s not forget, for a brief time, Black Mask really did kill a Robin.
4. He Was The First Villain To Rule All Of Gotham
As discussed, War Games was a pretty big deal for Sionis, who had been presumed dead for quite some time. After his Catwoman tumble, Black Mask waited for an event to announce his survival, like, say a cross-city gang war. Returning to crime lord glory, Sionis partnered with the Russian Alexandra Kosov, while bullying the likes of the Ventriloquist and Scarface into his ranks. But they were just the start of his empire.
Black Mask would’ve been just another cog in the machine if it hadn’t been for a chance encounter with Orpheus and Stephanie. He slit Orpheus’s throat and discovered that the War Games plan was to unite all the criminals under one leader. With a slot open, Black Mask assumed the role of Orpheus and gathered the good and the bad of Gotham’s underworld at an amphitheater to reveal that he would take over the city with his new allies, Doctor Death and Firefly.
It was a huge-scale battle with many casualties, while Black Mask escaped to mistakenly attack Oracle at her HQ, thinking it was the Batcave. Although Batman managed to defeat Black Mask in their “boss battle,” the clock tower was destroyed along with much of Gotham. As the city rebuilt, the gangs remained loyal to Black Mask – the universal ruler of Gotham’s underworld. It’s a feat held by no other criminal to this day!
3. He Also Featured In The Arkham Games
If there is anywhere that you can find a great reimagining of a so-so villain, it is in the Arkham games. As with most of the Batman rogues, Black Mask first appeared as one of those tricky Riddler Trophies, and eagle-eyed players may have spotted a signature mask on the wall of Dr. Young’s office, or the newspaper clipping citing “ROMAN SIONIS IN COURT,” which seemingly placed events around the time of his Janus Cosmetics blunder.
With an empire that expanded into meatpacking and the steel industry, Roman was also behind the Sionis Steel Mill and a series of fairground rides that had maimed its patrons. Arkham‘s Roman was also reportedly the only person ever to escape the walled-off Arkham City (before his recapture). The character was back again in the third game Arkham Knight, appearing only in the Red Hood DLC, where our masked maniac was thrown from a window to his presumed death.
However, while it may be the weakest entry in the franchise and technically not classed as a “proper” Arkham game, 2013’s Arkham Origins gave us a lot more Roman. As the main antagonist of the game, Black Mask hired eight assassins to take out a young Batman on Christmas Eve. Sadly, even this didn’t give Sionis his time to shine, and he was revealed to be Joker all along.
2. There Was Another Black Mask
While Jeremiah Arkham may have seemed quite at home among Black Mask when the Court of Owls attacked, there is a good reason for that. Arkham himself had once taken on the persona of Black Mask himself.
After being a bit of a nothing character, Batman: Life After Death gave the Asylum’s head something more dramatic to sink his psychological skills into. With Batman presumed dead and Dick Grayson parading around under the cowl, a second Black Mask appeared. Arkham was the least-likely culprit, especially when Black Mask blew up his precious Asylum, but where Roman (normally) managed to keep control of his life behind the mask, Arkham found himself gripped by schizophrenia – apparently madness runs in the family.
Whereas Sionis would one day get his mind-control powers, Arkham Mask resorted to planting explosive chips inside his inmates to ensure co-operation and grow his criminal empire – how very Suicide Squad. Grayson managed to deduce Black Mask’s latest identity and incarcerated Arkham in his own asylum. Flashpoint obviously altered all this and removed the story from existence, however, for some, Jeremiah Arkham is arguably a more interesting iteration of the character.
1. He Could’ve Been Voiced By James Earl Jones
While everyone may currently be fan-casting who could play Sionis if he appears in Sirens, let’s not forget the amazing voice talent that has already brought him to our screens across the various animated incarnations. Black Mask have been late to the game, but has appeared in four titles under four men, including Remar, voiceover artists John DiMaggio and Steven Blum, as well as Prison Break’s Wade Williams. However, can you imagine a world where Darth Vader put on a different Black Mask? That’s right, we nearly had Mufasa behind the mask in the late ‘90s.
Black Mask did appear in the DCAU tie-in comic Batman Adventures Vol. 2, however, he was suspiciously absent from the beloved Batman The Animated Series. Paul Dini, legendary Batman character creator and one of the men behind The Animated Series, had originally tipped Sionis to appear in The New Batman Adventures and had James Earl Jones in mind to play the masked mobster.
The cartoon was a direct continuation of The Animated Series, but saw Batman’s ranks bolstered by the likes of Nightwing, Jason Todd, and Batgirl. Following a run of 85 episodes in The Animated Series, New Batman could at times be accused of running out of characters, so missing out on Black Mask seems like a big mistake. It is hard now to imagine anyone other than Earl Jones voicing the part, so take note, Warner Bros.
Would you like to see Black Mask face-off against the Sirens? Sound off in the comments below!