Who Is Black Mask? Birds of Prey Villain Explained

Birds of Prey Ewan McGregor and Black Mask

Who is Black Mask and why is he the chief villain of the upcoming Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)? This is a question many casual fans are asking, because while Black Mask is one of the most infamous of Batman's foes, he is largely unknown outside the realms of comic books and video games.

A relatively recent addition to Batman's rogues' gallery, Black Mask quickly became one of the most powerful crime lords in Gotham City. A master of disguise and subterfuge, Black Mask is also a skilled marksman and physical combatant, who can hold his own in a one-on-one fight with Batman. He recently became more dangerous following the New 52 revamp of the DC Universe, now having the power to hypnotize anyone forced to wear one of his specially prepared masks.

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With Birds of Prey arriving in theaters in less than a year and Ewan McGregor bringing the classic villain to life, moviegoers will soon get their chance to see why Black Mask deserves a place of dishonor alongside The Joker, The Riddler and Two-Face. But what secrets are hidden behind that ebony visage? And why was this villain chosen to stand against the Birds of Prey?

Black Mask Is Normally A Batman Villain

Black Mask Fighting Batman

First appearing in Batman #386, Black Mask was clearly created to be a Batman villain. What better enemy for a masked crime-fighter dependent on concealing his identity and striking fear into his enemies than a masked criminal who does the same thing?  Yet despite being one of Batman's most popular enemies in the comics, Black Mask was virtually unknown outside of them until fairly recently. Black Mask appeared in the Batman: Bad Blood animated movie, and is also known to fans of the Arkham game series, where he was the primary enemy of the prequel game, Batman: Arkham Origins.

Within the past decade, Black Mask has become something of an arch-enemy to Jason Todd - the second Robin, who doles out a more lethal form of justice than his mentor as the Red Hood. Black Mask was the chief villain of Under The Hood, the storyline which established Jason Todd in his new vigilante identity and was later adapted into the animated film Batman: Under The Red Hood. Most recently, Black Mask was the central antagonist of the comic book series Red Hood and the Outlaws.

While he may have been created to contend with Batman and adopted as a nemesis by Red Hood, Black Mask has hardly restricted himself to fighting those two heroes. For over three decades, Black Mask has faced virtually every street-level superhero based in Gotham City and fought more than a few of his fellow costumed criminals over territory. As such, it is not much of a stretch to pit him against the Birds of Prey, who have also traditionally operated out of Gotham City.

Related: Here's How Margot Robbie's Birds Of Prey Movie Changes The DCEU

Black Mask's Origin In DC Comics

lack Mask Origin Story From Batman #386

Many of Batman's most memorable villains were created to be a dark mirror of some aspect of Batman's character. Such is the case with Black Mask, who was born of similar circumstances as Bruce Wayne, but went down a much darker path. Born Roman Sionis, the man who would become Black Mask was the scion of an old money family, who made their fortune in cosmetics and walked in the same social circles as Thomas and Martha Wayne. Whereas young Bruce loved his parents unconditionally, Roman hated his, disliking the phony facade they put on pretending to be nice to other rich families. So great was their obsession with keeping up appearances that they refused to sue the doctor who dropped Roman on his head while he was being delivered, unwilling to have their names connected to a "common lawsuit."

This began Roman's obsession with masks - both physical masks and the false faces of civility and respectability people put on to hide their true natures. Roman would later kill his parents, in what was written off as an accidental fire, after they tried to separate him from the one person he ever truly loved - a model named Circe, who they saw as being far too low-class for their son. Roman would go on to make Circe the new face of Janus Cosmetics and was truly happy for a time.

Unfortunately, Roman was a poor businessman and his decision to push a new line of face-paint themed makeup drove off most of his customers. The rest abandoned the company after he released a new line of waterproof makeup without proper testing, resulting in hundreds of lawsuits filed by permanently disfigured patrons. Disgraced, dumped by Circe and relatively destitute after Wayne Enterprises bought out his company, an enraged Roman went to the Sionis family mausoleum and was knocked off his feet by a lightning blast, mirroring the accident of his birth as he hit his head on a large rock. Convinced he had been reborn, the crazed Roman went into his parent's tomb, and smashed a piece of ebony wood off of his father's casket using the rock.

Roman Sionis would disappear mysteriously that night, taking only several thousand dollars, his mask collection and what remained of the faulty waterproof makeup with him. Several weeks later, a new gang called the False Face Society began to plague Gotham City, with all of their membership wearing distinctive masks and saying that all they knew of their leader was that he wore a black wooden mask. For all intents and purposes, Roman Sionis was dead and Black Mask had been reborn in his place.

Page 2: Black Mask's Role in Birds of Prey

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Key Release Dates
  • Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
  • Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) release date: Feb 07, 2020
  • Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
  • DC Super Pets (2022) release date: May 20, 2022
  • The Batman (2021) release date: Jun 25, 2021
  • The Suicide Squad (2021) release date: Aug 06, 2021
  • Aquaman 2 (2022) release date: Dec 16, 2022
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