Sunday, January 5, 2014

We all Wear Masks

There has been far more interest and emphasis put on Batman villains as gang leaders and organized criminals than as petty criminals and thieves with silly motives.  A need to make the villains believable and grounded in realistic crime grows from the Christopher Nolan films, and also the comic arcs written by Jeph Loeb, Grant Morrison, and of course Frank Miller.  Two Face and the Penguin have been reimagined as mob bosses, and The Black Mask has become a better, more compelling villain because of this refocus.  

The Black Mask was a villain recently resurrected from obscurity and pushed to the top tier of Batman adversaries.  Filling the need for interesting gang leader/mafioso type characters, Black Mask bridges the gap between ordinary organized crime characters like the Falcones, and the more colorful deranged crazies like the Joker and Scarecrow.

Roman Sionis first appeared in Batman #386 in 1985.  Created by Doug Moench and Tom Mandrake, Roman Sionis appears to be similar to a few other Bruce Wayne foils.  Sionis is another wealthy kid inheriting his family's fortune after their premature death, very similar to Tommy Elliot and Prometheus.  He inherited his family's company, Janus Cosmetics.  However, Sionis mismanages the estate, and after a catastrophic mistake with a new cosmetic line (much like the Joker's plot in Tim Burton's film), plunges the company into bankruptcy.  Janus is then bought out by Wayne Enterprises.  Sionis goes mad afterward, forms an alternate persona, the Black Mask, and creates a new criminal organization, the False Face Society.  However, he and his organization were defeated by Batman and Robin (Jason Todd).  The Black Mask would then be a regular in Arkham Asylum.

The Black Mask was resurrected for the War Games arc in 2004.  During an organized crime power vacuum, Roman Sionis is able to take control of Gotham's underworld and is portrayed as a ruthless, cunning, and murderous psychopath.  But instead of being randomly murderous for the fun of it, like the Joker, Black Mask's agenda is to be the supreme head of crime in all of Gotham.  He could possibly be the first crazy Batman villain with business sense.

This would lead to the character making a comeback in television and video games as more of a hard nosed mafia-type kingpin, most recognizable from The Batman cartoon show, and the Arkham Asylum video game franchise.  In Arkham City and Arkham Origins, the Roman Sionis identity is tweaked to add a steel company to his legacy and resume, as well as recreating Janus Cosmetics as a chemical/pharmaceutical company.

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