Monday, February 23, 2009

Back in Black, Part 1

Battle for the Cowl hits on March 11, and I'm looking forward to it. I love events like this, especially when they involve the Batman universe. There's such a huge variety when you consider Gotham City, the Bat Family, and Batman's Rogues. There really isn't anything else quite like it in comics.

Everybody is going to be in it. The solicitations have told us so. They also say that Battle for the Cowl will feature the return of a villain thought dead. This preview shows us who:

Black Mask is back.

I don't know how or why he's coming back. And though it's not clear that this is the original, there's no sign that it's not.

For a long time Black Mask was a bit of an also ran among Bat-villains. That all started to change a few years ago when he showed up in Catwoman with a new look and a new modus operandi. He murdered Selina Kyle's brother-in-law and tortured her sister into insanity.

Selina let Black Mask slip off a roof, and he didn't show up again until War Games. He burst out of nowhere, and in the process he seized control of Gotham's underworld and murdered a Robin. That's a pretty exclusive club.

To be fair, Stephanie Brown didn't stay dead. But then, neither did Jason Todd. Black Mask continued to be a thorn in Batman's side as Gotham's sole crime boss until Catwoman decided to put an end to his reign of terror. She shot him in the head.

That seemed to be the end of the story. And maybe it was. Maybe this Black Mask is not Roman Sionis. But I wouldn't bet on it. The really nasty villains never stay dead.

Almost everyone who has read Batman comics in the past few years knows who Black Mask was and how he met his end. But how many people know his origin? After all, Black Mask as a character is over twenty years old. So let us travel back to 1985 and Batman #386, the first of the three part story introducing Black Mask.

Woo boy. That's quite a legacy to live up to. Is Black Mask truly "crazier than the Joker" and "deadlier than Ra's al Ghul"? Decide for yourself!

The story of Roman Sionis begins at his birth. Mere moments after coming into the world, little Roman gets dropped on the floor.

Yes, Black Mask's sinister origin begins with his being dropped on his head. Surely things can only get better? Right? After all, Roman Sionis is not just any child. He is the son of Gotham nobility, heir to the valuable Janus Cosmetics makeup firm.

As he grows up in Gotham high society Roman learns about masks. The masks his parents wear when they try to impress influential people they hate. People like Thomas and Martha Wayne. Indeed, Roman is forced to wear a mask of his own when his parents make him be friends with the Waynes' son, Bruce.

Time passes, and Roman Sionis takes a trip to the country with his parents. There, he has a fateful encounter with... A raccoon.

But like all of young Roman's relationships, this one is doomed to end poorly. The raccoon is rabid... And it bites him. Then he goes nuts.

Wow. That's quite a hallucination. Roman is rescued, but that isn't the end of the story. Just like when he was dropped as a baby, they say that the encounter has changed Roman Sionis.

The years go on and eventually Roman's father brings him into the family business. Nepotism works wonders for one's career, and soon Roman rises through the ranks of the company to a position of power. Then he meets a woman.

Her modeling name is "Circe" and Roman Sionis falls under her spell. His parents do not approve of the relationship and demand that Roman break it off. He dutifully does so. Then he burns them alive.

Roman begins to waste his fortune. He wastes it on many things, but mostly on masks:

Roman Sionis then bets everything on a new line of face-paint. It fails miserably, and Janus Cosmetics is headed towards bankruptcy. Desperate to save the company, Roman rushes a line of waterproof makeup to stores without proper testing. It disfigures hundreds of women. Circe leaves Roman and Janus Cosmetics is ruined.

But at the last minute, Roman Sionis' company receives a reprieve from an unexpected quarter: the Wayne Foundation.

It is the ultimate humiliation for Roman Sionis. He loses everything and is saved by someone he has always despised. But more than Bruce Wayne, Roman Sionis has come to despise Roman Sionis. An identity that he hates more than anything. Filled with hatred towards his parents and himself, Roman Sionis goes to his family's crypt.

The crypt is thrown open and Roman Sionis enters into the blackness. There, he surrenders to his rage...

And finally snaps. From the broken lid of the coffin he carves an ebony mask. Then Roman Sionis vanishes. His home is found empty. Nothing is missing but cash, a gun, and... Masks.

The scene changes, returning to that lonely graveyard. There a pair of street toughs approach the Sionis family crypt. They've heard that there is money to be made by those willing to pay another price. They enter into the dark crypt and come face to face with... Black Mask.

Roman Sionis, like his mother's corpse, is gone. The only one remaining is Black Mask.

A few days later a man is discovered murdered. The murdered man was the new chairman of Janus Cosmetics and a member of the Wayne Foundation. He was murdered by poison makeup... In a mask.

Thus ends part one of Black Mask's origin! The story continues tomorrow with Detective Comics #553 and "The False Face Society of Gotham!"

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At 12:28 AM, Blogger Maverick said...

"Introducing a villain for the '80s! Black Mask!"

He represents the comic books of the '80s. Poor guy.

He needs that moniker like he needs a bullet to the head.

Word verification: priti ('nuff said)

At 9:34 AM, Blogger Diamondrock said...

"He needs that moniker like he needs a bullet to the head."

Unfortunately for him, he ended up with both.

(Word verification: "unduckes")

At 4:12 PM, Blogger Sea_of_Green said...

Wow, I completely missed this Batman bad guy. Thanks for the history update, Diamondrock!

At 5:04 PM, Blogger Diamondrock said...

Glad to be of help, but I'm not finished yet. It's a three part story, so y'all have to suffer through two more nights of this! :-P


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