Birds Of Prey has supposedly nailed down its villain, and rumor has it that the DC adventure will put Ewan McGregor in the shoes of iconic Batman rogue Black Mask. We don't blame anyone scratching their heads. After all, it's hard to keep tabs on every Batman villain with so many re-imaginings of the Joker happening. For those that are a bit out of the loop on what this villain is all about, here are some important details.
While there are some inconsistencies between different iterations of Black Mask in the comics, his role as a powerful crime lord is often the same. We wouldn't say he's a level above guys like The Joker or Penguin, but he's definitely one typically considered a colleague when those rogues get together. He's a bit less for theatrics compared to the typical Batman villain, and more in line with mob boss types.
Black Mask is so good at the mob game that he once found himself in control of all the gangs in Gotham City. Suffice it to say that takes a special kind of person, and shows Black Mask is a guy who's not only well connected, but someone capable of big things. If Black Mask is featured in Birds of Prey, it will be surprising if it's in a role that doesn't place him as one of Gotham's big crime figures.
In the original introduction of Black Mask, Roman Sionis' mask was symbolic. Sionis was born to parents who were incredibly wealthy, but self-absorbed and generally shitty people. For example, the couple covered up an incident where he was dropped on his head after birth, as well as an incident where he was attacked by a rabid raccoon in his yard. Their reason? They didn't want the incidents embarrassing them and making them look bad.
Roman Sionis grew to hate his parents and especially disliked how they were so concerned over their social standing that they put it above many things in life. In short, they wore "masks" to hide their true selves in public, which is why he wears a mask. By the way, Sionis murdered his parents and ended up using his father's shattered casket (which he destroyed) to create the mask he wears.
Other incarnations of Black Mask have made his headgear a bit more useful and grant him a unique ability. The mask has hypnotic properties and allows the villain to assume direct control over henchmen that are also wearing a special mask. That's a particularly useful trait to have when trying to organize a plan, as one wouldn't have to worry about getting everyone on the same page if he's already in their heads.
Beyond the mask he wears, Black Mask has also been known to utilize masks to kill his enemies. He does this by placing masks filled with toxins over their faces, which cause the victim's face to shrivel and turn black. Killing is one thing, but the added desecration is the type of calling card of a villain who truly has a screw loose.
All Batman villains can be pretty cruel, but Black Mask is a pretty brutal individual. One doesn't gain control of the Gotham City crime families by being gentle, of course, but we're sure some of his methods of torture have even made some lesser Batman rogues cringe in private. No one knows that better than Catwoman, who had her life turned upside down by Black Mask when she interfered in his drug-trafficking operation.
Roman Sionis soon made a point to find out Catwoman's real identity, and when he did, he kidnapped her sister and brother-in-law. Black Mask then tortured her brother-in-law to death with power tools and forced her sister to eat bits of his remains. That's pretty insane, although par for the course for a villain who's set to headline the R-rated Birds of Prey. Just knowing a scene like that could happen in an upcoming superhero film gives us chills.
Justice League had a couple Batman references sprinkled throughout, and one of them indirectly mentioned Black Mask. For those that missed it, a sign with the name "Janus" on it was seen when Batman was battling one of Steppenwolf's Parademons. The sign now appears to be a reference to Janus Cosmetics, which was the company the Sionis family owned and gained their wealth from.
If this is indeed the case, it will confirm that at least part of Roman Sionis' origin story will be intact. In the comics, Roman eventually took control of Janus, but drove the company under after a bad bet on a line of face paint. Desperate to turn things around, Roman ordered a bunch of untested products were rushed to market. The decision led hundreds of disfigured women, and his childhood friend Bruce Wayne offering to buy him out of the disaster.
The False Face Society is the defacto group that surrounds Black Mask and his operations. They're not unlike the minions of most major Batman villains, except their uniforms consist of the multitude of different masks Roman Sionis owned. Sionis banded these low-level thugs together, and they soon began to sweep through Gotham with increasingly high-profile crimes as they went.
The most interesting part about The False Face Society is that each member wore a distinctive mask. We're obviously not sure if Birds of Prey will incorporate the same thing for its possible numerous henchman extras, but doing so would be a bit of flair that livens up the typical henchman look most superhero films have. Plus, different elaborate masks always open the door for pop culture references and easter eggs, so it would be cool if this was incorporated.
Some Batman villains are pretty deadly, but once they're separated from their legions of goons, they're relatively harmless. This isn't the case with Black Mask, as breaking through his crew only leads to a fight that could give heroes a run for their money. Black Mask has an impressively high tolerance for pain and is skilled enough in hand-to-hand combat to hold his own against even the likes of Batman.
Black Mask's also pretty good with guns and is known to carry two automatic pistols, but he is proficient with many types of weapons. When the going gets tough, he's more than capable of escaping, and is a noted escape artist and impersonator when the situation calls for it. Basically, Black Mask's going to be a tough customer, and it's probably going to take all of the Birds of Prey to bring him down.