“Now that I’ve cut ties with Mr. J, I’m about to learn that a lot of people want me dead. And on the top of that list is this guy,” says Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) as the trailer for Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) cuts to Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), a gangster in a swanky suit. But there's a lot to unpack with this character. Who exactly is Roman, why does he wear a black mask, and is he actually the same as DC comics' villain Black Mask?
Who Is Black Mask, Aka Roman Sionis?
DC Comics has described Black Mask (yup, also known as Roman Sionis) as “the REAL king of crime in Gotham.” But in order to get to know Black Mask, you need to know a little bit about Roman Sionis first.
Roman was born to a super affluent family that owned Janus Cosmetics Corporation. Like most villains, he had a rocky relationship with his parents, who, according to Batman Wiki, were selfish socialites. They neglected Roman from the day he was born, barely noticing when the nurse dropped him on his head soon after his mother gave birth to him. The family ran in the same social circle as the Waynes, even though they despised them. Roman obviously hated Bruce, who was loved and nurtured by his own mom and dad.
Roman’s parents died in a fire, which the comics allude to being orchestrated by none other than their son. After their death, Roman inherited Janus Cosmetics, which Wayne Industries acquired after it was determined Roman was running it so poorly, that it would soon go out of business if it wasn’t handed over to new management. This obviously infuriated Roman, turning his dislike of Bruce into violent hatred. He started killing Wayne employees in disguise — he somehow got ahold of his dad’s coffin and carved and created a mask from the material. In the comics, the coffin mask becomes adhered to Roman’s skin, making it a permanent fixture and part of his look.
What Happens To Black Mask In The Comics?
Gaining power and respect from other Gotham criminals, Roman recruits them to do his bidding. His pack is called the False Facers, who all wear masks. However, Batman is successful in defeating the False Facers, one by one, which weakens Black Mask. According to the Batman wiki, it’s Joker who ends up rising to power and taking over the False Facers. In the earlier comics, Black Mask is eventually killed by Catwoman.
But in different versions of the comics, there are different versions of Black Mask. One version overtakes some of Gotham’s most notorious baddies like Poison Ivy, Two-Face, and Penguin, and destroys the Arkham Asylum (Gotham’s hospital for the criminally insane) and ascends as the city’s most dangerous crime lord. He cultivates a new team, comprised of villains like Doctor Death, Hugo Strange, Fright, and The Reaper. The False Facers come back and serve as henchmen. Black Mask even has pull with corrupt Gotham cops, who turn a blind eye to his murdering and such. He also has control over key Gotham government figures (like judges and councilmen) and Blackgate Prison guards and admin, all of which give Black Mask real control over Gotham. This Black Mask isn’t Roman Sionis, but rather the old admin of Arkham Asylum, Jeremiah Arkham. Batman eventually destroys him.
Do Black Mask & Harley Quinn Face Off In The Comics?
Harley Quinn and Black Mask have no real relationship in the DC comics, but Birds of Prey changes that, and it really makes for a fun dynamic.
So, Black Mask and Joker run in the same circles, but they’re not exactly buddies. Black Mask seems to keep away from Joker in the comics, but this changes when Joker’s gone in Birds of Prey, and their relationship is loosely addressed. Speaking with GameSpot, McGregor says Black Mask tolerated Harley only because she and Joker were dating. “So that was the only reason he ever put up with her because [Joker] was all-powerful. But as soon as [Roman] realizes that Harley’s man is out of the picture, she becomes a problem,” McGregor said.
What Are Black Mask's Powers & Abilities?
In certain comic versions, Black Mask knows how to fight and is even described as being as agile and strong as Catwoman, Robin, and sometimes even Batman. He’s fast and has quick reflexes, so he’s not so easy to take down. But above all, he’s known for his psychological war games. He’s a top- notch criminal strategist, according to Batman Wiki, and knows how to extract information out of people by messing with their minds, but he’s also not above physically torturing his victims as you see in Birds of Prey. He also has great aim and can disguise himself as whomever he pleases.
In Birds of Prey, Roman’s cunning ability to manipulate and toy with others as well as his power over Gotham is emphasized more so than his physical strength. His need for control is at the epicenter of what makes him so dangerous. "And then Harley comes into this world and she’s uncontrollable. It drives him mad. He hates it,” McGregor explained to GameSpot.
Harley, with the help of her newly-found girl gang — Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) — will prove themselves to be the straw that breaks the Black Mask's back — no matter how slick he is.