Black Mask, a.k.a. Roman Sionis, is a fictional character in the DC Comics universe. A foe of Batman, he first appeared in Batman #386 (August 1985). Black Mask was created by Doug Moench and Tom Mandrake.
Black Mask's origin story was established in his first appearance. Roman Sionis was born into one of Gotham City’s elite families, to wealthy and utterly self-absorbed parents, caring more about their social status than their son; moments after his birth, the doctor carelessly dropped him on his head. Roman's parents were less concerned about their son's well-being and more concerned about covering up the entire incident out of fear of how their wealthy friends would react to the news of their son's injury. A second incident occurred when he was a child. While at the Sionis family country estate he was attacked by a rabid raccoon. This incident was also covered up by the Sionis family, who forbid Roman to mention it to anyone.
Further adding to the cauldron was his father's "friendship" with Thomas Wayne; both of Roman's parents disliked the Waynes and were quite vocal about it in private with their son. However, to their son's dismay, they continued to associate with Thomas and Martha Wayne and pretended to be friends with the couple, to the extent of literally forcing him to become friends with their son, Bruce. His parents' hypocrisy had a deep impact on him, and he grew to hate and resent them and the "masks" they wore in public.
After his high school graduation, Sionis was given a high ranking position inside his father's company, Janus Cosmetics. There, he met and fell in love with Circe, a working class secretary. His parents didn't approve of the relationship and made it clear that they wanted it ended. Enraged, Roman burned down the family's mansion, killing both of his parents. Upon their deaths, he inherited the family fortune and business. Roman wasn't the businessman his father was, however, and eventually ruined Janus Cosmetics by funding a line of face-paint make-up which failed. In desperation, he threw large sums of money at the staff chemists to create a product to save the company, and what came back to him was a kind of water-proof makeup. The product was rushed to market without proper testing, and once it hit the market turned out to be a deadly toxin which disfigured several hundred women.
Circe, now Sionis' fiancée, broke up with him in front of his entire staff. At that time, now successful mogul Bruce Wayne offered to bail out the company on the condition that Sionis give up control and allow Wayne to appoint his own Board of Directors. Sionis agreed, but was furious at the humiliation he had suffered. He went to the family mausoleum and broke his mother's ebony coffin lid. From a piece of this, Sionis carved a mask, becoming 'Black Mask'.
Sionis found he had an amazing aptitude for crime, and he soon had a large gang working for him. Calling them the False Face Society, the one requirement was that all members must select a mask from his collection and wear it at all times when on the job and in his presence. They were successfully gaining power in the Gotham underworld, until Black Mask decided it was time to take his revenge on Bruce Wayne. He began kidnapping Wayne Enterprises executives, putting masks on their faces that were coated in the deadly make-up once made by Janus Cosmetics. He also targeted Circe and forcibly disfigured her with the chemicals in order to force her to reunite with him. Circe would ultimately kill herself, leading Black Mask to replace her with a mannequin that he talked to as if it were a real person.
These kidnappings drew Batman's attention, and he began hunting down the False Facers. He slowly began to dismantle the organization until he finally found Black Mask in the ruins of the Sionis Family home. Black Mask lit the wreckage on fire trying to escape, but was caught in the burning house. Batman was able to save him, but the mask had been burned onto his face and left him disfigured.
Black Mask spent some time in Arkham Asylum, but escaped when Bane assaulted the facility in Knightfall and subsequently restarted the False Facers. He took on a new second-in-command, Tattoo (whose face was covered in a tattoo mask pattern), and he began burning down Wayne properties. This time he also kidnapped Lucius Fox, CEO of Waynetech and friend of Bruce Wayne. Batman infiltrated the gang and was able to save Fox from Black Mask's torture, and even brought in Tattoo, but Black Mask escaped.
Sionis discarded the ebony mask, believing his scars to be a sign of his strength and determination to survive. By now completely insane, he led a cult whose trademark was ritual scarring, killing anyone who refused to join. He led a powerful group until Batman and Huntress dissolved it. Sionis was imprisoned in Blackgate Penitentiary, but he managed to escape before the city was made a part of the country again.
In Catwoman #16, Black Mask began a drug trafficking ring and decided to move his organization into Gotham's East End, drawing the attention of Catwoman, who had sworn to protect that area of the city.
Catwoman interfered in Black Mask's plans, stealing money from him and giving it to the poor, and injuring many of his men. Black Mask decided he wanted to remove the problem, and so found an old friend of Selina Kyle's, Sylvia Sinclair, who was working in the Gotham mobs. She revealed Catwoman's secret identity to him, and he began a campaign of terror against her. He blew up the new youth center she had endowed with the stolen money, hounded her, and kidnapped her sister and brother-in-law. Black Mask tortured Catwoman's brother-in-law brutally in front of her sister, and then made the woman eat pieces of her husband's corpse.
Catwoman arrived to find her brother-in-law dead, her sister insane, and her friend Holly on the verge of being tortured. She attacked Black Mask, and the two of them fought across his penthouse. At the end of the battle, Black Mask fell from the top of the building, leaving everyone to assume he was dead.
In War Games Act Three, Spoiler sought Orpheus, believing that if she could enlist his help there might still be a chance to bring the plan to some sort of successful conclusion. As she finished telling Orpheus his role in the plan, Black Mask murdered him by slitting his throat in front of Spoiler. He then tortured Spoiler for the rest of information on the plan.
Black Mask assumed Orpheus' identity, using face putty and padding, (as seen in 'Batman: War Games, Act 2') fooling even Batman and Onyx. As Orpheus he fanned the flames of the crisis, driving Gotham's criminal element into a bloodthirsty, destructive mob seeking to kill any member or associate of the Batman Family. He then returned to torture Spoiler for his own enjoyment only to find that she had escaped. Black Mask soon tracked her down again and they fought. Spoiler managed to overcome Black Mask and get away, but was left with severe internal injuries.
Black Mask then infiltrated Oracle's Clocktower in an attempt to expose her to the criminal mob. Batman attacked him in a blind rage and Oracle, fearful for Batman's life, was forced to activate a self-destruct device in the tower to get Batman to save her.
In the end, the Spoiler supposedly died due to the injuries inflicted on her and the willful negligence of Leslie Thompkins (although a recent retcon establishes that Stephanie's death had been faked).
Black Mask then rose to become the overlord of the Gotham underworld.
Allied with reporter Arturo Rodriguez, Black Mask began a campaign to discredit Batman. While Rodriguez slammed Batman in the press, Black Mask committed a series of murders disguised as Batman. This plan was complicated by the arrival of the Joker. Black Mask was intent on killing the Clown Prince of Crime and framing Batman for it, but the Joker wanted to kill Black Mask, because he robbed him of the opportunity to kill another Robin. The two nearly killed each other before Batman intervened. Batman eventually exposed Rodriguez and finally managed to capture Black Mask. However, while being taken to jail, he managed to kill the escorting officer and escape again.
The assassin Deathstroke later approached Black Mask offering him a place within The Society. Eager to strengthen his increasingly tenuous grip on the underworld (Batman and the new Red Hood had both been targeting his operations), he accepted, and Captain Nazi, one of the Hyenas, and Count Vertigo were sent after Batman and Red Hood. However, these villains were defeated, and Batman ultimately prevented the Society from securing a foothold in Gotham.
In an attempt to "improve himself" after this debacle, Black Mask threatened the most important people in Catwoman's life, from Slam Bradley to Holly Robinson. Still thinking that she adhered to a strict no-kill rule, Black Mask was caught by surprise when Catwoman retaliated by shooting him in the head, killing him.
After the shooting, Selina Kyle passed the mantle of Catwoman to her friend Holly. Not long after, Holly was arrested for Black Mask's murder.
Additionally, this version was in the employ of the Red Hood. In the arc, most of his men are captured and thrown in jail, O'Brian leaves, and Black Mask himself is captured by Batman. Following his capture, Red Hood has the Phantasm replace Black Mask.
The animated version of Black Mask has also appeared in the spinoff comic series The Batman Strikes!, where he extorts Bruce Wayne into making a deal with him, and attempts to take over crime in Gotham City by ridding it from other villains.
This version of Black Mask is a powerful crime boss with a right-hand man, Number One, and a vast organization of henchmen with high-tech weapons. He steals a powerful shockwave generator, and holds Gotham City hostage. To convince the city — and specifically, Commissioner James Gordon, who is dealing with his demands — he is not bluffing, he arranges a demonstration of the powerful device, which ends up destroying several blocks from its activating point. While dealing with Gordon, he battles Batman, is defeated, and taken to Gotham City Police Department headquarters for questioning by Gordon. However, Number One and the henchmen try to break him out of jail, first by filling Gotham PD with sleep gas, from which Black Mask escapes unaffected thanks to his mask, and when Batgirl and Robin knock Black Mask unconscious, lock him in a cell and seal the precinct from Black Mask's army's siege, they start entering by the elevator shafts and destroy the blast doors sealing the PD.
Number One and the henchmen surrounded the police building, and eventually broke Black Mask free. However, the furious crime boss shocks Number One with his own shock gun, promotes a random soldier to be the new Number One, and gets on a helicopter, ready to activate the generator, and destroy Gotham, However, Robin and Batgirl battled him, while Batman deactivated his device. At the end, he was once again arrested.
Black Mask later reappears as one of the many villains captured by the extreme vigilante Rumor. At the end, he was freed only to be brought to justice.
In "The Batman/Superman Story, Part One", Black Mask works for Lex Luthor; he and his henchmen kidnap Lois Lane, and assembles a team of villains (Bane, Mr. Freeze, and the second Clayface) to lure Superman into a trap and kill him. He was foiled by the Man of Steel, along with Batman and Robin, and Lois Lane was rescued. Finally, in "What Goes Up...", Black Mask employs Shadow Thief in order to break out of Arkham Asylum and steal a rare Nth element meteor in order to use the Nth element to easily rob a gem depository. He also employed a new Number One, whom he later killed and replaced with a woman. His plan was stopped by Batman and Robin, with the help of Hawkman.
This incarnation of Black Mask differs in the fact that though he wears a mask made of some black material over his face, it is unremovable. He has no noticeable fingerprints or any other distinguishing features either, so it is impossible to identify him.