Black Mask finally made his live-action movie debut. Unfortunately, that debut came under the financial bomb known as Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). In the film, there was a slight change to his character where he’s a misogynistic jerk, with psychopathic and homicidal tendencies. Oh, and he’s also a power-hungry, narcissist. Basically, if you want to craft a supervillain, then the Birds of Prey version has nearly every deplorable villain trait possible. There’s nothing particularly wrong with changing up a character because sometimes what is written on a page doesn’t always work on screen.
The problem with Roman Sionis is that all the layers created for his character are bad. Sure, he’s nice to some of the crew, but there’s really not much of a layered human being in this Birds of Prey feature. Black Mask just feels like a caricature of what a bad guy is to suit the agenda of men are evil pricks. I’m not to go on the wrong men vs. women angle here, but it’s clear that the filmmakers had a certain theme in mind that didn’t benefit a man who should be a huge deal in the world of DC. In truth, Black Mask is mainly a gangster type character so he doesn’t really stand out as someone truly unique or special in a world filled with a woman who can control plants (Poison Ivy) or an ultra-powerful alien who’s has convinced the world that he different than his persona (Superman). Still, that doesn’t mean he isn’t compelling, and there’s a lot of fun that could be had in exploring the world of Roman Sionis that could really benefit the entire DC universe. Or at least the Gotham universe.
The live-action Batman films have never really dealt with crime lords. Sure, Carmine Falcone is in The Batman, but he’s not the primary villain. We get enough to understand who Falcone is, but the film doesn’t add incredible depths on the levels of Joker or Riddler. The origins of Black Mask himself are interesting enough. First created by Doug Moench and Tom Mandrake, the character made his debut in Batman #386 and the wrinkle of this ruthless murderer is that he was born into the world with parents who didn’t care too much about him. At least in the original version of the comics. A sympathetic villain is nothing new in movies in general. Heck, Todd Philips managed to fit Joker into this stereotype. However, Black Mask doesn’t have to be a sympathetic villain. A young boy would grow up in a cold and selfish world learns that being cruel is the best way to survive.
Perhaps his journey starts out in Arkham Asylum? A broken young man who’s been destroyed by society. One who wants to succeed on his own terms despite the setbacks that have stood in his way. An anti-hero to villain journey that ends with him becoming the powerful crime lord that he is today. Intimate stories documenting the villains really help showcase the struggle living in Gotham, and it’s often better to go bad then trying to be the hero that saves the day. There’s an incredible number of themes and ideas that can really be implemented into what could on paper seem like an ordinary character. Focus on the man that eventually becomes the monster. Getting to the root of the corruption known as Gotham and fueling the fire that makes it understandable why the world needs Batman more than ever. The benefits of Warner Brothers no longer trying to tie the DCEU together allow for more opportunities for colorful and imaginative stories to be told. Maybe Black Mask ends up killing the first man attempting to be a superhero? Or even a secondary character like Robin or Catwoman? Black Mask could be the Goodfellas of superheroes films. Document his criminal escapades as the dark knight tries to take down the popular foe.
That’s what makes the DC world so great. There’s so many fascinating layers and characters that its stunning how little the universe has been explored altogether. At least when it comes to the live-action movies. The Black Mask in Birds of Prey wasn’t all that bad, but there’s more meat on the character. With the massive success of Joker, hopefully DC will open the books to diving into more origin stories involving villains. Black Mask definitely deserves his moment to shine, even if it’s not a part of overall Batman lore from Matt Reeves.