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Black Mask: The Secret Horror Behind the Birds of Prey Movie Villain

With the future of the DC Extended Universe continuing in February's Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), the titular superhero team will be facing Ewan McGregor's Black Mask as the film's primary antagonist. A powerful mob boss in Gotham City's criminal underworld, Black Mask originated as a Batman-centric villain before growing to become a threat for all the major superheroes operating out of the DC Universe city, including Catwoman and the Red Hood.

Created in 1985's Batman #386 by Doug Moench and Tom Mandrake, Roman Sionis was a wealthy socialite and businessman in Gotham who was raised alongside Bruce Wayne, as their parents were mutual acquaintances, though the Sionis family secretly despised the more successful Wayne family. His parents' obsession with maintaining a false front to improve their social standing led to Roman resenting them, comparing them to masks.

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As Roman was poised to take over the family business Janus Cosmetics, his parents disapproved of his relationship with a model due to her being from a working class background and threatened to cut off all financial support. In response, Roman set the family estate on fire, killing both his parents, leading to him taking over Janus Cosmetics. Lacking his father's business acumen, Roman quickly brought the company to financial ruin and, in a desperate attempt to save the company, manufactured a facial cream without clinical trials. After several hundred women were permanently disfigured by the product and Janus Cosmetics was publicly disgraced and bankrupted, an offer by Bruce Wayne to buyout Janus drove Roman even further over the edge.

While vandalizing his parents' tombs, Roman smashed his father's ebony casket and fashioned a skull-like mask for himself from the fragments. Dubbing himself Black Mask, Roman gathered an ensemble of criminals and founded the False Face Society based out of the Sionis family crypt, with each member wearing their own distinct mask as they carried out crimes across the city.

Black Mask initially targeted those who he felt wronged him, murdering three Wayne Enterprises executives related to the acquisition of Janus Cosmetics and disfiguring his fiancee who had left him after the scandal with the last batch of faulty facial cream. After Bruce correctly deduces Black Mask's identity and that he is his next target, Batman and Robin (Jason Todd), attack the False Face compound on the Sionis estate, resulting in another fire and the mask becoming permanently fused to Roman's head in the flames before his arrest and incarceration in Arkham Asylum.

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Following his inevitable escape from Arkham, Black Mask quickly established himself as one of the most powerful crime lords in Gotham, creating a new False Face Society and moving into the city's East End. His drug trafficking operation was targeted by Catwoman, with the vigilante disrupting his illicit activities and re-distributing his ill-gotten gains to those in need. In revenge, Black Mask learned Catwoman's civilian identity as Selina Kyle and destroyed a youth center she had established, as well as kidnapping Selina's sister, brother-in-law and protege, Holly Robinson. Black Mask tortured Selina's brother-in-law to death and forced his wife to eat pieces of her husband, driving her permanently insane before their rescue by Catwoman.

After the new Robin, Stephanie Brown, sets off a gang war that threatens to engulf all of Gotham, Black Mask takes advantage of the resulting chaos to become the city's leading organized crime lord. As Stephanie desperately attempts to end the conflict, she is captured by Black Mask and grievously tortured, leading to her alleged death from her injuries, though she is later revealed to have gone into hiding with the help of Leslie Thompkins. As Black Mask's organization is targeted by the mysterious Red Hood, later revealed to be his old enemy Jason Todd, he is ultimately killed by a still vengeful Catwoman.

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Resurfacing alive and well during the New 52 and subsequent DC Rebirth eras, Black Mask remains one of Gotham's biggest criminals, straddling the line of traditional mobster and terrifying supervillain. With the DCEU's Birds of Prey going against the character in his cinematic debut, the villain is sure to pull out all the stops to destroy them and maintain his grip on Gotham's criminal underworld.

Directed by Cathy Yan from a script by Christina Hodson, Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) stars Margot Robbie, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Ewan McGregor, Steven Williams, Derek Wilson, Dana Lee, Francois Chau, Charlene Amoia, Chris Messina and Matthew Willig. The film is scheduled for release on Feb. 7, 2020.

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