Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Black Mask and Symbolism

After visiting a message board recently the subject of probing deeper into the meaning of Black Mask...uh mask and the symbolism came up. I thought that would be a fun subject to talk about and if that meshes with the current portrayal.

Roman Sionis parents treated him horribly and acted like loving parents in public. He saw this as them wearing masks to hide their true nature from the world. After killing his parents (*1) he took a piece of his father's ebony coffin and carved it into a mask to form a new identity. This was later permanently burned onto his face.

RHATO brought back the False Face society. He created this gang (*2) to become their "true face" and act on their more baser instincts. That's not really panning out with the current Black Mask since the members we've seen haven't come off particularly vicious. BM kills off a few of them and later remarks that his men are gutless. Despite trying to kill Ma Gunn the False Face Society seems kinda nice especially when one approached Red Hood. I suppose it could work the other way with them being hardened criminals until they join the gang and act more submissive towards their leader?

Back to the mask it does seem odd that it's changed styles. While it does make sense to differ the character from Bones (last seen in Batwoman) the ebony mask is such a huge part of not just the origin but the character it's self. Why would Roman Sionis wear a mask over his new identity? Retconning the origin doesn't make sense as that's the core of the character. That's his image, it would be like Two-Face wearing a mask to cover up his face--it doesn't make sense. That's not to say it couldn't be written to make sense but at present nothing has explained this in text.

The Sionis family company was Janus Cosmetics, make up being another way to cover up the face to present another image. Janus being a two faced god of beginnings and ends. This usually had Janus representing change and the transition of time from the past to future. Seeing a young person's growth into adulthood.

Which brings us back to Jason Todd and how Black Mask relates to him in RHATO. Logically recruiting Red Hood doesn't make a lot of sense. Even if you ignore the past Roman Sionis had with Jason in previous canon (*3) it seems odd for him to recruit the guy that halted his plan. Red Hood shot the mayor who presumably Black Mask inflicted. This is a man we know doesn't like interference even potential interference. Yet he sends an invite to Red Hood and upon meeting him offers to make him the heir to his criminal empire?

This Black Mask is hiding his "true face" since his intentions with Jason aren't fully revealed. Which might work with the new mask physically showing he's not revealing everything. Despite his promises not to keep anymore secrets between them there obviously are things he's not telling.

Jason's helmet has been used by him as a physical means to keep others out. During the previous series he's taken it off during emotional scenes and put it on to mask what he's feeling depending on how much he trusts others. There feels like some symbolism to Artemis breaking his helmet then BM taking it off when he's knocked out. The vulnerability is clear when he meets the other leads and when he wakes up. This marks the point where Jason can't even hide how much he cares even when he's wearing the helmet.

He asks about Artemis not able to even play it off as mere curiosity and blatantly shows concern for Bizarro. Bruised and pretty much wearing his heart on his sleeve. Jason is at a crossroad alone and trying to prove himself to Bruce. While his father figure in Batman has doubt there's Black Mask who's been the only character giving him any encouragement.

How much does BM know? I think he knows more than he let's on and his questions were merely present to probe for Jason's loyalty. He might know or suspect why Jason is there but he's testing the waters. When Jason tells him that if he wants to know something just ask Black Mask pointedly doesn't ask who he really is. BM doesn't ask despite just informing him that he looked for records based on a retina scan and came up with nothing. Instead he asks if Red Hood was close to Batman and if he had a falling out. Is the identity of Red Hood not important or does he already know?

Again BM started out the conversation by relating his experiences with his parents learning about themselves/each other with what he knows of Red Hood. If he knows why the pretense ? Well BM should suspect Jason isn't on his side since he hasn't been good at hiding his better instincts.

If we assume he knows a.) who Red Hood really is and b.) that Jason is on good terms with Batman, then why would he act like this? In hopes of bringing Jason to his side against Batman? Maybe but it might be a stretch unless he has a few cards hidden. Regardless neither of them are being honest with each other. Much like Janus they have two different faces, the one's they show each other and the one's that represent their true intentions. Although Jason's facade isn't holding up as well.

Jason is at a crossroad with Batman and Black Mask being different paths he could go. But at present Black Mask doesn't have anything that could bring him over to his side. Or does he?

I think the answers to all these are already available if you know where to look. If you ask the right questions you'll have a better idea what's the false face.

*1 Black Mask could just be putting on a friendly facade but it's still odd that he fondly mentions dinner with his parents. Jason notes this too.

*2 Joker created the first False Face Gang prior to the Bronze Age version.

*3 Not just UTH but also Jason witnessing his origin unfold as Robin.


  1. Damn this runs a lot deeper than I imagined. Almost make me sad that this arc concludes with issue #6. Sounds like it could potentially run for a lot longer, maybe making Black Mask a permanent player in this book even. I do wonder if Red Hood/Black Mask confrontation in UTH goes a lot differently in this version.

  2. I still think my big theory holds water which if proven true means the character will be very important and potentially a returning player for the series in some respect. Jason looks like he's going to be going through a lot when this is over.

    That would be interesting to find out but at present I don't think it matters. It doesn't fit with the story being told and I can't mind myself minding. I'm much more curious how DITF happened, if Catherine is his mother, etc.