I woke up one morning and had a dream... Could I own every single issue of Detective Comics, Batman and all of the other subtitles in the Gotham universe?
Insane? Stupid? Inspired?
This can only end in obsession and financial chaos.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Holy First Appearances!!!

If you're going to introduce a new villain into a canon, where there is a load of classic villains you'd better go all out. You'd better say something a bit different... and you'd better be arrogant to make the characters first appearance a background story, to make Batman readers sit up and think: okay, bring it. Thank Darkseid that it was Doug Moench and Tom Mandrake who not only brought it, but kicked ass and took names doing it.

Doug Moench makes the Black Mask alter ego Roman Sionis as pretty messed up geezer to start with, made worse by a serious of unfortunate incidents. This is a villain that has decided that his true face is best to be hidden. There is no duality at play with this Batman villain. Duality has been rejected, by permanently affixing a mask onto his face he personifies Black Mask consigning to history Roman Sionis. This is a glorified rejection of all that is good, normal and nice. Also, he has a serious personal grudge against Bruce Wayne (which is a nice change to the villain having a grudge against the Batman) thus therefore bringing interaction to the Dark Knight.

After the 'Crisis' re-set button was pushed in 1986, Black Mask dropped from view and developed from what Moench had originally created into something that the Batman universe was crying out for: a crime lord. Black Mask evolved, or more accurately changed, from an unstable, hammy horror villain into the archetypal gangster that Gotham City probably ought to have almost overnight. Still a bit loony, this new Black Mask-gangster incarnation would expects his followers to also wear masks, to ensure their loyalty and respect. By the 2000's it's fair to say that the Black Mask has been fully developed into a dangerous, manipulative gangster by Batman's key writers, if you need a benchmark storyline I'd suggest the War Games saga, where he is an integral player and a proper bastard.

As a result, Black Mask is very much a top line villain, and deserves it's place on this list. Sadly, somewhere along the way he was killed off, and a Black Mask II was developed. This second incarnation was clumsily introduced after 'RIP', and will probably be thrown into the fireplace of The New 52.

When I read Batman #386 the first time (about a year ago) it became clear to me that this character's origin was too good to be totally ret-conned and forgotten about. The deviantly perverse thought of fixing masks to victims was to be latterly mined by Grant Morrison, of all people. Want proof? Read this issue and the read Professor Pyg's introduction in Batman & Robin #1. There is a genuine nastiness of gluing a mask to a persons face, and this was obviously recognised by Morrison.