Black Mask: Year of the Villain #1 – Tom Taylor, Writer; Cully Hamner, Artist; Dave Stewart, Colorist
Ray – 8.5/10
Ray: The second “Year of the Villain” one-shot focuses on one of the less-used members of Batman’s rogues gallery. Black Mask will always be most associated with the horror of the Brubaker/Cooke Catwoman run, but since then he’s mostly been a generic mob boss with occasional elements of slasher/serial killer. His origin changes a lot too, and Tom Taylor and Cully Hamner stick with that pattern in their one-shot. The opener of this oversized special recasts Roman Sinois as an abused child, the plain and homely son of a family of makeup magnates who occasionally cover up the marks of their beatings with makeup. He’s cast as a dark mirror to the handsome, charming young Bruce Wayne, and is secretly happy when the Waynes die. In the present day, he’s pulling off a bank heist after escaping from Robin’s private prison and kills a bunch of guards while ranting about his origin. He seems to be cornered – until he gets a visit from Lex Luthor’s drones.
I’ve commented on the similarities to the 90s event “Underworld Unleashed”, but with a tech-based focus, and this issue leans into that. After pointing out the many flaws in Roman’s gameplan, Luthor upgrades him with a new “face” – essentially turning him into the DCU False Face and letting him relocate and take over a corrupt pharmaceutical company.
That’s where the issue takes a surprisingly strong turn as it becomes a Batwoman/Renee Montoya team-up book. This may be a villain one-shot, but unlike the Sinestro issue, he’s still the antagonist here, not the protagonist. Pitting the two superhero exes (or are they exes) against a villain who can change his identity at will is a strong move fitting their noir background, and Taylor very effectively makes Mask creepy and provides some good jump scares without leaning too much on ultraviolence. I don’t know if the idea was to make Black Mask a compelling character, and I’m not sure it achieved that, but it definitely made him an effective threat.
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Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.