Bat Signal

Issue 553 – “The False Face Society of Gotham”

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Hey there everybody, and welcome back to another week of Bat Signal, my ongoing project to read random issues of Detective Comics with no context. And this week we’re taking another trip to the 1980’s, and crossing another villain off of our bingo game. That’s right, this week we’ll be talking about the Black Mask himself, Roman Sionis. I’m not overly familiar with Black Mask, and it seems that this is only the second issue that he appeared in, and the first story he was in. That’s right, we have another damn issue that’s smack-dab in the middle of an ongoing story. Although, this tie is kind of extra obnoxious, because the story seems to have begun, and end, in Batman and not Detective Comics. So I won’t ever be coming across the book-ends of this story for this project. Although, as usual, I’m going to make a wild guess and say that it all works out okay in the end, and that Batman won. So, no point in worrying about what’s actually going on in the issue, since we aren’t going to get a full story, but at least we can enjoy some 80’s weirdness, and a Black Mask who wasn’t exactly fully formed yet.

The issue begin with a bit of an origin for Black Mask, which I assume is a reiteration of the previous issue of Batman. It shows Roman Sionis, crazed, going into his family’s mausoleum and carving himself a mask out of the ebony wood of his father’s coffin. He then invites the members of his gang into the mausoleum, while basically acting like they’re in a cult. Mainly because everyone else involved is having to stand around wearing masks, because Black Mask wants this to be the False Face Society. He initiates some of the newcomers, and then brings some of them for the first murder of the issue. And boy does Black Mask have a unique way of killing people. He’s kidnapped the new head of the Janus Cosmetics company, his old company, and is going to strap a plastic Halloween mask to him, which is filled with some face-cream that Janus developed that has serious side-effects. Basically prolonged exposure has a chemical reaction that painfully kills people. So Roman pours it into the mask, holds it on, and waits until people die.

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Lovely. Anyway, the next day we see Batman meeting with Gordon and Harvey Bullock, talking about the recent rash of murders committed by Black Mask, all using this mask-themed executions. And since all the victims have been related in one way or another to Janus Cosmetics and Roman Sionis, it’s pretty clear to Batman who Black Mask actually is. So Batman heads off into the night to try and come across Black Mask. But I guess it doesn’t go well, because we then immediately see Bruce Wayne at home, talking to Lucius Fox about Wayne Enterprise business. Which is where we get a little backstory. Apparently Janus Cosmetics’ stock was in freefall, and Wayne Enterprise bought the company to save it. This drove Roman insane, who then became the Black Mask, and now clearly has it in for everyone involved. Which is probably not going to be a good thing.

Oh, and around now we’re treated to some nonsense involving Gordon and Bullock. Apparently Gotham has some sort of interim mayor, and the two barge in and start making weird demands, and just generally seem to be screwing with the new mayor. I had no idea what that was about, but it’s ends quickly and we move right back to Black Mask killing a member of the Wayne Enterprise board. And he’s not done, because it turns out that night the Wayne Foundation is having some massive charity dinner for economic relief in Ethiopia, and basically everyone Sionis wants to kill will be in one place. So Bruce heads to the charity dinner while Black Mask makes a stop at his ex-girlfriend, a model who rejected his proposal. And guess what he’s going to do to her!

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You’re a real class act Roman. Anyway, back to the charity dinner! We see Bruce head in with a reporter he appears to be dating, and who also appears to be related to Alfred, since her last name is Pennyworth. The two make some awkward banter and Bruce chats with Lucius a bit, but he’s clearly a little distracted what with the serial killer who is actively trying to murder people involved in the acquisition of Janus Cosmetics. And that’s not helped by the fact that Bruce spotted a car tailing them, and is now just sitting outside the gala, waiting for him. The drivers are also in ridiculous masks, but I don’t know if Bruce knows that or just us. But it’s enough for him to get suspicious, so he decides to do something about it. He puts in a call to Jason Todd and the two get ready to beat up the two men and figure out where Black Mask is.

Bruce then walks out of the gala, making a big show of it so the car will continue to tail him. He then meets up with Jason, and the two begin strolling around Gotham, waiting until they reach a subway entrance. Jason acts like he’s going to continue to walk, and Bruce heads down into the subway, which quickly causes the two thugs to run down into the subway to beat up the billionaire that they assume will be an easy mark. Unfortunately when they get down into the subway, it’s not Bruce Wayne that’s waiting, it’s Batman. Oh, and Robin sneaks in behind them, giving them nowhere to escape when they realize that they’re vastly outmatched. So the Dynamic Duo beat the hell out of the thugs, but it doesn’t turn out to have been that helpful, because they don’t actually know anything, and faint from terror after just a little bit of questioning. So Black Mask is still out there, tormenting his former girlfriend into joining his False Face Society,, and waiting for Batman to beat him up in the next issue.

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Even though this issue didn’t have a lot of closure, it was still pretty enjoyable. I don’t have a whole lot of experience with Black Mask, but what I’ve seen I like. I think he’s an interesting villain who has a lot of potential to be a great Batman villain. Especially because he has the same ridiculous obsession with gimmicks that that classic villains do, but has some of that 1980s violence mixed in. Just like the Penguin is obsessed with umbrellas and birds and Two-Face is obsessed with the number two, Black Mask is completely fixated on faces and masks. He’s constantly complaining about people causing him to ‘lose face’ and he kills people with masks. That’s so incredibly goofy, but also dark and twisted, which is petty perfectly 1980’s. But beyond enjoying some Black Mask, there’s not a whole lot to this issue. We see Batman doing some crime scene investigation, but other than that it’s just a lot of wheel-spinning before the story actually gets completed in Batman.  Not the best introduction to Black Mask, and not the best issue to randomly get, but it’s not bad.

“the False Face Society of Gotham” was written by Doug Moench, penciled and inked by Klaus Janson, colored by Adrienne Roy, and lettered by John Workman, 1985.

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