Wait, we go from Spidey to Black Mask ? Well in honour of the Batman Arkham Origins game that came out, I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate the next few weeks to the characters appearing in the game. I could have started with Batman himself, but Black Mask has a bit more urgency. He is so prominent in this game (at least the skull face version of him) that I thought people would be far more curious to know if there are any good stories with him out there and what his whole deal is.
In any case, to all those who want a quick answer as to where to start with Batman himself, you can easily start at Batman New 52 vol 1 Court of Owls if you want to read in trade paperbacks or Batman New 52 #1 if you prefer single issues. Now back to the Black Mask.
As you will see from the books I recommend in any Batman entry after this, Batman books are written very differently than Spider-man books. Villains are written as supporting characters to a larger story instead of a appearing as the villain of the month which Batman has to fight. This means that every other Batman trade will usually have several enemies in the same story either working together or against one another to take control of either the city or the world (usually just the city). Black Mask’s best recent stories are about how he becomes Gotham’s crime lord. He actually earned that title twice in the past decade or so, and each time it was a different person under the black skull mask.
This is the Black Mask story to read. Though the character was part of Batman’s mythos before this point, this is where he makes his triumphant return to the spotlight and becomes Gotham’s Crime Lord, while showcasing the appearance we all know him by and used in Arkham Origins. Though he becomes the main villain of the series, he only makes his presence known in act 2 chapter 5 of the War Games story which is made up of 3 acts (collected in 3 trades) that each have 8 chapters. What you need to know to read this is that Batman took on a new Robin as a partner, Stephanie Brown, and things did not work out. So, for her to prove herself, she triggers a series of events devised by Batman himself to stop all crime in Gotham (in his spare time, Batman writes plans to end all of crime in Gotham, because of course he would) and things go horribly wrong. By going horribly wrong, I mean Black Mask … with an electric drill. And yeah, this culminates to the best Batman vs Black Mask fight ever in a comic, it practically takes up the entire last chapter.
This serves as an epilogue to War Games and has Black Mask vs Joker vs Batman. Good times.
Batman Under the Hood part 1 and 2
This takes place during Black Mask’s time as Gotham’s crime lord and him battling a new vigilante known as the Red Hood. You also get a nice appearance by Mr. Freeze who becomes Black Mask’s enforcer in part 1 as well as a Deathstroke cameo in part 2, a character who is rarely ever seen in a Batman comic (unlike the game would have you believe). One thing though, I IMPLORE you, if you do get the trades DO NOT READ BATMAN ANNUAL 25. It is easily one of the dumbest comics ever written. It also has nothing to do with Black Mask and it will make no sense for new readers. So please ignore it. I unfortunately did not. Also, the animated feature adaptation of this story, Batman Under the Red Hood is pretty awesome.
Man-Bat (2006) #1-5
This is more of a detective story during Black Mask’s reign with Hush and Man Bat in supporting roles. From what I mentioned so far, you’ll notice that Black Mask rarely confronts Batman directly and usually takes it out on the supporting cast, either Stephanie Brown, Red Hood or Man Bat. Well, for a while, he was actually Catwoman’s arch nemesis as well in her series that started in 2002. He appears inCatwomanvol 3 Relentlessfor those who want to pick up the trade and has a big impact on Catwoman which lasts throughout the series. To me, the show stopper happens in a story taking place betweenissues 44-52, with Black Mask appearing again in issue 49, back to his old electric drill ways. One thing, please ignore the last panel of issue 52, it was to tie in to a DC event which is entirely unrelated and downright confusing.
Battle for the Cowl # 1-3
This is a 3 issue miniseries that has been collected as a trade. Black Mask is back, but it is not Roman Sionis under the mask. This is the story where Gotham goes nuts in the wake of the news that Batman is gone. As the previous Robins all prove their worthiness, Black Mask pulls a full scale assault on all that is good in Gotham, claiming the city as his. The question of who is under the black skull mask in answered in…
Batman Life After Death
this story can be found in a trade of the same name and in issues 692 – 697 of Batman. It continues where Battle for the Cowl left off and features Dick Greyson as Batman. One of the highlights would be issue 696, where Black mask beats Batman with a sword! But that awesomeness falls short to the new character, Catgirl, in issue 697. That panel is cringe worthy and doesn’t add anything to the overall mythos since the character was never used again. Well, as Black Mask would know by now, you win some you lose some.
This all featured the new visual version of Black Mask. If ever you are curious to read the older version where he just wears a …uh… black mask (but no skull), feel free to read issues 518-519 of Batmanwith the excellent stylised artwork of Kelley Jones, one of my favourite Batman artists.