Writer: Tom Taylor
Artist: Cully Hamner
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Wes Abbott
Cover Artist: Mitch Gerads
Editor: Rob Levin
Publisher: DC Comics
Year of the Villain is DC’s current line-wide event encompassing pretty much every title in the DC Universe at the moment. While The Batman Who Laughs and Event Leviathan are thematically part of the branding (they both appear in the header banner of this issue), it’s really a Lex Luthor storyline at its core, spinning out of Scott Snyder’s Justice League. It’s a fairly simple setup: Lex comes into the possession of a cosmic ability far beyond his level and offers to share the wealth with his fellow supervillains, who can use their new resources to take out their most hated do-gooders once and for all. In this week’s Year of the Villain: Black Mask #1, our titular crime lord is just the latest to be propositioned by Luthor, who gives him the means to upgrade his game and live up to his true potential as a criminal — threatening corporations instead of individuals.
I don’t know that much about Black Mask, with my only real perception of him coming from his appearances in other media, but this issue serves as a good catchup of his whole deal and philosophy as a supervillain. Growing up with abusive wealthy parents in the shadow of Bruce Wayne, he took the deaths of his acquaintance’s parents as inspiration to murder his own, thus launching his descent into darkness. Now that he’s been given an opportunity to become even more dangerous, it’s bad news for Gotham — but not if Batwoman has anything to do about it.
Black Mask is one of a handful of one-shots being published as Year of the Villain tie-ins, and it mostly succeeds in that regard. The issue tells a complete story (with room for possible continuation, obviously) that doesn’t necessarily require prior knowledge of the event but feeds into it. It also raises the profile of Roman Sionis, who will surely be a priority for DC leading up to the release of his cinematic debut in next year’s Birds of Prey, and sneakily doubles as a Batwoman story as well, making this an easy recommendation for fans of hers ahead of her own CW series launching this fall. While DC doesn’t lean into the cross-media promotions as much as Marvel does, you could see this as being a play for synergy.
The creative team behind the issue is pretty solid, spearheaded by Tom Taylor (one of the best superhero writers currently working, in my opinion) and Cully Hamner, whose experience drawing grittier action-heavy stories like this serves Taylor’s script well. Dave Stewart’s vibrant colors offer an appealing contrast from the darkness of Hammer’s inks, especially the pops of bright red when Batwoman is in the scene. In all, Year of the Villain: Black Mask is a pretty unimpeachable little one-off supervillain tale.