1. a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess.
2. a pretense of having some desirable or publicly approved attitude.
3. an act or instance of hypocrisy.
Alias: Black Mask.
Thus called because he wore...a black mask. Straightforward, right?
Only if you didn't know that Roman Sionis hates masks. So why would he choose a theme he hates? Why not avoid masks like the plague?
"They were phonies, Circe-- my father and all his stinking friends...pampered, privileged phonies hiding behind masks of money. But my mask is true, Circe-- carved from the ebony lid of my father's coffin-- making it a mask of death."
A bit of a back story, first:
The Sionises were one of the wealthy families of Gotham. Roman's father, Charles Sionis, owned Janus Cosmetics, a "monolithic international makeup firm". They were elite enough that Roman's birth made the front page of the Gotham Gazette (complete with an inset article on the Waynes also expecting a baby). But unlike the Waynes, the Sionises had a dark secret: they wore masks. They hid their hatred and superficiality under masks of politeness and amicability. Roman was taught emotional shallowness and callousness. He was forced to feign friendships with people (particularly Bruce Wayne) for appearance, only to deride them later in private. Roman experienced a series of childhood traumas (being dropped on his head as a baby, and being bitten by a rabid raccoon at 12) that were covered up for fear of the family losing face. He never quite managed to achieve the flawless masks of his parents, and it was said that, after being dropped on his head, his eyes were strange..."a certain dullness which never fully concealed the burning."
Roman harbored a deep resentment for parents' behavior, not because of any natural inclination to honesty, but because he had no choice in the matter. He had virtually no voice in his life decisions; his parents, particularly his overbearing mother (who likewise manipulated her husband), groomed him into the perfect heir. When he was 21, he joined his father at Janus, and in a daring act of nepotism, was made vice president in a month. 3 days later, Roman became enchanted by Circe, a common model. He hired her to be the face of Janus Cosmetics, and his parents quickly disapproved. Roman managed a mask of acquiescence, but began seeing Circe in secret.
The following summer, Roman burned his parents alive in their mansion. The fire wasn't an impulsive, psychotic, blinding-rage-fueled act; it was something he had premeditated (he even alluded to something sinister when he first met Circe, stating "I will be Janus, you know...perhaps sooner than either of us thinks."). Greed, resentment, anger, hatred, and determination resulted in revenge. While the Sionises burned, Roman hid in the bushes, watching and listening to their screams. His parents were likely his first murder, as evidenced by the hypnotized expression on his face. The incident set a precedent for him and created a pattern he'll follow: destroying obstacles, and later, destroying that which he cannot have (e.g. Circe, people who refused to join his gang). Furthermore, the incident allowed him to experience a power high from destruction: he can create from the ashes whatever he wants - anything in his image (e.g. people who joined his gang must wear masks and do what he says, or else die).
Now that his background has been established, onto the masks:
"Know that, through the sublimation of personality, inhibitions die and the nature of the wearer is altered-- so that deeper drives and more primitive instincts rise to the surface."
WHY MASKS? How do we reconcile Roman's hatred for masks of hypocrisy with the decision to wear an actual mask?
After his parents' deaths, he was forced to wear a mask of innocence and grief. The concept of wearing a mask had been always in his conscious mind, and as it isn't difficult to imagine him eventually developing an interest on the masks of other cultures, and he began collecting and studying masks from around the world. His study of tribal ritual introduced him to the concept of a wearer taking on the attributes of the mask (e.g. a wolf mask wearer is imbued with a wolf-like ferocity). The wearer can choose a particular mask based on the attributes he wants to have. If he is fearful, he can wear a lion mask to become courageous, for example. Masks serve not only to hide one's true face from others, but also to hide one's true nature from oneself. What you are beneath the mask is irrelevant - you are the mask (e.g. False Facers are known only as the mask they wear: Mr. Rabbit, Tupeng, etc). Old, ugly, disfigured, whatever, all the sins of your face are expunged when you put on a mask. Putting on a mask becomes a ritual cleansing where all participants are made equal. Whatever you do while wearing the mask is imprinted on this new persona, not you. When all is over, you are free to take off the mask and revert back to your original state. Using the mask in this sense is an effort to reconcile the hated masks of hypocrisy his parents wore - an attempt to make good what his parents had perverted.
Obviously, this is flawed because the False Facers were going out and committing crimes.
Why did Roman carve a mask made from his father's ebony coffin? Going beyond the rationale that he was simply suffering from a manic psychosis (which he almost certainly was), it was possibly an attempt to bridge the old and new orders; "bad" and "good". The mask serves not just to reconcile, but to change completely what had been (his m.o. of destroying the old for the new of his own creation). He willfully desecrated his parents' graves to pervert their hated memory. Their coffins are symbols of his ultimate triumph over them, and what better material for the face of the future than forging a mask from triumphant spoils? As the coffins are a symbol of triumph, a mask made from the coffin wood would imbue him with triumphant confidence. Carving the mask himself, he is Creator, Decider of the attributes the mask should have, attributes he wants to embody.
The scowling, human face inspires terror (through which he garners control and sadistic enjoyment). Its concave shadows are a grotesque mockery of human anatomy, emphasizing the hollowness of society; his distaste for humanity is evident. Its rigid expression shows no emotion except for displeasure: for the world, for anyone or thing that stands in his way. All masks hide the true emotion of the wearer, but this mask bears the perpetual hatred Roman feels. He has created a mask that will forever show his true self, serving to fulfill his desire to destroy hypocrisy through a "practice what you preach" philosophy. (Ian Brady, the infamous Moors Murderer, describes such behavior in The Gates of Janus as 'resentfully deciding to impose personal meaning upon the world's facade by acts of destruction which invite or approximate self-destruction'.)
n.b.: Roman's manic psychosis has obviously faded in vibrancy since the days of the False Face Society, and he's not as rabid about masks, but he still has a mask collection:
"For a while I was obsessed with masks...because I kept thinking about the mask that had been made into my face...but a year or so ago, I was reading about the Inquisition...and that got me thinking in another direction. See, 'cause what was done to me was like torture in a way...and reading more about-- I realized that torture was an art form in a sense. The bending of another person's will through almost mathematical physical punishment...it can go on for days...really. Ask the Chechnyans...so, I guess you could say I developed a new appreciation for my mask...because it's a sign that I survived my torture. Would you like to be able to do the same?" Catwoman Secret Files #1/4