Right off the bat let me say that as a Death of the Family tie-in, this issue was a complete failure. But as a fun Batman story in its own right it’s a success.
This really didn’t need to feature the Joker at all…and really, it doesn’t. He’s in the book for 3 panels total and he never says a word. In two of those scenes he might not actually be there at all but only figuratively. Yes, there’s a nod to the back-up story in Batman #14, but that’s it. Just a nod and an editor’s note. If you want to know any of the details about what Penguin and Joker’s meeting was all about you still would need to read Batman #14. This issue doesn’t even set up anything new with the Joker that Batman #14 didn’t even though the next 2 issues are being marketed as Death in the Family tie-ins as well. So if you’re just looking for more backstory to the Death of the Family, you won’t find it here. What you will find is a rather entertaining Clayface story.
Last issue ended with Poison Ivy being abducted by Penguin’s top henchman Ogilvy, leaving Batman in a burning building to confront Clayface who claims to be Ivy’s new husband. Here the story shifts primarily to Clayface both in the main story as well as the backup and that’s a good thing. Clayface needed a good story after how poorly he’s been treated in the New 52 so far. Up to this point he’s been little more than a mindless monster. A punching bag for Batman or Superman to beat up in yet another Arkham breakout. Here we see him as more of a sympathetic villain. A good approach considering how bad guys like Mr. Freeze and the Mad Hatter have grown less sympathetic in this past year. I do, however, still want to see a story in which Clayface is the primary villain (and more importantly, the guy is way, way overdue for an origin story). Here he’s more of a victim than anything.
John Layman does a great job of juggling all of these villains. Besides Clayface he also utilizes Poison Ivy to great effect (her influence is felt heavily on this story and that’s pretty impressive since she’s trapped in a box throughout most of the comic) and although Penguin leaves the story rather quickly it’s his henchman Ogilvy that’s the most well written of all these characters. SHOW SPOILER ▼In fact this whole arc seems to be about the making of a villain as we see Ogilvy gradually rise to power. As for Batman, we get a bit of detective work by him using the bat computer to trace a flower in a very Batman: The Animated Series-esque scene, but like in any villain-heavy story the hero takes a backseat. And even though Batman has to turn to technology for answers, the reader will find the Clayface/Poison Ivy mystery pretty obvious. It felt like we were just going through the motions for most of the book.
The comic’s strength comes from its stunning artwork and lively dialogue. Both Fabok and Andy Clarke (who does the backup story) do a fantastic job here. It’s a very good looking book. One page Fabok did in which he aligned a panel of Batman’s face with Joker’s grin was really something special and the suit that Batman uses to battle Clayface is the perfect example of the kind of fun this book provides. It’ll also take you back to your childhood when you went down the toy aisles to look at the Batman figures and sifted through row after row of “Night vision suit Batman! Fire suit Batman, Arctic adventure Batman! Helicopter Batman! Golden Glider Batman!” etc. etc. just hoping that the toy companies had made at least 1 villain or heaven forbid an Alfred or Gordon. Anyway, each page of this book pops. I’m glad Fabok was given his own title and now I want to see Clarke given his, he draws Gotham well and I want to see more of it. With the story…the stakes aren’t very high. Not high enough for a $4 book anyway. Although it’s easily one of the most energetic Batman comics I do wish that it had more of an impact on the rest of the titles instead of being Batman: The Dark Knight for those who want more laughs than gore.
It’s far from being a Death of the Family tie-in but it’s a step in the right direction for Clayface and an amusing break from Joker’s endless stalking or Scarecrow’s torture chamber. If you want good art and good dialogue, this is a great choice, but you’ll likely feel like more of a detective than Batman since the story is so predictable.