New 52 – Batman #20 review

And so ends a fun and simple story with really amazing artwork. Part 2 of “Nowhere Man” gives us a Clayface who is quite the departure from the portrayal we saw just a few months ago in John Layman’s Detective Comics. Clayface isn’t sympathetic at all, but is instead a rather sleazy blackmailer.

What does Clayface want money for? It’s never stated, although pretty much everything else is stated in a villainous monologue outlaying Basil Carlo’s entire plan including his plot to lure the Batman so he can remove the one obstacle currently in his way. But really, Batman isn’t that much of an obstacle when you think about it. Clayface can just about transform himself into another person right down to the DNA (he’s at about 99% now) so if he would’ve just laid low he would’ve gotten away with this. As for what he would spend the money on? That’s anyone’s guess. What does a man who can change into anyone and anything spend cash on?

Especially given the way he is confined at the end of the story it appears as though Clayface doesn’t even need food to survive. Perhaps if this book had maintained the sympathetic angle established by John Layman, this could have been approached as Basil’s twisted way at making enough money to get away from Gotham and start a new life?
As I said, it’s a simple story and all we know is that Clayface is bad, thieving is bad, and he has the hubris to believe that his newly evolved form will give him what it takes to off the Caped Crusader once and for all.

The bulk of the story takes place in the Wayne Enterprises R&D lab where we get to see plenty of Batman Inc. related goodies such as the Bat-Bots, which I think are actually supposed to be called “RoBats” and according to the most recent issue of Batman Inc. #10, they should have all been scrapped by now. Seeing Bruce Wayne fighting for his life while surrounded by gear that belongs in a batcave and no one suspects he’s Batman still feels very off to me and only brought up feelings of how much I dislike the idea of Bruce coming out as Batman’s benefactor. These villains should always be going after Bruce, not because they want to lure in Batman like Clayface is doing here, but because they all know that Bruce Wayne and Wayne Industries are funding Batman’s war on crime. All they need to do is cut the Batman’s supply line and yet nobody is doing it.

And as for Clayface impersonating Bruce to get to Batman? Well you don’t really have to go after Wayne to get Batman’s attention. His plan will work, obviously, but if you’re Clayface you could simply go onto the street and wave to a cop and that should attract the Bat. He’s at the very least a B-list villain. However, I suppose Clayface isn’t openly wreaking any havoc because he doesn’t want Gotham to know he’s around… but then that takes us back to the “Why doesn’t he just lay low if he can vanish all the way down to being a 100% DNA match to any other person?” Question. Oh well. It’s a fun read anyway so screw it. We should all be happy that Scott Snyder did more with the character than use him as a giant mud man that smashes things. He’s a formidable villain with personality and I’m pleased that the emphasis was on his morphing into other people rather than simply turning his fists into hammers and swatting at cars. There were some really cool shape-shifting moments in this story and some of the very best are in this issue right here.

When it comes to Lucius Fox, who also plays a big part in the story, I feel like Christopher Nolan got it right, Lucius should know Bruce is Batman. He’s a smart enough man that it should be apparent.

This is especially true since Bruce is a perfect fit for the Batman Beyond prototype suit. And by the way, why is it that all of the weapons in the trash compactor have been stripped for parts before being junked, yet the Batman Beyond armor was thrown away with all it’s working components still intact. The thing is fully operational! This was a cool moment and Capullo draws a kick-ass Batman Beyond prototype suite, but it was a very convenient turn of events.
Heck, it should be apparent to anyone thanks to the Batman Inc. endorsement, I don’t care how many online message boards Bruce logged onto in Morrison’s run to throw Gothamites off the scent. Lucius proves to be very resourceful and it’s great to see the character put to good use. My only complaint is that he doesn’t realize Bruce and Batman are one and the same and perhaps more so, that Bruce apparently doesn’t trust Lucius enough with this secret when he’s easily one of Batman’s most loyal allies.

You should also take note of how little inner monologue there is in this issue. This is a series that’s usually very heavy on the narration and villain monologues, but this time, well Clayface is very talkative, but there’s very little insight into what Bruce is thinking. All the emphasis is on the action and there’s a lot of it and it is very thrilling. From the death trap reminiscent of Star War: A New Hope to the police chase through Chinatown and the freaky John Carpetner’s The Thing-esque final confrontation, there is a lot of really cool action going on in Batman #20! A HUGE part of what makes these scenes work is the art team. It’s such an awesome comic to look at. I have read the story twice, but on the 2nd time through I thumbed through it just to admire every panel in full and savor the detail. The different shades FCO Plascencia used on the shattered glass on the opening page, the bright blue sky that gradually turns a pale orange as the sun sets and the story progresses, the cold and lonesome atmosphere of the batcave, etc. etc. And Greg Capullo! What a beast! Take note of the motorcycles in the chase scene and how much attention was given to every broken part. Look at the streets of Gotham and how he took the time to draw items for sale in the shops and all the uniquely drawn figures walking the sidewalk. It’s rare that this city is ever depicted in the daytime and here Gotham feels alive. Much of the praise I’m sure Capullo will receive (and Miki, whose inks look great in the cave scene) will be due to how scary Clayface looks with his disgusting The Thing-like transformations and unsettling second row of teeth, but the things I like most about his panels is that he tries to fully realize the world these characters inhabit be it a warehouse full of batmobiles and old scrap or the busy streets of Chinatown.

But even though I praise the comic for having so much fun action and just being an all around cool looking comic to flip through, it does indeed have quite a bit of heart and Scott Snyder does revisit the opening scene from issue #19 in a really terrific way. Overall, I thought that even though Clayface’s motivations were lacking and a lot of the twists that give Batman the upper hand were way too convenient, it was an all-around good time. The thing that brought my enjoyment of the comic down, however, was the backup story.

In all honesty, I felt like this Batman/Superman team-up was a waste of time. Why have this when we could have spent these backup pages explaining what Clayface is doing with all this blackmail money or better yet (way, way better yet) we tell the story of how Clayface came to be! You would be hard-pressed to find a Batman fan who can tell you any origin of Clayface besides that of the Animated Series episode Feat of Clay. There have been, after all, around 9 different Clayfaces throughout the Batman mythology and in issue #19 last month we learned that there’s something mystical about the New 52 Basil Karlo’s origin. So what is it? I would have rather heard that story than one about Batman and Superman needing to say an incantation in order to ward off a will-o-the-wisp in a dilapidated building. I found this story’s efforts at sentimintality corny, Superman’s reaction to the presence being similar to that of his kryptonite allergy to be odd, and the artwork by Alex Maleev just looked sloppy to me. I’ve seen Tynion write better stories and Maleev draw better pages. Looking at 8 pages of blue-colored panels in which Superman fights a blob (yet somehow I’m cool with watching Batman fight a blob in the main story, funny how that works) and Batman chats up a ghost isn’t what I like to see in a Batman comic.

Issue #20 is a really fun conclusion with artwork that’s worth the cover price alone. Scott Snyder does a fine job of delivering plenty of action and a heartfelt ending that brings us full circle to the opening pages of issue #19. I wish that more attention had been given to Clayface’s motivations but it didn’t bring down my enjoyment of this simple story too much. What made the comic drag for me was the backup. I detest the backup. So enjoy this last action-filled episode of Batman in modern Gotham with Snyder, Capullo, and the gang. Next month the series heads to “Zero Year” where it will stay for a full 11 months.

SCORE: 7.5/10