Batman: The Dark Knight #23.3 – Clayface #1 review

We have seen quite a lot of Clayface lately. Batman’s shape-shifting villain has had multi-chapter stories in Batman and Batman: The Dark Knight (which is currently an ongoing story with quite a few more issues to go) and he’s had several cameo appearances in everything from Detective Comics to Justice League! So how exactly does John Layman and Cliff Richards’ one-shot stand out from the crowd?

They flesh out his personality. Plain and simple. This is a lighthearted, mostly fun issue that takes us inside Basil Karlo’s head as he tries to get the attention of the Secret Society of Super Villains who appear to have taken over the world. Whereas other writers have used Clayface as a punching bag or a jewel thief, Layman’s characterization is unique. Much like he wrote him in the Emperor Penguin Arc, Layman’s Clayface is dumb, has a huge temper, and often times finds himself being manipulated by other, smarter villains. But some new attributes that we see in this issue include Clayface’s pride and ambition.

I’m happy to see Clayface so ambitious but, personally, I’d rather see a smart Clayface (you can read my full tirade about the problems I’ve had with Clayface’s character by clicking HERE). However at the very least the character we see here does have more depth than we’ve seen lately and that’s certainly welcome. And another great thing is that Layman dove into our villains past without taking us all the way back to a troubled childhood (which has become a really annoying flashback in New 52 origin tales). It’s also good to actually see a villain show some interest in what the Secret Society is up to. For the most part, these countless villains have acted rather ambivalent about the new world order. Rather than ask “Who are these guys?” or “How do I make sure I’m on the good side of these bad guys who now rule the world?” the general consensus seems to merely be “We can do whatever we want now!” Clayface, on the other hand, knows an opportunity when he sees it. He’s just not all that good at the follow-through.

What I think will take most readers off-guard though is that this villain comic is more amusement than menace. It’s definitely a more colorful and over-the-top comic than what I’ve seen in many of the other books featuring the bat-rogues this month. Speaking of which, there’s even a scene in which Clayface hangs out at a bar full of C-list villains (it’s fun to spot them all and there are a surprising number from some of the worst bat-titles like Catwoman and Batman: The Dark Knight).

I was most surprised to see White Rabbit again. She was never even locked up in Arkham or Black Gate. She was never caught at all.
We are indeed more ingrained in the Forever Evil saga than in many of the other titles this week, but it’s never bleak. Even when things are at their most violent there’s never a gasp or a shutter because the overall tone is so different than let’s say Scarecrow #1. This and Scarecrow #1 are from totally different sides of the fence. Clayface is here to play with the reader for a bit and then be forgotten whereas everything in Scarecrow’s tale comes with a grave importance.

As for the artwork I thought that Richards did a good job, especially during the numerous transformation scenes. I really liked one shot in which Clayface sprouted extra arms– it’s something that’s not been utilized enough. Clayface doesn’t have a skeleton anymore so there’s no reason for him not to go outside of the usual 2-arms and 2-legs human anatomy if it suits his needs. The look of Clayface’s calmer state, however, looks very different from what we’ve seen lately (and how he’s shown on the book’s cover). It’s very much the Arkham City version of the character. He has a more rocklike appearance than muddy crud. He’s solid. How do you prefer your Clayface? Wet or dry?

All in all, this was an okay issue but not something I see myself re-reading in the future. And while I like the bit of added depth that Clayface was given I’m still not sold on the idea of him being dumb muscle. I still believe that you could get a better villain out of a shape shifter who has brains.

Something I want to bring up in spoilers follows below…

How exactly did Clayface know how to communicate with the Secret Society after he quelled the uprising (what he thought was an uprising, anyway)? I feel like I missed something.

Recommended If…

  • A bad guy book with a lighter tone is in order
  • You want something more closely tied with Forever Evil #1
  • The Arkham City Clayface design is your favorite
  • Cameos by random C-list villains sounds like fun
  • You’re a fan of John Layman’s Detective Comics


John Layman’s Clayface is played for laughs. If you want a big, bad-ass moment that solidifies this villain as a major threat then you’ll be disappointed. However, if you’re just looking for something simple that doesn’t take itself too seriously then I think you’re going to have a pretty good time.

SCORE: 6.5/10