Although our hero’s name is emphasized twice in the title he actually doesn’t appear once in these pages. In fact, Batman: The Dark Knight #24 feels more like a Villains Month release, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing considering how convoluted the Clayface backstory has become over the decades with there being a grand total of 9 different villains taking on the alias since the character’s creation in 1940 (Yes, Batman has been fighting Clayface longer than most villains in the rogues gallery). If there’s one rogue who needs his origin retold, it’s Clayface and you get that tale told in full (including sad childhood) here.
At the end of issue #23, Batman used some new force-field gadgetry (ugh!) to capture Clayface and send him back to Arkham Asylum, but, surprisingly, that wasn’t the end of the story. This chapter dives deep into the past of Clayface before awarding him with the quickest turn-around time from the revolving door that is Arkham Asylum. Really, I don’t think anyone else has escaped this quickly so far in the New 52! But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Sticking with his usual formula, writer Gregg Hurwitz takes a time out from the main storyline to explore the sad childhood of our villain . While I had initially dreaded this moment, it was honestly not as annoying as I expected it to be. Was it necessary? Not really, we probably could’ve just cut to a 20-something Basil Karlo going to failed audition after failed audition accompanied by the narration “all my life, I’ve never been noticed.” or something like that, but these flashbacks to the lonely childhood of the all-too-ordinary man played just fine. Yes, we are trying a bit hard it seems to make Clayface sympathetic, but we NEED a sympathetic villain. Arnold Wesker is gone, Jervis Tetch is a psychopath, and even Victor Fries is an absolute creep in the New 52. What I still take issue with is the matter of Clayface’s origin involving magic, something that cropped up in Snyder’s Batman #19 & #20. I often find myself giving a pass to sci-fi technology birthing a Batman villain, but aliens and magic rub me the wrong way. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever see a Clayface origin as well done as the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Feat of Clay.”
Most of what we learn about Clayface’s past has been hinted at in dialogue in previous issues both here and in Batman #19, but Hurwitz does slip in a single surprise in which he ties Basil closer to Oswald Cobblepot. We even get an amusing nod to a recurring gag from Hurwitz’s own Penguin: Pain & Prejudice for good measure, which might confuse those who didn’t read that mini-series.
One of the more interesting aspects I found in this issue was the bond that Clayface forged with his Arkham neighbor, a longtime fan who asked Clayface to recite old film quotes again and again. It was these interactions that spurred on the discussion about Clayface’s beginnings in the first place.
I’ll make a few more points but leave them in spoiler tags:
- I believe Hurwitz made a mistake by mentioning Clayface’s ability to touch individuals and mimic their very DNA. This is a new stage in Clayface’s evolution that happened VERY recently in Scott Snyder’s series but Hurwitz made it look like a power Clayface has had for quite some time.
- I was surprised to learn that Clayface still eats.
- I hated the escape made by Clayface in the end. He pretends to choke? That’s it? Much like the explanation of how Clayface came upon the magical clay in the first place there’s no inventiveness to this scene. And with the heartless way in which the orderlies are portrayed in this series and many other bat-titles I would half expect the folks at Arkham to just let him choke.
- What is there to be excited about now? Clayface has no plan. As of right now he has no obvious strategy and appears to be setting out to perform the same shinanigans we saw in the previous 2 issues and that’s nothing to be hyped for. However, if it keeps with the usual Hurwitz formula I would expect something really over the top like the penguin robots, Scarecrow blimp, or city-wide mass-suicide caused by Mad Hatter.
The cover by Alex Maleev is one of the best in some time and I sincerely hope it’s used as the book jacket for the inevitable graphic novel. Inside you’ll find a slightly different style, but still more from Maleev who has a knack for jagged lines and heavy shadows. The colors by Dave McCaig along with Maleev’s expressive faces really give the panels a great sense of the isolation the young Basil Karlo must be feeling. Often you’ll see Basil in darkness while the world around him is in color but overall the book stays quite muted. It’s a very dark, dirty looking book but that’s definitely an appropriate choice for such a muddy villain. The artwork shines the most in flashback scenes while Clayface himself appears rather boring. He’s just a sloppy mud man with not a whole lot of detail, but the shots of Basil while he’s first going through the initial transformation or the pages of teenage angst are all very well done.
- You’ve enjoyed the previous Clayface issues by this creative team
- You want to know Clayface’s origin (it’s a new-reader friendly issue)
- You like Alex Maleev’s artwork
- You’re okay with magic and childhood drama (separately, this ain’t Harry Potter)
Not as bad as I had expected! (How awesome would it be if they put that on the hardcover’s dust jacket?)