Batman ’66 #23 review

Batman ’66 #23: “The Groovy Grave of Grundy/The Quagmire of Clayface”

Written by Jeff Parker

Pencils by Brent Schoonover and Giancarlo Caracuzzo

Inks by Brent Schoonover

Colors by Kelly Fitzpatrick and Flavia Caracuzzo

Letters by Wes Abbott

While sticking to the two-part, episodic nature that the classic TV series utilized is just one more thing that makes this comic feel like a true continuation of the spirit of the show, there are some stories that only need a dozen or so pages to tell before overstaying their welcome.  As such, issues like this with two separate stories between the two covers are a nice welcome and make it feel like you get more bang for your back.  The fact that both stories are pretty good just makes it that much better.

“The Groovy Grave of Grundy,” the first story, is just what it sounds like: the introduction of Solomon Grundy into the Batman ’66 universe.  It’s also pretty funny, and probably the best story Marsha, Queen of Diamonds has ever been involved with, even tangentially.

Fed up with the meddling of the Caped Crusaders in her niece’s plans, Marsha’s aunt Hilda decides the best course of action is reanimating one of Marsha’s recently deceased husbands.  As one does.

It goes about as well as you’d expect.

The cadaver, Cyrus Gold, becomes Solomon Grundy, born on a Monday.  There’s not much to the plot of this one, as it’s effectively an extended fight scene in the graveyard, but there are plenty of great gags and good bits of physical comedy.  So while Jeff Parker’s script is perfectly fine with a few good lines here and there, the MVPs of this issue are definitely Brent Schoonover, pulling double-duty on pencils and inks, and the colors of Kelly Fitzpatrick.  If you read this digitally, they utilize the medium remarkably well, from something as subtle as a change in facial expression to the almost laborious emergence of Grundy from his grave.

Side note: remember the Grundy boss fight in Arkham City?  That was pretty sweet.
Side note: remember the Grundy boss fight in Arkham City? That was pretty sweet.

Even without the advantage of the digital medium they still illustrate the tale well, with characters that are fairly detailed and somewhat reminiscent of the old Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the Seventies (and I mean that in the best way possible).  If I’m going to criticize anything, the backgrounds are a little bare, but it’s a fairly nondescript location anyway.  Plus the headstone gags were fun, so all is forgiven.

And pratfalls.  Sweet, sweet pratfalls.
And pratfalls. Sweet, sweet pratfalls.

It’s hardly a candidate for Greatest of All Time status, but it’s a pleasant enough diversion.  And what’s this?!  There’s another story!

I’m going to assume we’re all familiar with what a retcon is, right?  Just in case you don’t know, it’s the practice of taking an established character or event and making a change to better fit a modern story.  Famous examples of this are Parallax being revealed as an alien symbiote that possessed Hal Jordan during the Emerald Twilight storyarc, and Superboy-Prime’s infamous continuity-altering punches in Infinite Crisis.  Occasionally a retcon is beneficial or even necessary, but oftentimes they are seen as egregious and a cheap storytelling technique.

In “The Quagmire of Clayface,” Jeff Parker makes one of the boldest decisions he’s made on this book to date, and it completely pays off.  In fact, it takes a character that I’d personally never felt a connection with (besides outright fear) and adds depth and layers that make him a compelling villain.

Now, I’m sure based on the title of the story and the fact that the news has been making the rounds for a week or so that you can surmise who I’m talking about, but just in case you want to come into this completely fresh I’ll discuss the big reveal in spoiler tags.

Batman and Robin chase False Face to Throne Labs (a nice nod to Malachi Throne, the actor who portrayed False Face) on the outskirts of Gotham City.  There, Batman reveals that he’s been able to deduce Throne’s true identity: Basil Karlo, also known as…


This makes perfect sense, especially given that we knew nothing about False-Face to begin with.  The back stories of villains have never been a necessity in the world of ’66, to the point that I can’t think of a time where mainstays such as the Penguin and the Riddler, both villains with fairly open identities, are ever referred to by their real names.  They’re just forces of nature who exist to antagonize Batman and Robin.

So, while their motivations aren’t necessary, it is nice when we can peer behind the curtain a bit, especially with the lesser appreciated characters.  Like I said earlier, other than being massively creeped out by him I never felt a connection with the character of False Face, but seeing him through the lense of the retcon being made here it makes me appreciate him so much more.  Clayface has always been one of my favorite villains, if for no other reason than he’s just so weird and there’s so much you can do with him, and taking a character who could make himself look like anyone and making him into a long established character who can do the exact same thing on a grander scale just makes perfect sense.

I’m not saying I want to see this all the time, but when it works as remarkably as it does here I’m ok with that.

Unlike the previous story, which was light on memorable dialogue, this one is pretty dense.  Aside from the plot development discussed above, there are some fun throwaway lines regarding the new display exhibit in the Batcave, including the spot “where the penny will go” (I’d pay good money for a Penny Plunderer story, Parker) and the “enormous playing card that highlights the Joker’s depraved deeds.”  It’s a fun bit of worldbuilding that offers some levity in a story that for all other intents and purposes is pretty much a horror book.

The father-daughter team of Giancarlo and Flavia Caracuzzo have a looser, rougher style that wouldn’t normally fit with this book, but given the nature and tone of the story at hand it works perfectly.  Clayface is illustrated remarkably well, and while he’s mostly just brown blobs there’s never any confusion as to what is happening in each panel.  Their work is also incredibly eerie, with some panels just dripping with tension and ramping up the fear factor.

This panel in particular looks harmless enough, but in context it absolutely oozes dread.
This panel in particular looks harmless enough, but in context it absolutely oozes dread.

Like the earlier story, the backgrounds are a bit lacking in detail as well, this time replaced with a swamp instead of a cemetery.  Everything works very well visually, but it would have been nice to have some more textures here and there.  Again, though, it’s pretty much splitting hairs.

The conclusion is a bit of a letdown, boiling down to a perfect example of “victory is in the preparation, chum,” and while it’s a bit of a letdown it doesn’t feel cheap.  Aside from Batman’s ace in the hole being a bit perplexing as to how he pulled it off, it ends the issue on a note of (of all things) existential dread.  In the end, it’s a great character study that perfectly complements the earlier story’s lightweight tone, which is especially bizarre considering the one featuring a reanimated corpse is the funny one.

Recommended if:

  • You love Batman ’66.
  • You’re a fan of Solomon Grundy.
  • You’re a fan of Clayface, especially.
  • Two stories for the price of one?  Can’t do much better than that.

Overall: Either one of these stories would be enough to at least recommend this issue on their own, but together they represent some of the best short-form installments of this series in quite some time.  Alternately playing up the comedic and tragic aspects of Batman stories, they do both remarkably well while still staying consistent with the show’s tone and themes.  Factor in the use of characters who couldn’t have easily been used on the budget of the Sixties TV series and the creative introduction of one of Batman’s most recognizable villains and you have a story that perfectly demonstrates what this comic is good for: continuing with the spirit of the Adam West and Burt Ward headlined show while showcasing bigger and weirder concepts.

Score: 9.5/10