In “Feat of Clay Part I,” we saw the tragic fall of Matt Hagen and the arrest of Bruce Wayne. Two characters were at their most vulnerable as they lost their identities. One quite literally so, as his body dissolved into a pile of muck.
This week, Clayface replaces Matt Hagen completely. Clayface is a massive bruiser of a villain that can take anything Batman can dish out and throw it back at him tenfold. For the second part of this two-parter, though, we get a special treat. The story of the man of a million faces has been given beautiful animation as the show shifts to a different studio for this episode. This episode gets premium treatment befitting its shapeshifting villain. Let’s dig into Batman: The Animated Series‘ “Feat of Clay Part II.”
Feat of Clay Part II
The show picks up where the previous episode left off; Bruce Wayne and Matt Hagen are both still in tight spots. Bruce Wayne is having mugshots taken, while Hagen has stumbled back to his trailer. We finally get a good clean look at Clayface and he’s a terrifying, top-heavy, and lumbering monster. For all the dangers Batman has fought, Clayface is truly the most horrifying.
A quick aside from the ‘How Have People Not Pieced This Together Dept.”: After making bail Bruce gets into his car, driven by Alfred, and immediately starts putting on a Batman outfit that he has stored in a briefcase. He gets out a few blocks later like a kid running into a party in costume. As with last week’s elevator, this is poor identity protection – and so soon after identity theft nearly landed him in the slammer.
After meeting Hagen, we meet Daggett again. This whole scene is gorgeous. The shading looks amazing and sharp and there’s so much depth. When Daggett and Germs head into the room with the green vats, everything takes on an olive hue. It’s moody as hell and I love it.
While Clayface is throwing a fit in his trailer, he learns about his new form. He reflexively imitates his own face in each of his past roles and then starts imitating his outfits. It’s almost a happy moment until he figures out how hard it is to maintain a shape for very long. We get our first really good glimpse of how beautiful this episode looks as Clayface’s look shifts over and over. Every one of his transformations throughout the episode is a weird and unsettling flurry of motion; the show spared no expense at ensuring Clayface would look beautiful and strange.
Where the cool kids go to hang out
Cut to the hospital where, apparently, everyone is hanging out. We know Clayface is heading inside to intercept Daggett’s man. We know Germs will be in there, with the radio-wearing Bell still in police custody. Batman is there, too, though, and he beats Clayface to the punch.
After throwing a Batarang that is traveling fast enough to rip a pillow out of man’s hands, Batman chases Germs into the room the hospital keeps full of infectious diseases. Did hospitals have these at some point?! This seems dangerous.
It’s perfect poetry for Batman’s interrogation, where he threatens Germs with a jar of “crimson fever.” A cop interrupts the interrogation, though. (Guess what, it’s Clayface!) Batman catches the jar and we see that it’s nothing more than “seawater for analysis.” The show doesn’t call attention to it, but it’s a great gag showing how much of Batman’s power is in fear rather than violence.
While Clayface was creepy before, this is where the show turns to straight-up body horror on a daytime kid’s cartoon. S&P has chapters in its book for “shooting guns” or “breaking glass.” What about for the “cop’s arm stretches inhumanly before he tears off a piece of his own face to use it as a gag?”
I’m betting not so much.
Up on the rooftop, Clayface is prepping to toss the still-gaged-with-clay Germs down to his doom when Batman interrupts. We get that oh-so-delicious Batman musical stinger.
The battle gets gimmicky at times with Clayface summoning all manner of medieval weapon. It looks like an action-figure demo reel. But the split second in which he reflexively imitates Batman is still creepy as hell.
Batman is clearly out of his depth in this battle. A jump kick leaves him embedded in Clayface’s chest, and Clayface is at the advantage throughout. Batman seizes on a weakness, though, when all the transforming leaves Clayface exhausted. He’s unable to hold a shape other than his default “icky rock guy” form. Batman’s look of horror when Clayface leaps off the building, only to slink away into a grate, Batman’s rope having gone right through him, is a rare expression for the Dark Knight.
Pause for a second: What was Batman thinking with that rope? If it hadn’t just slid through him, it would’ve gone one of two ways: If Clayface was still partially human the rope around his waist would’ve broken his back. And then even if Batman is strong, Clayface is huge. At the very least, he has to weigh 300 or 400 pounds at least, and that’s assuming he isn’t closer to the density of clay. The force would’ve ripped Batman off the building and thrown him into the pavement like a high-speed pitch.
But it’s a children’s cartoon, I know. I get it.
Batman leaves Germs on the roof without finishing his interrogation. Clayface heads back to Teddy’s house, apparently, where he’s sitting on Teddy’s couch watching television. Teddy cooks him a dinner that involves an entire roast chicken. Clayface says he doesn’t need to eat, though, which raises questions.
Batman, meanwhile, finds the Renuyu sample and that gives him the clues he needs to implement a plan. He knows Clayface’s motivation, his abilities, and his weakness.
Clayface can’t resist an opportunity to call Daggett out in public, and it’s honestly one of the smarter moves a villain has taken on this show. The characters in this pair of episodes are never dumb. They have reasons for doing the things they do. They’re not always smart, but most of their moves make sense.
Batman and Clayface battle again, and we see Batman attack Clayface with something more like a tumbling cannonball attack with his cape between them. I love that the animators and writers took a moment to show Batman switching up his fighting style to match his new adversary.
The Final Battle…?
Batman puts the final leg of his plan into action once he lures him into the video room of the TV station they’re in. Images of Hagen’s past roles appear on screens around him. The reflexive changing seems to be linked to emotion, so picking roles from his past makes sense, and it immediately sends him into overdrive. He switches from one role to the next, with his clay form twisting and writhing with each change. Parts of his body change separately from the others. Again, I feel like this would’ve been scary for kids back in the early 90s! But it’s cool to see, and the animation studio went all out. It gets cartoony at times, much like with Clayface’s various medieval weapons, but that doesn’t keep it from looking great.
The story’s denouement has Batman testing a sample of Clayface’s flesh in his lab, which is kind of morbid after Clayface was supposedly shocked to death in the TV station. The clay reacts but doesn’t stiffen or dry out. In other words, the actor played a room full of people with the ultimate death scene, and this marks one of the few – if not the first – villain getaway we’ve seen. Joker, Mr. Freeze, Two-Face – they all end up in police hands by the end of episodes. Clayface takes a new form and laughs all the way to the metaphorical bank.
It’s haunting and incredibly cool. If I was awarding letter grades, this would be an A+ episode on par with “Heart of Ice.”
I’d planned to talk about the next episode, Joker’s Favor, but this amazing episode was a lot to wade through, so come back next week for a much more low-key but still solid episode of Batman: The Animated Series.
If you need more BTAS commentary now, we have every episode of the series ranked from the worst to the best!
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