DCAU #19: Feat of Clay

IN THIS ONE... Matt Hagen, actor forced to impersonate and frame Bruce Wayne, is turned into Clayface. (Two-parter)

CREDITS: Written by Marv Wolfman (easily the best known comics writer to yet pen an episode, I don't think I have to mention his main credits but okay, lots of Superman, Tomb of Dracula, and of course, New Teen Titans) and Michael Reaves; directed by Dick Sebast and Kevin Altieri.

REVIEW: Clayface's two-part introduction takes its cue from Two-Face's, the first episode leading to the character being turned into a monster, the second Batman dealing with that monster. And in both cases, the real villain is the one who victimizes them. For Harvey Dent, that was mob boss Rupert Thorne; for Matt Hagen, it's evil CEO Roland Daggett. In both cases, these villains make return appearances, representing two breeds of criminality in Gotham. Daggett's henchmen are worth it too, because they're so quirky. Bell constantly listens to the police band, and Germs is a complete hypochondriac, memorable traits Batman exploits (he's really vicious in the way he intimidates these guys, leading to some of the best scenes in the story). For Clayface, they really had several ways to go and chose the best elements of two of the comic book incarnations.

We're perhaps a bit impatient to see the monster in Part I, and his transformation, in his car, is anti-climactic. Not the way Daggett's men create the conditions for that transformation though. Played in shadow, it's even more horrific than if we'd been able to see it. Is he being drenched in the flesh-puttying clay? Or are they force-feeding him the stuff? And when we cut to his hand and it seems to melt... gah! A strong ending to an episode that had us questioning whether we believed in miracle cream that fixed heavy scarring for a day. But once Hagen is Clayface, the show goes down Akira street, with grotesque shape-shifting and speed lines, leading to crazy crazy animation in the climax. Throw in a "last scare", with Clayface's shell breaking and his laughing at us from the eyes of a sexy bombshell, and you won't believe how long you'll have to wait for the monster's return.

Clayface will take his time, but we'll see Daggett much sooner, I think. After all, he's in the middle of a hostile takeover of WayneTech!

IN THE COMICS: The original Clayface in the comics, Basil Karlo, was a disfigured actor who turned "Phantom of the Opera". The second, Matt Hagen, was a treasure hunter who fell into a radioactive pool of mud and became a shape-changing supervillain. The animated series essentially combined these two characters, though it must be said that some years before, Karlo had returned and injected himself with various other Clayfaces' bodily fluids and become an "Ultimate Clayface" who indeed had Matt Hagen's powers (among others). Roland Daggett does not appear in the comics, but him and his Enterprises appear in a lot of non-comics media - more episodes of BTAS, one of Arrow, and The Dark Knight Rises (where he is JOHN Daggett). Not sure if they're doing it on purpose, but when Clayface loses control and changes very quickly into various identities, the fact that one of these is a pale blue alien, who at one point appears as a half-face makes me wonder if they were referencing Ultra the multi-Alien.

SOUNDS LIKE: Clayface is played by Ron "Hellboy" Perlman, not his first BTAS role. Daggett is recognizably Ed Asner, who's best known character is surely Lou Grant, and who would incarnate a couple more DC characters over the run of the DCAU. Also notable, Ed Bagley Jr. (St. Elsewhere and just everything) as Germs. Scott Valentine, who plays Raymond Bell, was Metallo on Lois & Clark. In the role of Terry Lupus, we have Dick Gautier who had once played Batman in a PSA opposite Burt Ward and Yvonne Craig when Adam West was trying to distance himself from the role.

Great anime-style animation enlivens an already strong tragic monster origin story.


Unknown said...

Terry was Hagen's personal assistant? The one who could be taken as being very personal, if your mind ran that way?

LiamKav said...

It almost comes across as a stereotypical abusive relationship.

Apparently Daggett was originally going to be Max Schreck from Batman Returns, but Tim Burton didn't like the idea. No idea if he had the power to make Timm and co come up with a new villain or if they just did it to be nice.

Bonus points to the henchmen for not being idiots. They know Hagen is a master of disguise. They come across a man over the supply of Renuyu who claims to be Bruce Wayne, and they immediately realise that it's Hagen. This makes them more intelligent than 95% of comic and cartoon villains.

I think this is the first time Batman has tried the "scare the life out of a hood to get information" tactic. And using the Batwing (with it's awesome engines that sound like screams) is much more creative than the usual "dangle them off a building" method.

Pity the first episode is annimated by Akom. They don't have the skill to really pull off the vehicle chases (which, to be fair, are difficult for most animation crews. At least until Futurama introduced and perfected the idea of using CGI for vehicles.)

LiamKav said...

FTMS did the second episode, which is a relief as Akom would have probably butchered the various morphing effects.

Batman's torture method in part 2 is even better, and the animation is great as his punches push the bottle closer and closer to falling (and the fact of it being harmless seawater is the icing on the cake).

Regarding Bradley's comment, just look at the way Teddy grabs Hagen's arm right after the latter discovers his shapeshifting abilities. They were definitely going for something there. (and again, his temper tantrum right after whilst Teddy hides in the corner. I get real "abusive husband" vibes from it. Also see the scene where Teddy tries to being Matt food and Matt flings him against a wall in a rage.)

How does Bruce Wayne disguise himself as a janitor? Does he use his vast wardrobe and make up skills (already seen in "The Forgotten") to make himself look like a blue-collar worker? Or does he just put some coveralls on top of his Batman costume (including cowl!) and walk straight in? The latter, obviously.

Notice that the first time Batman tries a flying kick on Clayface and it doesn't work, as he just gets hurried in him. So later when Batman again flies at him, he instead slams into him with his back (and butt), increasing the surface area of the contact and knocking Clayface down. I love it when heroes (and villains) learn from their mistakes.

Duck Gautier was also Rodimus Prime in the 80s Transformers cartoon series, taking over from Judd Nelson who had voiced him in the 86 movie. (I will do this for every Transformers voice actor. I apologise in advance.)

I love the music in these episodes. Clayface's theme had a bit of silver screen heroism mixed in with a tragic edge. It's great.

Overall, I love these two episodes, and I'm a bit surprised they haven't had more comments. They're a real standout.


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