One Panel #218: Clayface Walks on Stage

From Batman, with Robin the Boy Wonder: "The Murders of Clayface" by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson, Detective Comics #40 (June 1940)

My first Clayface was the Matt Hagen shape-shifter in the old cartoons, but that was always a strange concept for a Batman villain. Nice for variety, but not exactly an Arkham inmate. So I was intrigued when Who's Who told me there was an earlier villain called Clayface who was more of a Phantom of the Opera type, a criminal Lon Chaney who wore a mask molded from clay. And I was even more stoked when Basil Karlo made a comeback as part of Mud Pack.

Unfortunately, lacking a living Matt Hagen at the time, the story was used to turn Karlo into a mud monster, and even into the New52, he's been the identity of the polymorphous creature. I guess I'm the only fan of a properly human serial killer/master of disguise. Oh well.


Brendoon said...

> I guess I'm the only fan of a properly human serial killer/master of disguise. Oh well.

I think you're properly justified!
After all, superheroes first appeared to overcome the "normal" problems the world faces. Quite possibly it was more the rule of thumb for the golden age, but I'm just guessing.

Escalation of arms (or exhaustion of ideas?) led to baddies having to be super. That's hardly fair really, cos as Mr Incredible said "when everybody's super, NOBODY'S super." With the super guys beating on super crooks, who's there to save us from muggers, burglars and extortionists? That's why "Spiderman Homecoming" was so good. Someone's gotta look after us little guys.
I remember when Batman was considered a detective, the flip side of your clayface... even by the 80's he still used deduction and reasoning! Look at his score in the old DC Heroes game and his mind was way off the scale. Doesn't need it anymore cos' Alfred does all that stuff with computers.

Siskoid said...

Correct. The "supervillain" wasn't the immediate go-to back then. Our heroes usually tangled with crooks, hoods and masterminds. I suppose the escalation became such that even a human hero like Batman had to become "super" over time. The trick (which is sometimes missed) is to not jettison more human-level stories and threats along with the bathwater.

LiamKav said...

I'd say that comics Batman is still considered a detective, at least as one of the feathers in his bow. It doesn't get shown as much on TV or in films because "detecting" is harder to make visually interesting in visual media compared to comics or prose books. (Look at the bullet scene in Nolan's Dark Knight for an instance that doesn't quite work). If anything, Batman's intelligence has skyrocketed since the 1990s and Morrison recreated the "Big-Seven" JLA, where we needed a reason for very-human Batman to be on a team with super-powered gods. Although there had been bits before, that was really the start of the ultra-smart, ultra-prepared, ultra-clever Batman who's beaten you before the fight has already begun.

I do agree with the point that there needs to be variety, especially for more street-level heroes like Batman. I love the Clayface episodes of BTAS, but they are the exception there in terms of villain power-levels. As long as it is mixed in with more human-level stories like "I am the Night" (which even references this mix of super and non-super villains in Bruce's speech: "Sooner or later, I'll go down. it might be the Joker, or Two-Face, or just some punk who gets lucky") And yeah, I also loved Spider-Man: Homecoming for it's relatively low level threat. Not everything has to be the end of the world.

On the other hand, this might be why I have more trouble with Superman's villains. I just can't see why someone like, say, the Toyman is any sort of threat to him. I think Superman NEEDS high level threats, like Brainiac, Zod, and Luthor. The alternative is you do the silver-age thing where essentially he's so bored that he spends all his time screwing around with his friends and potential girlfriends.

Brendoon said...

Sigh! These discussions make me feel refreshingly normal.
Well, almost. It's the Kryptonite poisoning, you see...


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