Sun
Dec 9 2012 12:00pm

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: “Feat of Clay: Part 1 & 2”

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch on Tor.com: Feat of Clay: Part 1 & 2

“Feat of Clay: Part 1”
Story Marv Wolfman & Michael Reaves
Teleplay Marv Wolfman
Directed by Dick Sebast 
Episode #020
Supervising Composer Shirley Walker
Music Composed by Jeff Atmajian, Carl Johnson
Animation Services by Akom Production Co.
Original Airdate - September 8th, 1992

Plot: Horribly scarred actor Matt Hagen is addicted to ReNuYu, a cream that allows him to look like anyone. Industrialist Roland Daggett blackmails Hagen into framing Bruce Wayne but then Hagen tries to steal the ReNuYu so Daggett’s goons bury Hagen in the cream... with unforeseen consequences.

There are several Clayfaces in the comics, and the Animated Series version is a mash-up of the first two. This guy has the backstory of being a tragically disfigured film star from the first Clayface, Basil Karlo, and the name and powers of the second Clayface, Matt Hagen. Tying his powers to a corrupt businessman and an addiction narrative, rather than a magic cave, brings Clayface in line with the rest of The Animated Series by being revenge-oriented and science fictional. That said, we didn’t need a whole episode to explain who he was before he was made of clay.

“Feat of Clay: Part 1” is just so boring. The comparison is to “Two-Face: Part 1,” but instead of watching Harvey Dent, a good man and friend of Bruce Wayne, destroyed by inner demons and corrupt forces, Matt Hagen is barely in this episode, only two scenes where he is himself, and what we see is not very positive. 

Hagen is violent, vain, selfish, impetuous, and abusive to Teddy, his best friend, stand-in, and roommate. In fact, Teddy so much plays Grace to Hagen’s Dent that I’m going to go out on a limb and say Teddy is Hagen’s boyfriend, something that could only be implied rather than stated on a children’s show in 1992 (see Maggie Sawyer on Superman: The Animated Series). Teddy says it’s Matt’s addiction to ReNuYu that makes Matt act horribly, but as we never saw Matt before his disfiguring accident, we have no reason to believe him. Matt’s a pretty unlikeable person, and it doesn’t feel like a tragedy when he’s turned into a puddle of goo at the end.

And instead of making us like Hagen before his destruction, most of the episode follows Batman’s assbackward attempts to clear Bruce Wayne. A good third of the episode is given over to a chase sequence where Batman flies his Batplane through a tunnel in order to impale a car and interrogate the driver. The entire sequence is boring (there’s no doubt that Batman’s super-plane can chase down a normal car), morally appalling (how many lives did Batman endanger before physically torturing Daggett’s luckless thug), and in the end pointless since the guy passes out before saying anything anyway. Add to that sneaking into Lucius Fox’s hospital room as Bruce Wayne, only to get arrested, and you start to wonder if Batman bought that “World’s Greatest Detective” mug for himself.

All of the major problems in this episode are with the script, which I find surprising since it was written by veteran comics and cartoon writer Marv Wolfman. I can only surmise this, but it feels like the much better Part 2 was supposed to be a single episode, it ran long, and Wolfman tried, and failed, to expand the episode out to a two-parter. But that’s only a guess.

 

“Feat of Clay: Part 2”
Story Marv Wolfman & Michael Reaves
Teleplay Michael Reaves
Directed by Kevin Altieri
Episode #021
Music by Shirley Walker
Animation Services by Tokyo Movie Shinsha Co., LTD.
Original Airdate - September 9th, 1992

Plot: Batman closes in on Daggett as the man who framed Bruce Wayne. But doing so bring him face to face with Clayface, a shapeshifting monster who’s out for his own revenge.

In contrast to “Two Face” and “The Cat and the Claw,” the second episode of “Feat of Clay” is vastly superior to the first half (though, like “The Cat and the Claw,” the better episode is directed by Kevin Altieri). For one thing, we finally get Clayface as a villain instead of a victim, and hoo boy he is fantastic.

For one thing, he’s voiced by Ron Perlman, and as I said before, Ron Perlman’s awesome. His performance here is wonderfully nuanced for such an appropriately melodramatic character. His mood swings from depression to elation as he realizes he has godlike powers, only for his inner jerk to re-emerge when he thinks his powers aren’t good enough, reveal a complicated and terrible person given ultimate power. Clayface’s confession that he always wanted to play a a great death scene is heartbreaking, until you watch this episode a second time and know that he’s lying, at which point it becomes awesomely dickish. Perlman, like Hamill, captures the sick joy villainous power brings.

And man is Clayface powerful. He is probably Batman’s most dangerous villain in the entire series. On top of being able to look and sound like anyone, a terrifying, paranoia inducing power on its own, Clayface is also a giant mudslide that steamrolls Batman for 22 minutes straight. Wolfman and Reaves foregroud Clayface’s offensive capabilities and make him a more animation friendly villain (clearly influenced by the T-1000 from 1991’s Terminator 2) but they so improved Clayface’s abilities from his comics version that they took a Batman villain and made him a Superman villain. Punches, kicks, falls, batarangs, and electricity have no effect whatsoever. (If only Batman could “freeze” Clayface somehow, maybe with a “freeze” gun of some kind, but where would Batman get something like that?)

Clayface’s animation is the highlight of the show. Altieri’s direction creates some fantastic visuals, but most of the credit goes to Tokyo Movie Shinsha Co, who deliver one of the most fluid and wild animation jobs of the entire series. While fighting, Clayface has a heavy presence, so each impact lands just as hard on the viewer as on Batman. But when shifting his face, from human to muddy and back, or his insane self-destructive death spiral, spinning wildly between his forms, his face tearing apart again and again, the painful, grotesque images are mind-blowing. And his transformation at the end, from a large angry woman who bursts into a giant monster, is possibly the best entrance of a character in the show.

Besides Perlman, this episode has two other great guest voices from a couple of Eds. Ed Asner voices Roland Daggett, who will be a reoccurring villain throughout the series, basically whenever the script calls for “generic evil business man” (just as Rupert Thorne is called in when they need “a mob boss”). Daggett is who Ferris Boyle would be if Boyle didn’t even pretend to be humane. Though the character is officially original to The Animated Series, in character and appearance he greatly resembles Norman Osborn, the civilian identity of the Green Goblin.

The other great job is by Ed Begley Jr, as Daggett’s germophobic right hand man. The interrogation scene where Batman places a jar of water over his head and claims it’s some horrible disease works mostly because of Begley’s delivery. He tries so desperately to be brave in the face of both Batman and an unspeakable infection that it’s very satisfying when he breaks. It also makes a great contrast to the interrogation in Part 1, where Batman couldn’t do with an experimental jet what he does here with a small jar of H2O.

The only real problem with “Feat of Clay: Part 2” is that there’s no reason for Clayface to have faked his death. If electricity has no effect, why doesn’t he just keep going and eventually kill Daggett? We’re supposed to believe that seeing multiple versions of himself made Clayface lose control, but he actually had enough self-control to make a fake body for himself and then slip away when no one was looking. Even if you accept that he had to escape at that moment, if he’s still alive then he should still be trying to kill Daggett. Instead he just laughs, specifically the jerk laughs at Teddy, who is mourning him. I know it’s supposed to set up his inevitable return, but mostly it just unresolves the plot. And that’s... annoying.


Steven Padnick is a freelance writer and editor. By day. You can find more of his writing and funny pictures at padnick.tumblr.com.

8 comments
Earl Rogers
1. Earl Rogers
Maggie Sawyer is gay because the pre-existing comic book character is. Had been from her conception onward. I was impressed they found a way to include that in the series despite the limitations imposed by kid's tv.

Hagen's friend is seen by you as gay because...he's his best friend? Is that all you have to go on? Or was there actual confirmation from the creative people involved?

I think we need a tad more than that.
Earl Rogers
2. Tumas-Muscat
Great review/re-watch!

I do have to respectfully disagree on one point, though: your comments on Matt Hagen's characterisation, and your comparison to Harvey Dent's transformation. Two-Face is a case of a good man whose disfigurement brought out his inner demons and changed him. Clayface, on the other hand, was a 'bad'/unlikeable man whose looks didn't previously reflect his inner self. Ironically, while gaining the ability to look like anyone - thus enhancing his acting skills - Hagen's true form becomes a reflection of his rotten core.

Clayface isn't that much of a tragedy, I think it may be intentional that he's not supposed to feel that way (at least until later episodes try to make it otherwise). Whereas Dent is tragic is his loss to another personality entirely, Clayface seems more like exclusively an extreme extension and empowerment of what was already there. Seeing it from this angle, I don't really mind Hagen's dickish behaviour (even if I feel quite sorry for Teddy and hate how badly he treats him).
Alan Gratz
3. agratz
I thought they did a fantastic job with the Clayface villain in B:TAS, starting with "Feat of Clay, Part 2." Seriously, the comic book Clayface with a muddy face in a bad space suit never worked for me. But this Clayface? Truly menacing! The reimagining of him was just terrific. As you say, he's perhaps the most difficult villain for Bats to defeat, physically speaking. My daughter was perhaps seven when she first say this version of Clayface, and it gave her nightmares. (I felt awful! I had no idea he would be so frightening to her!)

I like the attention to the henchmen in this episode. Usually, our supervillain is so colorful, his henchmen are reduced to "Guy Wearing a Parka" or "Creepy Mime." But here, since Daggett is just a dude, so Bell and Germs actually get names--and quirks! One of them is a germaphobe! The other wears police-band headphones all the time! That was a nice touch, I thought, giving both of them a hint of personality. It certainly made for a great scene between Bats and Germs, as you say.

Clayface turned up too infrequently for my tastes.
Earl Rogers
4. Rootboy
I was terrified of Clayface when I was 7 too. Glowing yellow eyes, voice of Ron Perlman, could be anyone? Yeesh.
Earl Rogers
5. csurge
Clayface is... creepy as all hell. I was 15 when I watched these episodes, and yeah I got huge chills right at the end when we see his final disguise. A perfectly ordinary woman... that laugh and the glowing eyes freaked me out. Easily the most scary shape-shifter in all comics/tv shows. Shame they didn't use him more... but then, I'm sort of glad they didn't. He's more at home in a Steven King novel, I think.

Matt is not meant to be overly sympathetic. The change he experiences is reflective of what's now on the inside, as a poster above pointed out. He's vein and cruel to the extreme, and so got what was coming to him when he placed too much emphasis on fame and looks over Teddy's simple human friendship. I never got the gay vibe at all... I think they just overplayed the friendship with Teddy that's all. Maybe you're right, though.

I'm getting the full series from a friend tomorrow. :) So I'll watching right along side you from now on.
Jenny Thrash
6. Sihaya
If you say, "Batman, The Animated Series," to me, then my first association is "Feat of Clay." Man, that is a wicked bad guy. It was amazing to me at the time how such obvious anime fit so well into a noirish cartoon. And the plot twists don't really stop once we get into the second episode. As for Clayface not dying, well, I'm glad he doesn't. Since my original Batman exposure is the 1960s series, the plot contortions to bring Clayface back seem pretty mild. And they aren't particularly jarring in the context of the story, especially given the spooky delivery.

Sometimes a show needs a bad guy who's just *bad.* The first episode slowly peels away each sympathetic trait that we try to latch onto, one by one, leaving us nothing but a nutty avatar of revenge. We start off thinking we've got a Harvey Dent, but we've actually got a Joker. Then the ending brings the guy back to some of his old identity and melds it with the new one. The guy lives to act, and he's been scoffing at Teddy so long that he really kind of lives for that, too. When there's nothing of him left, this is the core truth of his identity that he can still latch onto. Why does he need revenge on Daggett any more? Daggett's given him what he always wanted. He shifts the focus of his rage onto Batman, scoffs at Teddy and goes about his merry way.
Earl Rogers
7. csurge
I actually remember the interrogation of Bell quite vividly, and have had further thoughts on it.

I think the whole scene is meant to show how pissed off Batman is at that point. Someone pulled a fast one on him, and by God he's going to get to the bottom of it by hook or by crook. In this case, he literally uses both a hook and a crook. ;) The fear he instils in Bell seems very real. Yeah, he endangers a few bystanders... but, dude, Batman was scary here.... and I loved it. Maybe I'm over thinking it, but think the whole sequence serves as a potent reminder that Batman is always on edge, even though he does defend the establishment. Batman operates outside the law, and uses his liberties freely when he thinks it's necessary to get to the truth. That's the whole idea of what he does. He came into being because the Gotham establishment failed his family, and thus he claims kingship over Gotham and her underbelly when the establishment fails the innocent. That means he pushes his liberties quite far sometimes.

Batman never was and never will be a boy scout. He knows the system has failed again, and he'll bend or break whatever rules he has to in order to bring the truth to light. In the end Bell faints and Batman differs to the boys in blue. Bell isn't seriously injured either. So although Batman pushed his liberties with the interrogation, he still stayed within the boundaries of reason and gave up Bell when the police asked him to do so. No harm, no foul, as they say...
Earl Rogers
8. this alias is in use
I'm glad I'm not the only one who picked up on a gay vibe between Clayface and his stand-in. In movies/TV, when a guy is dealing with personal issues it's typically a woman who provides emotional support. If a man is there, he's usually family (by blood or adoption). The two biggest signs that there's more to this relationship was the way Teddy grabs Matt's arm at one point and Teddy serving Clayface dinner at home. On the other hand, Teddy's tone when he talks to Matt sounds like a concerned friend more than a lover. And of course, Clayface is later seen with a woman.

Overall, it was a great two-parter. When I was 12 I missed that Batman was bluffing while interrogating Germs. I love the theme they created for Clayface, the music on the show does an excellent job of setting the mood.

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