Batman The Animated Series: Feat of Clay

"There is no Hagen. It's only me now... Clayface."

There are three kinds of Batman villains.

There's your standard crooks and gangsters, like Rupert Throne. These are the ones that Batman has to deal with on a nightly basis. Then there's your costumed crazies like the Joker, Two-Face and the Scarecrow. They're more eccentric than the regular criminals, and often come up with some truly insane schemes, but are still basically human. And then there's your fantastical fiends like Man-Bat and Mr Freeze. These are the bad guys you're unlikely to see in a movie any time soon because DC is hung up on Batman being dark and gritty.

What I love so much about Batman: The Animated Series is how it effortlessly combines every facet of Batman. You want gritty crimes stories? You got 'em. You want outlandish sci-fi tales where he battles putty monsters? Step right up, they got ya covered. And, as an added bonus, said tale will also be a mini Shakespearean tragedy. Because if there's one thing the writers of this show obviously loved it was creating tragic origin stories for Batman's many villains.

'Feat of Clay' is very reminiscent of 'Two-Face'. Like Harvey Dent, Matt Hagen is a public figure who is hiding a terrible secret. A powerful criminal knows this secret and uses it to blackmail Hagen into working for him. Hagen resists and during an altercation with the criminal's henchmen he is horribly and permanently disfigured. Now disgusted by his own appearance, Hagen becomes a bad guy with the word 'face' in his name and sets out to take revenge on the criminal who ruined his life.

You know, in a way, it is somewhat fitting that the origin story for a villain who can mimic other people mimics another story. It's just too bad that, while this story mimics the plot of 'Two-Face' perfectly, it fails to mimic that story's tragic heart. Matt Hagen just isn't as sympathetic a figure as Harvey Dent. What happens to him is genuinely horrific, and I did feel a little bit sorry for him at times, but at the same time I never really found myself rooting for him to succeed.

Much of this is down to how badly plotted Part I is. I really get the sense that this was originally meant to be a single episode, but the script overran and rather than cut stuff out they just decided to make it a two-parter. But instead of using that extra time to give us more insight into who Matt Hagen was before he became Clayface, they just rush through his origin and then waste the rest of the episode on a pointless sequence where Batman chases after and interrogates one of Daggett's goons in the Batplane.

If that wasn't bad enough, bloody AKON are handling the animation again. This isn't their worst work, but it's still pretty bad and looks even worse when compared to Part II. Just take a look at this scene from Part I of Daggett talking with his goons in his laboratory:


Now compare it with a similar scene from Part II:


Hard to believe these are from the exact same show, isn't it? The reason for this staggering difference in quality is because Part II was put into the care of a far more capable company (TMS Entertainment, Ltd.) and director (the reliably great Kevin Altieri). Part II is what makes this story great and more than makes up for the failings of Part I. Clayface may not have the pathos of Two-Face or Mr Freeze, but his morphing abilities (brilliantly realised by TMS) make him a challenging and entertaining adversary for the Caped Crusader. The final showdown, where Batman causes Hagen to completely lose control by showing him images of his past previous roles, is one of the best sequences the show has ever done. We really have to thank out lucky stars that wasn't left in AKON's clumsy hands. Those clowns could barely do explosions and fire. Clayface's morphing abilities would've been well beyond them.

Comic Book Connections

Oh boy, this is going to be a complicated one because DC Comics has had over half a dozen different villains named Clayface. The BTAS version is a combination of the first two. The original Clayface was Basil Karlo and was created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane and first appeared in Detective Comics #40 (June 1940). He was a B-list actor driven insane when he learns that one of his films is remade without him. He dons the costume of Clayface, a villain he once played in a different movie, and goes on a killing spree. The second Clayface, Matt Hagen, was created by Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff and first appeared in Detective Comics #298 (December 1961). He was treasure hunter who gained shapeshifting powers after being exposed to a pool of radioactive protoplasm.

I Know That Voice

Matt Hagen/Clayface was voiced by Ron Perlman (Beauty and the Beast, Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy), Ronland Daggett by Edward Asner (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Lou Grant, Up), and Germs by Ed Begley Jr. (Battlestar Galactica, St. Elsewhere, Arrested Development).

Notes and Quotes 

--Why does Bruce break into Lucius' hospital room out of costume and allow himself to be caught there and arrested?

--It is possible to see this story as a parable for drug use. Hagen's dependence on the face cream is treated as an addiction, which leads to an unfortunate overdose that effectively ruins his career and life. So remember kids, don't use experimental face cream.

--All the stuff about Daggett trying to take over Wayne Enterprises is underdeveloped and makes little sense. Lucius seems to suggest it was via insider trading, but I'm fairly sure that's not how insider trading works.

--The Imperial Pictures lot was designed to resemble the Warner Bros. Studio lot in Burbank, California, including the iconic water tower where they keep the Warner brothers (and the Warner sister).

Teddy: "You can't go on like this, Matt. You hurt all the time now."
Matt: "You're just my stand in, Lupus. Nobody promoted you to nursemaid."
Teddy: "That stuff makes your face like putty, Matt. It can't be good for you."
Matt: "It probably ain't good for me, but unless I only want to do horror pictures, it ain't bad for me either."

Germs: "Please, let me out of here! All these viruses and bacteria! I could be... infected!"
Batman: "I know."

Batman: "Listen up scumwad, 'cause I'm only gonna ask you once. Who was Lucius Fox meeting at the tram?"
Raymond Bell: "Wayne... Bruce Wayne!"
Batman: "You lying sleaze! You wanna rethink that answer?"

Batman: "I know my fist has landed on that jaw once before."

Clayface: "You know what I'd have given for a death scene like this. Too bad I won't get to read the notices."

Batman: "I wouldn't be surprised if the body they took to the morgue was just a shell. Don't forget, Hagen was once an actor. He said so himself. He called it a scene, maybe the greatest scene of his career. A death scene so real, he fooled us all."

Three out of four experimental face creams.

Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig

1 comment:

sunbunny said...

I unapologetically love this one. Matt Hagen isn't the most sympathetic guy, he's actually a pretty big jerk, but I don't have a problem with it. If he was too saintly it would feel more like Two Face or Mr. Freeze.

"a B-list actor driven insane when he learns that one of his films is remade without him" *side-eyes a certain episode of Ducktales we both know well*

All major studios have water towers. And their own fire departments. Film is very flammable. There was a MASSIVE fire at Universal several years ago and they lost a lot of their archives. Fun and only slightly related fact: Warner Brothers was evacuated just yesterday due to a nearby brush fire.