Bat Signal

Issue 49 – “Clayface Walks Again”

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So last week we had the most current issue of Detective Comics that I happened to pull for this project, and this week we have the oldest yet. And holy crap does it have an exciting cover. I mean, Batman punching guys in a cemetery or the crazy cover to the Box story had some really fun covers, but this one straight up has Batman fighting pirates while Robin is tied to a mast! What an amazing cover! Hell yes I’ll pay 10¢ to read this story! How could they mess up the promise that this cover makes? Well…let’s get to that.

This issue starts off with a text box that fills us in on some previous adventures that are important to the plot, kind of like a “Previously, in Detective Comics,” where it tells us about the time Batman fought washed-up actor Basil Karlo who started dressing like his most famous role, a killer called Clayface, and began killing people involved in a remake of one of his movies. Which isn’t exactly the origin story for the Clayface I know, and it seems weird to me that he’s just a guy in make-up instead of a man made of weird shape-shifting mud like he is now, but it’s certainly more realistic. Turns out there was only one person involved in that remake that Clayface wasn’t able to kill, an actress named Julie who is poised to become the next it-girl in Hollywood. We see her scuzy agents talk about how they’re going to make her a star before changing her name to Portia Storme to be more marketable. We also see that Julie, or Portia I guess, is engaged to Bruce Wayne which is a little shocking. But she says she doesn’t like the fact that Bruce doesn’t have a job, and decides to call off the marriage. Bruce is super okay with that in a way that makes him seem like a total dick, but I guess he’s too busy Batmanning.

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Well, anyway, after the weirdest break-up of all time we see that Basil Karlo is being transferred from prison to a state asylum in the middle of the night, during a rainstorm. Great timing guys. And predictably, the car transporting him goes over a cliff, killing the officers and freeing Karlo. He then immediately goes to a costume shop, kills the proprietor and makes himself up in the Clayface costume, which is mainly just a creepy mask, a cape, and a big Carmen San Diego hat. And the whole escape from the transport and murder of a costume shop owner tips Batman and Robin off to a connection, since they are the world’s greatest detectives, and they decide to investigate Karlo. Batman assumes he’s going to go to the movie studio he used to work at since he seems pretty obsessed with his old career, and they’re right! The two split up and Batman ends up looking through a set designed as a yacht, which is where Clayface is hiding. He spots Batman, and the two end up having a big fight that spill over to the model town that’s being used for the shots. And in the middle of their fight Clayface manages to grab a brick and huck it at Batman’s head, knocking him out. He then sets up a needlessly complicated way to kill Batman where he gets a car to start moving toward him to crush him. Clayface then wanders off to take care of Robin, and ends up smashing the Boy Wonder in the back of the head with a blackjack, and tossing him into a set before igniting the whole place with an incendiary bomb! Jesus! He’s just a boy!

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But in a classic villain mistake, Clayface leaves without actually seeing either of his foes die, which makes it a lot easier for them to escape. Batman basically just wakes up and gets out of the way of the car, and then goes to look for Robin. He realizes that Robin is inside the burning set, and since the fire department isn’t really doing anything, he grabs one of their hoses and douses himself in water before diving into the burning set. he runs through the flames until he comes across Robin, saving his protege while also calling him “the best friend I’ve got,” which is pretty sweet.

And after that colossal failure, Clayface’s antics are reaching the newspaper, and Portia is getting pretty worried. But she’s apparently too nice to stop production on her newest movie, so they just announce to the world that she has added security, which couldn’t possibly come off as a challenge to the deranged serial killer that’s after her. But Batman has a plan, and ends up coming to Portia’s home in the middle of the night to talk with her and figure out what they’re going to do to stop Clayface and keep her safe. And the next day we see Karlo, still wearing his weird Clayface mask, dress up as an extra in Portia’s movie so he can get close to her. Batman and Robin then show up at the shoot to protect Portia, but I guess no one told the added security that they’re legit, which causes them to have a crazy fight with the security guards. The two get to Portia, and Batman continues fighting guards while Robin tries to escape with her to safety. Unfortunately Karlo shows up with a goddamn bow and arrow, and shoots Portia in the back. Batman then chases after Clayface while the guards deal with  body. Batman gets in a huge fight with Karlo before finally getting the upper hand and knocking him the hell out. The police come to arrest Karlo, and we learn that it wasn’t Portia who got shot with the arrow, it was Robin, who put on the cloak Portia was wearing so Clayface would shoot him instead. But it’s all good, Robin was wearing some weird vest made out of cork and cotton that was designed to deflect an arrow or a knife, so I guess everything’s good. The story then ends with everyone laughing about how to screwed Karlo over, and Portia’s producer asking Batman if he wants to be a movie star, while Batman gives this hilarious response.

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So there we go, the return of Clayface! Without this project even knowing who he was in the first place. This was a pretty fun little story with some actual mystery and detective work, which is always greatly appreciated in this project. We saw Batman and Robin look at clues and hunt down Karlo, while beating him at his own game. I didn’t realize that Clayface was ever like this, not actually having the weird superpowers that he has now, and it actually makes way more sense. I’ve always thought that the more superpowered villains that Batman fights are a little weird, since Batman doesn’t have any powers it usually seems unfair, and the idea of having Clayface just be a killer who is good at make-up works better with Batman, at least in my opinion. It’s also really weird that Bruce Wayne had a fiance in the beginning of this issue, especially since I assume the two met in the last Clayface story since she was so linked with him, and it’s even weirder that Bruce just straight up doesn’t care when they break off the engagement, and really neither does she. But the biggest disappointment of the whole issue is that there were no goddamn pirates! C’mon Detective Comics, you can’t tease me with Batman literally throwing a pirate over his head like Donkey Kong throwing a barrel, and then not have anything even remotely like that happen. The closest that scene came to was when Batman fought Clayface on a fake yacht, and that’s not even close. Just a shame guys, not a bad story, it just could have had pirate fighting.

“Clayface Walks Again,” was written by Bill Finger and supposedly drawn by Bob Kane, 1941.

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