Bat Signal

Issue 478 – “The Coming of…Clayface III!”

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Hi there everyone, and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing mission to read ever issue of Detective Comics in random order and with essentially no context. And we have some very special to talk about today, everyone. As you can tell from the cover and the title of the story, we’re in for another story involving the shape-shifting menace of Clayface. But, in a strange turn of events, this is yet another Clayface. Today’s story is the third time that I’ve discussed an issue featuring Clayface, and each time it’s been a different guy. First we had the disfigured actor Basil Karlo who was just a master of disguise, and second we had Matt Hagan the disgraced actor who had a shape-changing body of living clay. However, we aren’t talking about either of those guys today. No, today we’re talking about the third Clayface. And boy is he strange.

The story begins with two random criminals breaking into a fancy aquarium, attempting to steal some rare and exotic fish. Weird plan, but whatever. They don’t do very well though, because they apparently tripped the silent alarm, and have summoned Batman to beat them up. And boy did they pick the wrong night to rob an aquarium. Because it turns out that Bruce Wayne has just been rather brutally dumped by his long-time girlfriend Silver St. Cloud. And this fact is making Batman more than a little cranky this evening. So, even those these two idiots were just trying to steal some fish, Batman ends up beating the both to a pulp, taking out all of his personal frustrations on them while seeing images of Silver while he beats the men within an inch of their lives, and spouting what appears to be some very personal facts about himself. But I guess he guys are too beaten to actually hear any of this. It’s a pretty grisly scene, and it’s only ended when some actual cops show up, and are more than a little startled to see Batman behaving this way.

 

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Batman stops beating the men after the cops show up, and sullenly leaves the building, letting he cops wonder why on Earth Batman was acting that way. And, we see that Batman’s not the only oddly-dressed person acting violently in Gotham that night, because over in the STAR Labs research facility a man in a strength-enhancing mechanical suit and a cowl is sneaking inside. He steals some sort of device from the laboratory, but as he attempts to sneak out an old security guard shows up and attempts to stop the man. Which doesn’t go that great. The man removes his cowl, and reveals a melted and brown face, causing the guard to panic. The man in the cowl is clearly unstable, and he end up grabbing the guard and appears to kill him.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne has returned to his penthouse, still rather furious. Alfred tries to talk him down, but things escalate pretty quickly, and Bruce even starts considering stopping being Batman to get Silver back. But, when the Bat Signal is lit, he realizes what a foolish thought that was, and heads off to find out what’s going on. He meets up with Commissioner Gordon at Star Labs where they find the clothes of that security guard floating on a blob of protoplasm. It appears that our hooded friend has melted the guard, who was actually an acquaintance of Gordon’s. They also see that the device that the thief was trying to steal was destroyed during the process, so Batman begins investigating it to see if he can get any leads on it. But, where is this would-be thief, and what is his deal?

 

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We then cut to an abandoned wax museum were our villain is sitting at a sumptuous banquet with a mannequin that he’s named Helena. Cool like, bud. He then proceeds to tell this mannequin, and us, his backstory. Apparently he’s a man named Preston Payne, and he has a pituitary gland disorder that has left him physically disfigured his whole life. People have picked on him ever since his childhood, even though he’s a very gifted scientist and geneticist. But, when he heard about the incarceration of Matt Hagen he decided to try some experiments. He met with Hagen, got a sample of his blood, and ended up creating a serum that he thought would give him Clayface’s malleability without turning him into a clay monster.  That didn’t work out though, and Payne ended up becoming something in between, not able to shape-shift, but having the melted face that we saw earlier. He then built this mechanical suit to control himself, while also learning that he had the ability to touch people and reduce them to a protoplasmic goo, like we saw earlier.

Payne now considers himself a new Clayface, and the reason that he tried robbing STAR Labs earlier was because he thinks he’s designed a machine that can keep his clay infection stable, letting him lead a normal life. He just needed that device from the Labs. Luckily, there’s another STAR Labs outside Gotham, so he heads out there, and breaks into the building to steal the duplicate device stored there. Which is when he runs into Batman, who figured that this new Clayface would try to steal the duplicate device. The two then immediately start fighting, primarily because Batman’s still pissed off from his dumping. Unfortunately, Payne’s suit makes him extremely strong, and he’s quickly able to overpower Batman. Which is when he starts to get a horrible pain that’s a side-effect of his condition. And the only way to fix it is to touch Batman and kill him. Cliffhanger!

 

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It’s been a while since I’ve had an issue that cut off at the end, leaving me to more than likely ponder for months if not years what will happen until I happen to draw the second act. But, I have a sneaking suspicion that Batman doesn’t get reduced to a pile of protoplasmic goo. But that’s just me. Snark aside, this issue was just kind of okay. We had a lot of drama from Bruce Wayne that we weren’t really privy too, so it didn’t really come across that well, and then all the Clayface III stuff was just exposition. If I read the rest of the story it may have worked better for me, but due to the parameters of my stupid project, so I guess I shouldn’t complain that much. But, regardless of that, I don’t think Clayface III is that interesting. His design is incredibly silly, and his weird little melting power just kind of feels even more out of sync with Batman comics than the other Clayface does. And, when you have a lackluster villain stuffed to the gills with exposition, it’s kind of hard to click with a story.

 

“The Coming of… Clayface III!” was written by Len Wein, penciled by Marshall Rodgers, inked by Dick Giordano, colored by Marshall Rodgers, and lettered by Ben Oda, 1978.

 

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