Hello everyone, and welcome back for ye another installment of Bat Signal, my never-ending quest to read every single issue of Detective Comics, in random order, and with basically no context. And we’re taking another trip into the world of Batman’s famous Rogues again this week folks, and one of his more confounding ones. That’s right, it’s a Clayface issue. Specifically the second Clayface, Matt Hagen. We’ve actually talked about a shocking amount of different Clayface variations, and I believe this is only the second time we’ve hit upon Hagen, which actually ends up being the second time that he’d been in comics, which works out pretty well. In case you can’t remember, Matt Hagen is basically the Clayface everyone thinks of, with the body that can transform into basically anything while going back to a baseline clay substance, all thanks to a magic pool of nonsense he occasionally bathes in. And, he’s returned!
The issue begins with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson hanging out in the Batcave, looking at clues, when Alfred comes rushing up to them with startling news. Matt Hagen, who they recently fought as the villainous Clayface, has escaped from prison. Jailbreaks are bad news regardless, but especially so with Clayface, because after their first fight with him they never learned how he got his powers, so they have no way of stopping him from getting them again. Which, is exactly what Hagen is doing. He apparently headed straight from the prison to the strange hidden cave where he once found a pool of mysterious protoplasm that gave him his powers. Hagen then submerges himself in the goop once more, and feels his body become that of clay, but only for 48 hours, when he’ll have to take another dip. But, for now Clayface is powered up and ready for a new crime wave, which begins by stealing the payroll of a shipping yard.
So, Clayface has gotten himself quite a payday, but was unable to stop the guard from triggering an alarm. Which, just coincidentally happen to be when Batman and Robin are driving by on their patrols, so they’re able to swing by the shipping yard just as Clayface is fleeing. Batman tosses a rope around Clayface, but the villain responds by turning into a giant top, and spinning Batman around and around until he’s launched into the sea, all while Robin just kind of gawks. And, with the Dynamic Duo taken care of, Clayface turns himself into a pegasus and flies away with the money, declaring to himself that phase one of his plan is complete, now he just needs to create a new identity to enjoy the money.
A whole week then passes with no more sightings of Clayface, and Batman is starting to get rather frazzled. So, trying to take a break, Bruce Wayne decides to spend the day lounging around in some rich people club, when he’s approached by a famous scientist asking Bruce to allow a visiting English friend of his to temporarily join the club. Bruce says that’s fine, and the club welcomes John Royce, who makes himself at home, listening to all of the rich people of Gotham chat. Such as a member named Phipps make plans with Bruce to view a new Rembrandt painting Phipps has bought that evening. However, when Bruce arrives that night he finds Phipps suddenly leaving the home, complaining of a toothache. Which is odd, because Bruce known Phipps wears false teeth. So, Bruce suits up, and sure enough finds that Phipps has been replaced by Clayface.
Batman attempts to fight Clayface, hitting him with a freezing compound, but nothing works and the villains transforms into a giant cricket and flees the scene. Batman the uncovers the real Phipps, who was tied up by Clayface. And, this all starts rubbing Batman the wrong way, and he immediately becomes suspicious of John Royce. So the next day he and Robin arrive at Royce’s home, only to find the man tied up. They free him, and he tells them that Clayface abducted him, and has been impersonating him. But, as Batman and Robin flee to continue tracking down the villain, we learn that his is actually still Clayface, and that he’s trying to trick the Dynamic Duo.
However, it turns out that Batman isn’t trusting Royce immediately, especially because he said the word ‘radio’ instead of ‘wireless,’ which Batman found odd for a supposedly British man. So, they head to the home of the professor who first mentioned Royce, and sure enough find him chained up in his own basement, forced to examine Hagen’s mysterious protoplasm. He has found now way to increase the length of Hagen’s abilities, but he freely gives the remaining sample to Batman, who combines it with the freezing compound he tried, and failed, to use earlier. They then head straight back to Royce’s house, and attempt to arrest him, causing Clayface to lose his cool, and turn into a giant bat. But, Batman is able to hit him with the freezing compound, which now works, and freezes Clayface solid. When he thaws the 48 hours have now passed, and he finds himself powerless once again, and back in police custody, but with Batman still none the wiser as to where his pond actually is.
It’s kind of shocking how this has all played out, actually getting the first Clayface story, and then the second one like this, albeit two years apart. The whole stupid gimmick of this series kind of insists that I never get this sort of logical continuation, but it is fun to actually see a story slowly progressing. And I love the idea that these Matt Hagen stories basically were all the same, just with small bits of information getting dolled out each time. In the first story, they had no idea how Hagen turned into Clayface. Now they know that it’s a protoplasm, but not where he gets it. It’s a fun little progression that probably only has one or two more stories left in it, but I kind of like it. Clayface is such a goofy villain, especially this variation where he’s basically able to turn himself into whatever he want, and take on any physical attribute he wants, making him a little too overpowered for Batman. But, I guess it’s all good, because this era of Batman has him fighting aliens on a pretty regular basis, so I guess pegasi and giant locusts are no biggie.
“The Return of Clayface” was written by Bill Finger, penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, inked by Charles Paris, and edited by Murray Boltinoff and George Kashdan, 1962.
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