Episode Number: 21
Original Air Date: September 9, 1992
Directed by: Kevin Altieri
Written by: Marv Wolfman and Michael Reaves
First Appearance(s): None
Like “Two-Face” before it, “Feat of Clay” gets to benefit in its second act from a strong first act that set everything up. All of the establishing material has been taken care of. When we last saw Matt Hagen he had been mutated into a grotesque mass of clay thanks to Roland Daggett’s men and the Renuyu product. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne found himself in an unfamiliar position: arrested for the attempted murder of Lucius Fox.
“Part II” opens with Wayne making bail and heading into his car without speaking a word to the throng of reporters shouting questions at him. As Alfred drives away, Wayne is able to recount a bit of where he’s at in his investigation into who tried to knock off Fox. He knows it has something to do with Daggett (Ed Asner), that much he was able to get out of one of Daggett’s cronies, but he needs more information or else his case will hit a wall. Daggett is also sweating a bit as Fox is still out there and he knows about Daggett’s attempt at a hostile takeover of Wayne Enterprises and things could get back to him.
That’s stuff is all playing second fiddle though to what has happened with former actor turned criminal Matt Hagen (Ron Perlman). We only saw a glimpse of the monster he has become at the conclusion of “Part I,” but “Part II” wastes no time in showing Hagen in all his grotesque glory. Seated in front of a mirror in his trailer, Hagen is a massive clay-like golem with a hint of Slimer from The Real Ghostbusters in his face. He’s resigned to the fact that his career as an actor is over, as well as his life among normal people. His friend and stand-in Teddy (Dick Gautier) is trying to console him though, and the two soon realize that the Renuyu that made him this way still works as intended, meaning Hagen can mold his face to resemble others. And the ability is no longer limited to his face, Hagen can essentially re-shape his entire body to resemble anyone he can imagine, including clothing. For a brief moment, Teddy thinks Hagen can now continue on as an actor, only now better than ever. However, Hagen quickly loses concentration and reverts back to his new monstrous appearance. Frustrated, he explains that changing his form is like tensing a muscle, and maintaining that is just as hard. It’s a fun little nugget of info for the viewer and necessary information if we’re to believe that there’s no going back for Hagen.
Daggett’s henchman Germs (Ed Begley Jr.) is sent to finish off Fox in his hospital room, but Batman having no real leads to pursue, is there waiting. Germs bolts, but Batman corners him in some research closet where different diseases are stored. Germs, having gained his nickname because he’s a germaphobe, is pretty freaked out and Batman places a jar of what he calls crimson fever on a shelf above the head of Germs. He interrogates him, and each time Germs doesn’t give him a suitable answer he punches the wall and the jar inches ever closer to the edge of the shelf. Germs reveals that Hagen was the one who impersonated Wayne, and Batman is dubious of Hagen’s ability to pull it off so convincingly. Before he can get anywhere further, a security guard interrupts them and we see the jar over Germ’s head was harmless sewer water.
The guard though, is there for Germs as well. It’s Hagen, and he immediately attacks Batman by extending his arm into a mass of clay to slam Batman against the ceiling. He makes off with Germs and tries to escape via the rooftop, but Batman is there to meet him. They have a brief exchange, with Hagen getting creative with his shape-shifting abilities. In a scene that was often included in TV spots for the show, Hagen makes little steel tips pop-out of the ends of his fingers. They continue to extend until the clay recedes to reveal a steel hand that he then thrusts forward – the fingers extending like swords. Batman dodges, and eventually Hagen collapses under the stress of all of the shape-shifting. He escapes by diving off of the building and retreat’s to Teddy’s house.
Even though Hagen failed to kill Germs, he feels empowered by his battle with the Batman. Teddy tries to talk him out of this path, but Hagen snaps at him, announces he’s to be called Clayface from now on, and leaves Teddy lying on the floor. Daggett is set to appear on a popular Gotham talk show hosted by Summer Gleeson, so we know where Clayface is heading. Batman has also made the same connection, and he’s there to set a trap. When Clayface, disguised as an audience member, confronts Daggett on television about the addictive properties of Renuyu, he reveals himself and forces Batman to spring into action. He’s able to lure Clayface into the control room, where monitors surround Clayface and display different parts Matt Hagen played in his career. Clayface loses control of his shape-shifting powers and a prolonged “death” scene occurs as Hagen smashes monitors and gets himself electrocuted. During the sequence, he even takes on the form of Wayne in full sight of the police which apparently was enough to prove Wayne’s innocence (and maybe Germs ended up cooperating with authorities, but Daggett escapes arrest so who knows?). After that, Batman is back in the bat cave with a piece of clay he recovered from Germs. He’s shocking it and it has no effect suggesting to Batman that the death of Clayface was just another performance. Cut to Teddy bidding farewell to his old friend, and a woman behind him laughs menacingly and her eyes go yellow.
Clayface is a profoundly fun villain to watch. The animation utilized is possibly the best the show will ever have as Clayface is constantly morphing and changing, particularly in the fight scene with Batman. No shortcuts are utilized in showing how his hands turn into other objects, no puff of smoke or bright glowing lights or something to obscure the animation. He has this nice texture to his look that reminds me of earth clay as opposed to pottery. Ron Perlman’s deep and gravely voice also sounds appropriate coming out of Clayface and it’s hard to imagine another voice for the character. Animating him was probably costly, which might explain why he only appears in one more episode of Batman: The Animated Series, and then one more in The New Batman Adventures. That’s the only thing that dampens my enthusiasm for the episode, just knowing we won’t see much more of this villain. While he doesn’t fit-in with other villains of the show, those that are mostly grounded in some basis of reality, Clayface is a purely fantastical creature. It does feel a touch out of place, but it’s handled well which makes the whole thing easier to accept at face value.
In the real world, it will be a year before we see Clayface again. For this blog, it will be less than that since it’s roughly 30 episodes away. It was pretty cool though for Clayface to disappear for some time as the ending of this episode makes you wonder what’s next for Clayface. Is he to become a recluse and hide from society? Can he learn to control his powers well enough to resume his life as Matt Hagen? We’ll find out eventually. Batman: The Animated Series only has a handful of two-parters, and it begs the question: Which is the best? I know a lot of people love “Robin’s Reckoning” and it’s hard to argue against that one as best of the two-parters. “Two-Face” was great though the second act was a little underwhelming, at times. The others concern Batgirl, Ras Al Ghul, and a wacky computer. They’re actually all pretty good, from what I remember, but I think “Feat of Clay” is easily in the top two with “Robin’s Reckoning.” We’ll see how I feel about that two-parter when I get to it (spoiler alert: in about 10 weeks).