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Batman: The Animated Series – “Mudslide”

Mudslide-Title_CardEpisode Number:  52

Original Air Date:  September 15, 1993

Directed by:  Eric Radomski

Written by:  Alan Burnett, Steve Perry

First Appearance(s):  None

 

In real-time, it had been just over a year since Clayface debuted in Batman:  The Animated Series during its first week on television. For most viewers, this was their introduction to Matt Hagen and his incredible shape-shifting powers. His two-part debut, “Feat of Clay,” was a showcase for what this show could achieve in terms of visual fidelity and story-telling creating a villain who was sympathetic and compelling. As an audience, we’re forced to choose between Hagen’s revenge trip and Batman’s justice. At the end of those episodes, Hagen took a pretty big jolt of electricity and tried to play it off as a death scene, he being an actor in his previous life. Batman didn’t buy it though, and just to make sure we were in agreement with him there was a little teaser at the end of the episode letting us know Clayface was alive and well. Though we’re about to find out, he is indeed very much alive, but maybe not so well.

clayface melt

Guess whose back.

“Mudslide” opens at a new location:  Tarnowar Financial. So often we see capers at a building relating to Bruce Wayne that it becomes easy to forget that Wayne Enterprises can’t be the only financial institution in the region. A pair of security guards are just doing their jobs when one heads out to make some rounds. He returns quickly to say he forgot to check Mr. Tarnowar’s office and makes for an elevator, while the other guard, Billy (Rob Clotworthy), remains at his post. He notices though, that his partner is indeed in the parking lot making his rounds via a security camera and immediately suspects the person who is en route to the office is a crook. He sets off the silent alarm and heads up to the office. The other guard, now inside, hears him and ducks behind a large portrait of Mr. Tarnowar. When the guard orders him out, Mr. Tarnowar emerges from behind the portrait and orders the kid to head back to his post. Rattled, Billy does as he’s told, but stops to question when Mr. Tarnowar got back from his vacation and what happened to his accent? Before any more questions can come out of his mouth, Billy is hit in the face with a glob of clay and the camera pans back to reveal it came from the arm of Tarnowar, who is obviously Clayface (Ron Perlman).

With Billy out of the way, Clayface is free to rip-off Tarnowar’s safe. Unfortunately for him though, when Billy activated the silent alarm before heading upstairs Batman was alerted as well. He comes crashing in, but before he can survey the situation Clayface has already taken on the appearance of Billy and tells Batman he caught a thief. Batman examines the supposed thief, notices it’s actually the security guard, and also takes note of the glob of clay on his face and immediately knows who he is dealing with. As he turns around though, Clayface is waiting to smash him with one of his many creative arm formations. Clayface, apparently not interested in getting into a fight, immediately flees after knocking Batman down forcing Batman to give chase.

Clayface is not as fleet as most villains, and worse off, he seems to be losing his integrity – his physical integrity. Sloppy and muddy in appearance, Batman takes note that Clayface is in rough shape. He catches up to him rather easily and offers help. Clayface, as expected, refuses help from the caped crusader. He ends up escaping, rather conventionally, in a getaway car being driven by an unknown woman.

Mudslide_Love

It’s rather surprising that his first name is Matt instead of Oscar.

We’re shown Clayface’s rather swanky hide-out. It’s a rather large house, perhaps even considered a mansion, on a cliff face. It has a real mad scientist vibe about it. Inside is a laboratory and Clayface’s female accomplice, Stella (Pat Musick), has him lay in a machine that has a mold on it in the shape of a human body. A press closes down on top of it, and when the press lifts Clayface is in a smooth form that resembles an Academy Award, an obvious nod to his acting background. He’s actually been encased a suit because his body is falling apart. Exhausted, he sleeps it off, but awakens later to find Stella crying over the end of a Matt Hagen movie. He explodes, and frightens Stella, but soon is forced to apologize. It’s clear Stella harbors feelings for Hagen, though it’s unclear if the affection is returned. I want to say it is, but Hagen is an actor, after all, and he clearly needs Stella in his life or else he likely wouldn’t have one at this point.

Stella takes to Hagen’s comforting and calms down enough to show him something. A rare isotope called Mp40 which when combined with a part of Hagen returns its integrity. Hagen is excited, though Stella tries to temper his enthusiasm. In order to stabilize Matt, she’ll need a lot more of the stuff and it’s rather costly and hard to come by. The only place with a sizable cache is Wayne Biomedical (who else?), but Clayface doesn’t see that as too big an obstacle.

At the Batcave, Batman has had a chance to examine a piece of clay left behind by Clayface. He takes note of the reduced structural integrity of the sample and deduces that Clayface must be searching for a way to reverse this degenerative process. He has Alfred assist him in pouring over documents relating to Hagen’s film career in hopes of identifying the woman who came to his aid.

melting

Clayface melting on the train is fairly unsettling.

Clayface sets off to infiltrate Wayne Biomedical, apparently the next night as Wayne is there at work. He disguises himself as a female researcher and quite cleanly gets in and out. His ruse is enough to fool the guards, but Batman takes note of the woman fleeing through the parking lot. She hops onto the subway where a small child takes note of how muddy she looks. Eventually, Clayface begins to melt and the sight causes the other passengers to panic and flee in terror. Batman busts in to find the melting monstrosity and the two trade blows. Clayface, being rather sloppy, has a hard time dealing with Batman who counters with some sort of freezing canister. In all honesty, I’m not sure why Batman would utilize such a device since partially freezing Clayface would appear to help him hold himself together. Feeling he can’t defeat Batman, Clayface hurls himself through the glass window and lands in a truck far below the bridge on which the subway car was traveling. Aside from attracting attention, his mission is a success as he both escaped from Batman and managed to steal the Mp40 canister.

Batman returns to the Batcave and Alfred has some good news for him. He was able to determine that Clayface’s likely accomplice is a Stella Bates who was a medical consultant on Hagen’s films (incidentally, the one cited is the film we saw Stella watching earlier, Dark Interlude). Alfred even found an address, and Batman immediately sets off to investigate.

Clayface_smothers_batman

Almost equally unsettling is Clayface trying to smother Batman.

At Stella’s home,  Clayface is set to receive the Mp40 treatment. He’s in his suit with various tubes plugged into him. Stella begins administering the treatment and Hagen is growing excited. It appears to be working, but Batman shows up to ruin the party. He switches off the machinery, causing Stella to throw herself at him. Clayface angrily rises from the surface he was laying on and explodes out of his containment suit. Determining the only way to save himself is to kill Batman, he grabs onto him and stuffs him inside his body. Stella protests killing Batman, but mostly backs down when Clayface declares it’s the only way. Batman struggles to get out of Clayface’s body, but each time he gets close Hagen forces him back in. He mentions he can feel Batman’s heartbeat slow, but inside Batman was able to grab his grapple gun and fires it through Clayface’s head, rising to safety.

curtains going down

The curtain’s going down.

Their fight soon spills outside onto the cliff face where it also happens to be raining heavily. Stella begs Hagen to come inside fearing his body will completely fall apart in the rain, but he refuses. Citing a need to ends this once and for all, he and Batman do battle until both spill over the edge of the cliff. Batman is able to hang onto the ledge, and Clayface grabs ahold of Batman. Below is the ocean, and falling into that would seem to spell the end of Clayface. Batman tries to help Clayface up, but it’s too late. Clayface, accepting his fate, lets his arm detach from Batman’s grasp and plunges into the waters below. We see a dark outline of his body in the water as it dissolves. From a high angle, Batman is shown climbing back up onto the ledge. He offers some comfort to a crying Stella as he leads her away.

“Mudslide” provides a great book-end to “Feat of Clay,” essentially completing a Clayface trilogy. I love Clayface as a villain because he’s a sympathetic one and he’s a visual treat. The complexity involved in properly animating Clayface is essentially why he only appears in these three episodes. It also sounds like he wasn’t even a planned repeat villain, but he was received so well in his initial appearance that he was indeed brought back for an encore, or would curtain call be more appropriate? This episode was handled by Studio Junio who had previously worked on “The Underdwellers” as well as “Dreams in Darkness.” Despite being possibly the worst episode of the show, I did generally like the look of “The Underdwellers” though it required nothing on the scale of this episode in terms of special effects. “Dreams in Darkness” possesses some interesting scenes, in particular Batman’s hallucinations, which is perhaps what gave the showrunners confidence in handing “Mudslide” over to them. While it’s perhaps not quite as good as “Feat of Clay Part II,” it’s still wonderfully animated. The part where Clayface is posing as the researcher is especially creepy as she melts before our eyes. I also think they did a great job of showing how much weaker Clayface has become. He’s very muddy in texture with his sickle-like arms basically bending like wet noodles when he flails at Batman.

clayface falls

That is a pretty horrifying visual, right there.

As for the character himself, I like the direction they took with Clayface. He’s essentially accepted his fate as this sort of monster at this point, but has no interest in falling apart and essentially dying. It’s weird to try and figure out how his physiology actually works, but that’s a road not really worth exploring. By making his crimes this time just him stealing, first for money and second for the isotope, as a means of survival helps him maintain his sympathetic status. The writing does really lean into Matt Hagen’s show-business background, probably a little too much. Seemingly everything out of his mouth is some kind of Hollywood pun that borders on 1960s Batman in terms of corn. It didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the episode or anything, but some restraint would have served the episode well.

The aftermath of the episode would seem to indicate that Clayface is indeed gone for good. In a real world sense, he’s too expensive to bring back and where do you really go from here in terms of story? Clayface would not appear in season two, but when the show was resurrected as The New Batman Adventures he would indeed return. I would have preferred he remain dead, as much as I like the villain, but that’s a discussion for another day. Judged on its own, “Mudslide” is a worthy follow-up to one of the season one highlights and a great episode all on its own.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Feat of Clay – Part I”

Feat_of_Clay-Title_CardEpisode Number:  20

Original Air Date:  September 8, 1992

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Marv Wolfman and Michael Reaves

First Appearance(s):  Roland Daggett, Clayface

I don’t know what happened that caused me to miss the first few broadcast episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, but “Feat of Clay” was the first episode I ever saw. It’s possible that my memory is just fuzzy and I did see the few episodes that aired before it, but my family had also just moved from New Hampshire to Virginia so it was a pretty hectic period for us. Regardless, assuming it was my introduction to the show it’s a pretty great way to have the ice broken. Though “Feat of Clay” is a bit more procedural an episode as opposed to action packed, it’s a well constructed and satisfying viewing experience and I remember being captivated by the show’s tone which just felt so much more “adult” than what I was used to.

foc6

Roland Daggett is a made for TV villain that proves to be a worthy addition to Batman canon.

“Feat of Clay” marks the debut of two characters we’ll see more than once over the course of the series. The first is crooked businessman Roland Daggett (Ed Asner). Rumor has it he was supposed to be Max Shreck from Batman Returns but supposedly Tim Burton wasn’t on board with that for some reason, so Daggett was created instead. He’s a businessman and slumlord who prioritizes money above human life. In this episode, he’s concerned with his chemical plant, Daggett Industries, and a certain client. Matt Hagen (Ron Perlman) is that client, a down on his luck actor once renowned for his ability to alter his appearance and mold himself for any role. Ever since an accident left his face horribly disfigured, he’s found it pretty hard to find work.

Feat_of_Clay_Resignation

Imposter Bruce wants that brief case.

The episode opens in confusing fashion (for an eight year old) with Bruce Wayne meeting Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucius Fox in the middle of the night at an old warehouse (Gotham is just full of these). Fox is confused, but he brought what Wayne was seeking – a briefcase containing documents which incriminate Daggett in an illegal attempt at taking over Wayne Enterprises. Wayne quickly double-crosses him and a horde of goons appear. They’re ordered to kill Fox, but lucky for him they’re a terrible shot. He’s eventually injured when one assailant is able to shoot out a rope and drop some debris on him. Apparently it’s a lot harder to shoot an adult male than it is a thin rope. Batman is also alerted to the gun fire and he shows up to clean up some of the mess, but he’s not in time to prevent Fox’s injury.

As a viewer, it was hard to believe Wayne would do anything to endanger one of his friends and the presence of Batman confirms this. Eventually we find out Wayne was none other than Matt Hagen in disguise. Hagen has found a topical cream that can cover up his scars, and more importantly, turns his face into a clay-like state which allows him to mold his own features to resemble others (no explanation given for how he alters his voice, that’s just cartoons for ya). The cream, Renuyu (pronounced Renew You), just so happens to be manufactured by Daggett Industries. As we know, Daggett wants to take over Wayne Enterprises, and the encounter with Fox was supposed to result in Fox’s death which would have been the catalyst for the takeover. With Hagen’s failure, Daggett has decided to cut-off Hagen’s supply of cream. He also orders his two primary henchman, Raymond Bell and Germs, to take Hagen out as he’s now a liability.

Hagen-300x218

Hollywood doesn’t have many roles for mugs like that one.

Unfortunately for Hagen, he needs the cream in order to keep working. It also has proven to be an addictive substance, though weather the cream is chemically addictive or just psychologically given it can erase scars is anyone’s guess and beside the point. Hagen feels like he needs it, and he is not willing to go without it.

Batman is of course trying to figure out what happened to Fox, oblivious at first that Bruce Wayne was framed for the attempted murder. Fox was able to tell the cops what happened, and naturally they want to speak with Bruce. Alfred covers for him while Bruce tries to figure out what happened back at the warehouse. Batman is able to trace Daggett back to Raymond Bell, who was there the night of Wayne’s framing. He tracks him down in the Batwing and runs Bell’s car off the road. In perhaps Batman’s finest interrogation, he uses the prongs on the front of the Batwing to impale and carry Bell’s car high above Gotham. Utilizing a mechanical arm, he extracts Bell from the car and dangles him over Gotham Harbor. He’s only able to find out that Wayne was not present the night of Fox’s attack, but Bell faints before he can fess up to who was behind it. The police show up and Batman is forced to hand over his prisoner. Now knowing that a Wayne imposter was present, he decides, against better judgement I’d say, to visit Fox in the hospital after hours which only makes Fox think he’s returned to finish the job. He’s arrested as a result.

Featofclay1

In order to hide his scars, Hagen is forced to rely on a cream provided by Daggett.

Not to be outdone, Hagen also decides to do some infiltrating and heads to Daggett’s lab. Using the last bit of Renuyu he possesses, Hagen is able to slip in undetected, but not for long. Daggett and his men discover him, and in a rather disturbing scene, Daggett basically drowns Hagen in the stuff by pouring it down his throat. The “murder” is only seen via shadows on the wall, but it’s effective. Hagen survives though, and his stand-in finds him later in his car where Daggett’s men had left him, but Hagen is different. We get just a brief look at him as he glances in the rear-view mirror before the episode ends with that which is oh so frustrating:  To be continued.

“Feat of Clay” is a slow moving episode of Batman, but necessarily so. The pacing allows us to really get inside Matt Hagen and sympathize with him. He’s driven to continue his life as it was before the accident that left him scarred and disfigured at all costs. He’s probably dealing with some depression, and the addictive Renuyu is probably the worst thing for him. His friend and stand-in Teddy is also the stand-in for the audience as he tries to talk Matt out of this path, but to no avail. He loves him too much to just abandon him, but we’re left to wonder if he’ll be pushed too far in the stories to come. Daggett, on the other hand, is a pretty conventional villain. He has no redeeming qualities and is easy to understand. He’s yet another gangster type who gives birth to a super-villain, following in the footsteps of Rupert Thorne and the role he played in creating Two-Face. Still, conventional as he may be, I always liked Daggett as a villain because there’s no compromise in him or an attempt to disguise his intentions. He’s not slimy like Thorne, just a cold, hard villain. Ed Asner is also perfectly cast in the role and my affection for him probably plays a role in my liking of Daggett.

As a result of all of the attention paid on Hagen, this ends up being an episode that’s rather light on Batman. The framing plot is engaging, when used, even if it felt rather similar to Batman Returns. He’ll get back to doing what he does best in Part II, but it is still a some-what shocking sight to see Bruce Wayne in handcuffs.

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The “murder” of Matt Hagen and the birth of Clayface.

Since “Feat of Clay” features some rather prominent voice actors, it’s not surprising this episode feels extra special. It also helps that the episode looks great. Hagen’s face is convincingly disfigured and the morphing properties of the cream he applies are fun to look at. Of course, we’re in for a far greater treat when Clayface truly debuts. The scene of his becoming Clayface though is almost incredible considering it’s taking place in a kid’s show. It was shocking to me as a kid and I watched with some disbelief. Also worth pointing out is the subtle personality quirks we get to see within Daggett’s gang. One guy apparently has a fear of germs (hence the name Germs) and Bell is always wearing headphones tuned to police scanners. It’s a small touch, but so often the hired muscle in these episodes are nameless, faceless, men with guns.

As the introduction for a new villain, and one that wasn’t well known outside of the comics, “Feat of Clay” is probably second only to “Two-Face.” It works in tandem with its follow-up, and I might argue it’s a more satisfying set of episodes than its predecessor. I suppose I’ll wait until I do a write-up on Part II before I make up my mind, but it should go without saying that these two episodes are among the best the show produced.


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