Tag Archives: Max Shreck

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Batman Returns

Batman Returns (1992)

Batman Returns (1992)

It’s December 1st, and it’s time to inject a little Christmas into this blog once again.  Last year, I went pretty light on the X-Mas related topics and I intend to do a little more this year.  I’ll start off slow with a pseudo-Christmas movie in the form of Batman Returns.

Batman Returns is the 1992 sequel to the mega-successful Batman.  All of the major players return from that film including Tim Burton as director and Michael Keaton as Batman.  The only notable omissions are Billy Dee Williams as Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent; Kim Basinger’s reporter/photographer Vicki Vale, and Robert Wuhl as reporter Alexander Knox.  All three characters are absent from the film and were not re-cast.  The Vale character was presumably removed so as not to force Batman/Bruce Wayne to settle down, while the other two must have been cut for time (Williams was reportedly disappointed he never got to play Two Face).

The major additions to the cast are, of course, the villains.  Going with a “more is better” philosophy, Batman Returns includes three major villains compared to Batman’s one.  Created for the film is Max Shreck, played by Christopher Walken.  He’s a real-world villain in that he has no gimmick or special abilities, he’s just a greedy, corporate, jerk who values money more than human life and has ties to both of the other comic book based villains. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman.  Catwoman serves the dual role of being a foe for Batman, and a love interest for Bruce Wayne.  Also joining the part is Danny DeVito as Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin, a monstrous take on the old Batman villain.  The two “super” villains have a sympathetic angle to play, which I’ll get to in a few paragraphs, and in 1992 both felt like logical inclusions for the big sequel.

The red of Catwoman's lips really pop in all of her scenes due to the muted palette of the film's sets.

The red of Catwoman’s lips really pop in all of her scenes due to the muted palette of the film’s sets.

The film is virtually identical in look to its predecessor with Gotham taking on aspects of film noir.  The technology is modern, or post modern, but with the stylings of the 1930’s and 40’s dominating the landscape, with a touch of goth too.  The noir angle is played upon even further with a majority of the film’s colors being black and white.  It’s demonstrated in the film’s leads with both Catwoman and The Penguin having a near white complexion to go along with the black and white shades of their respective costumes.  This makes what little color appear really jump out, such as the crimson of Catwoman’s lipstick or the yellow of Batman’s logo.  Batman, and the other good guys, are depicted with warm, natural flesh tones while the villain Shreck is noticeably pale, but not to the same degree as the other villains.  He makes up for that with his bone white hair.  The buildings and structures around Gotham are also mostly confined to shades of black and white, as are all of Batman’s gadgets and vehicles.  Combining this stylistic choice with the setting of a snowy Christmas time and Batman Returns comes across as a very cold movie, even when compared with the already bleak feeling of the first film.

DeVito's Penguin is mostly monstrous but he's able strike a sympathetic tone at times.

DeVito’s Penguin is mostly monstrous but he’s able strike a sympathetic tone at times.

As was the case with the first film, for better or worse, the villains are meant to be the main driving force of the film.  It’s a good thing they’re well-developed as Batman Returns arguably leans even harder on its villains than Batman did with The Joker.  Shreck is meant to be the irredeemable villain and serves as a foil to both Bruce Wayne and The Penguin.  The Penguin is not a nice guy himself, but Shreck proves to be the true monster of the film when he coldly tries to murder his secretary, Selina Kyle.  Shreck is the owner of a department store and he’s seeking the approval of the mayor (and Bruce Wayne as an investor) to build a new power plant.  In a sort of goofy Tim Burton type of plot, Shreck’s new power plant will actually syphon power from Gotham and when Kyle figures this out (while working late in an effort to be a better employee) is when Shreck shoves her out of a window.  Burton’s twist on Catwoman occurs here, as the meek Selina Kyle is seemingly resurrected when a host of cats attend to her corpse.  The scatter-brained screw-up becomes the headstrong and vengeful Catwoman.  Kyle is played fairly straight, while Catwoman is intended to represent her ego gone wild which apparently has an S&M twist.  Catwoman, clothed in skin-tight leather and armed with a whip, also has the benefit of nine lives.  She’s over the top but it works for the picture.  Cobblepot, and his family’s rejection of him, is what opens the film.  He was a hideous and monstrous baby (who apparently has a taste for cats) and his upper class parents wanted nothing to do with him so they tossed his carriage into the sewer where he was apparently raised by penguins underneath an abandoned zoo.  At first his motivations seem are simply to find out his origins while his gang of circus thugs terrorize Gotham.  It’s his encounter with Shreck that changes his outlook and sets his sights on being mayor of Gotham.  Shreck, needing a new mayor to get his plant approved, thinks he can turn Cobblepot into a sympathetic figure who could win election on that alone (never mind his hideous appearance) and soon the two turn to villainy in order to make The Penguin look good in the eyes of Gotham’s voters.

Naturally, their dealings put them in conflict with Batman as everything becomes twisted and murky.  The Penguin, together with Shreck, emerges as a viable candidate for mayor while Catwoman seeks vengeance against Shreck.  She starts by attacking his department stores which puts her in conflict with Batman.  With Batman as a common foe, this pairs up Penguin and Catwoman who then concoct a plan to frame Batman and turn Gotham against him.  It’s a fairly clever pot and Burton should be commended for being able to get this trio of villains to fit together well and the framing angle makes for good drama.  Unfortunately, Burton has never been one for realism.  We don’t mind when that takes the form of a monster baby killing a cat or a man in a bat costume gliding over the entire city, but he leaves lots of loose ends in his plots and asks the audience to simply overlook them.  The framing plot, for example, is never really resolved.  Batman is made to look like he kills the Ice Princess, a mini celebrity of sorts, and by exposing The Penguin as a bad guy (but not as the person truly behind the murder) is apparently good enough for Gotham and it’s police department (to make it even more convoluted, the people don’t even know that it’s Batman that made The Penguin look like a bad guy as he hacks into a PA system while Cobblepot is making a speech, using pre-recorded taunts).

Once The Penguin is exposed, the film’s climax is put into motion where The Penguin, now abandoned by Shreck, decides to murder the first-born sons of Gotham’s wealthy elite, including Shreck’s son Chip.  He has his circus gang abduct the kids from their cribs and personally attempts to abduct Chip, but Max volunteers in his place.  Batman, of course, saves the day which just angers The Penguin even more forcing him to send his penguin army into the city to fire off a bunch of rockets and level a chunk of the city.  Catwoman, having also been betrayed and “killed” by The Penguin, is drawn out after Shreck and all three collide for a fitting resolution.

Batman and Catwoman play off each other quite well in their few scenes together.

Batman and Catwoman play off each other quite well in their few scenes together.

A great deal of the film rests on the Catwoman and Batman conflict.  With the characters in costume, their encounters become a fun bit of violent flirting, with all of the flirting basically on the part of Catwoman.  As Selina and Bruce, the two have a sometimes warms romance that develops a bit quickly with Bruce as the aggressor.  The two have a nice scene together where they both figure out each has a dual identity which is resolved during the final scene pairing Batman and Catwoman.  The film’s end suggests that Catwoman was to play a role in a future film, but perhaps because both Keaton and Pfeiffer were uninterested in continuing in their roles, this Catwoman would never surface again.

Batman Returns shares a lot of similarities with its predecessor, one of which being a rather major flaw in that sometimes each film doesn’t necessarily feel like a Batman film.  Batman Returns is even more guilty of this as the Batman character is really pushed aside in favor of the villains.  Perhaps Burton felt like he had more freedom to do this since the previous movie covered Batman’s origin, but we really learn nothing new about the main character.  In one respect, it does help to add more importance and excitement to the scenes that actually feature a costumed Batman, but it feels like their could have, or should have been, more from our hero.  The plot does mostly work though, even with the bloated cast, but it clearly had to make sacrifices somewhere and it’s debatable those sacrifices were worthwhile.

The Batmobile's ability to down-size into the Bat Missile was one of the big spectacles of Batman Returns.

The Batmobile’s ability to down-size into the Bat Missile was one of the big spectacles of Batman Returns.

The first film set a fairly high-standard for special effects and gadgets that Batman Returns is able to live up to.  The big spot occurs with the Batmobile once again, this time with it transforming into the Bat Missile.  Batman also debuts his ski boat during the closing moments of the film which serves as an interesting take on the more traditional bat boat seen in the comics and television series.  There’s also the previously mentioned gliding scene for Batman as he makes greater use of his cape.  Catwoman has some pretty spectacular death scenes as well and there’s plenty of fire and explosions throughout.  There are a few moments that scream “Tim Burton” that look kind of stupid, notably the penguin army and the final shot of a villain’s corpse at the end.  Some people are unwilling to forgive Burton for the campy penguin army, though I also kind of viewed it as Burton’s nod to the campy origins of the television show, and when viewed in that light, it doesn’t really bother me as much.  As a Christmas movie, there isn’t much here.  The film just happens to take place at Christmas, something Burton is quite fond of doing.  It does give the set designers a chance to play with snow which is kind of cool, and the only real mention of the holiday occurs during the final scene.

All in all, Batman Returns is an entertaining film with quite a number of flaws.  It’s pacing isn’t always ideal and the attention to detail is lacking where the plot is concerned.  The Batman character at times feels ignored, but the film is elevated by the performance of the villains and the way all of the major characters intertwine.  Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is a fun take on the character even if it isn’t that radical a departure from other portrayals.  The sexually aggressive Catwoman plays off of the more stoic, and sometimes naive, Batman rather well with the only drawback to those encounters being that they make Batman look pathetically boring.  DeVito received a Razzie nomination for his take on The Penguin which I never understood.  DeVito’s Penguin isn’t as overly campy as the character had been in the past, he has his moments but he’s mostly well done and I still enjoy this take on the character.  The makeup crew should be commended as it’s sometimes hard to believe it’s DeVito underneath all of the prosthetics.  Walken’s Shreck is perhaps the star, as he’s just so good in this role.  Shreck is hate-inducing, and he’s able to needle the audience in just about every scene he’s in.  The score, provided once again by Danny Elfman, is also adequate as are all of the other sound effects used in the film.  It’s the classic case of a flashy and big-budgeted film trying to compensate for some underlying problems, which are more obvious this time around than they were with the film before.  Batman Returns is far from being among the worst Batman films produced, but it’s also not really one of the best either.


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