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The New Batman Adventures – “Growing Pains”

growing pains titleEpisode Number:  8 (93)

Original Air Date:  February 28, 1998

Directed by:  Atsuko Tanaka

Written by:  Paul Dini and Robert Goodman

First Appearance:  Annie

“Growing Pains” is the first episode of this new series to make me actually happy there are no title cards this time around. I largely miss them for their artwork, but one thing I don’t miss them for is their tendency to spoil parts of the story. There have been a few episodes where the villain of the episode is a mystery, but only if you happened to miss the title card. This is another such episode, but the absence of a title card actually preserves the mystery for much of the episode. The only way to know the identity of today’s bad guy is to recognize the voice, and since guests sometimes do multiple characters there’s still some mystery even in that scenario. If you’ve never seen this episode, and you don’t want it spoiled, maybe skip this entry until you do.

annie

A mysterious young girl is the star of today’s episode.

This episode opens in Gotham at night under that ominous red sky. A young girl is running through a run-down area and she seems quite scared. She’s decked out in a long red coat and she has black hair cut at an even length. She reminds me of Coraline. Some bikers see her and immediately start giving her a hard time. They surround her, and I guess they’re just bad guys as she doesn’t look like someone who would be in possession of any valuables, though I suppose if you’re open to kidnapping then any kid has some value.

robin places to be

It’s not everyday you get cock-blocked by a fancy light bulb.

Fear not, for this young lady has someone looking out for her. Unfortunately though, she apparently drew the short straw tonight because it’s Robin, and only Robin, who comes to her aid. The bikers aren’t impressed with Robin’s threats, but he makes them regret their hubris in style. Some lumber was just laying around, and Robin knocks one biker off his mount with a javelin-like toss of the wood. The others make a hasty retreat as Robin checks on the girl. She (Francesca Marie Smith) is in a real panic and seemingly can’t remember who she is or where she’s from. The only thing she knows is that she has to keep moving. Robin wants to help, but the girl takes off on him. Up in the sky, the Bat Signal flies high and Robin is forced to let the girl go to tend to his other responsibility. As she runs off, so too does Robin in the opposite direction. The real drag of being an actual boy wonder off on his own means the only mode of transportation he has are his feet.

batmans tough love

Batman dishing out some life lessons on love and the battlefield.

Batman and Robin convene in Gordon’s office to view some surveillance footage of a violent robbery. A very large man can be seen on camera and Gordon suspects the guy has acquired some super strength via chemical means. Batman doesn’t recognize him, but both key-in on his wild looking gaze. His eyes appear to be all white, which is sort of interesting of them to acknowledge since it seems like a fairly common thing for comic book villains (and heroes) to possess which almost always goes unnoticed. As the two discuss what they see, Batman notices Robin is staring off into space. When he asks him about it he mentions the girl he ran into earlier. Gordon remarks “teenagers…” and then makes a comment about being glad daughter Barbara is past those “wild” days which causes Batman to give him an odd look. As the two leave, Robin talks about the girl and wanting to help her, but Batman cold as ever, tells him they can’t help her. He needs him to focus on the task at hand which is finding this big dude while also passing on some Batman tough love.

The next day, Tim complains to Alfred while he’s being chauffeured around Gotham that Bruce always treats him like a kid (a line that really needs to go away). Alfred points out that he is a kid and Tim gets bent out of shape about him taking Bruce’s side. He then spots the girl from the previous night, and tells Alfred there’s been a change in plans. Alfred tells him he was told to bring him straight home, but that smart-ass just gives him the whole “Tim’s not here,” thing as he gets into costume. Alfred then lets him out of the car in his Robin attire. He doesn’t even pull off into an alley or anything, he just stops and lets him out in the middle of the city. He then gives old Master Bruce a call who’s currently at work.

Robin races off into what looks like a bus terminal, a very large bus terminal, and catches up with the girl. The girl cries and collapses into his arms, which was probably the reaction Robin dreamed about. They have a nice little chat where she reiterates that she remembers nothing of her past, even her name. Robin decides to arbitrarily give her a name. Spying a girl holding a Raggedy Ann knock-off, he decides to call her Annie and the girl seems to like it. She goes on to explain that she’s running from someone. She doesn’t know who the person is, but he’s a man and she can sense his presence. She then jumps and points at a shadowy area declaring the man is there!

robin vs big guy

Robin has his hands full with this guy.

Robin looks and from the darkness emerges the burly fellow from the surveillance tape. His eyes look pretty normal, but he is indeed a very large individual. He starts yelling at Annie and demands she come home. Robin puts himself between the two and demands the man identify himself. He ignores the request and Robin is forced into action. He jumps at him and rains blows upon him, but they’re not very effective. The bad guy gets his mitts around Robin and lifts him over his head, but then Batman comes swooping in.

Seeing Batman seems to frighten the big guy, and he decides to turn tail and run. Robin tells Annie to stay put as he and Batman give chase. They wind up chasing him through a parking garage or something and into a tunnel. Batman enters from one side while Robin swings around and enters from the other. When the two meet up in the middle, there’s no sign of the big guy. Batman looks around, but the only way out he can find is a grate. Robin tries removing it, but it’s sealed shut. Without any additional clues they return to Annie, only to find out she’s gone too. As Robin wonders where she could have gone, Batman scrapes some mud off the ground that came off the guy’s shoe. He tells Robin they’re done here and that they’re going back. Robin gets angry, saying he doesn’t want to wait around while Batman looks at some mud. He defiantly shouts “No,” when told to return to the Batcave and Batman looks surprised. Robin then takes off to go after Annie and Batman doesn’t stop him.

Robin winds up in a part of town full of homeless folks. As he walks around he pauses to look at a family of four sleeping on the ground. He looks a bit sad, but it’s hard to tell given the mask and all. He eventually finds Annie, or maybe it’s better to say Annie finds him. She tells him he shouldn’t be trying to help her, but Robin insists he can handle the guy that’s after her and likens him to his own father. Annie seems touched by Robin’s sincerity, and even plants a kiss on his cheek. As the two stand there, she notices some lights in the sky. She says they look familiar to her, only the light she’s trying to recall was higher and atop a tower of some kind. Robin smiles and seems to know what she could be talking about and tells her to come with him.

annie kiss

Annie is a lot happier to see Robin this time.

Robin leads Annie to the coastal shore and points out a lighthouse. Annie does indeed recognize it and she gets a bit excited. As they explore the area she takes note of some pipes spilling who knows what into the ocean. They’re connected to a chemical plant, something Gotham has no shortage of, and she and Robin head inside.

At the Batcave, Batman is doing his thing and having his computer check out that mud. Alfred joins him to inquire about Tim, but Batman assures him he’s keeping an eye on the boy. Alfred then remarks that he still has a tracer in his utility belt and confirms to Batman that he does indeed treat Robin like a child. Batman makes a sour face at this revelation as the computer dings that it’s done analyzing the sample. For the third time in this series, Batman drops an “Oh my God,” on us when he gets the results. He explains only that he knows who the assailant is and that Robin is in danger. He jumps into the Batmobile and rockets away leaving Alfred to look on with worry.

In the underbelly of this assumed chemical plant, Robin and Annie are walking in near darkness. Robin is too distracted by the girl and fails to notice an opening in the floor. They both fall down a pipe even further down into the plant. They’re fine, but there’s now only way to go and that way is soon blocked by the big mean guy. He seems to be in a better mood at least, and remarks to Annie that he’s glad to see she came home. Robin is ready to attack as the man approaches, but then his body starts to shift and change revealing his true identity:  Clayface!

clayface revealed

There’s that face we all know and love!

Clayface (Ron Perlman) moves in on the boy and reaches for Annie, but Robin slaps his hand away. They run, and Clayface does his extending arm trick which curls into a steel fence blocking their escape forcing Robin to smash through it. They run deeper into the plant to get away from the monster and as they regroup Annie notices that some of the clay splattered on her when Robin chopped at Clayface. Her body starts to absorb it and she seems horrified at first, but then a knowing calm settles over her. She shows Robin, then explains to him what happened.

robin smash

Robin seems unimpressed by this clay guy.

After the events of “Mudslide” Clayface could barely hold himself together. As he drifted through the water he arrived at this plant, and specifically, those pipes. Whatever chemical it was they were dumping into the ocean had an affect on Clayface’s makeup and it helped him to pull himself back together. He crawled into the pipes, too weak to do much else. Not wanting to be kept in the dark, he created a scout with a piece of his body That scout is Annie, and she was to explore the area surrounding the plant and then return to Clayface, only once she left his side her memory vanished and became lost. There’s no attempt to put a timeframe on any of this so who knows how long this girl was wandering around.

Robin is confused, and he probably should be, but undaunted. Annie has a different perspective, and tells Robin that he shouldn’t protect her because she isn’t real. Robin insists otherwise. He tells her to run as Clayface closes in and she obeys. Robin can only keep him away so long though, and Clayface gets agitated with the diminutive hero. He had been telling him to get out of here, but now he’s mad and grabs ahold of him. With Clayface seemingly intending to kill him, Annie can’t let that happen and throws herself at Clayface. He drops Robin, but that’s because he has her now and she is soon absorbed back into her “father.”

goodbye annie

Goodbye, Annie.

Robin is enraged by this development and demands that Clayface bring her back. He tells him he can’t and she’s gone. Robin starts throwing batarangs in his direction. At first, they seem like mild annoyances, but Robin strikes some containers full of solvent. They start emptying their contents and Clayface seems to find the substance quite painful. It’s causing him to fall apart, and as he backs away Robin targets more of the tanks full of the stuff forcing Clayface down a catwalk and into a dead end. Batman arrives and tries to stop Robin as he’s going to kill Clayface. As the two grapple, Clayface tries to kill them himself with his old blade hand trick. He misses and the metal causes a spark which ignites this solvent that’s all over the place. Batman grabs Robin and uses a grapple gun to get out of the area as it goes up in one big explosion.

The police are now on scene and Clayface is shown being loaded onto a truck. He’s in a tank of some kind full of water or some other liquid and appears to be unconscious. As Robin looks on, Batman walks up and attempts to console him. He’s not very good at it, and basically can only muster up a line about there not always being a happy ending. Robin says nothing, but overhears a cop going over a list of charges with Gordon concerning Clayface. Robin adds “murder” to the list before turning his back on the scene and walking off sullenly. The camera pans up towards the sky as he does to rest on the light from the lighthouse streaking across the sky.

“Growing Pains” is an episode that is quite a bit of fun for longtime viewers of Batman. It reintroduces fan favorite Clayface, and even ties up the loose end of how he’s still alive following his appearance in “Mudslide.” I wish he had not appeared in “Holiday Knights,” but at least he now looks better. And that’s because this is another TMS episode. The famed Japanese studio handled Clayface’s original appearance, so it’s only fitting they do his true return for this series. He’s been redesigned somewhat with a more rocky appearance. He’s also a darker shade of brown and the shape of his head has been altered some. He looks pretty great though, and the effects of his shape-shifting powers are quite spectacular. While it’s not as amazing as “Feat of Clay Part II,” it’s still mighty impressive. It’s also nice to see the studio get to extend itself a bit with the Clayface character, as the previous TMS episode “Never Fear” didn’t really allow for the usual flourish one associates with the studio.

clayface blade

He may look a little different, but Clayface still has the same old tricks up his sleeve.

And it’s not just Clayface that looks great. Some extra care was definitely put into Robin during his fight with the villain at the end. He makes some expressions we’re not accustomed to seeing, and overall just looks really intense. This is the first episode to really sell the audience on what Robin is capable of. He’s definitely been the least heard from hero, and it’s nice to see that when given a bigger role the character ends up shining rather than being an annoyance.

The plot of the episode is more than a little bonkers. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this one manages to keep the villain a secret for quite awhile. Ron Perlman voices him throughout the episode, and that’s basically the sole clue for much of the episode. I think most viewers probably at least figured it out when Batman started scraping mud, but it was still handled well. I have no idea what to make of Clayface suddenly being able to create life. It’s a pretty wacky power, but it does at least lend itself well to creating some drama here. I felt pretty bad for Robin in the end, but Annie took the news pretty well. Maybe she could have reacted differently and played up the sympathy angle, but it was interesting in its own way to see Annie just sort of accept the reality of her existence.

robin sad

There’s more Robin in this one than we’re used to, but it’s actually a good thing here.

The other underlying plot device is Batman’s treatment of Robin. The whole “He treats me like a kid,” thing is way overplayed in cartoons, so I don’t really find it very interesting. I’m also not sure if I should expect there to be some payoff of this down the road, and I don’t remember if there is. I suppose I could look ahead, but I’d rather take advantage of my faulty memory and hope to be surprised. My thought is there isn’t a payoff though, so there may be no surprise to come.

As for Clayface, I’m afraid this is goodbye. If you wanted to know more about where this life-creating power came from you’ll just have to look elsewhere I suppose. Clayface will stay gone this time, presumably imprisoned somewhere. He was one of the show’s best villains and certainly the character benefited from the show as prior to it I had never heard of Clayface. His debut episode was the first episode of this show I happened to see, so there is a touch of nostalgic affection on my part for the character. Even without that though I’m pretty sure he’d still be one of my favorites. It would have been fun to see him again, but TMS probably doesn’t come cheap and I don’t ever want to see the character done cheap again like he was in “Holiday Knights.” Clayface, you will be missed.


The New Batman Adventures – “Holiday Knights”

holiday knightsEpisode Number:  1 (86)

Original Air Date:  September 13, 1997

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance:  Robin (Tim Drake), Mo, Lar, Cur

After pausing for a week to discuss the 1998 film Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero we have now finally arrived at The New Batman Adventures era of the show. This is essentially the start of a sequel series, but it’s been retconned over the years (or just simplified) as Season 3 of Batman: The Animated Series. The Blu Ray set released in 2018 simply refers to it as such and the intro for each episode is the Season One intro from the Fox Kids era. The show largely exists thanks to two new developments since the previous series ended in 1995:  the WB network, and Superman.

Warner Bros. and Fox had a nice relationship in the 1990s where WB created several shows that Fox aired as part of its Fox Kids lineup on weekday afternoons and Saturday morning. At some point, the executives at WB decided it would just make more sense for them to start their own network. On January 11, 1995 The WB was launched and alongside it came Kids’ WB. That block of programming would be occupied by cartoons primarily, most of which included characters WB owned. Gradually, as the license agreements with Fox expired the shows WB had created for that network migrated to its network.

TNBA trio

The New Batman Adventures placed greater emphasis on Batman’s supporting cast.

The network’s flagship action cartoon was Superman, or Superman: The Animated Series. It was decided that it would make a lot of sense for Superman to simply be partnered with Batman to form an hour programming block of DC’s hottest heroes. It would make sense for the two to cross paths, and so WB commissioned a new Batman series envisioned as a sequel to BTAS. Like the second season of that show, this one would focus on Batman and a supporting cast of heroes. Dick Grayson would return, but not as Robin but rather Nightwing. In his place was a new, much younger, Robin and Batgirl would be there as well. The show would need to be updated to match the style of Superman and to also make the show cheaper to produce. “Dark Deco” was now out, in its place was a modern Gotham with cell phones and (gasp!) color TV. Oddly, Gotham would also feature a red sky apparently to heighten the darkness of the show vs the much brighter Superman. There is a reduction of shadows as well making everything lighter in appearance. Perhaps something that disappoints only me is the dropping of title cards. I loved the title cards on BTAS and I was so bummed to see they weren’t continued here. It also makes each one of these posts a little less interesting to look at.

TNBA redesigns

A look at the various villains from the show, some old some new.

This new style meant character redesigns. Batman would ditch the blue of his prior costume opting for a strictly black and gray ensemble. His belt was also muted in tone and more utilitarian in appearance. Robin’s costume dropped the green and Batgirl ditched the gray as well. On the villain’s side things were a bit more extreme. We’ll mostly get to them as they show up. To highlight a few; Scarecrow received an entirely new look while Joker featured an aggressive redesign that removed the sclera of his eyes and the red of his lips. Some of these redesigns are quite interesting on their own, while some are just plain inferior to the previous look. The characters had to be simplified to reflect the shrinking budget, but some sacrifices just aren’t worth making.

Most of the creative staff was returned for the new series. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm served as executive producers alongside Alan Burnett. Dini and Timm would both contribute to multiple episodes as writer while Dan Riba returned to direct multiple episodes as well. Also returning was the majority of the voice cast from the prior series, with the only notable change being Tara Strong (then known as Tara Charendoff) as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. A lot of new blood was also brought in, many of which would hang around the DC Animated Universe which was about to expand to include The Justice League and Teen Titans. This is basically the beginning of an expansive television universe by WB and DC which is basically the television equivalent of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m primarily only interested in Batman when it comes to DC, so don’t expect me to do this for the other shows. Hopefully no one is disappointed.

TNBA logo

New show, new logo.

The New Batman Adventures was released on DVD as Volume 4 of Batman: The Animated Series and is included in both the DVD and Blu Ray box set of the series as Season 3. For this feature, I considered simply sticking with the BTAS title, but decided this show was different enough to change it up. I’ll include both the episode number as it relates to this series as well as how it relates to the entire series. We’re also sticking with production order as opposed to air date order. The show was ordered as one season, but aired as two seasons of 13 and 11 episodes respectively concluding in January of 1999. At some point I’ll summarize my thoughts on the whole of Batman: The Animated Series, but since we’re getting started with The New Batman Adventures I’ll say upfront that I find this series to be inferior to its predecessor. It’s less unique looking and not as well written. The new villains introduced aren’t as memorable and we also lose a little bit of Batman by switching to an ensemble format. He’s made to be more grim, apparently to heighten how different he is from his younger companions, and as such loses some of his humanity in the process. He’s overall just less interesting as a character, and the focus on the others doesn’t really make up for that. It feels like a diservice to the excellent Kevin Conroy, who simply has less to work with in regards to Batman and Bruce Wayne.

Anyways, let’s finally start talking about this first episode, shall we? First airing just over 2 years after the conclusion of BTAS, “Holiday Knights” is a pretty bizarre way to kick-off this series. For one, it’s a Christmas/New Years episode that’s presented in anthology format with three separate mini stories starring different heroes and villains. It’s based on the Batman Adventures Holiday Special released in 1995 written by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. Oddly, WB chose to air this as the premier as well in September rather than stashing it away until closer to Christmas like Fox did with “Christmas with the Joker,” the second episode from BTAS. Also complicating things, the new Robin (Mathew Valencia) debuts here even though the second episode is the one that details how he met Batman and came to assume this persona. Clayface is also the featured villain of the middle tale, but his actual return from the events of “Mudslide” is recounted in a later episode as well. This episode almost feels non-canon as a result, and it’s just overall a weird and confusing way to bring the series back.

new ivy

Ivy has apparently spent the past few years avoiding the sun.

The episode begins on December 22 and quickly reintroduces us to a pair of villains:  Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) and Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin). Harley largely looks the same as she did in the previous series, while Ivy has received a fairly dramatic makeover. Her hair is more stylized and her skin bone white. She displays what is basically the new female body-shape on the show:  short, pointed, with an oversized head. It’s a more “toon” presentation and is less realistic compared with BTAS. I personally don’t care for it, but it is what it is.

Harley is bored and not at all excited to be stuck in a slummy motel for the holidays. She bemoans their lack of a Christmas tree, which naturally sets Ivy off as she views them as a form of genocide against trees. Ivy insists she has a plan that will brighten up their holiday and urges her friend to trust in her. We’re then taken to a gathering of the wealthy at the Vreeland estate where we get our first look at the new Bruce Wayne. He dresses all in black now with a white shirt under his suit and red “power” tie. His hair is black as well and slicked back to give him a real douchey look befitting a billionaire playboy. He’s socializing with Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) who has returned to her red-haired look after a brief dabble with being a blonde and seems amused when a gaggle of women swarm Bruce. While Bruce is being pushed around by the ladies, one of them plants a kiss right on his lips. It’s Ivy, and as we learned way back in “Pretty Poison” getting a kiss from her is not something anyone should desire.

bruce ivy harley

Not the women Bruce was hoping to take home.

Bruce leaves the party and as he heads for his car he’s invited into a limo by a pair of women. Bruce finds himself unable to control his own body as he’s subjected to Ivy and Harley’s whims. They then use Bruce and his fabulous wealth to go on a shopping spree. A montage plays which feels fitting for a holiday special and is set to a saxophone rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The women seem to enjoy themselves while Bruce is helpless. As they force him to carry all of their purchases he begins to make some headway in fighting off the effects of the poison. The girls realize too late that he needs another dose, and as they approach to do so Bruce is able to back away falling into an open elevator shaft. The girls are indifferent to Bruce’s plight as they still have his credit cards and continue on with their evening. Meanwhile, the gloved hand of Batman reaches up from the depths of the elevator shaft.

harley ivy shopping

The Ivy and Harley montage is probably the best part of the whole episode.

Harley and Ivy make their escape in their stolen limo being driven by another brainwashed lackey, but soon enough the cloaked outline of Batman flashes behind them. Harley warns Ivy about who’s on their tail and Ivy makes some evasive maneuvers to avoid The Dark Knight which leads them to a toy store – how fitting. Batman enters and encounters all manners of toy-related traps:  wooden soldiers, giant boxing gloves, and Harley’s trusty mallet. The ladies lure Batman through their fun house leading up a tower of toys before they hastily attempt a retreat. As the duo turn to rub salt in his wounds, Batman fires his redesigned grappling hook (it makes a less satisfying hissing sound when fired and features an end that’s just a bladed Batman logo) to hook the base of a massive Christmas tree. He topples it landing right on the thieves putting a damper on their holiday, but returning to the Christmas tree gag with Harley who’s strangely comforted by its presence.

santa bullock

Santa Bullock, ho, ho, ho.

Our second story takes place on Christmas Eve. Barbara is shopping at Mayfield’s Department Store for a gift for her father. As she’s paying for her gift, a crying child gets her attention and the clerk remarks it’s been like that all day. Not far from the checkout station is a department store Santa being played by none other than Detective Harvey Bullock (Robert Costanzo). Apparently, Bullock isn’t the best Santa and tends to leave the kids who sit on his lap in tears. Serving alongside him as his elf is Officer Renee Montoya (Liane Schirmir) and the two are apparently on a stake-out which is why Bullock isn’t exactly into this whole Santa schtick. Bullock does at least find the Christmas spirit momentarily when a little girl sits on his lap asking to have her dad back for Christmas. Apparently, her dad is a crook Bullock just helped get put away. Not really knowing what else to do, he gives her some money. That should cheer her up.

Barbara is amused by Bullock’s turn as Kris Kringle and makes her way for the exit. Along the way she notices a child who appears to be shoplifting. The daughter of Gotham’s police commissioner can’t stand idly by as someone commits a crime, so she reaches out to grab him only she comes away with a handful of mud instead. Montoya then receives word to be on the lookout for a rabble of child thieves which fellow detectives are chasing through the store. They corner the kids, who then all merge into one being right before their very eyes.

batgirl crowd control

Batgirl showing off her new attire.

It’s Clayface (Ron Perlman), and he’s not the type of bandit to go quietly. He immediately begins trashing the place forcing Barbara to duck out and re-emerge as Batgirl. She takes the fight right to Clayface knocking him through an oversized window and onto a skating rink outside causing him to smash through the ice. Santa and his elf arrive to provide backup, though their guns do little to bother Clayface. Batgirl hollers at them to stop wasting their ammo and to aim for the Santa. Bullock at first confuses her command to mean him, but above Clayface is a giant, lighted, Santa as well as strings of Christmas lights. Bullock and Montoya take aim and blast the Santa down to land on top of Clayface. The frayed wires land in the water around Clayface electrocuting him and putting a stop to his rampage. Montoya then leaves Bullock to handle the clean-up.

new joker

I don’t like this new Joker at all, but at least we still have Mark Hamill doing his voice.

Our final tale takes place on December 31 and involves The Joker (Mark Hamill). He’s sent out one of his famous broadcasts to the people of Gotham revealing his New Year’s resolution to not kill anyone in the new year. This means he needs to make up for it all tonight and send the current year out with a bang! A taping of this broadcast is being viewed by Batman and Robin in Commissioner Gordon’s office. It would seem Gordon stopped heading to the gym following the events of BTAS as he’s a lot smaller and older looking now than he was before. Gordon (Bob Hastings) informs Batman that they have a lead on Joker as a GothCorp scientist was murdered earlier in the day. The scientist specialized in sonics and had been working on a new weapon that could kill with sound. Batman deduces that Joker’s likely target will be The New Year’s Countdown in Gotham Square and it’s likely he’ll have this new weapon in hand.

jokers favors

Joker’s party favors.

Joker is shown at Gotham Square with some of his finest: Mo, Lar, and Cur (all voiced by Ron Perlman and obvious reference to The Three Stooges). They’re rigging the sonic bomb to a massive bell. Apparently at midnight, the bell goes up to ring in the new year and when that happens the bomb will go off. And to make things harder on Batman, Joker has some “party favors” to distribute.

Batman and Robin head for the party and realize finding Joker will be a bit harder than expected. Joker has distributed his Joker masks to all of the party-goers making it hard to find the real Joker. Batman peers through some binoculars and spots a clown in a purple suit at a piano in the middle of the gathering onstage. He’s wearing ear muffs and so are the rather large men flanking him. Figuring that’s his man, Batman and Robin head for the stage and Batman dings Joker’s head with a Batarang knocking off his ear muffs. They then turn their attention to Joker’s goons, but find they’re pretty hard to deal with. Joker ends up grabbing the upper hand by smashing a bucket full of ice and champagne over the back of Batman’s skull.

joker champagne

This will be a short-lived victory for Joker.

Joker grabs the bottle of champagne to celebrate and apparently die with everyone else. As Joker gloats over Batman, The Dark Knight is able to snatch the bottle of champagne and spray it all over the controls to the bell shortening out the killing device. As he does so, Joker tries to stop him and shoots at him and actually hits Batman in the right arm. As Batman lays on the ground, Joker laughs like only he can. As he does so the bell begins to fall, and it just so happens to land right on Joker who offers a well-timed “Ouch,” from beneath it to close out the scene.

bat gordon toast

We’re introduced to an annual tradition for Gordon and The Dark Knight.

With Joker’s plot foiled once again, Commissioner Gordon is shown entering a diner around 2 AM. The owner (Corey Burton) ushers everyone out and tells them he’s closing up as Gordon takes a seat at a booth. The man brings him a mug of coffee as well as a second mug and wonders aloud if Gordon’s buddy is coming. Gordon assures him he is, and Batman soon enters through a rear door. He sits down and the two indicate this is a yearly tradition of theirs. They speak only a few words before Gordon turns to request something from the kitchen to go. When he turns back he finds an empty booth and a couple of bucks left on the table to cover the tab. Remarking he’ll one day beat him to the check, Gordon collects himself and heads out into the night while Batman is seen swinging off into the red sky himself.

As I said, this is an odd way to begin the series. Three fragmented stories which lean heavily into comic relief that contain characters who will require a true introduction (or reintroduction) further down the road. It at least gets a lot of characters on-screen though giving us a peek at this new look. In general, I’m not much of a fan for how this series looks. It uses mostly straight lines in its characters and the women and children have huge heads. I mostly hate the new Joker as his face just lacks personality and is so bland and wooden to look at. The removal of his lips also just makes his mouth flaps look odder as he’s all teeth gnashing together. He looked so great in BTAS so it’s just really disappointing to see him reduced to this. This practically elderly looking Commissioner Gordon is also not a favorite of mine and Bullock looks like he’s gained about 50 pounds.

clayface hk

Clayface doesn’t come across looking so hot. Meanwhile, less censorship apparently extends to Montoya’s attire as well.

Not surprisingly, Clayface isn’t as well animated as he was before. He still contorts his body into weapons and other beings, but not a lot of resources are spent on the transitioning animation. He’s also far more stable looking than he was in “Mudslide” and has almost a rocky appearance compared with his old one. It should also be pointed out he was previosuly immune to elecrocution so either that was a goof by Dini or they intentionally took that immunity away from him. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but this is just a less interesting looking show. They wanted it to be in-line with Metropolis from Superman and it wouldn’t make sense to have Gotham look like it was trapped in the 1940s and Metropolis like something from the 90s.

harley and the tree

It’s nice to have a little Christas in June, right? Interestingly, the comic this episode is based on portrayed Harley as Jewish.

There is one advantage this show has over its predecessor and that appears to be with the level of violence on display. It’s blatantly discussed that Joker murdered someone and he has an apparent lust for carnage and mayhem that was more tip-toed around on Fox. Batman is also free to punch people while villains, and the police, are still able to wield realistic looking weapons. Warner must have desired a way to differentiate its network from Fox and upping the violence was apparently one such way.

As an episode, this is a pretty benign, disposable, piece of entertainment. And there is entertainment value for it largely as a comedic vehicle. I wish it had chosen to end on Batman and Gordon sipping coffee together rather than turn to the tired gag of Batman vanishing whenever someone turns their back on him. I think that would have been the way the old series would have ended this one with a somber, but also sweet, ending. I guess this is just one more way for this show to announce it’s here and it’s not the same one we’re used to. Since I am a bit of a Christmas cartoon junkie, I should add that as a Christmas episode this is also just all right. It doesn’t linger much on the holiday, but it also doesn’t beat anyone over the head with Christmas clichés. It’s probably a touch better than “Christmas with the Joker” actually though less memorable. I don’t think either makes a strong case to be included with annual Christmas viewings, but you could certainly do worse.


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.

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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 II”

3366172-feat+of+clay+2Episode 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.

FoC_II_09_-_Clayface

Meet Clayface.

“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.

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Germs doesn’t want to get his suit dirty.

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.

foc23

That’s a neat trick.

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.

Feat_of_Clay_Fight

Hagen getting creative with his new-found abilities.

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.

FoC_II_42_-_Clayface

I guess he does kind of look like poop, but I don’t care, I think Clayface is pretty rad.

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.

Unknown-

A bunch of monitors is apparently all you need to take down Clayface.

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.

clayface

When Clayface goes nuts the animators get to have a ton of fun with him, or maybe it was all miserable to animate. Either way, it looks awesome.

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).


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.

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.

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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.


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