Batman: The Animated Series is a seminal animated series. For many it is considered the be the definitive interpretation of Batman. For me, it was my first experience with the character. I would watch the latest episode every weekday afternoon. Probably my favorite episode of the series is the two part of episode; “Feat of Clay” which featured the introduction of Clayface. Here’s why:
The episode begins with Bruce Wayne involved in a shady dealing with the man who basically runs Wayne Enterprises, Lucius Fox. Fox is a continuing supporting character and he mentions how he has evidence on recurring white collar criminal, Roland Daggett. It’s quickly surmised that this isn’t Bruce Wayne at all but an impostor. Batman, you know the real Bruce Wayne, arrives and after a battle, Lucius is injured but not before identifying his attacker as Bruce Wayne. Batman continues the investigation of what was going on and learning more through an interesting use of interrogation involving the Batwing. However a mistimed opportunity to visit Fox as Bruce Wayne ends with him getting arrested.
The impostor is soon revealed to be actor, Matt Hagen. Hagen’s face was injured in an accident some time ago and he was soon given a wonder drug that makes his face malleable but is highly addictive. Daggett was the one responsible for the drug in exchange for continuing to give Hagen the drug, he has him do dirty deeds. But Hagen has become addicted and wanting to be free from under the thumb of Daggett, he decides to steal a whole vat full. However, he is soon caught and in a very disturbing scene is force fed the drug, hoping that the overdose will kill him. His body is soon found by his assistant/friend but he no longer resembles a man but has now become Clayface.
This was all in the first part.
The second begins about a day later with Bruce Wayne being released on bail and Hagen now fully Clayface. While hiding out, Clayface realizes how he can now fully change his appearance and also make weapons out of his body. Clayface is now out for revenge and Bruce Wayne is determined even more to clear his name. Knowing that Fox is a target, one of Daggett’s enforcers, who just happens to be terrified of germs, is sent to kill him. In another interesting use of interrogation involving “contaminated water”, Batman learns about Hagen’s involvement in the plot. Soon he is confronted by Clayface himself who is disguised as a police officer. Clayface’s true power is quickly revealed and Batman is taken aback by his powers but quickly adapts. However, Clayface’s new body is too taxing and soon makes his escape.
Batman has now put the pieces together and knows Daggett is a target. Daggett is due to make an appearance on a local talk show and knows that’s where Clayface will make his attempt on Daggett’s life. Daggett is there trying to sell his new “face cream” which is the same drug that Hagen got addicted on. A woman in the audience is soon revealed to be Clayface and Batman has to stop his new enemy from taking another enemy of his. Leading Clayface into a control room, Batman tries appealing to his humanity. Earlier before the confrontation, Batman disguised himself as a janitor and loaded the control room with videotapes but the audience was never shown what was exactly loaded. It’s revealed it’s filled with Hagen’s old movies. Batman tries to appeal to Clayface and says that he can help work on a cure and give him his old life back. Unfortunately, Clayface soon has a mental breakdown and destroys the computers and electrocutes himself to death. During his breakdown, he begins shapeshifting and many witnesses see him morph into Bruce Wayne, thus clearing Wayne’s name.
Daggett is under the microscope (though later episodes reveal that he is not taken to jail for his crimes) and Batman is investigating some of the leftover’s of Clayface. Revealing that Clayface is immune to electricity, he knows that Clayface has faked his death. Sure enough, Hagen’s assistant is shown solemnly saying goodbye to his friend but a young woman is watching him. She begins laughing but her voice quickly changes into Hagen’s and her eyes become those of Clayface. The cliffhanger was left dangling for years.
This is pretty much the episode that shows everything that I like about Batman. It shows how this man is a detective, a scientist, fighting expert and above all else someone who cares. It is easy to show Batman as someone who just wants to punch his way out of things. This batman really went out of his way to help people. He always tries to appeal to Clayface and remind him of who he is and that he can help him. Showing that violence is a last resort for Batman.
It is also a fairly grim two part episode. The whole sequence where the goons try to murder Hagen is still disturbing to me today and I’m surprised it was kept in the episode. It would be an easy way out and understandable if they simply pushed him into a vat. However, they pin him to the ground and force the gooey liquid down his throat. The show cuts to their shadows but you still see Hagen writhing in pain as it is happening to him.
The more mature themes are also there. Addiction is the major one as Hagen is addicted to the drug he is given. It is mentioned how he goes through withdrawal symptoms. How he has regressed to committing crimes just to keep his hands on the drug. Vanity is also there as Hagen’s face was mangled in his accident and how he is so desperate, he takes up the first chance he can get to get his hands on something that will make him look like himself again. Matt Hagen/Clayface is truly a tragic figure.
This episode also shows that crime comes from many different angles. Roland Daggett is the true antagonist and he is nothing but a business man. Showing that Gotham City is crime ridden not just because of the people on the street. Showing that it is rotten because of the people who are in the board rooms. That for Batman to truly beat crime in the city, as much as someone can beat crime, he will also have to do it as Bruce Wayne.
“Feat of Clay” is probably the best example as to why I truly love Batman. This is a highly recommended episode.