BTAS 20 & 21
Feat of Clay
Directed by Dick Sebast
Teleplay by Marv Wolfman
Directed by Kevin Altieri
Teleplay by Michael Reaves
Part 1 and 2
Story By Marv Wolfman and Michael Reaves
For what it is worth in context, I would like to point out that I am writing this review a mere two days after the series finale of the sitcom super hit: How I Met Your Mother. Although I have grown to love and accept the ending of this show, several people have taken extreme hatred of it, in particular, the final 2 and half minutes or so. I bring this up because this episode has a similar problem for me. I think this two part is brilliant. I think that it’s superb…BUT THE ENDING!!!!!! It’s not even the last 2 and a half minutes, IT’S THE LAST TEN SECONDS! Yes, that’s all it took. Ten seconds to leave a bad last impression of a truly amazing episode. Regardless, I will judge the episode as a whole and not strictly my annoyance of its final moments. Let’s get started.
Our episode begins not with the reveal of a villain, but the reveal of a primary plot device used in the episode. As many people know, Clayface stories tend to use a great deal of what I call “the shape shifter device”; the idea that a great deal of your focus in the episode is trying to confirm if a person is who they say they are or an imposter by using facial cues, personality quirks, speech patterns, etc. Therefore, I am mentioning this upfront so that you will understand why I point out these cues when analyzing the episode. Once again, two parts. So I will be reviewing them both in one review, but still giving some intermission style opinions between halves as we have two different directors.
Our episode begins on what looks like a shady deal going down in an abandoned building. Lucious Fox, One of Gotham’s most pronounced benefactors, arrives carrying a steel briefcase. He is shocked to see Bruce Wayne in a trench coat waiting for him. He instructs Lucious to enter the building. They begin discussing a man named Daggat. The papers inside the case are supposed to incriminate Daggat and get him off Bruce’s trail, but Bruce reveals he’s in cahoots with Daggat and that Lucious is no longer of interest to him. A group of sharp shooters comes out of the shadows and line the catwalk as Bruce tries to steal the briefcase. The handle breaks off and Lucious runs away with it, and fires a shot at him that Batman hears as his cue to jump into action.
Now obviously with that line, we have official confirmation that it was never Bruce Wayne, but the show confirms it far before. While Bruce is very bright voiced and charismatic. This Bruce is cold, monotone, and he speaks in a much more metronomic rate.
Batman takes out the thugs, but Lucious is knocked unconscious. When police arrive, He blames Bruce Wayne. One thing that I do love about this fight is this is the first time I’ve come to realize this show does not recycle lackeys. Each gang this show introduces has new models of henchmen drawn from the ground up and if they have names, they have different personalities and quirks. It’s not revolutionary, but a welcome detail.
We cut to a movie set on the imperial pictures lot. The director calls for the stunt man to get the star out of his dressing room. Matt Hagan, Hollywood icon, is ransacking his trailer and looking through his make up for a specific container. When Teddy, his stuntman, walks inside, he hides his face and yells at him to close the door. When he turns around, Matt is revealed to have a badly disfigured face. After continuous begging and screaming from Matt, Teddy gives him a small container of make up with Daggat written on the top. In a panicked and addicted rant, Hagan puts on the make-up and his face begins to mold and contort like clay until his face returns to his normal, movie star face. Based on his outburst, we can tell that the material that he uses to return to normal is not only in short supply, but is also dangerously addictive as you can see the beginnings of him entering a psychotic withdrawal. This will be very important to keep in mind for later.
Our next scene introduces us to the owner of Daggett industries and his new lead lackeys, Germs and Raymond Bell. Germs is germaphobe and Bell is constantly listening to police communications on a headset. They don’t explain the germs. They let his personality speak through his actions, the way it should be done. Daggett reveals that it was Hagan they hired to impersonate Bruce Wayne as their scapegoat. He wants to incriminate Wayne so he can buy up Wayne Corp. Daggett is disappointed that Hagan failed to deliver the information he got from Lucious. He realizes he is no longer of use to them and has his men put a hit out on him.
Hagan sneaks past a sleeping security guard and into the factory to steal more of the cream he’s become addicted to. Because of a morphing device used in a moment, the scene is animated with him cast in shadows, but it does contain one really cool first person shot. He finds the cream and begins using it, only to be caught at gunpoint by Germs and Bell. Hagan tries to disguise himself as Bruce Wayne, but they aren’t falling for it. The two of them pin him to the ground and have the seemingly hilarious idea that to kill him, they’ll overdose him on the chemical. It’s worth mentioning that the concoction he used just now and then was drowned in, was not the completed cream that he has been taking. It was from a vat over a Bunsen burner, implying this is the chemical in its most raw form. That explains why we see later it affects him so drastically.
Batman uses advanced profiling software to identify Bell as one of the men he fought that night. Alfred brings Batman a newspaper confirming the police are looking for Bruce Wayne. Batman is shocked, as it is obviously impossible for it to be Bruce Wayne who set up Lucious. Batman realizes he has to go to Bell and find his own answers.
In a very well-paced chase scene between Bell’s car and the Batwing, Batman strategically impales Bell’s car on the front of the Batwing. Eventually, the car falls off and Batman holds Bell captive on a claw extended from the Batwing. He interrogates him by dropping him in the water, but is unable to get the answers he’s looking for because Bell passes out from the stress. Police helicopters demand he release him and Batman drops him in a rooftop pool.
Bruce Wayne sneaks in a window to see Lucious, but a terrified Lucious calls the police that are outside the door waiting for Wayne. Bruce is smart. He obviously knows that he didn’t do it, and in order to keep his reputation alive once this is all cleared up is for Bruce to act innocent and play along with the rules. Part of that means letting himself get arrested.
Our final scene plays out with Teddy tracking down Hagan’s car. Teddy runs to the car to see if he’s ok, but looks to him in horror when he sees the deformed Clayface. Hagan sees his face in the rearview mirror. Upon seeing his new face for the first time, he screams in agony. This marks the end of part 1
This episode does a much better job with the set up episode and payoff episode than Cat and Claw did. Strange considering they came from the same two directors. Even as far as the two-parter is concerned, by the end of the episodes it feels like a detailed set up for more Clayface episodes.
All that aside, Part 1 is well paced and it sets up everything needed for a good second half. Speaking of which…
Part 2 of our story starts with tinted blue “black and white” images of Bruce’s prison mug shots. The frame fades back to color as Bruce is released on bail. He has a humorous conversation with Alfred while putting on the Batman Suit before he goes out looking for more answers.
Hagan sits in his trailer contemplating his impossible situation. Teddy helps him pack up his stuff. We get a flash back discussing how Hagan was in a terrible accident that destroyed his face and that Daggett offered him the chance to be the test subject of his new invention. Knowing that the chemicals could be dangerously addictive, Daggett let him take it anyway. When it became an addiction, he would ask for illegal favors in exchange for his supply.
Teddy tries to calm Hagan down, but he is still hysterical and refuses to listen. He walks down the hall of his dressing room looking at all the great roles he’s played, but doesn’t notice his head begins to warp as he begins to focus on each one. Once he notices it in the mirror, he concludes that the chemicals must’ve been absorbed into his cells. He finds he can contort it into all sorts of shapes, even make clothes. When he tries hard enough, he finds he can contort himself into a full-fledged human being, but can only hold it as long as he can maintain his focus. Otherwise it seems to happen subconsciously if he’s not focusing on it specifically. Overall a strange set of rules, but one they obey to the T.
The scene also shows the first moment Hagan breaks down in response to feeling his lack of humanity. We’ve established previously how he went to extreme lengths in order to keep up his appearance, but now to see he can’t even look human anymore, you can tell it affects him deeply. That and consider the psychological effects the chemicals had on him before. Imagine it now that the chemicals are infused into his very being. It can’t be good for his psychological well-being.
Hagan disguises himself as a doctor to enter the hospital and sets up his scheme to take the place of one of Daggett’s henchmen. Germs sneaks into Lucious’ room and attempts to smother him in his sleep with a pillow, but Batman is there to stop him with a batarang. In his panic, and of all the rooms he could’ve picked, Germs runs into a medical disease library. He finds himself surrounded by beakers and jars filled with viruses and horrible diseases.
Germs is petrified and begs Batman to let him go. Batman interrogates Germs, but he gives no answers. Batman grabs a jar claiming to be Crimson Fever and places it on a shelf above Germs’ head. When Germs refuses to answer, Batman punches the wall and makes the jar shake. Eventually Germs confesses, that Hagan did it, but Batman doesn’t believe it. Germs tries to spill the beans about the chemical, but a policemen walks in to apprehend Germs. We also get a hilarious reveal that the jar actually just contained Seawater for analysis.
Our two biggest pieces of evidence that the Hagan accusation is false, are his goal and his voice. First, knowing he’s not approaching anyone who’d recognize him, Hagan doesn’t go the trouble of modifying his voice. You can also tell because he pays no direct attention to Batman. Despite Gordon’s friendship with Batman, the police force still plans to apprehend him. Hagan gives himself away by treating him like any other person.
When Batman tries to push the guard away, Hagan reveals himself and stretches his arm to pin Batman to a wall. When Hagan turns his attention back to Germs, you can see that his eyes are not formed. My guess is it is because the eyes are the most difficult part to maintain full focus on. He probably lost some focus when he extended his arm.
Hagan returns to his normal form, takes Germs up the stairway and attempts to throw him off the roof. Batman tries to stop him and notices that Clayface transforms subconsciously. At this point, Clayface has enough control of his powers he’s learned to use his hands as semi complex weapons. Batman does notice however that it does exhaust him after a while. Hagan escapes by jumping off the roof and escaping into the sewers. An important plot point I’ll bring up in an episode way, way, farther into this series. This is also the first scene he is revealed to be able to completely bend his body into other shapes
As Hagan’s anger gets worse, he throws out Teddy, his only remaining friend. While watching the television, Hagan discovers that Daggett is going public with his cream.
Batman consults a sample of Daggett’s formula trying to find any pattern to Hagan’s condition and is able to backtrack the entire scenario from what he already knows. Alfred fetches him copies of all Daggett’s films, but Batman does not tell him why.
Dagget appears on a talk show in order to debut his new invention. A disguised Batman makes his way to the main TV terminal room, but we’re not sure yet why. Hagan displays on the show how his cream can do in seconds what plastic surgery can accomplish in years. Seeing the results, there are some funny responses from several women in the audience. Batman watches the telecast from the terminal room and begins placing videotapes in all of the terminals. Not sure why yet though.
The News caster opens up the floor to questions and a woman from the crowd questions what Daggett has done about the side effects. Daggett tries to dodge the question, but then she asks about the addictive qualities and consequences of overdose. As the woman keeps getting angrier, her voice starts to distort lower, revealing it to be Hagan. When Hagan breaks past security, he transforms back to normal in front of Dagget. The studio audience runs in terror.
Hagan starts walking towards Dagget with obvious ill intent. He towers over Daggett and Daggett is obviously scared out of his mind. He tries to make a run for it, but Batman swings stopping Dagget from escaping. During the fight, we get our first instance of Hagan referring to himself as Clayface. Batman lures Clayface into the terminal room. Clayface tries to pin Batman down to stop his plan from coming to form, but Batman manages to reach one of the switches from the console. When Clayface sees the face of one of his characters on the screen, he transforms into him without triggering it himself. Batman proceeds to turn on all the TVs, all of which feature pictures of his previous films.
The following scene, as discussed by its animators, is one of the most complicated hand drawn scenes that have been attempted. As Clayface sees all of the characters he’s played cast on the televisions, he’s unable to handle all of it. He starts rapids morphing into character after character. After a while, he’s unable to keep a solid form. He begins spinning and rapidly morphing part by part and his forms begins to mix and match. The animation on this scene is amazing because the transformations don’t happen in fade sequences or clean cuts. It’s done in morbid morphs and warping sequences. It’s almost painful to watch his body contort how it does.
Batman realizes it’s hurting him too much and tries to turn it off, but Clayface flails into him and sends him flying. Eventually, Clayface breaks one of the terminals by punching it, but electrocutes himself unconscious.
Clayface is apprehended and all charges against Bruce Wayne are dropped. Batman tests a piece of Clayface and finds that it’s quite possible that since the version of Clayface they took to prison didn’t have an electric response, it might be a shell that Clayface used to escape. The Final Scene reveals through an awesome monologue by Batman that Clayface sneaks away in the body of a woman in the background.
Now the way the frame sets up Clayface’s disappearance is subtle and powerful. They don’t overplay his escape or even tell you who he became. They show you clearly and you get it. I bring this up because this right here is when they ruin the episode. The final shot of the episode is a close up shot of the woman Clayface becomes laughing maniacally over evil music and slowly morphing into the Clayface voice.
This ending absolutely makes me furious. In an episode about mystery and suspense, it ruins it! They give you a final moment where they painstakingly explain it and then throw it in your face! It tears me apart. It bugs me so much!
Final shot aside, this episode is a definite high point for the season. Batman has a large rogue gallery and often one or two are overlooked. That being said, seeing Clayface was treated with a real sense of respect and definition. It was nice to see that after Cat and Claw. Dick Sebast seems to be falling more into a groove and directing some better episodes.
I wasn’t a big fan of Clayface before this episode. I didn’t have anything against him mind you, I just didn’t know of any really good versions of him. This episode did a great job of making the character relatable and likable. Like many Batman villains, Clayface is a tragic villain, or should I say a really tragic villain. I mean I don’t know specifically what about him I relate to, but I can really feel for this guy. They give you every reason to not only excuse his slip into madness but, even if you don’t agree with the decisions he made to get this way in the first place, you can understand it. I like how they use the cream addiction to not only be a mirror of an actor’s obsession with appearances, but also the temptation of addiction often plaguing the entertainment industry.
Unlike Freeze, Hagan’s quest for revenge is against not only a person that did him wrong, but one that is actively pursuing him in the present. Not to mention its form is an enemy that actively did this to him on purpose. All of these elements add up to create one hell of a back story and one hell of a good villain.
As far as music, it does depress me that we don’t get a great character theme. I don’t know what I would want it to sound like, but just like with Catwoman, I’m just a little disappointed that I don’t get one here. Otherwise, the music is good as always.
Animation on the other hand is top notch. Clayface’s style of transformations are never an easy thing to pull off and this show does it with flying colors. Subtle cues and hints in animation alone really help the tension and tone of the episode. Clayface’s normal body also looks awesome. The way its various levels give a feeling of malleability even in his static form make his transformations look natural. I also like how the transformations vary in kind. Sometimes disguises, sometimes stretching or melting, and sometimes weapon arms or projectiles.
At first, I didn’t think that Clayface was going to fit into the Arkham villain theory so easily. He’s usually not considered one of the A-class villains and I had never really considered where the comparison lies. After a little bit of thinking however, it dawned on me that the answer was not only simple, but also quite relatable. Clayface is meant to represent Batman’s humanity. Clayface is only one of two Villains that rebuke their status as a villain. Clayface, although driven to madness and hell bent on revenge at the beginning, would give up anything just to be normal again. No matter how many villains Batman takes down, that is the one thing Batman will never have no matter how hard he tries, a normal life.
Feat of Clay is a great example of how the two part format can be used correctly. At no point, except the ending, does it feel like any time is being wasted. The episode does a great job of keeping you on your toes and keeping you thinking. The episode stands out from a lot of other episodes with its unique supporting cast, incredible main character, and some truly amazing animation and writing. I recommend this episode with flying colors… I also recommend you skip the last ten seconds, but that’s just me.