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Little did writer Bill Finger and artists Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson imagine that Clayface, the serial killer they conceived as a thinly disguised imitation of horror-movie great Boris Karloff, would over time become a brand name. Detective Comics #40 (1940) introduces has-been character actor Basil Karlo, a show-biz pariah due to bad publicity resulting from embarrassing off-screen antics. Infuriated over a different actor being cast in the role that made him famous, the Terror, in a remake of his classic chiller Dread Castle, Karlo takes the low road: hiding his identity behind a grisly clay mask and cloaking himself in a purple fedora and coat, Karlo, as Clayface, butchers the cast members one by one. Batman, hanging around the studio in his Bruce Wayne identity while visiting starlet (and thenfiancée) Julie Madison, ultimately stops the slayings. “The Murders of Clayface” was a transitional tale in the Batman canon: it maintained the shadowed moodiness of the Dark Knight's earliest exploits while intermixing the frivolity of the laughing Boy Wonder, with Robin (who bowed in Detective #38) marking his third appearance in print. Scripter Finger borrowed the name of the villain he had created twenty-four years earlier by pitting Batman and Robin against “The Challenge of Clay-Face” (with hyphen) in Detective #298 (1961), with art by Sheldon Moldoff and Charles Paris. Karlo was forgotten, despite appearances to the contrary, as a lump-faced, purple-clad figure resembling the 1940 Clayface appeared at the home of a philanthropist. As the wealthy patron handed off a $100,000 Police Benefit Fund donation to intermediaries Batman and Robin, the mysterious figure shucked his trench coat to reveal his ghastly claylike form (and discretely placed blue swimming trunks), giving Batman the slip by mutating into a giant snake and a living buzz-saw, then soaring away as an eagle, money in talon. This malleable marauder was actually soldier-of-fortune Matt Hagen, whose unexpected splash into a cavern's radioactive pool transmuted him into the shapeshifting super-thief Clay-Face. Batman and Robin were able to overcome Hagen only when his superpowers, which required recharging every fortyeight hours by a repeat dip, expired. Hagen was back in Detective #304 (1962), and by his third outing in issue #312 (1963) the hyphen had been dropped from his name. Readers could count on a Clayface story approximately every six months, with the villain feuding with the Joker and seeping into the pages of World's Finest Comics—starring the team of Superman, Batman, and Robin—in which he replicated the Man of Steel and teamed with the evil android Brainiac. By the mid-1960s Clayface was mired in limbo, not seen again in comics until the late 1970s, when he returned for a handful of clashes. Throughout these appearances, readers discovered that Hagen had synthesized the pool's protoplasmic element into a potion, but its life-threatening side effects led him to rarely become Clayface—not that his frequent incarcerations would afford him the luxury of regular supervillainy. “Clayface is Back!” trumpeted the Marshall Rogers/Terry Austin–drawn cover to Detective #478 (1978)—although as Batman was about to discover, this was not your father's transmutating terror. Writer Len Wein's “The Coming of … Clayface III!,” illustrated by Rogers and Dick Giordano, unveiled acromegalic Preston Payne, forced into a life of segregation due to the rare disease that made him a modern-day Elephant Man. With no possible cure for his condition, Payne, with the help of convict Matt Hagen, manufactured a new Clayface serum from Hagen's blood, hoping its malleability would afford him normalcy. Instead, Payne became even more the outcast, receiving a touch of death that caused flesh to melt. His own body an unstable wax-like mush, the certifiably insane Payne was forced to wear a containment suit, his unsightly, bubbling face visible through a glass helmet. Clayface III's emergence nullified DC Comics' need to keep Hagen around: Clayface II died in action in the epic maxiseries Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985–1986). One of Clayface III's most celebrated stories was “Mortal Clay,” by Alan Moore and George Freeman, in Batman Annual #11 (1987), in which the whacked-out Bat-baddie wooed a mannequin. Clayface IV was introduced in The Outsiders vol. 1 #21 (1987), in “Strike Force Kobra” by Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo. Image-conscious Sondra Fuller was unhappy with her looks, and the mastermind Kobra obliged her a makeover, transmogrifying Fuller into an upgraded version of Clayface II. Like Hagen, she appeared as a mud-encrusted humanoid, although her shapely female form was better defined than Clayface II's amorphous body. Also called “Lady Clay,” Clayface IV could mimic any shape she imagined, as well as assuming the abilities of those she aped. The surviving Clayfaces—including Basil Karlo, who had mustered a return bout with the Dark Knight in Detective #496 (1980)—united in 1989 as “the Mud Pack” to attempt to kill Batman, spinning out of Secret Origins vol. 2 #44 into Detective #604–#607. Karlo obtained blood samples from Payne and Fuller, appropriating their abilities and morphing into the grotesque Ultimate Clayface, not an unexpected appellation from an ego-driven fallen star. Boasting Payne's killer touch and Lady Clay's shape-changing powers, as well as his own innate bloodthirstiness, the Ultimate Clayface has become one of Batman's most dangerous nemeses. Able to convert his hands into deadly weapons or liquefy into a torrent of mud, Karlo is almost unstoppable. Outcasts Preston Payne and Lady Clay fell in love as a result of their Mud Pack team-up, and Batman: Shadow of the Bat #27 (1994) introduced their offspring son Cassius “Clay” Preston. While his name is an obvious Muhammad Ali pun, this lad—Clayface V—is no joke. His developing morphing powers may one day eclipse those of the Ultimate Clayface. Fearing this menace in the making, the U.S. government has taken Cassius away from his parents for safekeeping in a maximum-security facility. During 1999's “No Man's Land” story arc appearing in the various Batman titles, researcher Dr. Peter Malley was mutated into Clayface VI—aka Claything—after coming into contact with a cell sample from Cassius Preston. The Ultimate Clayface returned to battle Wonder Woman in 2000, and was also seen in the best-selling Batman storyline “Hush” (2002–2003), by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee. A brand-new Clayface with a mysterious connection to a murder investigation involving Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne's butler, slimed into Batman: Gotham Knights #69 (2005), evoking the interest of Bat-foe Hush. Regardless of his shape, Clayface can always be counted on to muddy the Dark Knight's world. Clayface was introduced to a television audience in 1977 in the animated series The New Adventures of Batman (1977–1978) from Filmation Studios. He returned to the tube in 1992 in the two-part “Feat of Clay” episode of Batman: The Animated Series (BTAS). Merging the vocation of Clayface I with the name of version II, BTAS's Clayface was narcissistic actor Matt Hagen (Ron Perlman), whose addiction to the cosmetic “Renu-U” after a disfiguring mishap transformed him into a mud-monster. This Clayface was merchandised in BTAS tie-ins, including a Kenner action figure (in the mid-1990s Kenner produced a variant Clayface figure, with “Face Change Force,” in its Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight collection). Kirk Baltz guest-starred as Clayface in an episode of the short-lived live-action TV series Birds of Prey (2002–2003), joined by a junior counterpart (Ian Reed Kesler). The WB cartoon The Batman (2004–present) introduced its own Clayface, coalcolored with glowing green eyes, in the episode “Clayface of Tragedy” (original airdate: May 7, 2005). Like his comic-book predecessors, this Clayface can modify his shape; he was originally Gotham ex-cop Ethan Bennett (Steve Harris), altered into his sinister state after exposure to “Joker Putty.”
The Supervillain Book: The Evil Side of Comics and Hollywood © 2006 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.