Feat of Clay

  Matt Hagen becomes Clayface and revenges himself on Daggett.
  Original Airdate: Septmeber 8 & 9, 1992
  Episode # 20, #21
  Rating: * * * 1/2

Credits Cast

Story by Marv Wolfman & Michael Reaves
Teleplay by Marv Wolfman (I) & Michael Reaves (II)
Directed by Dick Sebast (I) & Kevin Altieri (II)
Animation by Akom (I) & Tokyo Movie Shinsa (II)
Music by Jeff Atmajian & Carl
Johnson (I) & Shirley Walker (II)

Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Alfred
Brock Peters as Lucius Fox
Ron Perlman as Matt Hagen/Clayface
Ed Asner as Roland Daggett

Mari Devon as Summer Gleeson
Ed Begley Jr. as Germs
Dick Gautier as Teddy
Scott Valentine as Bell

I am unsure if it is an intentional or unintentional irony that the great actor Matt Hagen, "The Man of a Thousand Faces," should prove to be such a one-dimensional character. He rants, he screams, he sulks, he bullies; this, one senses, is the real Hagen, the genuine voice of a spoiled, insecure, rampant egoism. His moments of remorse and tenderness inevitably prove false, occasions of deceit. Only when we remember the enormous sums of money this man was capable of generating do we understand why anyone would put up with him. (Teddy's devotion, his physically clutching at Matt, his reference to how "we can go on" do make one wonder, though, and cast a new light on the relationship with Stella in "Mudslide.") But perhaps it is only our expectations and not the intentions of the writers that make us recognize in Hagen the Hollywood superstar in his natural habitat: a hermetically sealed selfishness.

Now, in calling Hagen a one-dimensional character, I do not mean to imply that he and his predicament are uninteresting. After all, other characters in Batman have played symphonies by striking a single note repeatedly—Freeze's haunting monotone comes to mind. Neither is Hagen's motive (revenge) necessarily an uninteresting one—again, witness Freeze. But in a universe of diverse personalities twisted in lurid ways, Hagen's character stands out in its homeliness: He is little more than an overgrown child, a brat fatted on the cynical compliance of others. So where Freeze takes us deep into his grief for a lost wife; where Two-Face makes us meditate on the duality of man; where the Joker plays on the line that separates comedy from chaos, Clayface's rage is merely rage at the loss of—Matt Hagen. Now, to lose oneself would seem to be a tragedy, but to lose oneself when one is Matt Hagen, well, that is an absurdity of existential dimensions. For in Hagen's case there was nothing there to lose. ("An empty taxi cab drove up and Matt Hagen got out," Herman Mankiewicz might have quipped.) Having a personality with a diameter of zero, he was nothing but surface from the start.

And therein, I submit, lies the genius of the Clayface character. He is the Player King, resurrected by Beckett and doing a turn as Hamlet, reminding us that the only thing more absurd than pretending to be a person is actually being a person. He is human only on the surface; beneath, there is only embalmer's clay. All that looks deep in him proves shallow, his depth consists in the very fact that he is shallow; beneath the florid surface there is only formless sludge. In pretending to be, he has ceased to actually be; he tried so hard to be other people that he was finally unable to be even himself; the actor has vanished, leaving only the act. There is now no point or purpose to justify his existence, and therein lies his rebuke to us, for what reason have we every morning in rising and preparing a face to meet the faces that we meet?

So we slog impatiently through the first episode of "Feat of Clay," through interminable exposition, dull action sequences, Daggett's hackneyed villainy, waiting for the moment when Clayface rips through the plot—and when Altieri and Tokyo Movie Shinsa rip into the animation. The fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed, with movements clean and sure, transformations shocking. This is not to say that the animation is the only thing that makes this episode a keeper. I would sacrifice the entire climactic fight if it meant saving Germs's howl of surprise when a policeman suddenly rips off a piece of his own cheek. In both cases what we treasure is Clayface's exuberant embrace of his new powers, the raw assertion of his non-humanity. The revenge angle is formulaic, and it bespeaks Hagen's native stupidity that he can think of nothing else to do. But it doesn't matter that the plot is day-old popcorn. Once Clayface bursts in we munch with pleasure as we watch a master thespian slip the only bond that had tied him down: himself.

Production Notes
Bruce Timm on Akom and TMS: Part 1 "was the first episode done by Akom's c-team of animators, and it really bummed us out when it first came in. That show probably had more retakes than any other, nearly completely redone two or three times before we could actually air it without cringing. ... The second part had maybe six retakes on the whole show. ... I think we when we shipped [TMS] 'Clayface,' they said to themselves: 'They think they know everything, but we'll show them how to do this show. We'll change Batman's colors. We'll do special color key treatments on the villains when they're walking over the green vat. We'll blow them away.' ... They did all those colors themselves. We couldn't even ask for those colors if we wanted to. They aren't even in our palette."

Related Episodes
   * Mudslide
   * Holiday Knights
   * Growing Pains
   * Cat Scratch Fever
   * Beware the Gray Ghost
   * Black Out

What Others Are Saying ...
"This is conceivably the most disproportionate two-parter in Batman: The Animates Series. The first half of the episode ranges from dull to insulting ... [But] every moment [in the second part] is used to its fullest, whether it be achieving what the character of Hagen/Clayface promises, or tying up what failed earlier."Alex Weitzman, The Big Cartoon Database

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