Secret Origins #44: Clayface I (and IV), Clayface II, and Clayface III

Ryan Daly and guests Chris Franklin and Kyle Benning cover Secret Origins #44, which tells the stories of not one, not two, not three, but FOUR different Batman villains who have gone by the name Clayface. This issue of Secret Origins serves as a lead-in/tie-in to the “Mudpack” storyline from Detective Comics #604 through #607.

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“Premonition” (Theme for Secret Origins Podcast) written and performed by Neil Daly.

Additional music: “Minnie the Moocher” by Cab Calloway; “The Phantom of the Opera” composed by Andrew Lloyd Weber; “I Fought the Law” by the Bobby Fuller Four; “Ugly” by Smashing Pumpkins; “Brilliant Disguise” by Bruce Springsteen.

Thanks for listening!

25 responses to “Secret Origins #44: Clayface I (and IV), Clayface II, and Clayface III

  1. Huh. I really thought you guys would be more favorable to this issue, it’s one of my favorites. I think the cover is great (Nowlan, as always, FTW) and I thought the Clayface II and III segments were terrific. I think the humorous take on C II is genuinely funny and a nice change of pace.

    As you mentioned, for me the only bad part of the issue is Giffen’s work on the first segment. I remember getting really tired of his seemingly purposeful attempts to drive fans away from his work, and I obliged him. You can only be avant garde so long before you become .

    Regarding the LF segment, I can say with 99.9% certainly Ryan you will be only person to ever draw a through-line from The Gay Ghost to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Not just in podcasting, but in all of life. In any case, you are right on the money.

    And I, for one, am excited Brie Larson is playing Shazam! (cue SFX)

    1. I think if the first story had been more convention (i.e. “readable”), it would have made the Clayface II story better for me. There is a lot about the quirky Clayface II story that I really like in isolation, but coming right off of Giffen’s impenetrable lead-off story, I just found myself annoyed that I couldn’t read a normal story.

  2. My first Clayface was the original, reprinted in BATMAN FROM THE 30S TO THE 70S, a book I may or may not have “lost” from the library one time.

    Giffen was using the shadowed face stuff on Video Jack and March Hare as well. It was really awful, and couldn’t be blamed on his infamous tracing habit.

    Matt Hagen’s origin is the same as Rex Mason’s! Sort of. Bernie Mirault’s THE JAM was a great odd comic book from the B&W explosion.

  3. I think Ryan is on to something with Basil Karlo needing an independent villain identity. I can see a whole career for him as a specialist-for-hire who sabotages movie productions as THE ROTTEN TOMATO.

    My favourite part of the episode was when Ryan continued to discuss his disdain for Hawk & Dove. Listening to it was the equivalent of Ryan running the issue down in the street, reversing back over, then doing a burnout and circle work on it. We get it Ryan, you’re not a fan. At least I’ve been the bigger man and not made classless comments on my podcast.

  4. Nice job editing this one Ryan. I love the “Minnie the Moocher” bit. Well played, sir.

    I had a blast talking about this with you guys. A great time!

    Chris

  5. Another excellent show about the Clayfaces.

    I agree with Ryan’s comment about there being too many Clayfaces – think that has diluted the name somewhat. It looks like that DC are now sticking to the Basil Karlo character with Matt Hagen’s powers which is probably the best way forward, ignoring the other iterations. Scott Snyder did a neat two parter with that Clayface in between Death of the Family and Zero Year in the New 52, where Clayface impersonated Bruce Wayne to take control of Wayne Enterprises. I see from Rebirth that he has reformed and is now part of team being trained by Batman and Batwoman in Detective Comics which should be interesting to see how it develops. His powers would be an excellent asset to a Bat team!

    I do love the Preston Payne story by Alan Moore from the Batman Annual. Am I right in saying that it is the Preston Payne Clayface who is shown in Grant Morrisson and Dave McKean’s “Arkham Asylum” graphic novel? That was a particularly gruesome depiction of him. While I stand by my argument of there being too many Clayfaces, Alan Grant did a nice job in developing the romance between Preston and Lady Clay in the Shadow of the Bat series.

    1. I think Clayface in Arkham Asylum is supposed to be Payne, yeah. I remember Batman saying “Don’t touch me!!!” so, it would have to be him. But who could really tell?

      Chris

  6. Surprised to hear the critiques about Kevin Nowlan’s cover. The art is strong and the poses are great, but I appreciated the mix & shades of color. Clayface III does seem a bit out of place with the colors of his Super Powers-era Mr. Freeze costume (bless you for pointing that out lol) but given the more natural alternative of having a lot of brown on the cover, I didn’t mind what they went with here at all.

    The art on the Matt Hagen Clayface story has aged well, something I didn’t expect when I revisited this issue. My thought on the choice of humor and art for his tale has always been that because the character was (& still is) dead, DC felt they could give his origin a more humorous angle without damaging the Mud Pack story. Karlo, Payne and Lady Clay needed serious tales as they were the active threats; Hagen was lingering there in spirit so….whatever. Although I do agree with the opinion posited that DC wasn’t taking certain classic characters quite so seriously all the time definitely rings true – as we’ll see in a certain e.nigma’s story in the Secret Origins Special…

  7. This was a weird issue mostly because of the differences in tone. It doesn’t read easily in one sitting.

    I’ll only comment on the Giffen story. For me, the most difficult thing is that around this time when Giffen’s art is at its most inscrutable, his stories are their peak of quality. The Creeper story, the 5YL Legion, the Heckler … those are great great books, arcs, plots. But the artis just so murky and yes, at times lazy. There can be no reason only to show a forehead except to not have to draw a face.

    Still I find my self rereading these books more than the smooth, organic earlier Legion stuff.

    My .02

  8. I can understand how many of you feel about Keith Giffen’s art during this time. For a straight up Super Hero story, can feel a little jarring. Especially if your first time with Giffen was Great Darkness Saga as it was mine. Some of his best work. However, I want to ask you look at things from a different angle. During this time, Giffen was doing his Ambush Bug work and in 1985 did the Legion of Substitute Heroes Special (one of may favorite comics. Don’t judge me). His new art style fits those books and their style of humor. And Giffen has continued to transform his art style. Today, we find a more “Kirby” style. Each time Giffen changes, it takes me a moment to adjust.

  9. Gawd, those Giffen shady faces – did they all have super-powers at night? – got on my tits. Where WERE the editors? Just tell the man, draw faces and if you need to save time, fill the backgrounds with that wallpaper that showed up everywhere in the Seventies (eg the cover of Iron Man #128).

    Sorry, ranting. I’m with Joe, I came to Clayface via Batman From the Thirties to the Seventies, that book more magical than anything the Vishanti put their names to. And Basil Karlo remains my favourite – why the heck should he change his name, he originated it? Let the latecomers call themselves the Soilers or the Mudwich Cuckoos or something. I am enjoying Basil in current issues of Detective Comics – I suppose we have to assume this version never moidered anyone.

    Regarding Hudson U, Ryan, I never connected Stein’s Hudson Nuclear Power Plant with Dick Grayson’s alma mater (actually, is it an alma mater if you’re a lazy nogoodnik dropout?), was that canon? I just assumed Hudson as in river.

    1. Basil Karlo being named Clayface was the hook that got Lady Clay to visit him in the first story, which figured into the Mudpack arc, and Preston having Clayface II blood in him makes me accept that they all share the same name. I loved the issue, and read Mudpack afterwards having completely forgotten what happened in that story. Wow, that was awesome. ( I spotted where you got your Twitter picture, and commend your choice.)
      Chris and Kyle were great guests, and I loved the episode! In fact, I love every episode I’ve heard of this show. You always do a great job and I thank you for all the time and hard work you put into making this one of my favorite podcasts! I listened to the first two episodes, and jumped forward to your JLI coverage, listening to the new episodes as they came out. I’ll hold my tears in once you’ve finished the series, knowing I still have lots of episodes to enjoy. No promises once I have finished those, however.

  10. I’m not interested in the Clayfaces. Most are too fantastic for Batman. The first is the only one who makes sense using the name Clayface, as a master of disguise. The rest are clay people, or whatever. I don’t care. Fuck ’em.

    Keith Giffen is one of my childhood favorites, and I was introduced to him during this period. My understanding is that Giffen discovered Jose Munoz and became so fixated on his work that it radically and irrevocably altered his own approach to art. The Comics Journal accused Giffen of outright swiping, but he always insisted that Munz’s art was never on his board while drawing. I haven’t read this specific story, but I found his style in this period extremely inviting to the point where I bought far too many terrible books (Justice, March Hare, Video Jack) for Giffen alone. I love the nine panel grids and obtuse angles. It’s like David Lynch, who will take you on a serious head trip if you can get past his awkward style and technical deficiencies to just float through his mindscape. I could usually follow Giffen’s art if he was interpreting another writer, but what frustrated me to the point of being reticent to buy his work was when he wrote (entirely for) himself. Pure uncut Giffen is so harsh as to seem toxic toward attempts to read it, and to put a fine point on it, he too often wrote fairly simple stories in needlessly opaque ways that more than borrowed from Howard Chaykin’s own less inviting tendencies. Giffen the writer is the guy that turns me off without the sweetening of scripters/co-plotters like DeMatteis, Levitz, or Fleming (I did not mention Lovern Kindzierski nor the Bierbaums, no thank you very much.)

    While I’m still not into the post-Thomas character selection, I’m gaining respect for Waid’s willingness to plumb the indie comics waters for talent like Bernie Mirault. It seems very likely Raspler was a fan of the early ’80s Mr. Bill SNL shorts. Thanks to The Demon, he will always be “Bad” Dan Raspler to me, plus he edited a chunk of Morrison JLA. This story sounds like it would be a blast if it wasn’t about Clayface in a book entirely about Clayfaces discussed on a podcast I struggled to get through across multiple occasions because it was nearly two hours of Clayface talk. FUCK!

    Kevin Nowlan is always welcome in my house.

    Tom Grummett belongs on the sunnier, Supermanier side of DC. He drew a great Robin, but I wasn’t big on the rest of Gotham under his pen. Even his Nightwing was kinda weak, especially after his redesign with the mullet and armpit wings. Perez’s “Disco Elvis” is over-hated and Grummett’s 90s EXTREME!!! redesign under-hated. It’s no wonder everyone latched onto Brian Stefreeze’s boring but comparatively tasteful reworking.

    1. I can appreciate Giffen being excited about exploring a new art style, but his editors really should have reined him in on using it on mainstream projects like this. Much like the Martian Manhunter mini with art by Mark Badger, it just doesn’t work here, in my opinion (and apparently Ryan’s and Kyle’s).

      Chris

      1. Oh man– I never considered “what if Giffen had drawn the 1988 Martian Manhunter mini-series?” It’s usually the broader “what if literally anyone had drawn it besides Mark Badger” and I totally get how they might be equally offputting to some, but I’d have enjoyed it much more with Giffen art!

        As for editors “reining him in,” that sort of happened. Giffen went from drawing one of DC’s few sales successes of the Bronze Age in his well liked Kirby meets Perez style to the final issues of the exceptionally unsuccessful Hex and fill-ins on New Universe books. He was suddenly available to do all those low selling independent comics and short run comedy titles. He only got to write Justice League because nobody else who wanted it had better to offer, and he only got to draw it on stuff like the Global Guardians back-ups so the actually popular lead artist could keep up with the schedule. It’s like when Kyle asked why they couldn’t get Howard Chaykin to draw this Secret Origin– because Chaykin was moving units on Blackhawk and Shadow is why. Giffen was probably cheap and fast, so he’s drawing stories in the latter issues of the soon-to-be-cancelled anthology book instead of something people were buying. Secret Origins was part of his punishment for not being commercial anymore.

    2. ‘Giffen the writer is the guy that turns me off without the sweetening of scripters/co-plotters like DeMatteis, Levitz, or Fleming (I did not mention Lovern Kindzierski nor the Bierbaums, no thank you very much.)’

      Frank, you mention Lovern Kindzierski, are you thinking Tom McCraw?

      1. Kindzierski scripted Giffen in the mid-90s on bad stuff like Lunatik and Agents of Law, both of which I unfortunately read. I thought they’d done Trencher together, which was the worst of the three, but that was only a coloring job for the dude.

    3. I hate to agree with Frank, but yes, this style by Giffen came from the influence of Jose Munoz. And in Giffen’s defense, his artwork made the 5YL Legion era work. Perfect example of the right art on the right book. Unfortunately his style continued to evolve to the point of being practically illegible in Heckler and Trencher.

      Having never read this issue, I really can’t comment more. Except to say great episode! Really enjoyed hearing everyone’s opinion. And I’m starting to think Ryan hates everything. Pretty much everything. He probably hates hating things too.

      I will say that I’ve always though Clayface III was wearing an upside-down jelly jar on his head. :)

  11. I can’t believe I forgot to mention this, but all of us probably met Clayface II before any other version and just didn’t know it. If you watch the animated opening credits of the 60s Batman TV series, Clayface (Matt Hagen) is one of the villains whose coming at the Dynamic Duo, waiting for a ZOK or POW! He’s kind of hidden in the background, but his lumpy mug is back there.

    Chris

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