I could start this review off by complaining about yet another villain whose origin story boils down to "He had a bad childhood." Which is what one would think starting this issue off, but what at first seemed like another generic backstory that all the Batman villains are shackled with actually turns out to be quite decent. Allow me to explain.
The issue begins with Clayface, Basil Karlo, and his cell neighbor indulging in memories of a better time for Basil. The Scarecrow and his fear mirror walking by prompts a flashback to Basil's childhood, back when his greatest fear was going unnoticed. Though, as a high school geek I resent the statement that being ignored was worse than being bullied. I say, to you who seriously thinks this, go to hell. Being ignored IS NOT worse than being bullied in any sense of the world. Even in some kind of strange bizarro world being bullied will always be worse than being ignored.
His desire for acknowlegdement leads him to take up acting, which he is unfortunately not adept at. As one of the drama teachers says, "There's just nothing special about you." Okay, in what world would a teacher be able to say that and get away with it? You're a teacher, your job is molding young humans through a very sensitive stage of their lives. I don't know what goes on in the drama department, but I'd like to believe in a world where teachers flat out insulting students would end with them getting fired. Or maybe that isn't a firing offense, I honestly haven't thought about school since getting out of it so I wouldn't know.
Basil is given a mystic clay of some kind by the Penguin (are there really not any other mob bosses in Gotham anymore?) which allows him to…act better? It doesn't flat out give him the ability to transform, that comes later, at first it basically let's him control his face better. Which actually kind of works for me. After all, shapeshifting is essentially controlling how your body behaves. So it would make sense to have the early stages of that kind of power enhance one's ability to control one's body in more mundane ways.
But as he's pulled into a life of crime when the Penguin calls in his debt Basil has more and more trouble controlling his body while he undergoes the typical fallen actor storyline. Until eventually he loses everything but crime.
The issue ends with Clayface's admirer dying off panel. Of plot-convenience-it-is I'm sure. Sure the transition to the neighbor dying was jarring, would it have killed them to foreshadow it even a little bit? I'm too busy wondering how his arm fell outside his cell. The vertical bars are held in place by flat, horizontal bars of steel, between the lowest one and the ground is just enough space to shove an arm through, which is where the dead man's arm is. The only way to do this is to push the arm through, if it were to fall, as one would assume would happen when the man died, it would have hit the last bar of steel rather than the bottom of the door. So unless he took a flying jump, arm outstretched, right before he died there is no way his arm would fit like that. It's a minor complaint, and I may be nitpicking, but it's little moments like these that make me question how much oversight there actually is on the art.
In the end Clayface pretends to choke on his food to get the EMTs to lower the wall of his cell. He jams a piece of clay in the door before it can close and it is insinuated that he will escape. My question is, how could anyone be dumb enough to think Clayface was actually choking? He's a shapeshifter. He can change his body, I'm pretty sure that makes him immune against choking on anything ever. If something were to legitimately get stuck in his throat I'm pretty sure that all he needs to do is widen his throat a little bit and the problem would resolve itself.
And why is his high tech cell right next to a regular cell? Wouldn't it be safer to keep him in an isolated containment of some kind? They say in the issue that Clayface is the biggest threat on the premises. So why is he being kept next to all the regular inmates? Don't just put him in an air tight cell, put him in an air tight cell, in an air tight vault, in a sub-section closed off by, you guessed it, an air tight steel door. Pretty sure that even then Clayface couldn't escape like this. And if he's choking maybe gas him first and then remove the obstruction while he's passed out.
Still, I enjoyed the backstory. While it did focus on his childhood at first, it wasn't like Basil had a bad childhood and then he turned evil. Like any kid he had his issues, but he at least seemed to have parents that not only cared about him but seemed to be good parents. And he didn't turn evil because of his complex, rather his complex lead him down a path later on that would lead him to crime but that wouldn't necessarily have to have ended with crime. This lends a certain avoidability to his fate that makes the final product a lot more palatable, as opposed to all the "their fate is inevitable" backstories villains seem to be getting. Even though we KNOW Victor Fries becomes Mr. Freeze, that doesn't mean you get a free pass on actually making us care about his backstory.
So overall, a good issue and worth reading. Even though this was the comic that tried to make "Wah wah wah" seems threatening. It's not even really a funny panel, it's just kind of awkward that someone thought the Penguin's laugh would be anything other than ludicrous.
Batman: The Dark Knight #24:
Reviewed by Derek Bown