Overview: In Batman: One Bad Day: Clayface #1, Clayface assumes a new persona and struggles to make it as an actor in Los Angeles.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): Batman: One Bad Day: Clayface #1 begins at the apartment of Clayface (Basil Karlo) as he transforms from a mud puddle into a new human form in the mirror.
At the restaurant where Clay (Clayface’s new persona) works, he submerges himself in a crowd of executives and young performers dying to break into Hollywood. He helps where he can, reading the script of a coworker and auditions. On the way to an audition that a friend is also up for, he coaches this friend, telling him that if the friend can’t find the pain deep down, fake it.
All throughout, Clay has been practicing lines for his own audition, replaying them repeatedly. They’re about being a monster, about bringing pain and hurt to Gotham, yet about needing love.
The casting director calls to stop. She tells Clay that she senses the tragedy deep within him. When she asks if he’s from Gotham, he tells her that he is and it was a painful time in his life. The casting director then asks if Clay can pep it up because he’s auditioning for a love story, after all.
Clay pushes back, reminding the director that this character actually killed people and that there’s blood on his hands. When the director tells Clay they’re looking for a more quirky performance, Clay pushes back even harder. This move prompts the casting director to tell him that they’re good. He’s no longer needed.
Later, Clay laments the loss of the part to his friend, who also auditioned for the same role. He tells his friend that they don’t get the inner complexities of acting or the character, accusing the director of wanting something watered down for the masses. Midway through their conversation, Clay’s friend gets a call. It turns out this friend got the part, in large part due to his comedic chops and the advice he used from Clay.
Clay can no longer hold it in. He transforms into Clayface and kills his friend, stuffing the body in the trunk of a car and taking the form of the now-deceased man.
Clay, now going by the name Corey, arrives on set half an hour late. He’s rushed into makeup and then gets to the stage, where he’s acting out the monologue he just auditioned for. It’s for a movie called “The Killing Joke,” and while he delivers his speech, Corey holds the red hood mask that Joker wore in the now-iconic graphic novel.
The director calls cut and tells Corey that he’s not being relatable. When Corey argues that he found the true heartbreak of the character, the director tells him that the character is a killer but also a comedian. When Corey pushes back yet again about how everyone can relate to the sadness of it all, the director cuts the day short and says that he has to make a phone call.
In his trailer, Corey slips into his Clayface form. The casting director arrives, and Clayface resumes his Corey persona. She’s here to berate Corey for fighting with the director, telling him in no uncertain terms that there’s a hierarchy to sets, a pecking order, and Corey apparently doesn’t know his place.
Clayface consumes the casting director, killing her and assuming her form. Then he walks onto the set and goes through the crew, killing each one. When the director shows up, Clayface tells him he’s happy the director was last. Clayface kills the director, a man by the name of Max Taylor, and assumes his form.
Harry, the one funding the movie, calls Max and tells him that there’s bad news. Max (Clayface) meets with Harry only to find out that the movie is being canceled. When Max tells Harry that movies are art and that he has a vision, Harry tells Max that movies are depreciating products. They are a bad investment. Harry goes on a monologue, commodifying movies as common trash filled with the basic denominators most moviegoers love. Because there’s no franchise potential baked into Max’s movie, Harry’s canceling it.
Clayface brutally kills Harry and takes his place. As Harry, Clayface arranges a massive party at the producer’s mansion. He invites two VIPs, both of whom are coworkers from his days as Clay at the restaurant.
When his friends arrive, Clayface assumes the form of Clay. He makes a move on the one who was writing the script, a woman by the name of Kat. She’s taken aback, confused, and bewildered by the world Clay now finds himself in. She reveals he’s being so kind to her, but she feels a call to return home, a pull telling her she won’t make it.
As Batman: One Bad Day: Clayface #1 continues at the party, Clay meets Bruce Wayne, who has arrived to meet with Harry Silverman, the producer. Bruce stands before a giant poster of The Gray Ghost, a movie that’s being rebooted under Harry’s watch. Clay and Bruce chat and Bruce reveals that The Gray Ghost serials were a huge inspiration for him (which is definitely a call-out to the “Beware The Gray Ghost” episode of Batman: The Animated Series). When Bruce jokes about making a Batman movie next, Clayface suddenly has flashbacks and leaves.
Clay runs to the bathroom before fully breaking and transforming into Clayface. He remembers all the things said to him by the actors and people he killed. His Clayface persona reminds him that he’s trash.
Clay pulls himself together and rejoins his friends. They talk about how they are all strays together. When Kat asks where Corey is, Clay tells her he called Corey, but Corey didn’t pick up. He then reveals to them that his real name is Basil Karlo. It takes Kat a second, but she realizes that Clay is Clayface. She then puts together that Corey disappeared after riding to an audition with Clay. Clay keeps making excuses for Corey, but Kat and their other friend aren’t buying it. Clayface breaks, demanding to know why he isn’t good enough for them.
There’s a scream, and Clayface consumes both of his friends. As the other partygoers look over, Clay has taken the form of Harry Silverman and thanks the guests for coming out. Harry asks them to leave.
Just then, his two friends burst out. Kat calls the police, and sirens can be heard approaching the mansion. Clayface hulks out, telling everyone that he deserves this, that it’s his turn.
The rain, which never comes to LA, arrives. Batman sits perched atop the mansion. Clayface spots The Dark Knight and flees. He runs down the hills and through the trees, yelling, “Why did you have to bring the rain?!” When he stops running, Clayface tells Batman that all the people out here smile, but they’re fake. They take from your veins. They’re monsters, just like him. In truth, Clayface belongs here.
Batman tells Basil Karlo that he killed nine people in one day. The two fight, with Batman reciting the names of all of the victims. Batman pulls out some device that sucks Clayface into it like a ghost trap from Ghostbusters. He tells Clayface that the people killed had their stories, but Clayface is just acting.
At Arkham Asylum, Clayface once more acts out the scene from his audition, taking the form of each victim. As the victims look at Clay’s face, he confesses that he’s still working on the audition, asking for notes, any notes at all.
Analysis: Batman: One Bad Day: Clayface #1 is both a solid Clayface thriller and character study, as well as a very meta-commentary about the art of creation and making it out in Hollywood. Using the body-morphing character of Clayface as a literal vehicle for the phoniness of Hollywood, writers Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing and artist Xermanico tell a heartbreaking tale of how the creative process is crushed and torn apart within the mechanics of a money-printing studio system. Potshots are taken at the hyper-focus on franchises in the modern era, and there is at least one jab at canceling a movie, which can’t help but make readers wonder if it’s in any way a reference to Warner Bros. Discovery’s cancellation of Batgirl. More importantly, the creative team manages to weave a frighteningly futile tale of Clayface’s attempts to remake himself. Instead of submerging himself into the studio system, Basil Karlo bends others to his will, murdering those who stand in the way of his grand vision.
There’s no clear indication of what the vision actually is. Readers are clued in on the disagreements between Clayface and the directors over the tone of the character in a movie adaptation of “The Killing Joke,” but beyond these disagreements, it’s not like Clayface has a finished product in mind. The story focuses more on Clayface propelling himself up the studio food chain, apparently all within the span of “one bad day,” which is easily the hardest part of the story to digest.
Tonally, however, Batman: One Bad Day: Clayface #1 is magnificent. It’s so full of pathos and pain. Xermanico’s art is equally parts terrifying and absolutely depressing. There’s so much sadness in Clay’s eyes from start to finish, a sadness that glosses over in Clayface’s eyes as well. The way Clay’s friends look at him when he offers them kindness is beautiful and tragic, as readers know right out of the gate that Clay will take so much more from them.
There are many haunting images here in Batman: One Bad Day: Clayface #1, from the opening sequence of Clayface’s apartment to his devouring of the people around him. Yet, the most haunting images of all might very well be the eyes. They’re so sad and full of tragedy.
Letterer Tom Napolitano deserves heaps of praise for this issue. The tone and mood is set by the letters for Clayface’s voice, warping nearly as much as Clayface’s body. The harsher the inner self-talk Clayface delivers to himself, Napolitano echoes in the word bubbles. There’s also a script motif throughout, which really sets the stage for the drama readers are treated to.
Overall, the writing, art, and lettering work in sync to create a gripping read that speaks to a multitude of ideas about Clayface but about the creative process as well.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with a copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue digitally on Comixology through Amazon or a physical copy of the title through Things From Another World.
Batman: One Bad Day: Clayface #1
Batman: One Bad Day: Clayface #1 is artistically a mesmerizing and tragic issue with a few plotting problems. Overall, it’s definitely one of the better ‘One Bad Day’ entries.