Batman: The Animated Series, “Feat of Clay, Part I+II”

11Mar11

Part I

Just like “Two-face,” “Feat of Clay” is a tragedy in two parts. While the villain doesn’t have the deep personal connection to Batman that Harvey Dent did, it does an excellent job of setting up the players and the stakes. And it also introduces one of my favorite villains in the series, Roland Daggett.

The first part opens with Lucius Fox, Bruce Wayne’s right hand man, meeting him on a darkened street at night. This actually isn’t his first appearance; he was among the retinue of people talking to Bruce in “See No Evil.” But here we learn of his importance in the Wayne hierarchy, as he is in possession of paperwork that proves Daggett is trying to take over Wayne Enterprises. Of course, any thoughts that this might be suspicious is confirmed when “Wayne” not only says he won’t deliver the papers to the DA, but they’ll be killing Fox. Which would probably have been a better thing to say if Fox wasn’t still holding the briefcase. He manages to wrest it from the imposter and tries to run, and the shots from the thugs alerts Batman to investigate. He doesn’t appear before Fox is hurt, but he does prevent them from getting the briefcase before the police arrive as well.

Once the Wayne imposter slips away, we get to meet the man in his normal form. And to be honest, he makes for a more viscerally disgusting visual than Two-Face does. We also get to learn how Matt Hagen is able to disguise himself-with a cream that allows him to directly mold his facial features. As his stunt double/life partner points out, this can’t be healthy to use, and neither is the fact that Hagen has to do jobs for Roland Daggett.

At this point we meet one of my favorite Animated Series villains, Roland Daggett. Now, Daggett only works as a character in a Batman-centric continuity; if you were to include Luthor, then Daggett becomes a pale shadow of the bald man instead. But he’s used to great effect here, and much like in “Two-face,” having three sides to the conflict improves the story quite a bit, even if it starts out only having two. And it’s chilling for Daggett to talk about how Hagen will come to them for more of the cream. When Daggett is proven right, his thugs capture Hagen-but rather than just shooting him as Daggett wanted, they overdose him on the substance and leave him to die.

Meanwhile, Batman has become aware he’s been accused of attacking Fox, so he goes out to take care of that by chasing one of the henchmen in the Batwing. The scene is completely over the top and ridiculous, as Batman essentially tortures the guy before the police tell him to stop, but it’s entertaining despite that…and Batman definitely isn’t thinking clearly here. This is proven by the fact that he follows up on this by sneaking into Fox’s hotel room from the window, then seems confused by Fox’s fear over the man who tried to kill him sneaking into his third story hospital room. Oddly enough, this ends with Fox hitting his alarm and calling in the cops. The episode ends with the first sight of Hagen’s new form, and Hagen’s own anguished scream at the sight.

Part II

The animation for the first episode of “Feat of Clay” was perfectly fine. Not amazing, but it worked well. But the animation for part II is a clear step up-and it’s a good thing, too, since there’s a lot more action here. It’s too bad “Two-face” didn’t see the same progression in quality.

The episode opens with Bruce Wayne being arraigned, then cuts in rapid succession to Clayface bemoaning his inability to work in his new form, and Daggett telling his remaining henchman to finish off Fox. As a side note, it’s nice that Daggett’s reasoning for taking over Wayne isn’t just being evil or hating Wayne personally, but a real business logic-getting control of their distribution channels and marketing machinery.

We cut back to Clayface, where we finally get the exposition about how he got involved with Daggett, along with the accidental reveal of Clayface’s abilities. There’s an attempt to give Clayface pathos by saying the ability is too hard to pull off, but it’s undercut by Clayface going to the hospital to take the place of Daggett’s henchman. Not that he knows who it will be, but as he notes, Daggett is going to send someone to kill Fox. Batman finds them first, and there’s a neat interrogation scene where Batman uses the henchman’s germaphobia against them, until Clayface interrupts in the guise of a police officer. And here is where that improved animation really pays off, as Clayface’s transformations work much better with that added detail. Clayface escapes with the unique strategy of falling off a building.

Clayface instead decides to confront Daggett at a talk show premiere for his “Renuyu” product. The fact that no one responds to a product that can turn your face into putty with “OH GOD, THIS IS HORRIFYING!” is rather disheartening, but Daggett is actually put into an odd position-he’s indirectly responsible for Hagen’s transformation, but he didn’t know what his lieutenants had actually done to him. Fortunately, Batman manages to distract Clayface, and then beats him with the power of VHS, as he puts up images of previous Matt Hagen roles. This conveniently turns him into Bruce Wayne right as police burst in, and then Clayface appears to die. But in a coda, Batman notes that electrocution doesn’t actually hurt a clay sample he took from the scene, and it ends by verifying Clayface is still alive.

For all the similarities “Two-face” and “Feat of Clay” have with each other, they don’t share Batman’s close personal connection with the villain. But that’s not an issue with the episode. If anything, it’s to its credit that they created such an interesting and engaging story without that connection. And unlike “The Cat and the Claw,” this is a story that needed two parts to work well-without it, the plotting would have been far too rushed to work. That doesn’t mean they should have done more two part episodes, but at least this one earned it.

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