Batman: The Animated Series, “Mudslide”

22Jul11

And we go from one of the funnier episodes to one of the more somber ones.

Clayface is one of those Batman characters that has been entirely defined by the Animated Series for me. I know that there have been several versions of the character in the comics, and I have nothing against them. But to me, the best feature of the character is the tragic element of Matt Hagen’s transformation, as it’s something he brought on himself….but it was also something horrible done to him. At the same time he deserves to become human again, he’d rather find a way to keep his new powers while gaining enough control to appear human full time. “Mudslide” adds another layer to the problem, highlighting that Clayface may have more than selfish needs to improve his condition in the short term…but also emphasizing that he hasn’t become a better person in response to this emergency.

The episode opens with Clayface impersonating a security guard to sneak into a building, then going up to the top floor for some old fashioned safecracking. Thanks to an astute security guard noticing there are two of his coworkers, Batman is alerted to something happening there. Clayface is able to use his power to momentarily misdirect first the security guard, then Batman himself. But he flees when he sees the time. The first scene has a few hints that something is wrong with Clayface, but it becomes obvious as he and Batman fight-after an initial ambush on his opponent, Clayface runs, dripping runny mud both as he flees and as he tries to fight back. Batman doesn’t even do anything to him-he just follows Clayface along the streets, until the creature collapses against a dumpster, barely able to move. You’re almost feeling sorry for the poor guy when a woman suddenly drives up (forcing Batman to quickly dive out of her way), and tells Clayface to get in before driving off.

The woman in question is a doctor, who consulted on one of Matt Hagen’s films. And while she’s the reason that Clayface hasn’t completely dissolved yet, he doesn’t treat her with the respect that deserves. Whether you assumed that Hagen as just friends with his stunt double in “Feat of Clay” or something more, he was certainly abusive to his friend, and it’s not any better here. He can quote dialogue from his films in an attempt to reconcile, but his bitterness over becoming Clayface has poisoned his behavior. It doesn’t quite reach the level of domestic abuse, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if he’d actually hit her at some point.

She tells Hagen that she’s found a radioactive isotope that might be able to permanently stabilize him, and even increase his powers…the only problem is that it’s at a Wayne laboratory, because of course it is. I will give the show credit, though, that Batman doesn’t happen to be in the area when Clayface makes his move-he’s actually in the building, working as Bruce Wayne for his company, when he notices the silent alarm has gone off. Still a big coincidence, but a better one than “I just happened to patrol my own lab space tonight.” Of course, Clayface probably could have gotten away cleanly, if his escape plan hadn’t involved walking on foot to the subway and riding it away. I don’t know how good the Gotham subways are, but if I wasn’t able to maintain a cohesive form for more than a few minutes, I wouldn’t be using any kind of mass transit for an escape plan. Batman confronts him inside the car, but Clayface manages to escape with some astounding luck, as he jumps out of the train to get away…and just happens to land in the empty flatbed of a truck. That’s one of those things that you might not question in the scene itself, but you can’t help but go “Wait a minute!” when you think about it later.

Thanks to Alfred (who actually manages to surpass Harley Quinn’s “it was a small subpoena” innuendo from the last episode with a line about mudbaths), Batman is able to find out who is actually helping Clayface, and confronts them both at the doctor’s cliffside home. Man, even the nice people in Gotham live in dramatic locations. Rather than responding to this with the reasonable “I guess the jig is up, I should surrender so I don’t disintegrate and die,” Clayface goes nuts and tries to kill Batman by smothering him in his own body, which makes for a rather gruesome visual. After Batman escapes that trap, Clayface follows him out into the driving rain, then ends up falling into the water below, where he dissolves completely, making for a dramatic end…even though it was completely unnecessary.

It’s a little hard to say what I think of “Mudslide.” On the one hand, with the way that Clayface was set up, it’s hard to think of a more appropriate sequel for him. He’s not motivated solely by money, or even a desire to fight Batman. He wants to become human again. But he won’t do it by surrendering to anyone such as Batman, he wants to do it on his own terms, even as he claims no one could help him. On the other hand, it’s unfortunate to see what is supposedly a final ending for the character, when all of his appearances so far have been quite good. Still, if this is the last of Matt Hagen in the original version of the show, at least he went out as he lived…short-sighted, bitter, and irrational. Definitely give this a watch.

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