Sunday, May 1, 2011
Batman #550 (January, 1998)
A boy with cottage cheese thighs was strapped to a table in a laboratory that looked like a Hammer Films set, even with the computer bank. Rather than adipose tissue, the boy was made of flesh-like clay, from which a sample was extracted without any effective sedation. You never see eye patches anymore, but "Dr. Peter Malley, DEO researcher, Level Q" kept the pirate look alive. A six page overview of the various Clayfaces from Basil Karlo to Cassius "Clay" Payne followed.
Malley was working in the lab late one night, when his eye beheld an eerie sight. For his sample from the arboreal cage began to rise, and suddenly to his surprise, it did the mush. It burned a hole in the tank. The mush was loose. It was an ambulatory mass. It did the mash, melding to Malley's flesh in a flash. They were now a monster mesh!
The best part was when Malley (Get it? Malleable?) picked up the tank to look through the porthole with his one good eye while the creature leapt onto his back. The "Claything" merged with Malley in an obvious Dead Alive swipe, drawing the attention of a DEO agent, whose gun melted into his hand. In another Dead Alive swipe, a doctor later planned to amputate the agent's arm at the shoulder, because it was infected with materials from the gun working their way through his system. It seemed Claything could melt things psychokinetically from a fair distance, making it the most powerful Clayface yet. The creature had a childlike intellect, and began traveling from New York to "Mommy... Daddy... Gotham." Presumably thanks to Malley, it could drive a car, while comically scaring people and melting cops to mush en route.
The Department of Extranormal Operations was a new government bureau, so they didn't have a dedicated agent in Gotham City yet. However, Cameron Chase had just been hired, and was driving from the West Coast to town with a layover in Gotham to visit her sister. "Look like Agent Chase just got her first case-- before reaching her desk." The DEO knew Chase's unlisted cell, her sister's address, and her email without being informed, and forwarded all the necessary data. Terry Chase was a fan of super-hero culture who quizzed her older sister on her case, while Cameron lectured, "There's a fine line, you know, between hero worship and blasphemy... They don't deserve worship."
Harvey Bullock was as crusty and needlessly confrontational as ever in surrendering the Gotham City Police Department's files on the Clayfaces to Cameron Chase, calling feds pompous "tax-suckin' lice." Still, he offered, "Do me a favor... Don't melt out there, fed. Me an' messes get along-- but even I got my limits." Chase staked out the cave where several Clayfaces once resided, which is where she met Batman. Chase drew on him, and tried to run off the vigilante, but he browbeat her into submission with a variation on the need to do one's civic duty. As the two debated, Batman realized that the "Clay-Thing," might not be headed home, but instead follow a telepathic connection to its "parents" in Arkham Asylum. The Batmobile sped off, and when Chase's American muscle car failed to keep up, she called her sister for directions.
The Clay-Thing released Amygdala while burning its way through Arkham, giving Batman two massive threats to contend with. The Caped Crusader took down the second a might easily per story convenience, but there wasn't anything he could logically do to stop the first. That's where story contrivance kicked in, as Cameron Chase secretly had a super power that caused the Clay-Thing to melt itself. Batman was content to let the D.E.O. clean up its mess, but requested Chase see to it this didn't happen again.
Kelly Jones can be one of the finest horror artists in comics, and operates at a more consistently high standard than his most obvious influence, Bernie Wrightson. On the other hand, even as a pale shadow of his '70s glory, Bernie Wrightson operates at a minimum level of craft that far exceeds the Rob Liefeldian excesses of Kelly Jones. Despite being gifted in many respects, there are times when Jones is just plain objectively bad, as in random panels of "I clear don't give a crap" amateur hour composition. How can Mick Gray salvage this in ink when a page has a post-it note stating "I let my granny with the severe cataracts draw this face with a sharpie?" It's like Jones has a meter than runs up a $200 panel over here, so he makes it up with several $2 ones elsewhere. On the last page, Cameron Chase looks like a particularly sour Shirley Hemphill in whiteface and a bad wig. J.H. Williams III pitches in for eleven pages on his co-creation, and despite the absence of D.C. Johnson, nine-tenths of Chase's characterization works so long as he's present. That's good, because Chase was a cult favorite, but writer Doug Moench seems to be doing the "comic book adaptation" of her character here. She's a chain smoking rookie secret agent who gets into rec room philosophical debates over why she hates super-heroes with the Batman, as written by a guy who clearly favors the Batman and can't even conceive of a way to verbalize Chase's stance in the presence of the Batman.
"He's the Batman."
"Didn't you hear?"