Batman: One Bad Day - Clayface #1
All Basil Karlo ever wanted to be was an actor…no… one of the greatest actors there's ever been. However, his life went off course when he became the shape-shifting monster known as Clayface. After years of doing battle with Batman in Gotham City and distancing himself from his dream, Clayface goes out west to Los Angeles. Creating a new identity, he pursues his dream of acting only to find that Gotham City isn't the only place with an overwhelming sense of dread to it, and that he might not have what it takes to make it in the City of Angels. So he'll reshape the city to fit his needs in a deadly pursuit of stardom!
Everyone in Los Angeles is writing a script or practicing for an audition. At least it seems that way. And in Batman One Bad Day: Clayface #1 this includes a shapeshifting, mass murdering monster once called Basil Karlo.
Basil’s life looks pretty good in the beginning of Batman One Bad Day: Clayface #1. He’s got an effective alias so no one knows who he is. He has control of his powers. He has a job as a waiter and coworkers he’s friends with. And, best of all for him, he has a movie audition lined up. Unfortunately he has a very specific idea of what the role he’s auditioning for should be, and he’s not shy about saying so. As the movie’s director eventually says, “he’s one of those actors”. This inflexibility costs Basil a shot at the role early in the comic. Instead his friend Corey, a comedian who brought a lightness to the audition reading that Basil refused to, gets the part. Rather than be happy for his friend, Basil impersonates him on the stage. Unfortunately he’s just as rigid pretending to be Corey as he was as Clay, and as this quality continues to undermine him Basil becomes progressively more unhinged.
The One Bad Day series is an exploration of the titular villains, and largely that exploration has centered on their criminal activities as the focal point. Their motivations may be different, but the criminal activity has been central to the plot from the beginning. Lanzing and Kelly take Batman One Bad Day: Clayface #1 in a different direction. Clayface as a persona is essentially absent for the issue’s first twelve pages. The story is about Clay and the life he’s trying to build for himself. The trouble comes when Clay doesn’t get the role he wants–when his viewpoint is overridden by what he feels is the inferior judgment of others.
This is where the character examination in Batman One Bad Day: Clayface #1 is surprising. Clayface is a murderer. And to be sure, he’s quick to turn back to that behavior when things don’t go his way. But that never comes across as who he truly is. In fact, if he had gotten the part–if his vision for the character had been realized–he wouldn’t have attacked anybody. At his heart Clayface wants to be an actor. But he’s also arrogant and self-centered. He can’t get out of his own way.
The book’s final scene is an extension of this and is simultaneously sad and ugly. Clayface isn’t a character to feel sorry for. He’s not a tragic figure. He does horrible thing after horrible thing. But by the end of the issue, after he’s been forced into a revelation, Lanzing and Kelly have made him oddly pitiable. He doesn’t feel like a villain. He just feels small and insignificant. Someone who throws a temper tantrum when he doesn’t get what he wants.
There’s a sequence early in the book where we see Clayface’s (Clay’s) friends talking to him, and the running theme is that they consider him someone who is true with them–someone who isn’t pretending. A rarity in the city, especially among people with their goals. But the truth when Batman One Bad Day: Clayface #1 is done digging into who Clayface is that all he really is is fake.
Xermánico’s art fits this story like a glove. It might sound weird, but there is a lot of interpersonal drama here. There’s a very short fight sequence late in the issue (Batman has to show up eventually, after all). But most of the story is about ordinary emotion, attitude, and behavior. Xermánico makes all of these characters feel real and alive. A lot of the issue is close-ups on faces, and the characters’ expressions communicate volumes beyond their dialogue. This is especially apparent during the brief time that Clayface is impersonating Corey, his friend who got the part he wanted.
Xermánico depicts Corey as almost relentlessly positive before his death. Even when Lanzing and Kelly’s dialogue paints a picture of someone unsure of himself, the art never pushes him into being downbeat. And what he expresses always feels authentic. But when Clayface impersonates him, that relentless positivity is gone. The fake Corey just never quite looks right which makes sense because Clayface doesn’t know how to be authentic.
Something very noteworthy is done with the book’s lettering as well. Certain words and phrases are highlighted in yellow (as one might do to lines in a script with a highlighter). The device is used very sparingly. But when it appears it’s on snippets that cut sharply against how Clayface sees the part and his job as an actor.
Almost all of us have met a person like Clay–someone who turns out to be fake and self-centered. Granted, most Clays aren’t shapeshifting murderers. Lanzing and Kelly’s choice to make Batman: One Bad Day - Clayface #1 not about the brilliance or power of a villain but the small inadequacies of a man make it the most human of the One Bad Day series. And it’s that easy ability to connect to Clayface and his story, made even more possible thanks to very good art, that makes it an overwhelming success.
Batman: One Bad Day - Clayface #1: An Actor’s Temper Tantrum
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 10/1010/10
- Art - 10/1010/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 10/1010/10