"Feat Of Clay, Parts I and II" S1 / E20-21
- A- Community Grade
After the disappointment of “The Cat And The Claw,” Batman: The Animated Series remembers that these two-part episodes should actually be good to merit their extra running time. In fact, “Feat Of Clay” shares a number of similarities with the series’ first two-parter “Two-Face,” from the title cards to the adult subject matter and incongruous animation quality. The title of the episode is a play on the biblical phrase “feet of clay,” symbolizing the fundamental flaw that contributes to an individual’s downfall. For Harvey Dent, that flaw is his emotional repression, prompting the creation of the Big Bad Harv persona. Matt Hagen’s (Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman) is his addiction to Roland Daggett’s (Ed Asner) cosmetic Renuyu cream, which will become the cause of his transformation into the monstrous Clayface. Comic book veteran Marv Wolfman and Michael Reaves contribute the story for “Feat of Clay,” giving Clayface a Mr. Freeze-style revamp that combines elements of the character’s various comic iterations and gives him an emotional motivation for turning criminal. As a child, I didn’t understand why it was such a bad thing for Hagen to develop a dependency on Renuyu, unaware of the writers’ thinly veiled metaphor for the legitimate problem of drug addiction. Matt Hagen is a junkie, and this episode’s brilliance is the way that it conveys that information within the confines of a children’s superhero universe.
The best villains of this series represent larger ideas, and turning Clayface into a living drug is an ingenious direction for the character. By taking the core physical characteristics of the villain and making them the emotional characteristics of the man (Two-Face's duality, Freeze’s frigidity), the writers revive the rogues with newfound focus and clarity. Clayface’s malleability is the physical representation of the high Hagen gets every time he uses Renuyu, which allows for brief periods of focus but is ultimately unstable. Hagen's addiction begins after he is disfigured in a car accident and Daggett approaches him with an experimental cream that allows a person to alter their facial features without plastic surgery. Hagen takes the opportunity and turns out the biggest hits of his career after the accident but is forced to work for Daggett to support his habit, performing acts of corporate espionage that introduce Bruce Wayne into the mix.
“Feat of Clay” begins with Hagen impersonating Bruce and meeting with Wayne Enterprises executive Lucius Fox (Brock Peters) to retrieve papers incriminating Roland Daggett of insider training. Hagen’s big mouth and a really shitty suitcase handle end up bungling the job and bringing the wrath of Batman down on the operation in a fight sequence dynamically storyboarded by director Dick Sebast. A botched job means no Renuyu for Hagen, and the next day, he tears apart his dressing room looking for more product, unable to go on set without his face fix. When his friend Teddy gives him the last remaining bit of Renuyu, Hagen decides to break into Daggett Industries and steal some, despite Teddy’s protestations. The Matt/Teddy scenes take the drug metaphor to the extreme, as Teddy tries to convince his fiending friend to lay off the cream, but Hagen reacts with appropriate stubbornness. In light of the events of the last few weeks, could there be a better time to watch an episode about an actor whose drug dependency and overall lack of judgment lead to his personal downfall? How many times did some variation of Matt and Teddy’s conversation go down between Charlie Sheen and his agent?
Unaware that Daggett has ordered his murder for his failure the night before, Hagen goes to the laboratory where he is caught by two henchmen. He tries his whole “I’m actually Bruce Wayne” shtick, but the two men are in on the act, considering their boss just hired him to do it last night. Pinned down by Daggett’s men, Hagen is forced to drink an entire batch of Renuyu and is dumped back in his car, where the drug combines with his molecular structure and turns him into a giant walking turd. Meanwhile, Batman investigates the rendezvous he intercepted, and his tactile memory points him to Raymond Bell (Scott Valentine), one of the thugs that just tried to kill Hagen. Batman’s ignorance of Bruce Wayne’s publicized involvement in Lucius’ attack is a bit out of character for the world’s greatest detective, but he was probably too busy being badass to notice.
The Batman of “Feat of Clay” is largely silent, and when he speaks, he makes sure that the criminals are listening. Conroy continues to outdo himself with every episode, and he conveys a spectrum of emotions between Bruce Wayne and Batman while getting to show off his sinister side for Hagen’s Bruce impersonation. When he finds Bell and dangles him over the city from the tip of the Batwing, he explodes in an awesome rage. It’s one thing to mess with the Batman, but it's another thing entirely to go after Bruce Wayne. Bruce is vulnerable. Bruce can be locked up. If Bruce is locked up, the Batman can’t fight crime and Gotham falls. Gotham is all that is left of Bruce’s parents, and Batman is what keeps it alive. Daggett crosses a line by framing Bruce, and Conroy gives Batman a harder edge in this episode because of it. Bell ends up passing out before Batman can get any information out of him, and he’s dumped in a rooftop pool for the police to take into custody. With no leads, Bruce’s investigation takes him to Lucius’ hospital room, where he tries to get answers from his terrified associate, but ends up under arrest by the GCPD.
The Batwing sequence is great, particularly because of the sound editing, which uses the ominous engine hum of the plane to build the tension as Bell tries to escape. There are some issues with the animation in terms of how big the Batwing actually is, however, and its size changes depending on the surroundings. It’s bigger when Bell’s car is impaled on the end, smaller when the car is dumped and only Bell remains. Like the preceding two-part episodes, two different studios handled the animation for the separate parts, with one looking vastly superior to the other. The Akom animation in Part One is actually a step up from some of their previous work on the series but is still plagued by stilted movement, stocky character builds, and uninspired environments. For a truly horrendous shot, take a look at the close-up on Lucius when he says Bruce Wayne set him up. That is some ugly cartoon man right there. Thankfully, TMS takes over the animation for the second part, and it is arguably the series’ best looking episode to this point.
Bruce Wayne’s mugshot opens the second part of “Feat Of Clay” with some snare drum-driven prison music courtesy of Shirley Walker. Director Kevin Altieri takes over for Sebast, and the combination of Altieri with TMS leads to an episode with cinema-quality visuals. Small flourishes like paparazzi camera flashes and the green glow of chemicals reflecting onto Daggett’s face are much more noticeable when the episode before looks really lazy. Animating Clayface must have been extremely difficult, and the tiny bit of clay animation Akom does in "Part One" shows just how horribly wrong it could have gone.
After Teddy discovers Clayface in the car, they go back to Matt’s trailer where he has another breakdown, but then learns that he can now change his appearance just by thinking about it, an act that takes focus to maintain but is also extremely powerful. I again can’t help but notice the parallels between Matt Hagen and Charlie Sheen, who similarly transformed into something beyond an actor after his meltdown but is only a figurative piece of shit. Clayface wants Roland Daggett; Charlie Sheen wants Chuck Lorre. Hagen uses the media to get his ultimate revenge; Sheen tries to use it for his. This may be one of the few times an episode of B:TAS is ripped from the headlines, despite having been written almost 20 years ago (that’s right, almost 20). Interestingly, the scenes between Matt and Teddy take on an oddly domestic tone in the second part, as Teddy becomes fixated on the idea of the two of them getting through this together while Matt is solely obsessed with revenge. There’s no concrete evidence to suggest the two are lovers, but their scenes are a lot more interesting in that context (a lot like the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes). The drug may have brought Hagen fame but ultimately at the cost of his career and relationships, transforming him into a monster that slaps around his boyfriend.
Hagen assumes that Daggett will send someone to wrap up the Lucius Fox loose end, and when Daggett sends his henchman Germs (Ed Begley, Jr. doing an awful character voice) to kill Lucius, Hagen finally has a way to track down his target. Batman is waiting for Germs in Lucius’ hospital room, and incapacitates him by cornering him in a room filled with bacteria samples, crippling the germaphobic thug. Armed with a canister of “crimson fever,” Batman learns that Matt Hagen was the person that impersonated Bruce Wayne, which prompts Clayface’s entrance, disguised as a police officer. Everything about the Clayface animation, from the shading on his rolls to the physics of his flowing body mass, is impressive, and Altieri clearly had a lot of fun creating bold images with the character’s powers. One of the best visuals is when Clayface jumps off the hospital rooftop after Batman foils his plan to kidnap Germs, and the line Batman throws down to catch Clayface cuts his body right down the middle before he slams into the ground. In TMS’ capable hands, it’s an incredible sequence, and only a taste of what’s to come.
When Daggett goes on Gotham Insider to reveal Renuyu to the public, Clayface crashes the taping and exposes the harmful side effects of the product and the frightful result of an overdose. Batman appears to save Daggett and have another great fight, with TMS continuing to show amazing control over Clayface’s fluid body, keeping the clay reacting consistently with the environment with precise detail. In the episode’s climax, Batman traps Clayface in a control room filled with screens displaying characters played by Hagen in his past life. Clayface’s transformation reflex kicks into overdrive as his body fails to maintain a consistent shape with the multiple stimuli, leading to one of the best animated sequences of the entire series. Clayface’s body seamlessly and rapidly transforms from pirate to cowboy to alien to Bruce Wayne and on and on, and the animation is crisp and kinetic throughout. I recommend watching it in slow motion to see just how impressive it is. Clayface eventually can’t take anymore and smashes into the electrical console, seemingly taking his own life, but luckily, the cops saw him flash through Bruce Wayne so that plot can get wrapped up all nice and tidy. The episode ends with Batman discovering that electricity actually doesn’t do anything to Clayface and that the body he left behind is probably a shell, an apt conclusion because Clayface snuck away as the black-haired chick. It shouldn’t be too hard to find him, though, as long as he continues to randomly laugh maniacally in the middle of the street.
- Batman Beatdown: Thug points shotgun at Batman, Batman grabs it and uses it like a baseball bit to clobber the man. Melee attack!
- New B:TAS trope: exposed mechanical cogs.
- “I know my fist has landed on that jaw once before.”
- “You lying sleaze!”
- “Listen up, scumwad.”
- The Batwing’s lady-voice police radio transmitter is awesome.
- “Fainted. He fainted.” Well you did just fly through the air with him dangling from a metal claw.
- “This should wake you up, Mr. Bell.” Or kill you when you hit the water, break your spine, and drown.
- Alfred picks up Bruce from prison with the costume in the car and drops him off to get to work as Batman before he even gets home. That’s dedication.
- “I’m not an actor, anymore! I’m not even… a man.”
- “Seawater for analysis.”
- “I could be… infected!” “I know.”
- My favorite Clayface weapons: fork-hand and lobster claws.
- “Look at what you used to be!”
- Germs was going to suffocate Lucius Fox with a pillow. That’s pretty hardcore for a kid’s show.
- “You can’t stop using it without horrible… pain!” Clayface as the fat chick has wacky line delivery
- “You know what I’d have given for a death scene like this? Too bad I won’t get to read the notices.”
- This episode is the Hellboy/Up crossover you never knew you wanted to hear.