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Real Name:  Matt Hagen

Voiced by Ron Perlman

Known in Hollywood as the “Man of a Million Faces,” Matt Hagen’s acting career looked as though it was over following a disfiguring accident, until he was visited in the hospital by Roland Daggett, CEO of pharmaceutical giant Daggett Industries.  Sensing Hagen’s desperation, Daggett offered him the opportunity to become the first test subject for Renuyu, a miracle facial cream that granted elasticity to flesh, allowing subjects to reshape their facial features at will.  Realizing that Renuyu would accomplish in minutes what plastic surgery would take years to accomplish, Hagen took Daggett’s offer and, with his good looks restored, went on to star in the greatest roles of his career.  Unfortunately, Daggett neglected to inform Hagen of the chemical’s side effects, such as Renuyu’s twenty-four hour time limitation and, when used over extended periods, how any attempts to stop using it would cause considerable pain.  Now at Daggett’s mercy, he consented to become an impersonator and hit man in Daggett’s service in exchange for a continued supply of the Renuyu formula.

This arrangement continued for years, until Hagen, disguised as Wayne Enterprises CEO Bruce Wayne, botched the attempted murder of Lucius Fox, an executive of the company, which was part of an orchestrated takeover bid by Daggett.  The latest in a string of failures, Roland Daggett placed a hit on Hagen, which was carried out when he was discovered attempting to steal more Renuyu from Daggett’s headquarters.  Holding Hagen down, Daggett’s henchmen force-fed him a large supply of the Renuyu formula and dumped his body in an alleyway.  However, unknown to the mobsters, Hagen did not die but, instead, was transformed through a chemical reaction into a creature composed entirely of malleable, organic clay.

Initially repulsed by his condition, Hagen became intrigued when he discovered that the transformation also afforded him near-limitless shape-shifting abilities.  Able to transform his body into anyone, anything, or any combination of things; able to be as solid as rock or flow as liquid, Hagen adopted the identity of Clayface and set out to avenge himself against Roland Daggett, a plot that was foiled by Batman.  Unknown to Clayface at the time, the Dark Knight would soon become his primary opponent, as he foiled frequent attempts to steal money and supplies necessary for attempts to cure or, sometimes, to stabilize his condition.

Recently freed by the Secret Society from the private collection of Morgan Edge, Clayface joined the organization after their leader, Gorilla Grodd, offered to help Hagen improve his condition, which would have allowed him the opportunity to keep his powers while gaining a measure of normality.  This offer fell through, however, following the Society’s defeat at the hands of the Justice League, leaving Clayface torn between the phenomenal power at his command and his desire for a normal life.

Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Mitch Ryan on Clayface (circa 1990):  "A former small-time criminal who, thanks to a secret elixir, can duplicate anyone's face (courtesy of the Batman Series Writers Bible)."

Paul Dini on Clayface:  “Permanently altered by an experimental chemical force-fed to him by mobsters, once handsome movie star Matt Hagen now revenges himself on the world as the shape-shifting monster Clayface.  Like so many members of Batman’s Rogues Gallery, Clayface was a soul who fell victim to sin (in his case, vanity) and became a poetically ironic caricature of his baser nature.  He can regain the illusion of his lost humanity for a time, but it’s only skin-deep.  His inner self is now as ugly and distorted as his exterior, and it eventually comes though in whatever form he wears (courtesy of Batman:  Animated).”

Maxie Zeus on Clayface:  “I am unsure if it is an intentional or unintentional irony that the great actor Matt Hagen, ‘The Man of a Thousand Faces,’ should prove to be such a one-dimensional character […] Now, in calling Hagen a one-dimensional character, I do not mean to imply that he and his predicament are uninteresting.  After all, other characters in Batman have played symphonies by striking a single note repeatedly—[Mr.] Freeze's haunting monotone comes to mind.  Neither is Hagen's motive—revenge—necessarily an uninteresting one—again, witness Freeze.  But in a universe of diverse personalities twisted in lurid ways, Hagen's character stands out in its homeliness:  he is little more than an overgrown child, a brat fatted on the cynical compliance of others.  So where Freeze takes us deep into his grief for a lost wife; where Two-Face makes us meditate on the duality of man; where the Joker plays on the line that separates comedy from chaos, Clayface's rage is merely rage at the loss of—Matt Hagen.  Now, to lose oneself would seem to be a tragedy, but to lose oneself when one is Matt Hagen, well, that is an absurdity of existential dimensions.  For in Hagen's case there was nothing there to lose (courtesy of The Animated Batman).”

Bruce Timm on Clayface (circa 1994):  “Somebody like Clayface isn’t really horrifying, he’s just gross.  He looks like a big walking pile of turds (courtesy of Comics Scene Magazine).”

Erik Radomski on Clayface (circa 1995):  “[Mudslide] was just a beautiful opportunity to really get extreme in what we wanted to do with [the character], because Clayface was a big monster.  We didn’t have as much problem with the network saying, ‘Well, you can’t do that ‘cause this is a human being.’  It looked like a big flabby mass of goo on the storyboards, so the network never got too crazy about it.  We ended up killing him at the end.  Basically, he melts in the ocean.  He’s disintegrated and he’s dead (courtesy of Starlog Magazine).”

Maxie Zeus on Clayface’s death scenes:  “How fitting that each Clayface episode should end with his presumed death, for every ham actor lives for his death scenes […] So why shouldn't we expect Matt Hagen to die over and over again, at the end of each adventure, in more lurid and spectacular fashion than before, only to reappear, apparently no worse for wear, in later installments (courtesy of The Animated Batman)?"

 

Images

Clayface Model Design Sheet (BTAS Design)

Clayface Image #1 (BTAS Design) | Clayface Image #2 (TNBA Design) | Clayface Image #3 (JL Design)

Clayface Image #4 | Clayface Image #5

 

Commentary

No, no!  You broke my concentration!  It won’t work; don’t ya see:  it’s too hard!  It’s like…tensing a muscle; I can’t keep it up for long!  My career—my life—it is gone, and I can never get it back!

I’m not an actor anymore!  I’m not even…a man.

Clayface (to Teddy Lupis) in Feat of Clay

A mainstay of the DC Universe, a number of villains have adopted the identity of Clayface and fought Batman since the Golden Age of comics.  The first to take the mantle was Basil Karlo; a fading actor who, upon learning that one of his classic films was being remade featuring someone else, reprised another role from a previous film (a killer who wore an ugly clay mask) and embarked on a Phantom of the Opera-like campaign to sabotage the film by killing the cast members.  Appearing in only two Golden Age stories, he was replaced in the Silver Age by Matt Hagen, a treasure hunter who discovered a glowing pool of radioactive mud that, when bathed in, transformed his body into a clay-like substance that gave him shape-shifting abilities.  Appearing in several classic stories, he died in 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, and was replaced by Preston Payne.  A victim of chronic hyperpituitarism, Payne was a research scientist who attempted to cure his condition by injecting a sample of Hagen’s blood into his body.  Briefly gaining similar shape-shifting powers, Payne was later horrified to learn that, as further catabolic changes occurred, his clay-flesh lost its consistency and possessed a lethal touch, which reduces human flesh into protoplasm.  Forced to wear a containment suit to hold his melting form, Payne went mad when he learned that he periodically use his touch on others, lest he melt away completely.  Other Clayface-related characters include Shondra Fuller (a female Clayface better known as Lady Clay), Cassius (her son with Preston Payne), and Peter Malley (a doctor who merged with a sample of Cassius’ flesh to become Claything); but the legacy of Clayface largely derives from the first three figures of the lore.

In adapting Clayface for Batman, the creative team designed their character to be a fusion of these figures, having actor (Golden Age) Matt Hagen (Silver Age) undergo an experimental treatment to cure a physical deformity (Payne).  Having succeeded in finding a balance between the back-stories of these significantly different personalities, they went further, designing a physical form unique to any previous incarnation from the comics.  Never a physically imposing opponent, Bruce Timm added some Jack Kirby-derived elements to the character’s look; making the villain a bigger, broader-shouldered, hulking monster in the tradition of the Thing (from Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four) and the Promethean Giants from Kirby’s New Gods stories (which were adapted later for the Superman episode The Promethean).  In the end, the creative team succeeded in creating a Clayface that honored the prior incarnations of the character while, at the same time, refused to simply be a retread of them.

Featured sparingly on Batman, Clayface’s appearances (Feat of Clay, Mudslide, Holiday Knights, Growing Pains) were always visually appealing—his metamorphic freak-out in Clay, his attempted smothering of Batman in Mudslide—but, story-wise, his characterization often came across as inconsistent.  Sometimes portrayed as perfectly happy with his condition, other times searching for a cure; this could be explained by remembering how, as a spoiled actor, Matt Hagen was used to having everything come easy for him.  As a result, he is perfectly happy to be Clayface when things go his way (terrorizing Daggett, beating up Batman) but, when things start to get difficult (his body deteriorates, he is held prisoner by Morgan Edge), he reverts back to self-pity and longs for his lost humanity.  Much more difficult, however, is explaining the character’s story arc, as bits of continuity have been ignored when inconvenient (the deterioration of his clay body, a major plot point of Mudslide, has never been referred to again) and his resurrection in Growing Pains—after dissolving into the ocean in Mudslide—was largely glossed over in the episode (explained as “something in the chemicals” of factory runoff that allowed him to regain his shape enough to pull himself out of the water; plausible, but too much of a deus ex machina in terms of content).  Also unexplained is why Hagen, a movie star coming off of a string of blockbuster hits, is reduced to stealing from department stores to fund his quest for a cure (true, his assets may have been seized, but in a world where actors can receive 20 million dollars for a film role, it's still curious).  As for his imprisonment by collector Morgan Edge, a large period of time had elapsed between his Batman appearances and his appearance on Justice League, which offered a large gap of time for Edge’s henchmen to abduct Clayface while he was in a dormant state (in Secret Society, Batman appeared to recognize the four drums used to store Hagen, but perhaps lost track of them after they were stolen).  As for why Edge did it, perhaps he was a fan of Hagen’s film career, and jumped at the chance to physically possess a Hollywood legend…especially one that nobody would particularly miss.

Although blown up by way of fireworks at the end of Secret Society in another spectacular “death scene,” past experience dictates that it is unlikely that Clayface is truly dead (true, he’ll need time to pull his body back together—now that it's spread across several city blocks—but it should prove easier than after being dissolved in the ocean).  Sadly, Hagen will be denied a return appearance, as he has been cherry-picked to be part of the new The Batman animated series (see his new character design here) and, as a result, is now under the so-called "Bat-Embargo."  This is a real shame, as a rematch with fellow shape-shifter J’onn J’onzz is out of the question, as is an adaptation of a recent Wonder Woman story, where Clayface—upon discovering that Diana was also molded from clay—embarked on a campaign to absorb her into his form and gain her godlike power.

Finally, it is worth noting that there is an additional Clayface appearance in addition to the episodes listed above, but it is not one that was officially part of the Batman series.  You see, several years ago a video game called The Adventures of Batman and Robin came out for the Sega CD system, a game system that has long-since been discontinued.  Of course, there have been several Batman-related video games in the past, but this one was different:  interlaced with the actual game were animated segments done in the style of Batman:  The Animated Series.   Animated by TMS (the same animation company that animated Feat of Clay, Part Two) these segments feature animated appearances by Poison Ivy, Riddler, Harley Quinn, the Joker, and Clayface who, disguised as Rupert Thorne, hires the aforementioned criminals to eliminate the Dark Knight.  A full sixteen minutes of animation, this is often considered to be a "Lost Episode" by fans of the series.  This episode can be seen here, courtesy of Toonami Digital Arsenal.

 

Images courtesy of Toon Zone, The World’s Finest, Cinefantastique Magazine, the New Batman/Superman Adventures Homepage, John Delaney, and The Bruce Timm Gallery.  The Thing courtesy of Marvel Comics.

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