The Matt Signal – Episode 20: Feat of Clay Part I

Plot summary: Bruce Wayne finds himself framed for murder thanks to actor Matt Hagen’s uncanny ability to impersonate anyone… with a little help from Roland Daggett’s highly addictive miracle cream.

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Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

Notes

Episode Title: ‘Feat of Clay: Part I’

Original Air Date: September 8th, 1992

Directed: Dick Sebast (2)

Written: Marv Wolfman (1) & Michael Reaves

Episode writer Marv Wolfman is primarily a comic book writer most famous for creating (or co-creating) Blade, Deathstroke, Bullseye, Cyborg and more.

The title refers to what is allegedly a phrase from the bible about hidden character flaws in respected people… Sure.

Originally Batman Returns’ Max Schreck was planned to occupy Roland Daggett’s role, but supposedly Tim Burton nixed the idea. That’s right, we were robbed of a rare Christopher Walken impression!

Recap

Lucius Fox meets with Bruce Wayne in a closed tramway station at 3am under incredibly suspicious circumstances. Bruce reasons that his office and home have been bugged by Roland Daggett, who Lucius exposits has been trying to take over Wayne Enterprises through insider trading. Only it turns out “Bruce” isn’t Bruce at all, and the entire thing was a sting by Daggett’s men in an attempt to destroy some crucial evidence against him.

Batman hears gunshots and swoops in to save Fox, narrowly avoiding having his head crushed in some giant gears. Unfortunately Lucius tells the police Bruce Wayne was responsible as Bats flees the scene.

“Bruce” walks past a movie theatre playing a film called Gangbuster staring Matt Hagen. Obviously if you know, you know, but a bizarrely short scene.

Speaking of Matt Hagen, he’s needed on-set of his latest picture, but he won’t come out of his trailer because he’s run out of the miracle cream that hides his hideously disfigured face. His stand-in Teddy reluctantly hands over a secret stash which he slathers on thick after licking his lips. It’s addictive, ya see?

Sure enough, the cream works wonders and he’s able to mould his face back to normal. Teddy expresses his concern over the long-term risks of using so much of the cream and that he has to keep performing favours to Roland Daggett to get more. Not in a sex way.

Speaking of Daggett, he expresses displeasure with Hagen’s recent work, particularly failing to secure the incriminating papers and asks that he be “dealt with”. His henchmen, ‘Germs’ and Raymond Bell, fear they won’t be able to find Hagen because of his ability to change his appearance, but Daggett knows he’ll come to them for more cream. Not in a sex way.

Sure enough, Matt breaks into Daggett’s factory in the middle of the night and grabs a glob of the cream right out of the beaker. Two things: 1) Gross and 2) The stuff is still bubbling (though admittedly no longer steaming), suggesting it would be crazy hot.

Thinking on his feet when Daggett’s men arrive, Hagen moulds his face into Bruce Wayne’s again and perfectly mimic’s his voice. Bell & Germs (where is their spin-off?) see straight through it and a struggle ensues, culminating in Bell pouring an entire batch of the cream on Matt’s face and potentially into his mouth. Not in a sex way.

Meanwhile in the Batcave, Bruce is playing around with his computer to try and digitally create an e-fit of one of the crooks he tangled with during the opening, muttering the absolutely insane line “I know my fist has landed on that jaw once before.” Too much to unpack, we’ll have to move on.

The Batcomputer is able to match the composite to Raymond Bell, but Alfred rightfully points out Bruce has bigger fish to fry, as the police have been trying to get hold of him all day thanks to Lucius’ statement.

Speaking of Bell, he gets wind of an arrest warrant in his name thanks to constantly listening to police radios… only it’s not the police at all, it’s Batman with a voice modulator, following from above in the Batwing to see where he runs.

Fun fact: Lucius’ son, Luke Fox, was one of two characters to use the superhero alias Batwing, but they never re-named Batman’s plane so… they just have to share?

Bruce is able to scoop Bell’s car right up off the road and takes him on a terrifying flight over the harbour in a Nolan-esque level of brutality. In fact, he goes so far over the line that Bell passes out before giving him a name and he drops him a goooood fifty feet into a rooftop swimming pool for the police to find.

This was a bananas scene that I cannot quite believe made it into a children’s cartoon.

Out of options, Bruce visits Lucius in hospital in the middle of the night, but Fox immediately buzzes for help given the events earlier in the episode and he’s arrested! Summer Gleeson (remember her?) even reports it as an attempted murder on live TV. Fake News!

Teddy the stand-in (remember him?) finds Matt’s car but is horrified by what he finds inside.

To Be Continued…

Best Performance

A real embarrassment of riches here as Kevin Conroy gets another opportunity to play in a different space when Matt Hagen is impersonating him, as well as getting more extreme in his interrogation of Raymond Bell. In any other episode that would likely seal the deal for him.

But the Hollywood guest stars all absolutely showed up to work, from Ed Begley Jr.’s tiny role as the idiosyncratic henchman ‘Germs’ to Ed Asner cutting loose as another of these anachronistic mobster types, Roland Daggett, who is every bit a match for Rupert Thorne vocally.

All that being said, Ron Perlman is almost unrecognisable as the desperate, short-tempered Matt Hagen, jonesing for another fix of his miracle cream. Casting him to play Clayface was a fantastic call, given how radically he’s been known to change his own looks for roles over the years, and while I’ll concede he doesn’t have enough screen time to match Richard Moll’s work in Two-Face Part 1, he’s able to bring enough emotional gravitas to make for yet another tragic Batman villain in the making.

Ranking

This episode very deliberately follows the template for ‘Two-Face Part I’, with a public figure hiding a big secret that results in extortion from a mobster, culminating in a horrific transformation and the future villain screaming when they see themselves in a mirror. Then again, it also has the same driving plot point as Catwoman in the form of its addictive rejuvenating face cream with harmful side effects and superhuman enhancement, so…

In many ways this episode couldn’t fail given it features a blend of mystery and action (the short fight at the start is great), an airtight voice cast bolstered by guest stars Ron Perlman, Edward Asner and Ed Bagley Jr., some slick visuals, including Hagen’s trailer being plastered in newspaper articles about his accident, and his would-be execution scene being so grim they drew it in silhouette.

Even the Batwing is more fun than in its previous appearance, with some cool sound design and a wild scene where Batman flies it straight down a tunnel and skewers a car and then uses it to keep dunking a mobster into water until he passes out. If you like your Batman a little more wildly violent, this is your episode!

I do think there is perhaps a smidge too much going on, or rather a struggle to juggle it all smoothly, with two or three incredibly short scenes, and some cutting back and forth that could have stood to have just been fewer, longer scenes. I would wave that off as the nature of a children’s cartoon, but this show hasn’t generally bowed to those kinds of conventions, which is likely why I noticed it more.

Still, all of the material is good to great, and ending on a double cliff hanger of Bruce’s arrest and Clayface’s transformation is A+, so even with a minor pacing problem, it ranks pretty high for me.

  1. Heart of Ice
  2. Two-Face Part I
  3. Beware the Gray Ghost
  4. Feat of Clay Part I
  5. On Leather Wings
  6. Pretty Poison
  7. Two-Face Part II
  8. It’s Never Too Late
  9. See No Evil
  10. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  11. P.O.V.
  12. Christmas with the Joker
  13. Be a Clown
  14. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  15. Nothing to Fear
  16. Prophecy of Doom
  17. The Last Laugh
  18. The Under-Dwellers
  19. The Forgotten
  20. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Clayface (Ron Perlman) (first appearance)

Using the original Clayface’s backstory as an actor known for their art of disguise (but the second Clayface’s name for some reason) allows for what could have been well-trodden narrative ground to remain fresh. As mentioned, this character story is very similar to Harvey Dent’s, but Hagen’s gimmick of using the miracle cream and his knack for impressions to turn himself into a Bruce Wayne doppelgänger is a great deal of fun, especially as it embroils Bruce in an attempted murder case.

He plays really nicely off the ‘real’ villains, Daggett and his cronies, who manipulate him through his addiction, setting him up for a healthy dose of revenge in part II.

It feels unfair to rank him too high just yet, but this was always going to be about the complete picture, so for now he sits just below Lloyd Ventrix, who enjoyed a self-contained arc where he got to beat up Batman repeatedly.

Roland Daggett (Ed Asner) (first appearance)

This could very easily have been Rupert Thorne again, and it’s certainly in the same wheelhouse, but he’s more of a shady businessman than an outright mob boss, and Asner elevates the character way beyond what it might have been. He’s certainly a dirtbag, trying a hostile takeover of Wayne Enterprises, framing Bruce, exploiting Matt Hagen’s addiction and then ordering his death when he gets tired of the arrangement.

But I don’t think he’s quite as good as Thorne, and for the same reasons as given for Clayface’s ranking, I’ll sit him just below Lloyd Ventrix. He gets to go ahead of Clayface for now because I’m going to package his two accomplices in with him, who have a real James Bond henchman vibe.

Germs barely counts as a villain as his insistence on good hygiene should be admired given the current geopolitical climate. I wrote this 9 weeks ago but assume COVID will still be in full effect by the time you read it because people are being big babies and refusing to wear masks.

  1. Mr. Freeze
  2. Joker
  3. Two-Face
  4. Poison Ivy
  5. Catwoman
  6. Rupert Thorne
  7. Lloyd Ventrix
  8. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  9. Clayface
  10. Scarecrow
  11. Red Claw
  12. Arnold Stromwell
  13. Mad Bomber
  14. Man-Bat
  15. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  16. Penguin
  17. Sewer King
  18. Boss Biggis

Plugs

While the movie may only be about 30% complete that didn’t stop me from posting a list of 10 Hopes and Fears for The Batman.

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.

Speaking of my podcasts, There Will Be Movies continues tomorrow with Boyhood.

Kevin Ford’s Flooping the Pig, our Adventure Time podcast, uploads new episodes every Thursday.

Jerome & Brian’s Pantheon Plus continues its run of road trip movies with Midnight Run

Speaking of Jerome, he will be bringing you his 100 favourite movies of all time, posting between 3 and 4 per week.

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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