The Matt Signal – Episode 52: Mudslide

Plot summary: Clayface resurfaces in a desperate attempt to stop his body from literally falling apart.

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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!

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Notes

Episode Title: ‘Mudslide’

Original Air Date: September 15th, 1993

Directed: Eric Radomski (3)         

Written: Alan Burnett (story) (2) & Steve Perry (4)

Despite previously expressing a desire to not use Clayface again to maximise his impact (similar to Mr. Freeze (who will also be back eventually)), fan demand led to Eric Radomski pitching this story.

Bruce Timm has stated the expense of animating Clayface and the difficulty in coming up with ideas for the character were other reasons he did not return sooner.

There are a tonne of movie references in the episode, most notably a motel-owner named Bates and Clayface yelling “STELLA!”

The third and final episode directed by Eric Radomski.

Recap

We open at the Tarnower Financial building. One of the night watchmen tells the other he’s going to do the rounds, only he immediately walks back in and heads to the upper floors, despite the CCTV cameras still showing him elsewhere!

Batman’s quiet night gets a rude awakening when he picks up the silent alarm signal from Tarnower, heading over to investigate. Naturally, Clayface is behind this mess, having broken into a secret safe and incapacitating the other guard. Bruce deduces what’s gone on a little too late and gets his ass kicked.

But before Clayface can finish the job he is distracted by the clock striking midnight and proceeds to hurl himself out of the freakin’ window! He of course is unharmed by the impact, but is notably sluggish in his attempt to run away.

Batman easily runs him down, trying to offer help to reverse Matt Hagen’s condition, easily avoiding Clayface’s pathetic attacks. But just as he has the villain cornered a car driven by an unknown woman skids to a halt and Clayface gets in.

She takes him to some kind of lab facility overlooking the sea, helping him into a giant mould that presses him back into a less melty-shape, and then injects him with chemicals that restore some of his colour.

Back at the Batcave, Bruce analyses some of the leftover goop to determine that Hagen’s body is literally falling apart due to degradation, requiring him to return to a life of crime to keep up whatever medical procedures are holding him together.

Hagen’s accomplice, Stella, is watching one of his old movies and having a little cry. Matt is furious, smashing the TV, but after calming down he thanks her for helping him. She brushes off the domestic abuse and demonstrates a mutagen called MP-40 that rejuvenates some of his goop.

Unfortunately the only place to get enough MP-40 for Hagen’s whole body is Wayne Biomedical, so Clayface endeavours to pull a heist to get his old body back, impersonating Lucius Fox to gain access to the building.

Conveniently, Bruce is working late at Wayne Biomedical, a branch of his business portfolio we had never heard of until 10 seconds ago, rather than the huge office at Wayne Enterprises HQ we’ve seen him in a dozen times. Thus he’s immediately able to swoop into action, tailing a disguised Clayface to the subway.

Hagen’s disguise melts away, terrifying the passengers enough to abandon the carriage. Batman attacks, trying to freeze him with some kind of aerosol, but Clayface jumps out of the window… again, and reforms himself, MP-40 canister in hand!

Alfred shames Hagen’s old flames for being too dumb to be doctors, stating the only doctor he associated with was in one of his movies where a male patient falls in love with his plastic surgeon. That’s all Bruce needs to hear and he takes off in the Batmobile.

Sure enough, Bruce tracks down the medical consultant from the movie, finding Stella’s lab and halting the MP-40 procedure. Clayface attacks, absorbing Bats into himself and we get some gross protruding mass stuff as Bruce tries to claw his way out.

Just as it seems Bruce is done for, his grapple gun launches out of the top of Clayface’s head and he violently bursts free. Gnarly. The two continue their battle, spilling outside into the rain, which naturally begins to mess with Hagen’s physiology.

Stella tries to warn him of his impending fate, but he’s too determined to try and kill Batman and the two tumble over the cliff! Bruce is able to grapple-hook himself to safety, but Clayface is too liquidy to get hold of, tumbling into the sea below, apparently dissolving once and for all.

Best Performance

While his work naturally suffers by not having as much emotional material to work with, Ron Perlman stills excels as Clayface. He has the kind of voice that conveys a level of physicality that perfectly suits such a hulking, angry behemoth, as well as the acting ability to communicate Hagen’s tortured existence. Sometimes you get guest stars on TV shows who are a little overqualified and they really stand out against the series regulars, and while Perlman probably isn’t the best guest star in the history of the show, he fits into this category.

Pat Musick does her best with Stella, but we’ll get into the problems with her in a moment. Kevin Conroy always brings it, of course. And some of the voices we get during Clayface’s opening robbery are fun.

Ranking

Obviously this episode has nothing on either part of ‘Feat of Clay’, which is a ‘Heart of Ice’/’Two-Face’ level of tragic villain origin. Instead we have more of a monster of the week episode, with the Clayface character design doing most of the heavy lifting. Unfortunately that only goes so far.

I enjoyed Clayface’s espionage antics a great deal, and wish the MP-40 theft got more time by removing Bruce from the scene altogether, especially as Hagen escaped in the end anyway. The Batman vs Clayface fight scenes are always interesting because of the challenges the villain presents, and the heightened level of violence they can get away with, but did we need three confrontations here? I say no.

Stella is yet another under-baked female character presented as mildly delirious, confusing real life with the plot of an old weepy, tolerating Hagen’s emotional abuse in an effort to ‘fix’ him. She’s not a big enough part of the episode to be truly offensive, but when the episode around her isn’t great, I notice this kind of stuff more.

  1. The Laughing Fish
  2. Almost Got ‘Im
  3. Heart of Ice
  4. I Am the Night
  5. Robin’s Reckoning Part I
  6. The Man Who Killed Batman
  7. Perchance to Dream
  8. Two-Face Part I
  9. Joker’s Favor
  10. Feat of Clay Part II
  11. Robin’s Reckoning Part II
  12. Beware the Gray Ghost
  13. Mad as a Hatter
  14. Heart of Steel Part II
  15. Appointment In Crime Alley
  16. Two-Face Part II
  17. Pretty Poison
  18. Feat of Clay Part I
  19. Off Balance
  20. Vendetta
  21. Birds of a Feather
  22. Heart of Steel Part I
  23. On Leather Wings
  24. See No Evil
  25. The Clock King
  26. It’s Never Too Late
  27. Joker’s Wild
  28. Eternal Youth
  29. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  30. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  31. Day of the Samurai
  32. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  33. Terror in the Sky
  34. P.O.V.
  35. Christmas with the Joker
  36. Fear of Victory
  37. Be a Clown
  38. What is Reality?
  39. Night of the Ninja
  40. Mudslide
  41. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  42. Nothing to Fear
  43. Prophecy of Doom
  44. Tyger, Tyger
  45. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  46. Dreams In Darkness
  47. The Last Laugh
  48. Cat Scratch Fever
  49. Moon of the Wolf
  50. The Under-Dwellers
  51. The Forgotten
  52. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Clayface (Ron Perlman) (third appearance)

‘Feat of Clay’ firmly established Clayface as one of the best-executed villains in the whole series, outranking the likes of Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy and Catwoman, all of whom have had multiple strong showings. So I feel I need to knock him down a couple of spots because of the diminished returns.

Manifesting giant hammers, axes and tentacles to attack with remains a dope visual, as well as his general monstrous appearance. But we also get ‘treated’ to the bizarre iteration following his treatments from Stella that make him look like a crash test dummy. I would imagine this is to try and cut down on the costs of animating his traditional look, and that’s totally fair, but it’s… weird.

  1. The Joker
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Two-Face
  4. Mad Hatter
  5. Poison Ivy
  6. Catwoman
  7. Harley Quinn
  8. Clayface
  9. The Riddler
  10. Clock King
  11. Penguin
  12. Killer Croc
  13. HARDAC (and Ronda Duane)
  14. Lloyd Ventrix
  15. Count Vertigo
  16. Rupert Thorne
  17. Josiah Wormwood
  18. Scarecrow
  19. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  20. Sid the Squid
  21. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  22. Tony Zucco
  23. Man-Bat
  24. Hugo Strange
  25. Red Claw
  26. Arnold Stromwell
  27. Mad Bomber
  28. Tygrus (and Dr. Dorian)
  29. Kyodai Ken
  30. Talia al Ghul
  31. Ra’s al Ghul
  32. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  33. Cameron Kaiser
  34. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  35. Professor Milo
  36. Romulus
  37. Sewer King
  38. Boss Biggis

Plugs

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 has finished for another volume and will return this summer for Volume 3: The 1990s.

Published by

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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