This week’s Major Spoilers Podcast included an extensive (and kind of inexplicable, but that’s half the fun of the MSP) discussion of the various Clayfaces of the DC Universe.  It’s the kind of thing that sends you to your back issue boxes so that you can reread those stories one more time.  (I just choose to share…)  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Detective Comics #298 awaits!

DetectiveComics298CoverDETECTIVE COMICS #298
Writer: Bill Finger/Jack Miller
Penciler: Sheldon Moldoff/Joe Certa/Nick Cardy
Inker: Charles Paris/Joe Certa/Nick Cardy
Colorist: Uncredited
Letterer: Ira Schnapp
Editor: Jack Schiff, Murray Boltinoff
Publisher:DC Comics
Cover Price: 12 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $2,250.00

Previously in Detective Comics: After that terrible night in Crime Alley, young Bruce Wayne dedicated his life to fighting crime in all its forms, and by the 1950s was a proud honorary deputy of the Gotham City Police Department.  This Batman is less Dark Knight and more Dynamic Detective, enjoying his positive relationship with the press, the police and the FBI, and providing a good example of citizenship to his young ward, Robin.  As such, it’s not at all surprising to find this issue opening with Batman in broad daylight, accepting a massive charity donation in their roles as ambassadors of Gotham…


I’ve always found Clayface (or, as this issue styles it, Clay-Face) to be an odd addition specifically to Batman’s gallery of rogues.  Especially at this point in the game, nearly all the Bat-foes serve primarily as ganglord types or ringmasters, even the nefarious Joker.  As the Dynamic Duo engage Clayface in combat, it becomes clear that this is a whole new level of bad, as he turns into a giant python and prepares to bite off their masked heads!


After nearly chopping our heroes in two, Clayface transmogrifies into a giant eagle, snatches the hundred grand charity donation and flies away to his lair, leaving a thoroughly flummoxed Batman and Robin in his wake.  Returning home, he transforms back into his human form, one Matt Hagen, and we get a quick flashback to how he got his fantastic powers…


A general layabout who nonetheless has some skills in skin-diving, Hagen encountered a mystical pool of unknown origin while searching for a get-rich-quick sunken treasure, and the rest is squishy history!  (The heroes’ ignorance/forgetfulness about the existence of the previous Clayface, actor Basil Karlo, can be attributed to one of two things: In-universe, his first appearance was in 1941, which would make him the Earth-2 Clayface, and our 1961 Matt Hagen the Earth-1 iteration.  Out-of-universe, DC editorial had a firm belief that their products were for kids, and that the entire audience rolled over about every three years, meaning that no one would remember the original anyway.  Either way, Karlo was a very minor character, and was quickly eclipsed in popularity and infamy by Hagen.)  Back at the Bat-cave, the Darknight Detective does a little inductive reasoning…


Though this is a story that is firmly set in the Silver Age of Comics (by now, Barry Allen and Hal Jordan are already in play, and the Justice League is well into their second year of shared adventures) the heroes whose adventures never ceased production (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and very few others) are harder to pinpoint.  The art-style is unchanged, and Batman’s stern fatherly manner, seen here, feels very fifties, as does their next encounter, wherein Clayface attempts to rob a notable Gotham art gallery…


It’s easy, in retrospect, to read this sequence of “slamming the crook behind a locked door, only to have him use his strange super-powers to escape” as a metaphor for changing times and Batman still being stuck in the fifties.  Easy, but facile and a little bit obnoxious, so I’m just gonna move on.  Discovering that his powers are starting to wane, Hagen chucks a sculpture at our heroes and runs, causing Batman to (correctly) deduce that his powers have a time-limit…


Assembling his own gang (because, as they say, ‘when in Rome’), Clayface strikes again and again at Gotham’s richest citizens, only to have Batman deduce the whereabouts of his hideous from a piece of clay (IRONY!!!) that one of his mooks left behind from their shoe.  Engaging the villain once more, Batman and Robin are out-gunned…

…but not out-maneuvered.

Sneaking into Clayface’s mansion, Robin is quickly discovered, and attacked by Clayface as a hybrid dinosaur/unicorn/lion (that strongly resembles a Gorn).  To his credit, the lad confronts the monster head-on, using his wits and agility against Clayface before things get bad…


Fortunately, the Caped Crusaders are a team, and Batman’s intervention turns the tide.  The heroes block the exits, engaging Clayface as best they can, knowing that his power time limit is approaching, until…


Take note: The whole “lock the villain in” gambit is actually how they beat the bad guy, proving that old-school Batman still has it!  Anyone who knows Batman history knows that Clayface will return, several times, before getting killed on-panel during ‘Crisis On Infinite Earths’ to prove how serious the writers were about fatalities.  Even after his death, though, the idea of a morphing, lumpy Clayface was the primary take on the character, leading to Hagen’s return in ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ and eventually in New 52 canon.  The rest of the issue is filled out with an eight-page adventure of the Martian Manhunter…


Literally everything you need to know about the story is right there on the splash, which is either a testament to or an indictment of Silver Age storytelling.  There’s also an Aquaman short, featuring lovely art by the late Nick Cardy…


I could read Cardy drawing literally anything.  The adventures of two weasels in a bag; Edgar Bergen in Candyland; heck, I’d even read Nick Cardy’s ‘Youngblood.’  That’s how good the man is, as if the ability to draw a magnetized metal replica swordfish with a transmitter inside and have it actually look like a magnetized metal replica swordfish with a transmitter inside.  This issue also features a staple of sixties DC Comics, a half-page comedy strip by Henry Boltinoff…


A throwback to the days when every comic was an anthology filled with adventure, cowboy, comedy and more, these strips continue to appear in DC books almost into the 1970s, far longer than any of the other publishers.  All in all, though, Detective Comics #298 is a solid introduction to a character who would become a memorable part of Batman’s villainous undercard, featuring Finger and Moldoff doing the thing that made Batman tenable for the better part of 20 years, making for an entertaining read and earning 3 out of 5 stars overall.  It’s a Silver Age key issue that also earns its keep, which is always a lovely experience…



Moldoff's dynamic art plus Finger's inventiveness in scripting make for a lovely read (and, not coincidentally, a key Silver Age Bat-comic!)

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Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.

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