Title: Detective Comics #49 – “Clayface Walks Again!”
Writer: Bill Finger
Penciller: Bob Kane
Inkers: Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos
Letterer: George Roussos
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth
Last year I reviewed Detective Comics #40 as part of my attempt to freshen the air in May since I spent all of April 2018 talking about my best friend’s death in my recaps.
Honestly I’m still not sure it did much to help.
Anyway, I figured it’d make since to review the follow-up story in May 2019.
Detective Comics #40 was the debut of Basil Karlo, the first Batman villain to call himself Clayface. Rather than being a shapeshifter as most people know the later Clayfaces to be, Karlo was a famous horror actor driven over the edge when one of his old movies was being remade and he wasn’t asked to star in it. Donning the guise of Clayface, one of his previous characters, Karlo tried to kill off the cast of the remake but was stopped by Batman and Robin.
I mentioned Karlo has all the earmarks of a prototypical slasher movie killer, so it’s especially fitting the follow-up story feels like a typical slasher sequel. Karlo’s back and out for revenge against the people who thwarted him, Batman and Robin. He also wants to kill Julie Madison, the actress who survived his previous killing spree and thus serves the role of the prototypical Final Girl. Out of all the Batman love interests, Julie’s remained my favorite and it’s disappointing this story was her final appearance in the Golden Age Batman stories.
PREVIOUSLY: Famed horror movie actor Basil Karlo was outraged when Argus Pictures announced a remake of one of his old movies, “Dread Castle.” Dressing up as the grotesque Clayface, Karlo tried to kill off the remake’s casting list in the order by which they’d die in the movie. Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder put a stop to Karlo’s deeds before he killed Julie Madison, the fiancee of Batman’s alter ego Bruce Wayne. As Karlo was taken into police custody, he swore to get even with the Dynamic Duo.
Months after the successful release of “Dread Castle,” Mr. Bentley, the head of Argus, discusses the future of Julie Madison’s acting career with his publicity man, Gabby Fest. The critics and the audiences loved Julie’s performance and they’re clamoring for more. Bentley wants to turn Julie into a star, but feels she needs a more glamorous stage name. Gabby hits on the ingenious name “Storme,” since Julie’s taken the public by storm. Bentley loves it but now feels she needs a softer first name. Something kind and gentle. Gabby brainstorms some more and hits on “Portia” from Shakespeare.
And thus Portia Storme was born.
At Wayne Manor, Julie discusses her rising fame and flowering career with her fiancee, dashing millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. Bruce congratulates Julie on her success, but she’d feel happier if Bruce was also doing something with his life, found a career or something, instead of being such a playboy. Bruce poo-poohs such ideas, while thinking how Julie’s got no clue he’s really the Dark Knight Detective, Batman.
This isn’t the first time Julie’s said Bruce should do something with his life, but it looks like it’ll be the last. She announces if Bruce isn’t going to make something of himself, she’s ending their wedding plans.
(NOTE: This was all years before the concept of Wayne Enterprises and Bruce being a philanthropist were a thing. Up until this point Bruce was only rich because of his family’s old wealth, but they never said where that money came from)
Bruce’s shocked of course, but Julie adds she’s not ghosting him or anything. She still cares about Bruce, but she obviously doesn’t feel comfortable marrying someone who does nothing with their life. Surprisingly, Bruce takes this pretty well and respects Julie’s feelings, telling her he’ll always be there in case she needs his help.
(ALSO NOTE: That there’s no over the top dramatic bitch fest in Bruce’s thoughts about how this is a sacrifice he must make to be Batman is SO fucking refreshing)
Of course Julie doesn’t think she’ll be in much trouble…
Hard cut to a stormy night and a rain drenched road, where a prison ambulance is transporting Basil Karlo to the state asylum. Unfortunately, the weather conditions are so nasty the driver loses control of the vehicle and it goes over an embankment! Of course the only survivor of the wreck is Karlo.
Karlo makes his way back to civilization, murdering the owner of a make-up store and becoming the hideous Clayface once again.
You jinxed it Julie, nice job.
Word of Clayface’s escape makes the front page news. Knowing he’s out there up to his old tricks, Bruce tells his young ward Dick Grayson they have to suit up as Batman and Robin!
The Dynamic Duo hop into the Batmobile and make their way to Argus Pictures. Batman figures Clayface will want to settle his grudge with Argus, of course there’s a chance he might not be there. Still it doesn’t hurt to look, and the Dark Knight and the Boy Wonder split up to search the movie studio.
Turns out Batman was right and Clayface IS at Argus. Still enraged by how Argus fired him, Clayface plans to burn the whole studio down with an incendiary bomb. Luckily for Clayface, he spots Batman before Batman spots him and tosses a hook at him. Batman ducks just in time and chases Clayface through the studio. The Dark Knight tackles the former actor and the two have a fist fight on the set of a miniature city, looking like two giants rampaging through Gotham.
Clayface gets the best of Batman by throwing a miniature train car at Batman’s head. The replica’s heavy enough to make Batman drop to his knees upon impact. Seeing his chance to finish Batman off, Clayface runs to a nearby truck parked at the studio entrance. Clayface sets the truck speeding towards Batman…!
But before we see Batman’s untimely doom, Clayface figures Robin must be here as well and plans to get rid of the boy hero. Clayface’s luck is certainly looking good when he gets the drop on Robin too, knocking him out with a blow to the head. He leaves the Boy Wonder unconscious on the old “Dread Castle” set and unleashes the incendiary bomb. The studio’s now burning!
Meanwhile, Batman only just avoided certain death by throwing himself underneath the middle of the truck as it sped towards him.
Fire trucks have made their way to Argus to put out the blaze, and Bentley’s told Clayface was seen nearby. Unfortunately it looks like the fire fighters won’t be able to save Robin, but Batman won’t hear of it. He grabs one of the fire hoses, douses himself in water, and swings into the raging inferno!
Dropping into the middle of the fire, for once Batman manages to catch a lucky break tonight when he finds Robin in an area the flames haven’t reached yet. Outside, Bentley, the police and the fire department fear the heroes are done for when Batman comes swinging like a literal bat out of hell.
Oh yeah and he’s got Robin with him.
Back at Wayne Manor, the Dynamic Duo are miffed at how easily Clayface got the best of them and promise to get even with him.
Meanwhile, as Julie drives back to her home, she sees a glimpse of Clayface watching her from the side of the road! The following morning in Bentley’s office, Julie reveals what happened and Bentley fears Clayface wants to kill her since she escaped last time. Bentley’s worried about Clayface coming after Julie, but Julie wants to continue filming their latest movie. If he doesn’t, Bentley’s gonna lose a fortune. Gabby Fest applauds Julie’s bravery and figures they’ll get extra security so Clayface won’t show his gruesome mug.
Unfortunately, because of Gabby’s big mouth the newspapers all hear about Clayface threatening Portia Storme and report the special security. Clayface takes this as a challenge and is more determined than ever to have his revenge.
Once Bruce hears about Julie’s life being endangered, he immediately gets into his Batman gear and heads to see her so they can plan how to best keep Julie safe.
The following day, Clayface easily sneaks onto the set of Bentley’s new feature despite all the extra guards. Dressed as a hooded extra, Clayface overhears Bentley assuring Julie there’s nothing to worry about. Julie, wisely, figures Clayface will show up at some point.
Batman and Robin try to enter Argus, but those extra guards refuse to let them enter. Don’t you just love the tired cliche of the police or security guards being so incompetent at their jobs the villain completely snuck by them yet they do everything they can to detain the heroes? The security guards immediately rush at the Dynamic Duo even when they haven’t done anything. Batman and Robin make quick work of them and head to find Julie while the rest of the guards chase them.
Batman continues to fight the guards while Robin whisks Julie off to a nearby alcove on the set. Apparently a 13 year old boy’s strong enough to lift up a full grown adult woman in both arms. Batman fights off the guards some more until he’s ready to reconvene with Robin. Now too many guards have arrived so the Duo make a hasty exit while Julie’s left all alone…
Just the opening Clayface needed to fire an arrow into her back!
As Julie sinks to the ground, Batman heads for the tower where he saw the arrow being fired from. Racing up the stairway, Batman finds Clayface waiting for him. He kicks the Dark Knight back down the stairs before lunging at him with a dagger. Batman’s able to grab Clayface’s hand and the two tumble downwards into a nearby room. Clayface gets one more shot in, but Batman sees an opening as the former actor grabs a chair to batter him with and kicks Clayface back. Taken aback, Clayface is left open to a barrage of blows from the Dark Knight before being knocked out cold.
Meanwhile, Bentley and the guards panic over Julie’s death, but wait! The hooded woman is getting up despite the arrow in her back!
It wasn’t Julie at all! It was Robin!
When Robin brought Julie into that alcove, the two switched costumes and made sure no one saw their faces so Clayface would assume the hooded figure was still Julie.
Apparently Julie can pass herself off as a 13 year old boy, or Robin’s built like an adult woman.
As Bentley tries to figure out what just happened, he remembers he once asked if Batman was ever interested in a film career. Batman says he’ll think about it once all the crime in the world’s been eradicated, while Julie wishes Bruce had that kind of passion.
It’s a pity this was Julie’s last appearance for decades, because it’s the first time she’s allowed more agency as a character beyond being a damsel in distress. She’s also the first woman to wear the Robin costume.
There’s notably less substance to this story than Clayface’s debut, which also works well with the sequel imagery. The first tale was a mystery built around who Clayface was mixed with the action, but this one’s nearly all action.