• March 2022
    S M T W T F S
     12345
    6789101112
    13141516171819
    20212223242526
    2728293031  
  • On Facebook

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Comic Blog Elite

    Comic Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory

The ’80s Revisited: Detective Comics #604

80s_revisited

detective_comics_0604The Mud Pack Part One: Men of Clay

Writer: Alan Grant
Penciller: Norm Breyfogle
Inker: Steve Mitchell
Letterer: Todd Klein
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Assoc. Editor: Dan Raspler
Editor: Denny O’Neil
Cover Price: $1.00
Published by: DC Comics

This cover is another iconic one for me at least…with a mud/clay version of Batman and someone holding a glinting knife over it. There’s no cover credit in the issue…because this almost certainly was when covers were done by the main artist of the issue. And they actually reflected something from the issue itself…either thematically or literally. In this case…literally.

The issue opens with someone holding a mud statue of Batman, and then we jump to a few pages of some clay guy (Preston Payne, Clayface III) in Arkham, talking to a mannequin he’d been in love with but had to tell he wanted to break up. When she didn’t answer, he smacked her and freaks out when her head flies off. He winds up breaking down his door and killing/maiming guards…escaping. Elsewhere, Batman takes down some generic criminals in an alley before responding to a call about the escape. Meanwhile, a cloaked figure stalks through the movie theater district reminiscing about old times and when films were good, talking to someone named Matthew. When he’s approached by some would-be muggers, they get more than they bargained for as he shows them true horror as a slasher, killing them. While Arkham guards hunt Payne, they meet up with a woman in a costume who has mind-powers; Payne had passed out from tranquillizer darts, and she makes the guards shoot each other before she leaves with Payne in tow. In an abandoned theater/now-HQ, the cloaked figure speaks to Matthew again and we learn that Matthew had been Clayface, perished during a crisis, and whoever this is is trying to bring him back. He fails. Batman confers with Commissioner Gordon and they realize Looker of the Outsiders is involved…or so they think. It turns out we have another Clay-person in this Sondra Fuller or "Lady Clayface" or "Clayface Four." She’s like Hagen apparently was–a shape shifter…but it seems she can actually mimic others’ powers! She’s working with the cloaked guy who turns out to be Basil Karlo, apparently the "original" Clayface. While Matthew’s nothing but slopped mud now, this unites the original Clayface with successors Clayface Three and Clayface Four…a unique group sure to now be able to as one, claim fame, fortune, power…and kill the Batman! (And for effect, he stabs the mud statue of Batman he had, fulfilling the cover’s image).

While there’s the name Batman on the cover and he’s kinda in the background, the cover to Batman #439 is more Nightwing than Batman. Which makes this one all the more striking, being a large closeup of Batman, someone holding a knife…is it a statue? Is it Batman himself trapped in a covering of mud? It also feels like a fairly unique cover, all the more for the colors…so much muddy brown on a black background…it’s hardly a bright, cheery colorful thing to leap off and grab someone’s attention. For me, though, it was part of my first exposure to then-current Batman in 1989, and has remained a striking cover to me that always seems to grab my attention if I see it anywhere! And something like this story would be an excellent candidate for a Batman: Clayface or whatever those villain-spotlight TPBs are; or of a massive reprint issue for this arc, etc. Yet other than a Norm Breyfogle-specific collection, I don’t think this Mud Pack story has ever actually been collected as its own thing! Which is a darned shame, really.

41-year-old me in 2022 here thinks he knows that Clayface III (Preston Payne) is an Alan Moore character from an Annual. But this issue seems to give us what we need to know about him, what he is and does to appreciate the character. Same for Karlo…though we get less on Lady Clayface. We see her in action, but not much else. We also get the Hagen bits/references…bringing this group of villainous/antagonist characters together (for the first time?) as a unified threat, setting up whatever comes next. The issue is almost cinematic in some ways with an intro image, then prologue, introducing the characters and bringing them together, the Karlo "reveal" as the mastermind, and so on…leaving off on a (perhaps melo) dramatic cliffhanger/threat.

Visually, this has a definite difference from the Batman over in that title. Breyfogle‘s Batman is rather distinctive to me and rather prone to shadows and for lack of a better phrasing, a sort of "flow" with the action. I also really like his Bat-Signal…it’s recognizable, but its "wavy" effect seems much more authentic than a clean circle on clouds as it’s often depicted. As some of my earliest, regular Batman art, this set the standard for me, along with the likes of Byrne and Aparo as "my" Batman, and a style I very much enjoy.

There’s another thing to this issue that struck me as a kid: the cover proclaims "Free Full-Color Batman Mini-Poster Inside!" Bound into the center of this issue is an actual poster that can be removed (carefully)…a double-page sized image of Batman, and seems to be the same paper as a cover…something higher quality than the basic "newsprint" the bulk of the issue was printed on. This poster is single-sided; and does not even have ads or other promo stuff on its back; removing it in no way decreases (and actually, INcreases) the readability of the issue…no story/panels are lost, it’s truly an actual bonus for the issue! Some comics in the late-’80s/early-’90s would feature "pin-up pages" of art by creators either not as associated with a character or not holding the "main" art gig for the character/team; filler space, etc. This poster is its own thing, an original image not just lifted from a panel…and certainly "worthy" of a cover itself…but, no "variants" here!

I’ve snagged multiple copies of this issue over the years. My original in 1989; as well as copies from bargain bins; at least one copy was solely for that poster, which I have framed on a wall; and a copy I got to get signed by Breyfogle himself some years back when I was unable to locate my actual original copy in time; and now this copy I got for this reading project at present.

I’d definitely recommend this issue if only for the poster, should you happen across it in a bargain bin. The Mud Pack seems a totally forgotten, high-quality story (albeit perhaps from rose-colored glasses of nostalgia) that I’d definitely recommend getting if you’re able to get all 4 chapters; and ideally copies for less than whatever modern comics cost. To me, this is certainly a 25-cent book; but decently worthwhile going up to $3/$4 (maybe $16 at most for all 4 chapters) just because it’s such a quality Batman/Clayface(s) story and strikes me as having a lot more…SOMEthing…than modern $5 and $6 single-issues.

I did a bit of "internet research" because neither this issue nor Batman #439 had cover dates on them…but I know I had to have gotten them at the same time as Adventures of Superman #453 (April 1989) and Superman #31 (May 1989). Apparently somewhere in this timeframe DC and Marvel had some shenanigans on adjusting cover dates, and from what I can figure out, it seems likely that the correlation here–what put these 4 together for me–was that the Superman issues probably were "left over" and had not been pulled; while the Batman issues were very new. Or something to that effect.

detective_comics_0604_blogtrailer

%d bloggers like this: