Detective Comics #606 (October, 1989)
"The Mud Pack, Part Three: Killer Clay!"
Writer - Alan Grant
Penciller - Norm Breyfogle
Inker - Steve Mitchell
Letterer - Todd Klein
Colorist - Adrienne Roy
Associate Editor - Dan Raspler
Editor - Denny O'Neil
Cover Price: $1.00
I keep hearing that this is Shark Week... I guess, here at the humble blog with all these Batman books I'm having my very own Shark-Repellent Week... yeah, that's kind of a reach. Anyhoo, another day... another dip in the mud!
If you need/want to catch-up, please check out the coverage on #604 and #605.
Fresh off last issue's cliffhanger... we get to see what shook Batman so badly. If the cover wasn't enough of a clue, it looks like Jason Todd's back! Holy Hush! Could Clayface be impersonating Jason Todd? Batman and... Robin enter into a battle both physical and psychological. Batman admits that he knows this is a ruse... yet is still shaken to his very core.
He knocks the Boy Wonder out... and seeing him laying prone triggers a flashback to the scenes of A Death in the Family. During the distraction, Clayface III stirs back into consciousness and kayos the Dark Knight. Before he can "infect" his victim with the "clay curse", Lady Clayface stops him... they have a strict plan that they must follow.
We pop in on Basil Karlo getting his prescriptions filled at the local pharmacy. When the pharmacist refuses to play ball... he gets the blade. Karlo pilfers some pills and hypodermics from the joint and heads on his way.
Lady Clayface gets all Wonder Twin and takes the "form of a bird" before carrying the prone bodies of Batman and Payne away... right past the Gotham City Police Department, where we see a brooding Jim Gordon wondering if this may be the one threat the Bat can't beat.
Batman is delivered to the La Scala, and is propped in front of the movie screen... almost A Clockwork Orange style. Lady Clay retakes the form of Looker and uncovers (and stimulates) all of Batman's fears. Karlo talks a bit of smack before leaving Batman to watch Today's Feature Presentation... The Terror (starring Basil Karlo). Batman is instantly affected, and appears to go into something of a state of shock.
We shift scenes to check in on Looker (the real Looker)... she stops in on Commissioner Gordon, who initially mistakes her for Lady Clayface. She pleads her case, and Jim quickly comes around. They trade what little intel they have, and Looker (in a slightly modified costume) heads out to follow the scent.
We return to Batman... more specifically, Batman's psyche. The next several pages are a glorious and disturbing look at some of the things that torment Batman. First, we relive that night... the one in Crime Alley. He relives the murder of his parents... only he's imagining himself (as Batman) actually being there (though helpless) for the event.
Next, we visit that controversial story that may or may not have ever happened, depending on how hard you squint... A Killing Joke. Batman watches as Barbara Gordon is shot by the Joker... he watches her writhe on the ground as blood gushes out of her midsection.
Finally, we get another look at Batman kneeling over the body of Jason Todd.
The remaining Mud Pack decides to celebrate their victory, and shares a champagne toast. Following the drink, Lady Clayface falls unconscious. Before leaving the theater, Karlo proceeds to take a blood sample from both she and Payne... with the designs of ultimately becoming the one true Clayface.
In a touching scene, the third and forth Clayfaces wake up. Payne is not a happy camper, and goes in for the kill. Lady Clayface starts to cry, and Payne hesitates... They apologize to one another for what had occurred, and realize they've been taken for a ride by Karlo. They embrace, and kiss... perhaps knowing that they're all each other has left.
The chapter winds down with Looker's arrival at the La Scala. She finds Batman propped in front of the movie screen... and sees that the damage may have already been done.
I think this is the cover I most associate with this story-arc. It just demands your attention... how I missed this one as a kid, I'll never know! Grant and Breyfogle continue this amazing story... and boy, it gets kinda dark, don't it?
We get to see Batman being tormented A Clockwork Orange style... such an amazing tactic. An awesomely creative way to get into the mind of the bat... and it provides Breyfogle the opportunity to craft some of the most disturbing pages of this vintage. Batman is haunted by loss... his parents, Jason Todd, and even Barbara Gordon. One would have to imagine that he holds himself somewhat responsible for so much of the pain, suffering, and loss around him.
It was touching seeing the secondary Clayfaces embrace... knowing that they'd been "had"... used as tools, and nothing more. Only valuable as a means to an end... not for anything more intrinsic. All they have left is one another... and, somehow... they wind up getting something of a happy ending. At least for now.
The cliffhanger, as in previous chapters... was great! We wind up with a Batman who appears to have snapped. Because of something... Clayface did??? How many of Batman's rogues gallery can say they've actually broken the mind of the bat? Amazing!
This story is still going strong, and is still highly recommended. For the last few days I've lamented the fact that this has never been collected in trade format... well, I'm happy to say I was wrong! This bugger has been collected in the over 500 page Legends of the Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle hardcover. Not only will you get the Mud Pack story... you'll get a ton more! I wanna thank fellow Bat-fans and pals Jules Boyle and Walt for cluing me in! They both actually took a look at this story themselves last year... click their names and check out their takes!