Detective Comics #604 (1989)

Detective Comics #604 (September, 1989)
“The Mud Pack, Part One: Men of 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

Here’s one I’ve wanted to cover for a little while now.  I happened upon about a 50 issue run of Detective Comics of this vintage in a Half-Price Books quarter-bin back in 2010.  It was one of those situations where I must’ve looked like I was stealing something… because I was figeting like all get out until I got my receipt.  It was pretty early into my cheap-o bin diving “career”, and I thought the store must’ve made a mistake… turns out, they just don’t know or care about comics!

In our current post-Rebirth landscape, Detective Comics (back at it’s legacy numbering!) is from all appearances a team book.  One of those team members just happens to be Clayface (I) who is the star of the issue we’ll be discussing today… which may or may not have influenced my pick (yeah, it did).

What’s more, in addition to Basil Karlo, we’re also going to check in on several other Clayfaces… other Clayfaces?  Yeah, this threw me off when I was initially acquainting myself with the Bat-books of this vintage.  I remember always seeing the Roman numerals after “Clayface” whenever they were mentioned online… and was surprised to learn that several individuals went by the name!

Let’s get muddy…

We open with a clay figurine of Batman being gently placed on a table… we’ll come back to that later.  The story proper begins at Arkham Asylum… more specifically, the quarters of Preston Payne AKA Clayface III.  He’s in the middle of an argument with his “wife”, who is in actuality just a mannequin.  Apparently “she” is the only thing keeping him in check.  Some guards on monitor duty get their giggles watching the quarrel… which tragically ends in mannequin decapitation!

Payne realizes what he’s done… mannequin uxoricide… and completely loses it!  A crew of orderlies head toward the quarters to sedate him… yet before they can he takes them out.  One orderly manages to fire off two tranqs into Payne’s chest before having his own head smashed into a wall.  With the “threat” neutralized, Payne kneels down, and passes his clay-curse on to one of the orderlies.

We shift to the streets of Gotham where Batman is taking out a crew of generic purse-snatchers.  In the distance, the Bat-Signal illuminates the night sky.  He makes quick work of the geeks, and is already on his way before the police arrive.  One street over, the Batmobile passes an odd man in a hat and trench coat… 

Our focus shifts to the odd man.  He walks the streets carrying a burlap sack over his shoulder.  He reminisces of past accolades and accomplishments… including a stint in the clink for murder.  His thoughts are directed toward a “Matthew”.  

He stalks his way over to the abandoned La Scala Theater, where he encounters a pair of street thugs.  They try and steal the sack, and are surprised to see that it’s full of what appears to be dirt.  Then they get a look at the man… shocked by his grotesque face, they are easy (and surprisingly bloody) kills for our man.

We join Batman on his trip Arkham-bound.  He’s talking over the recent event with Jim Gordon.  Here we get a recounting of Preston Payne’s origin… he had severe deformities, and sought to change that by injecting himself with a sampling of the second Clayface’s blood.  Instead of being cured, Payne became the third… and potentially the most dangerous, Clayface.  A beast who hungers to pass his curse onto others…

Back at Arkham, the guards are walking the grounds in search of Payne.  Knowing he’d been at least somewhat tranqued, they don’t expect him to get all that far.  They manage to happen across him… only to find that they aren’t the only ones looking for him.  A woman, who appears to be Looker from the Outsiders also has “dibs”.

Rather than talk it out, Looker uses her mental powers and forces them to tranquilize one another.  She then employs her telekinetic powers to carry Payne off.

Back at the La Scala, our trench-coated friend is trying to use his bag of clay to bring life back to Matthew Hagen… the second Clayface.  He messes about, shaping the clay into the form of a man… however, is unsuccessful in his attempt.

Meanwhile, Batman arrives at Arkham.  He follows the trail taken by whoever abducted Payne, and is surprised to see that the most likely suspect would be a woman.  Inside, he watches a video feed captured earlier in the day.  Payne received a visit from… Looker.  The pair did not speak… they only stared at each other.

We wrap up this chapter at the La Scala, as Looker and the unconscious Preston Payne arrive.  Once inside “Looker” reveals herself to be, in actuality… Sondra Fuller, Clayface IV, or Lady Clayface if you prefer.

What follows is a meeting of the Mud Pack… led by the original Clayface himself… Basil Karlo!

The first order of business is fame and fortune… the second, killing the Batman.  We conclude with Karlo plunging his blade into the clay figurine from the open.

This was a great start to the Mud Pack storyline.  I gotta admit, I wasn’t expecting all that much… most of my experience with Clayface comes from the animated series… when I learned that there was more than one in the comics, it kinda made the concept feel cheap to me.  Wish I read this story way back then!

I really appreciated the opening pages where we watched Clayface III losing his cool and “killing” his “wife”… the way it was presented, it made him a completely sympathetic character.  He’s not really so much a bad dude here, more a victim of circumstance… and a testimony for curiosity killing… or further disfiguring, the cat.

I really can’t say enough how much I enjoyed this issue.  Story was awesome, the art was awesome… just a great table-setting issue.  Our villains are introduced, and their mission statement is clear… kill Batman.  Can’t go wrong with that concept!  If I’m recalling correctly, this story gets really dark… and I can’t wait.

The entire four-part story is available digitally via DC Digital.  They’re priced at $1.99 a piece… so for eight bucks you can get the whole shebang.  This is definitely recommended, and is on my personal wish-list for a collected edition.

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Bonus Pin-Up:

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0 thoughts on “Detective Comics #604 (1989)

  • Anonymous

    This was THE first Batman comic I ever owned (along with Batman #439)…and remains probably THE single most iconic Batman cover to me.

    Several years back, I was even able to get a copy signed by Norm Breyfogle (sadly, not my ORIGINAL original copy).

    Hard to believe that was some 27 years ago. And while this story was collected in a recent Norm Breyfogle hardcover…I'd love to see it get a collected volume of its own–Collect this 4 parter, the Secret Origins tie-in issue, and if they wanted to really flesh it out, they could include several other key/first appearances of the Clayfaces.

    I've been meaning to get to this in my '90s Revisited stuff–may yet eventually–but great to see it out there and covered, and that I'm not the only one that enjoys the story!

    And I have that pin-up/poster framed. 🙂

    • Helloooooooo Walt!

      Yours is an awesome story! It goes to show that a new reader doesn't necessarily require a "#1" issue to get into a character or narrative (which we have talked about quite a bit, haha)! This is a heckuva story to start off with… it's great the whole way through!

      Thanks for the info on the Breyfogle HC! I had totally neglected to mention that, but did so in future installments. That book looks like a great investment. I'll have to keep my eyes peeled for it.

      I hope you do discuss this on your site at some time in the future! I'd love to get your fleshed-out thoughts and reminiscence of buying/reading this gem!


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