Detective Comics #607 (October, 1989)
“The Mud Pack, Part Four: The China Clay Syndrome”
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
Okey doke, let’s put this one to bed.
Of course, if you need/want to catch up… please check out #604 #605 #606.
It’s morning in Gotham, and a winged Lady Clayface carries Preston Payne across across the sun-risen skies. Their chatter starts with thoughts of vengeance… yet, when they get a full gander at the sunrise, their thoughts change to those far more peaceful.
Below, in the La Scala… Looker has confronted a frothing-at-the-mouth Dark Knight. Feeling that the only way she’ll be able to help is rescuing him from his mind, she does a little bit of Professor X-esque (say that three times fast) astral-planing.
Deep inside the mind of the Batman, Looker observes him battling his demons… or at least demonic versions of his rogues gallery heavy-hitters. As these phantasms are an induced hallucination directed at Batman, Looker knows she is safe… and does what she can to neutralize the threat to her former teammate. It’s not long before Batman’s head clears and he begins to stir back into consciousness.
After a brief yet thorough investigation, Batman is able to discern that Karlo took blood samples from Clayfaces III and IV… and believes he’d done so in order to become a “real Clayface” himself. This leaves the tandem with two options… S.T.A.R. Labs, or Gotham General Hospital. They decide to split up and cover the most ground quickly… with Looker going S.T.A.R.bound and Batman hitting the Hospital.
As we turn the page, we already know where Karlo got off to. He’s at Gotham General and is holding a Doctor at knife-point. He’s brought both the stolen blood samples and a syringe… he just needs the Doc to give ’em a swirl and pump the mixture into his veins.
Looker makes her fruitless trek out to S.T.A.R. Labs… finds out her Clayface is in another castle… and falls on her butt when she attempts to fly away. It appears as though she’s taxed her powers to their absolute limit (for now).
Back at the Hospital, Doctor Lowell is reluctantly going along with Karlo’s demands. He knows nothing good can come of this… however, Karlo can be a pretty persuasive fella when he’s holding a blade to your throat.
Batman arrives and… checks in with the front desk. I’d probably mock that if it wasn’t so charming. They call up to Lowell’s office, and he tells them he’s all alone… ya know, besides the guy threatening to give him a really close shave. Batman is hopeful that Looker had better luck with her lead and leaves… outside he notices two shadows in the window of Lowell’s office… he knows he’s in the right place after all!
Lowell injects Karlo with the bloody mixture… and the effects are almost instantaneous. Karlo immediately begins taking a more clay-like form… and decides his first victim will be the very Doctor who helped him. He grips the Doc with his newfound “lethal touch”, killing him.
A day late and a Doctor short, Batman crashes through the window to face off with his transformed foe. The two engage in battle with Karlo ultimately getting the upper-hand. He attempts the lethal touch on Batman, and leave him with burns… which Batman describes as superficial at worst.
Karlo takes the form of what I can only describe as a Clay-Lamia, and proceeds to constrict his tail around the torso of Batman. Before he can inflict a killing blow, Looker enters the fray. With his attention diverted, Batman is able to wriggle free of his coily capture.
The three fight a bit more, until Karlo again comes out on top. He prepares himself to permanently take out his foes by, in the words of Batman “turning up the juice”.
In desperation, Batman instructs Looker to stop trying to sap power from Karlo… and instead add to it! Overload that sucker… and so she does. Karlo begins glowing bright red, and he completely loses control.
Before he goes “pop”, Batman drives Karlo out the Hospital window… and he plummets to… and through, the ground below. Karlo burns his way deep into the Earth, prompting Batman to make the joke (???) “Maybe we’d better inform the authorities in China!” Nice! Batman and Looker take their leave.
We wrap up this story arc with Clayfaces III and IV sitting on a hillside watching the sun rise. They decide not to worry about Karlo anymore… and instead focus on one another. We leave them as they engage in a passionate kiss.
What a great story! Enjoyed this one from start to finish… just enough pages to keep this one flowing and compelling all throughout. I can’t help but imagine that this story arc would take at least six issues to tell today. Here, each chapter felt necessary, and jam packed with content.
I was happy to see that this issue tied up most of the loose ends… while leaving Karlo somewhat at large. So much better than having him taken into custody… just to find his way out down the line. We also don’t know whether or not Karlo sneaked a peek under the cowl while Batman was out… you’d almost figure he did, like it’d be foolish not to. Clayface III and Lady Clayface’s end was a happy one… well, as happy an ending as one would imagine them having. Their future is left nebulous at best, which works at this juncture… there’s nothing to say that, with this behind them, they’ll pick one side of the law or another. Just really well done.
I have very little experience with Looker. Outside of a few issues of Outsiders, I couldn’t tell ya a whole lot about her. That having been said, I enjoyed her presence in this story and feel she and Batman worked off of one another quite well. In fact, all of the characters in this arc played off each other wonderfully.
The dialogue was great… it’s fun revisiting a time where Batman would say something like “Whew… my brain feels like it’s been dunked in an acid bath!” while massaging his temples. It’s almost jarring to see a Batman that isn’t always stoic and serious… in a good way.
Norm Breyfogle’s art was a treat the whole way through. It’s amazing the amount of emotion he can evoke from Batman’s eyes alone. The Clay-Karlo looked awesome as well! Just a beautiful looking comic all around… much like Breyfogle’s entire run.
Definitely worth a look… check this one out should you get the opportunity! Tomorrow we’ll start looking at a three-part Batman story from 1990, as we continue our (impromptu) Batman week.
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