This annual was simply amazing. It’s all about Clayface’s origins as Basil Karlo and James Tynion IV paints an amazing yet sad picture of the man beneath the clay. There are a couple of points where we see Basil 20 years ago as a child. I love the old time feel to these flashbacks. It has sort of a colorized noir feel to it, a lot of browns, and very creepy in an insane sort of way. The story itself is powerfully tragic. A boy with an odd childhood, grows in to a man who is a rising star, suffers a horrific event that sends his life into the opposite direction in a totally unpredictable twist of events. The character interactions feel very real. Basil’s relationship to his scummy agent, Cal, and cute personal assistant, Gloria, feel measurable.
One thing that was off was Gloria’s role. We know she becomes the mutilated member of the Victim Syndicate, but in the normal timeline of Detective Comics she is a fan of Basil the famous actor, not the personal assistant of Basil the rising star. I know it’s the same person because of events that happen within the annual. Read the rest of my review for spoilers. The art of this issue is fantastic. Each turn of the page was as powerful as the previous pages. This has to be one of the better annuals I have read in a long time. It delivers a solid message. Or at least this is what I got from it: You should always be yourself, be who you are, and let others see you. Don’t let the fear of your insecurities manifest into something that prevents you from living your actual potential. Definitely include this issue in your pull for the week.
The Story – Many years ago (SPOILERS):
A young boy named Basil Karlo sneaks into his father’s study. There are a lot of horror movie monster masks in here and he’s staring at them in wonder. His father, Vincent Karlo, created horror masks for movies. Vincent catches Basil in his study, and instead of scolding him for being there he proceeds to tell this long creepy story about Chandler Ebb, a movie monster actor. A man that people watching in the theater knew, was a man wearing an ugly costume but through his acting portrayed something honest and powerful. Vincent proceeds to tell Basil that a face can be shaped and molded to draw out the strange and the horrific. The face is the canvas of the human soul. His secret to molding faces and making masks is a product called Renu. The label on the container says it’s a product of the Dagget Company and not for use on human skin. Vincent puts some Renu on his own face and molds it into a crazy smile that resembles the Joker. Vincent goes on to express anger at the fact that the movie studios will not hire him anymore because they saw this “metaphorical monster” inside him. Vincent tells Basil that there are monsters in us all, but the trick is to never let anyone see it.
Twenty years later
Basil is a rising movie star. New to the scene but successful enough where people recognize him. He is trying to get a role in a period piece about a silent movie actor that loses all his work when talkies become a thing.
Fun fact: back in 1927, when people figured out how to synchronize sound with movies, they were called talkies. I learned that from the movie Singing in the Rain. Who says movies and TV rot your brain!? I digress…
Basil’s Personal Assistant, Gloria, finds it odd that he wants this particular role. Basil’s agent, Cal, is flat out trying to get him to forget the role. Basil auditions anyway and gets it.
While driving home from the audition Basil gets a call informing him that his father, Vincent, was found dead in his apartment. The shock of this news causes Basil to get into a car accident. The next thing we see is Basil in a hospital bed with Gloria and Cal standing above him looking mortified. It turns out Basil’s car accident left his face severely burned and mutilated. Upon discovering this fact Basil yells “Don’t look at me!” and kicks Gloria out. Cal tells him that his acting career is over. Nobody will want to pay money to see his face.
Wearing a hoodie sweater to hide himself, Basil goes to his father’s apartment to clean it out. He comes across his father’s stash of Renu, the product he used to make his masks. Basil proceeds to apply it to his own face. A mistake that will turn his life towards a life of vigilantism.
Basil then pays a visit to the Director, Veronica, who cast him for his role in the period piece. Cal is there being the dirty rat of an agent that he is and he’s trying to convince Veronica to forget about Basil, and that he has plenty of other clients that would be worthy of the role. Basil walks in and shuts that talk down. Basil looks better now than ever….Thanks to Renu.
Gloria, in shock that Basil looks better than ever when just a few days ago he was mutilated beyond repair, air headedly mentions how happy she is that he’s back to normal. I use the phrase air headed because this situation is so unrealistic that you would think she’d have some questions on how he looks so awesome again. But, no. Gloria hardly bats an eyelash at this weird miraculous happening. However, because she does mention the accident Basil yells at her to never speak of what he looked like ever again. Gloria runs off crying.
As one might gather, Basil begins to run low on Renu. The biggest problem with this is that it is a discontinued product. So he gets desperate. He begins tracking down every bit of information that he can to find some old hidden stash somewhere within the Dagget company, which happens to be in Gotham City. He breaks into Dagget multiple times, each time using Renu to shape a different face. But let’s remember, this is Gotham we’re talking about so naturally Commissioner Gordon and Batman are both onto him. During one of his break-ins Basil finds the mother-load of Renu. But Batman stops him, and ends up punching him in the face which messes up all the clay. This shocks Batman and Basil ends up in the hospital.
Veronica pays a visit to Basil in the hospital and tells him she hired him for his eyes. That she saw something in him. She continues to say that she would have still used him in her movie but since he has gone off the deep end, she will not work with him anymore. Therefore, his role is terminated.
Batman then pays a visit. He says that all of the Renu has been confiscated by District Attorney and that basil has a choice. But Basil yells at Batman saying that he’s a monster now and that he has no choices. Remember when I said the product label for Renu says not for use on human skin. Well Batman tells him that this stuff has been destabilizing the neural pathways in Basil’s brain which is why he has been unable to control his emotions. Roland Dagget, the owner of Dagget, has been illegally experimenting with the Renu formula for years, using human subjects and whatnot. He needs Basil, who is going to be released from the hospital the next day, to go to the District Attorney’s office to show him what the product has done to his brain so that they can put Roland Dagget behind bars. So Basil’s choice is that he can do this and make a difference, or continue a life of feeling sorry for himself and feeling like a monster.
Instead of going to the district attorney to make a difference, he goes in with a gun and takes a hostage. He demands to know where the Renu is being held. This is truly a good example of his mental processes being broken down because where is he going to go when he gets into the room with the stash of Renu? The DA isn’t going to just let him leave, you know? He’s making these aggressively brash decisions and he’s going to pay for it. The guards at the DA office whisper to each other, word has it that Roland Dagget is willing to pay a lot of money to the people who keep Basil from the DA. So what do they do? They open fire on him when he reaches the Renu. The bullet wounds and all of this toxic product spill out onto him and we see the extraordinary birth of Clayface.
Clayface rampages through the streets and makes it to Veronica. Cal is there with a new client trying to get him the role. Batman shows up and tells everyone they need to run, now! Just then Clayface smashes in shouting “DO YOU SEE ME NOW?!” Gloria tries to reason with Basil/Clayface but he responds by plastering her in the face with his clay, drenching her.
The issue then cuts to twenty years ago. Basil and his father Vincent. Alone at night, watching a horror movie. His dad says: “Do you promise me, boy? Promise to never let them see….” I promise, says Basil. The end.