Review by Paul Bowler
Clayface has returned to Gotham City, embarking on a lucrative crime spree, using his powers to blackmail and terrorise his wealthy victims. While investigating the death of Brain Wayde, the architect developing the Gotham Initiative, Batman discovers that Wayde was murdered by Clayface. It seems that the magical properties of the clay that turned Basil Karlo into Clayface has mutated Karlo’s DNA. Clayface can now actually become the people he mimics, but his own DNA is gradually being corrupted by the clay. Bruce Wayne arranges to meet Lucius Fox at Wayne Enterprises, to order a protective suit for Batman, but he is shocked when Lucius transforms into Clayface and attack him.
Cornered by Clayface in the Wayne Enterprises R & D Lab, Bruce Wayne is powerless to stop Clayface ransacking the armoury. Bruce tries to use a squad of Bat-Bots to defend himself, but Clayface mimics Wayne’s voice and deactivates the robots. Clayface reveals how he killed Brian Wayde before capturing Bruce and throwing him into a crusher with Lucius.
After using a prototype Batman suit to escape from the crusher, Bruce leaves Fox to recover while he goes after Clayface. Having used Bruce Wayne’s identity to rob a bank, Clayface flees the scene on a motorbike, using tendrils of clay to cover his escape back to Wayne Enterprises. Once inside he is attacked by Batman in his new armoured suit. Batman uses a barrage of chemicals and solvents against Clayface, even a massive electrical charge, but Clayface is too powerful and overpowers him. Commissioner Gordon and the Police arrive just as Clayface is about to rip open Batman’s faceplate, and reveal the Dark Knights secret identity…
Batman #20 follows on from last issues brilliant cliff-hanger with Bruce Wayne in mortal danger as Clayface attacks him in the armoury at Wayne Enterprises. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have done a superb job of realising the full potential of Clayface; the way his powers have mutated makes him a deadly adversary. What is even more chilling is how Basil Karlo is losing himself in the identities of the people he duplicates.
There are some terrific scenes of carnage in the R & D Lab, brilliant rendered by Greg Capullo’s art, with inks by Danny Miki and colours by FCO Plascencia. The raw power and strength of Clayface is terrifying to behold, as he tosses a Batmobile around like a toy. What is really disgusting though is how he swallows Bruce Wayne whole, drawing him into his body, before disgorging him later to dispose of him with Lucius in the compactor. As the walls of the compactor begin to close in on them, Bruce and Lucius search through the mangled pieces of equipment, where they find a prototype Bat-Suit amongst the discarded junk. Bruce puts on the red-winged Bat-Suit and uses it to get them out of the crusher. I never thought I’d ever see anything like a Star Wars Trash Compactor scene in a Batman comic, but this was fantastic. It was pure genius on Scott Snyder’s part to make the prototype Bat-Suit a clear homage to the animated Batman Beyond series, particularly when Lucius says how the armour is faulty and would take at least twenty years to fund and perfect.
Scott Snyder ensures that Batman #20 dovetails nicely into the flash forward – where Bruce Wayne robbed a bank and shot Gordon – that opened the previous issue. The action never lets up for a moment as Clayface returns to Wayne Enterprises, where Batman confronts him wearing his new Bat-Suit with heavy epidermal protection. Batman uses every chemically based strategy in his arsenal against Clayface, but nothing seems to have much effect. Clayface begins to morph horrifically during the fight, taunting Batman with disembodied faces from his Rogues Gallery.
It’s very clever how Batman manages to trap Clayface in a panic chamber, using his own mutated DNA against him, to create the perfect cage for the shape shifting villain. Batman also manages to prevent his secret identity being revealed, although it does stretch credibility a little to think how close everyone is to knowing Bruce’s secret without even realizing it. This minor quibble aside, Batman #20 still manages to provide a highly emotional climax.
After Clayface unwittingly taunts Batman from inside the panic chamber, he transforms into Damien Wayne, little knowing what a profound affect his distorted observations will have on the Dark Knight.
Later in the Bat-Cave as Bruce discusses the case with Alfred, he admits how deeply Damien’s death has affected him, but that he is not losing himself in his grief like he did when Jason died. Alfred offers to sit with Bruce a while and they view the playback of Damien’s last mission with Batman against the Reaper using VR goggles. This poignant conclusion to a Requiem for Robin is all the more remarkable as it says so much by saying so little.
The back up story by James Tynion IV and Alex Maleey sees Batman and Superman facing dark supernatural forces summoned by two teenagers in an old apartment block. Superman does his best to hold back the Will O’ The Wisp, but its magic weakens him. Batman approaches the spirit of Becca, who helped summon the demonic creature. With her help Batman finds a scrap of paper they used to summon the creature. Batman translates the Gallic writing and sends the creature back to its own dimension. Becca’s spirit gives Superman some sound advice, before slowly fading away. Ghost Lights has been a great supernatural adventure for Superman and Batman, and it also manages to address some of the issues Batman has over Damian’s death.
Batman #20 is another thoroughly entertaining issue from Snyder and Capullo, and it leaves us eagerly awaiting the start of Zero Year next month.