The Gray Ghost’s Big Comic Book Adventure
Much as “Beware the Gray Ghost” opens with an awestruck child watching an installment of the Gray Ghost’s show, this issue begins with a freckle-faced youngster denied the climactic resolution to an episode, thanks to his mother’s demand that he finish his homework. The next day, the child skips school in order to attend Simon Trent’s autograph signing at the local mall. Who should Trent make the autograph out to? “Matt Hagen!” the kid replies…and this isn’t an insignificant Easter egg, folks.
As you’ve probably guessed, this is a story of deformed actor Matt Hagen, better known as Clayface, and his unlikely obsession with his childhood idol. It’s the type of continuity connection that Dan Slott is now known for, drawing together two of the defining traits of two very different characters in this canon. The world’s other biggest Simon Trent fan, Bruce Wayne, isn’t forgotten. As the owner of the movie studio producing the big screen Gray Ghost film, Bruce has demanded that Trent appear in an added scene during pick-ups. Unfortunately, Trent’s acting skills aren’t compatible with the darker tone of the new film.
When Trent visits the dressing room of the new Gray Ghost, Trystan Zale, to apologize, he’s in for the shock of his life. “Trystan” has let his guard down for just a moment, and accidentally exposed himself as Clayface. He takes Simon Trent hostage, and while Batman searches the city for the missing actor, Clayface explains that no one is going to take away his dream role.
Batman, being Batman, quickly deduces that Clayface has kidnapped Simon Trent, all while Trent uses his memories of a previous Gray Ghost episode to escape captivity. That evening, the premiere of the Gray Ghost film finds Trystan Zale in his Gray Ghost garb, a newly arrived Simon Trent arriving in the same outfit to denounce Zale as a fraud, and Batman caught in the middle.
This is one of the sillier examples of the old “which one do I stop?” cliché. The resolution is actually rather clever, though, playing into a theme of the issue — Hagen is such an egomaniac, he missed the entire point of the show he loved so much as a child. He cares far more about receiving glory as the Gray Ghost than he does in helping others, which is diametrically opposed to the lesson Bruce Wayne learned from the series.
Furious that his concrete honor has been destroyed, Hagen exposes himself as Clayface and squares off against Batman. Unfortunately for him, a cement mixer is nearby, and it doesn’t take a genius to guess what happens next. Batman defeats his foe and Simon Trent is able to enjoy the film with his children and grandchildren. The ultimate form that Clayface chose to take during his final moments, however, is a surprise.
“Beware the Gray Ghost” is animated by Spectrum, the Japanese studio that’s best known for the classic “Heart of Ice” episode. This episode isn’t quite on that level, but the movements are incredibly fluid, the color scheme in both the flashbacks and present day is incredible, and those explosions are beautifully animated. The only real knock against the episode would be the notoriously rubbery Batmobile that appears in one scene, but that’s forgivable. In terms of painted backgrounds, the Mad Bomber’s toy store is pretty impressive.
Both stories feature no shortage of references to other pieces of media, and known actors. “Trystan Zale” is a nod towards Christian Bale, who’d just been cast as the latest Batman. People Magazine is allowed to appear in the closing of “Beware the Gray Ghost,” because it’s also a part of the Time-Warner family, and just as Simon Trent plays a mayor in the Gray Ghost film, Adam West was appearing as the mayor of Quahog on Family Guy at this time. And, years after this episode aired, it was referenced in one of the movie posters seen in the Batman: Arkham Knight video game.
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