For a guy who hasn’t been the regular artist on “Batman” for quite a few years, Kelley Jones sure gets to draw a lot of Batman stories. And that’s a very good thing. For, like most of these “Joker’s Asylum” one-shots, this is an artistic showcase of a comic, and when you’re dealing with weirdness and Batman, it’s hard to come up with a better fit than Kelly Jones. His expressionistic, shadowy depiction of Gotham City and the caped crusader makes him one of the best Bat-artists ever.
He’s pretty good at Clayface, too. “Good,” as in, “Jones should just draw all of the Clayface appearances from now on. All of them.”
On the writing side, this one was written by Kevin Shinick, better known to some of us as that guy from “Robot Chicken” and maybe even better known to some slightly younger than us as the host of the “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego” television show. I never watched that one, mostly because they dared to bring someone besides Rockapella in to sing the theme song. (Is that even true? I don’t know, but I couldn’t let a “Carmen Sandiego” reference go by without using the word “Rockapella.”)
Shinick gives us a story about Basil Karlo fanboys who so adore their favorite old-timey screen actor that they show up in costume for screenings of his most famous movie, “The Terror.” Karlo is, of course, the original Clayface, and he feeds off his fans, just as they feed off of him. Batman just gets in the way.
There’s a great scene where Batman investigates the strange goings-on at the movie theater and slowly realizes that the entire scene is constructed out of Clayface himself — the ticket-takers and even the concession stand candy are all made out of Clayface goo. The scene has the implicit tragedy that Clayface is willing to create an elaborate farce of a world just to allow his followers to worship him as he should have been worshipped by the Hollywood of the Golden Age.
Shinick gets a bit too jokey with lines like, “You had me at ‘I don’t care if I die,'” but it’s mostly a restrained story that suggests more than it states about the Clayface/Batman dynamic. These are both characters, after all, who cannot live without their masks, and both have odd relationships with the public.
But as sturdy as Shinick’s story is, it’s Jones that gives us page after page of comics worth savoring. He’s cornered the market on these Batman-vs.-Monsters kinds of stories. And I’ll sign up to read as many as he’s willing to draw.