DC's Villains Month has come and gone, but in some ways "Batman: The Dark Knight" #24 feels like a straggler from that promotion. Unlike the actual Clayface issue last month, though, this comic doesn't have Clayface involved with "Forever Evil," which is perhaps why it was passed up in favor of the comic we eventually received. And that's ultimately a shame, because Gregg Hurwitz and Alex Maleev have crafted an excellent spotlight on one of the stranger members of the Batman villains gallery.
Picking up where August's issue left off, Hurwitz is true to form in having initially given us a moment where Batman's foe has been defeated, only to let him rise up once more in the next installment. With no Batman in this issue at all, Hurwitz lets us see Clayface's origin and how Basil Karlo's desperate attempt to be noticed as an actor led him to his eventual transformation into a hulking blob of a monster. It's a good tweaking of Karlo's origin, discarding the numerous other Clayfaces and streamlining the story so that he's had his powers right from the beginning of his career.
More importantly, Hurwitz gives us a road to hell paved with good intentions, something that's far more interesting than a mad killer. Clayface's transformation and even what he does with his new powers is interesting because he's not immediately going for the jugular. It's that slow, inevitable downward spiral, one touched with moments of regret and weakness. The young Basil doing something wrong and then trying to make up for it is great; not only because I appreciated that Basil's childhood was tough but not awful or abusive (he's actually got a loving family, a nice step away from what's typical), but also because it's a good reminder that at his heart, Clayface didn't start out as evil.
That's probably why Clayface's story works so well here. His friendship with his neighbor in the next cell over is sweet, bonded through a common interest in film and something that brings back the pre-villain aspects of Basil Karlo. Hurwitz and Maleev bring that earlier version to life, with beautifully composed scenes of the young Basil surrounded by people and somehow still alone. Hurwitz's narration works well with Maleev's art; the characters are wonderfully realistic, and I love how Maleev and Dave McCaig are able to use the art and the coloring to have Basil set slightly off from the brightly-lit, vibrant world around him. Those sad looks that wash across Basil's face every time he tries and fails at an audition are heartbreaking, and his eventual transformation into Clayface (and how he initially uses his powers as an actor) is eye-catching.
After a slightly weak previous installment, "Batman: The Dark Knight" #24 roars back to life and then some. Hurwitz and Maleev's story is attention grabbing, and it's a genuine shame that this wasn't part of last month's promotion. Not only could it have steered more readers to this storyline, but it would have stood out as one of the top efforts in Villains' Month. All in all, a good showing from two talented creators.