Clayface is a name used by several DC Comics fictional characters, most of them possessing clay-like bodies and shapeshifting abilities. All of them have been enemies of Batman. Created by Bob Kane, the original Clayface, Basil Karlo, was a B movie actor who began a life of crime using the identity of a villain he portrayed in a horror film.
In the late 1950s, Batman began facing a series of science fiction-inspired foes and Matt Hagen, a treasure hunter given vast shapeshifting powers and resiliency by radioactive protoplasm, became the new Clayface. He retained the title for the next several decades of comic book history. In the late '70s, Preston Payne became the third Clayface. A scientist suffering from hyperpituitarism, Payne used Hagen's blood to create a cure but became a clay-like creature that needed to pass his condition onto others to survive. His condition was used as a metaphor for drug abuse and sexually transmitted disease.
Sondra Fuller, of Strike Force Kobra, used the terrorist group’s technology to become the fourth Clayface, also known as Lady Clay. She formed the Mud Pack with Karlo, Payne, and a reanimated Hagen, which during that time, Payne and Fuller had a son Cassius "Clay" Payne who also had metahuman clay powers. During this era, Karlo used the DNA of Payne and Fuller to become the most powerful Clayface, often considered the current and ultimate incarnation of the villain.
Clayface has appeared in three animated adaptations of Batman, starting with the late 1970s-era The New Adventures of Batman, which featured a comedic version of Hagen. The 1990s-era Batman: The Animated Series featured a past-his-prime actor disfigured in a car accident who uses an experimental, addictive cosmetic to regain his appearance only to became a monstrous hunk of clay after a massive overdose of the substance. This interpretation, like the series’ Mr. Freeze, was applauded as a deeper, more sympathetic version of a sci-fi-era villain, and the comic book incarnation of the Basil Karlo Clayface was retooled after it. The 2000s-era The Batman featured a new character Ethan Bennett, who had ties to a young Bruce Wayne, as Clayface before introducing a version of Basil Karlo.
The original Clayface, Basil Karlo, appeared in Detective Comics #40. He is an actor who is driven mad when he hears of a remake of the classic horror film he had starred in, The Terror, even though he is to be one of the advising staff. Donning the mask of the film's villain, Clayface, he embarks on a murder spree among the cast and crew of the remake. He is foiled by Batman and Robin. He reappears in Detective Comics #49 (March 1941) after the prison ambulance he is riding in plunges off a cliff. He once again dons the mask of Clayface and targets Bruce Wayne's fiancee. Once again, the Dynamic Duo foil the evil Karlo.
Much later, Karlo languishes in a prison hospital, when Sondra Fuller visits him out of curiosity. Karlo proposes an alliance between all living Clayfaces to kill Batman. Even though the Mud Pack, as the group called itself, is defeated, Karlo manages, by tricking his allies, to imbue himself with abilities similar to those of Preston Payne and Sondra Fuller. He was defeated by the combined efforts of Batman and Looker of the Outsiders by overloading his abilities making him melt into the ground. While literally sinking into the earth's crust when he loses control of his power, he manages to survive, and now his body sports crystals similar to quartz that endow him with greater powers. Karlo was able to escape his underground prison when Gotham City was struck by the great Cataclysm. He was able to capture Batman and was about to kill him, but he got into a feud with Mr. Freeze on who has a right to kill the Caped Crusader. With that distraction, Batman soundly defeated both of them.
During the "No Man's Land" storyline, Basil Karlo holds Poison Ivy, who is in charge of producing fresh vegetables for the remaining people in the city, prisoner in Robinson Park. Poison Ivy eventually battles and defeats Karlo, sinking him deep into the ground. It appears that the Ultimate Clayface is destroyed in this battle, but has resurfaced as a member of the Secret Society of Super Villains. Later, he seeks to increase his already formidable powers by absorbing Wonder Woman (a clay construct similar to him), giving him an amount of powers that bordered on invulnerability. While he is successful in absorbing the heroine, he is ultimately forced to release her.
Basil Karlo was among the members of the Injustice League and was among the villains seen in Salvation Run. His name is a pun on Boris Karloff. He can be seen as the member of Libra's Secret Society of Super Villains. In the second issue of Final Crisis, he triggers an explosion at the Daily Planet.
The second Clayface, Matt Hagen, first appeared in Detective Comics #298. A treasure hunter, Hagen finds a mysterious radioactive pool of protoplasm in a cave. Immersing himself in it, he is transformed into a malleable clay-like form which could be shaped into almost anything he desires. This is only a temporary effect, however, requiring him to return to the pool periodically in order to maintain use of his powers.
He eventually copies the pool's protoplasmic jelly by chemistry studies, although the artificial proptoplasm only allows him five hours of Clayface powers compared to the full two days of the pool's.
During the "Mud Pack" storyline, the other villains who use the name Clayface gather Hagen's remains and make him a post-mortem member of their gang.
During the events of the Mud Pack, Shondra Fuller, the fourth Clayface, began masquerading as the hero Looker and visited Preston at Arkham. That same night, he got into an argument with Helena and unintentionally knocked her head off. Believing he killed her, Preston went on a rampage until subdued in a nearby swamp by the asylum guards. Rescued by Fuller, who was still using Looker's appearance and powers, used them to make Preston follow Basil Karlo's, the first Clayface, commands. Karlo ultimately betrayed Fuller, and took samples of hers and Preston's blood to inject into himself. After finally breaking free of Fuller's control, he was about to kill her when she admitted how sorry she was for using him. The two fell in love and went on to live together, leading to Fuller becoming pregnant with their child, Cassius.
Preston acquires medicine to control his pain and now feels the "hunger" only in his mind. It is also revealed that he was abused by his parents.
She possesses identical abilities to those of Matt Hagen, but they are permanent, without the requirement for a source of protoplasm. She can additionally copy any special powers of the being she is mimicking. She is defeated by the Outsiders.
Later, after the Mud Pack forms and battles Batman, Fuller falls in love with Preston Payne and they have a child named Cassius "Clay" Payne. After Abbatoir kidnaps the child, the couple get into a fight involving Azrael/Batman.
Currently, the bio status of Cassius shows that if a piece of him is separated from his body, it can grow a mind of its own, but it mostly thinks in a retarded form of what Cassius wants. If bonded with another human (i.e. Claything), the piece can give that human Clayface-like abilities, such as become like clay, being able to withstand bullets and other harm, and could also manifest Payne's ability to melt objects; all this person would have to do is just think it. It is unknown if a person can gain different abilities when bonded with a piece of Cassius.
In a recent issue of Batman: Gotham Knights, Cassius has now taken on the clay-like appearance of his mother and father, but he looks more like Basil Karlo than either of his parents. He can only stay in Clayface mode while awake.
The seventh Clayface debuted in Batman #614 (June 2003), but was not formally introduced until Batman: Gotham Knights #60 (February 2005). Johnny Williams was once a normal firefighter in Gotham. A blast from within a chemical factory not only killed his fellow firefighters, but also changed him that day. He first discovered this after he accidentally killed a prostitute. This gave Johnny plans to kill himself. Also at that time, he was approached by Hush who tells him that the chemicals turned him into the latest Clayface. Hush began to manipulate Williams, holding out the promise of a cure and making him do his bidding, including pretending to be Tommy Elliot (Hush's true identity) to hurt and confuse Bruce Wayne. Eventually, Williams realized how much he was being manipulated. Knowing that he was going to die, he offered Batman assistance against Hush in exchange for the hero freeing Johnny's family from Hush. He redeemed himself in his death, also ensuring that butler Alfred Pennyworth was cleared of murder.
In Clayface's first episode, Clayface is shown to be able to survive in water without dissolving (unlike later animated incarnations) by turning into a dolphin, but as Matt Hagen he does not know how to swim. His second episode pairs him up with Catwoman in a plot to steal oil. He is also one of the four villains featured in the two-part "Have An Evil Day", in which the alien Zarbor cons him, The Joker, Catwoman, and The Penguin into teaming up against Batman and Robin as a diversion while Zarbor steals Earth's nuclear plants. In this series, Clayface was voiced by Lou Scheimer and Lennie Weinrib.
In the episode "Feat of Clay" he is introduced as Matt Hagen (a nod to the second Clayface), a past-his-prime actor (a nod to the first Clayface) who had been disfigured in a horrible car accident (a nod to the third Clayface). While recovering in a burn clinic, he is approached by corrupt businessman Roland Daggett, who makes him a test subject for a compound called "RenuYou" (pronounced "Renew You") that he promises will immediately restore his youthful good looks (a nod to the fourth Clayface). In exchange, Hagen must impersonate people in illegal roles for Daggett. He greatly resents this, but is forced to comply, as the RenuYou chemical is extremely addictive. Daggett has Hagen impersonate Bruce Wayne in order to obtain documents from Lucius Fox, who is inadvertently wounded; Bruce Wayne is arrested for assault and brought in for questioning. Hagen, attempting to steal a large quantity of RenuYou from Daggett's compound, is seized by Daggett's henchmen; they then try to kill Hagen by forcing him to ingest an entire canister of the compound. Rather than kill him, however, the overdose saturates every cell in his body, turning him into a bulky and misshapen clay like form who can, for short periods of time, shapeshift into anything or anybody he wishes. After trying to get revenge on Daggett, he is stopped by Batman and, upon being caught, fakes his death.
He reappears in the episode "Mudslide", in which his body begins to deteriorate. He is restored to a semblance of health by a former medical adviser on his films, Dr. Stella Bates, who falls in love with Hagen. She sells her motel in order to raise funds for a laboratory in which to treat him. Batman tracks him down and prevents Dr. Bates' treatment of Clayface (partly because he stole the necessary formula compound from Wayne Biomedical Labs). He and Clayface then fight, but Hagen's now-unstable clay form absorbs too much rainwater to hold its cohesion, falls into the ocean, and he is destroyed once he dissolves. (This episode is notable for its numerous references to classic movies, in-jokes associated with Clayface's history as an actor. For example, Dr. "Bates" owns a "motel," referencing Psycho, while, at the end, a rain-washed Clayface moans for the doctor, crying, "Stella!", in reference to A Streetcar Named Desire.)
An action figure of this version of Clayface was featured in the Batman: The Animated Series toy line and featured a firing spiked ball.
In The New Batman Adventures, Hagen's character re-forms again in "Growing Pains", in which Robin (Tim Drake) befriends a lost, amnesiac little girl he names "Annie". The child turns out to be a portion of Clayface - who has returned to life by way of some strange chemicals - that has gained sentience and an identity on its own, and in the end is re-absorbed into the main body of the villain, effectively "killing" the girl as a separate person. Due to this, Robin (who had feelings for her) told police to add murder to Clayface's crimes. Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) is also shown battling Clayface in one segment of a Christmas themed episode, "Holiday Knights", in which Clayface further expands his separative ability by posing as four separate children at once to shoplift from Gotham department stores at the height of the Christmas Eve rush.
Clayface originates in the two-part episodes "The Rubber Face of Comedy/The Clay Face of Tragedy". After he inhales a dose of The Joker's Joker Putty (after a session of extensive brainwashing, driving him insane), Bennett is rescued by Batman and his partner, Detective Ellen Yin. He is suspended by Chief Rojas after publicly denouncing the chief's claims about Batman. At his apartment, Bennett mutates into a featureless gray-clay like figure, and tries to look for help, scaring away the locals. After many battles with Batman, it has become clear that he still holds a grudge against the Joker. At one point he even impersonates Solomon Grundy in order to loot the city on Halloween, but is ultimately stopped by Batman..
As Clayface returns in the fourth season episode "Clayfaces", Bennett seems to have finally reformed. He tracks down and captures the Joker, disguising himself as the Joker's henchmen, Punch and Judy. He hands him over the police without using excessive force, and turns himself in to the authorities, who take him to Arkham Asylum. However, Bennett has not completely regained Bruce Wayne (and Batman's) trust. He is eager to leave Arkham and continue working as a police officer, although Batman refuses to consider this request until Bennett is cured, citing he could easily go back to crime.
When Basil Karlo begins wreaking havoc as the second Clayface, Bennett feels he is the only one who could defeat Karlo. Bennett once again requests a second chance, but after he is refused again, he resorts to escaping from Arkham. Bennett tracks down and battles Karlo with the aid of Batman and Robin. Bennett holds Karlo down while Batman administers the antidote. Bennett is shown at the end to be fully cured, while Karlo retains his powers.
The fourth season episode "Clayfaces" introduces Basil Karlo (in his first actual appearance outside the comics) as the series' second Clayface, voiced by Wallace Langham and later by Lex Lang. Here, he is shown to be an ugly, untalented actor. He is seen repeatedly turned down in auditions for a dog food commercial when he hears that Bennett is about to be cured.
Karlo breaks into Wayne Industries and drinks a refined, purified sample of the Clayface mutagen Bennett was exposed to. This successfully turns him into Clayface. After being rejected once again for a dog food commercial, he snaps and uses his Clayface powers to attack the city. At first he believes this incident would be the death of his career, but he then sees that being a supervillain has made him a celebrity, covered on nearly every channel. At the last channel he stops on, it shows his previous movie, The Revenge of The Atomic Clone.
After a battle with Batman, Robin, and Ethan Bennett, Basil Karlo is injected with the Clayface antidote, seemingly restoring him to normal. However, the episode's final scene shows that Karlo has retained his powers.
He reappears in The Batman/Superman Story, Part One where he, along with Bane and Mr. Freeze, is in the employ of Black Mask, who has teamed up with Lex Luthor and kidnapped Lois Lane as bait for a trap to lure in Superman.
He has recently been confirmed to appear in Lego Batman: The Videogame, his structure and look is that of the Matt Hagen Clayface from Batman: The Animated Series, but the official website names him as Basil Karlo.