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4.0 out of 5 stars A very Dark Knight, 31 Aug 2014
By 
Mr. Mice Guy (London, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
The stories running through issues #22-29 of the New 52’s Batman - The Dark Knight is collected as Batman: The Dark Knight Volume 4: Clay HC (The New 52). This appears to be the final volume of this series, and it goes out with a flourish, as not only do we get the New 52 origin of Clayface, but a new and upgraded Man-Bat as well. There are three stories collected here, a four-part Clayface story, a two-part story about illegal immigrants and slave labour – with no speech balloons of captions, just artwork, and a two-part Man-Bat story. The Penguin, as crime-czar of Gotham, is a major player in the Clayface story, and is also the man behind the baddies in the second.

These are excellent Batman and Alfred stories (have you noticed how Alfred has been moved from the background into the foreground as an equal partner in the New 52?), with very good scripting – especially so in the ‘soundless’ story, as the writer has to give the artist much more detail to work with in order to avoid the need for captions – and with well above average artwork, as Clayface really is a cartoon character, so it is hard work getting him to fit in with the Dark Knight’s darkly serious world.

The updated Clayface origin sees Basil Karlo as an actor who just isn’t good enough to get anywhere go to the Penguin looking for something to make him stand out in the crowd. The Penguin has an artefact looted from an Indian burial site that belonged to shape-shifting sect, and Karlo infects himself with it. Unfortunately, although initially he is able to use it to lift himself up to the dizzy heights of success, he is still, in himself, a mediocre talent who doesn’t have the willpower to control his abilities, and eventually crashes out. The Penguin in the meantime, has been using his abilities for his own criminal purposes. This story initially revolves around Clayface using his abilities to get the Penguin’s rivals to commit crimes, then turning on them while the Penguin gets the loot and ends up with fewer rivals. The opening issue literally starts with a bang, and I didn’t see the plot twist coming at all. As the issues progress, however, it is Clayface’s inner problems, as with all of the Batman’s friends in Arkham, which come to dominate him and his storyline.

The second story follows a family of illegal immigrants who flee poverty in their own country to find poverty and exploitation in Gotham. It is a ‘soundless’ story, apart from one or two sound effects here and there. This, I only realised when coming to write the review, is a Batman Christmas story. These used to be a tradition dating back to the Golden Age, when I was a child, and have in recent years been rediscovered by the writers.

The third story sees an outbreak of murders apparently committed by the Man-Bat, but Kirk Langstrom denies that it was him. He is telling the truth by the way, and that is not actually a spoiler, as you will soon discover. Who it is is another matter, and we end up with a genuinely villainous new Man-Bat – though with scope and motive for the old one to get involved at a later date.

There really are above-average stories.

THE SPOILER ZONE
THE SPOILER ZONE
THE SPOILER ZONE

Issue #22 - “Breaking Point” – opens with a rash of crimes in Gotham committed by criminal gangs working for Clayface. This time a police stakeout has trapped the gang in a bank, with a hostage. Commissioner Gordon exchanges himself for the hostage, and goes Dirty Harry, and when Batman drops in, takes a shot at him also…

Issue #23 - “Rampant” – opens with Batman struggling to capture Clayface, but he keeps slipping away. Later, Batman attempts to discover how Clayface knew about Natalya Trusevich. He questions the Mad Hatter in Arkham, and gets a lead to the Penguin. He then confronts the Penguin and suggests that Penguin is using Clayface to kill-off his rival’s men in robberies, while the Penguin pockets the loot. Eventually Batman hatches a scheme to disorient Clayface long enough to allow his traps to work on him.

Issue #24 - “Captive Audience” – which is the “secret origin” of Clayface, shows us Basil Karlo as an actor who just isn’t good enough to get anywhere, and who goes to the Penguin looking for something to make him stand out in the crowd. The Penguin has an artefact looted from an Indian burial site that belonged to shape-shifting sect, and Karlo infects himself with it. Unfortunately, although initially he is able to use it to lift himself up to the dizzy heights of success, he is still, in himself, a mediocre talent who doesn’t have the willpower to control his abilities, and eventually crashes out. The Penguin in the meantime, has been using his abilities for his own criminal purposes.

Issue #25 - “Full House” – sees Clayface, having escaped from Arkham at the end of the previous issue confront the Penguin, and hand in his resignation. He begins to kidnap citizens of Gotham to populate his own little theatre with a captive audience. Batman recruits a couple of helpers to work through a list of possible sites for the lair, while Clayface gets a sample of the Joker’s Venom from the man himself to use on is audience. Eventually Batman tracks him down for a final showdown…

Issue #26 - “Voiceless” – follows a family of illegal immigrants who flee poverty in their own country to find poverty and exploitation in Gotham, where they end up working for the Penguin as slave labourers. One of the family members makes a break for it, and the body is found by the Batman, who comes looking for trouble, and finds it…

Issue #27 - “Angel of Darkness” – opens with Batman a prisoner of the baddies – for about four pages. Before long, he is angrily hunting for the factory where the illegal immigrants (from the previous issue) are imprisoned. It turns out that this is an old-fashioned Batman Christmas Story, and the Penguin goes to jail…

Issue #28 - “Corporate Raider” – opens with the discovery that the Man-Bat is on the rampage in Gotham, as bodies are turning up drained of blood and with very distinctive puncture wounds. We are soon introduced to the villain, who is not Kirk Langstrom. This chap is a big corporate businessman, who has bought up the Man-Bat serum and research from the various villainous people holding it, and while using it to develop a cure for hearing-loss, has also made himself a super-strength Man-Bat serum, and is not afraid to use it, as Batman discovers when trying to inject him with Langstrom’s antidote.

Issue #29 - “In the Shadow” – opens with Batman plunging to his doom after being dropped by the new Man-Bat while flying over Gotham. After Alfred patches him up, Commissioner Gordon sends him to confront the Man-Bat in his civilian identity (Man-Bat’s, which they all know), a he (Gordon) has no incriminating evidence to use against him: “You’re a vigilante. So… start vigilante-ing”.

Eventually, Batman works out how to administer the antidote to the new Man-Bat, whose skin is too tough for a conventional needle to penetrate, and he stakes-out his next likely target…
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