The two-issue storyline about the villain Clayface finally ends here, and yet there is more to this story than the usual villain-of-the-week fodder (and thanks to my review of Tomasi's B&R issue #12 earlier this week, y'all should know by now that I fucking hate that shit so get that away from my Batman, please). I want to take this time to compare that issue with this one because I think I can make some pretty good arguments as to what kind of a short comic book story arc works and what doesn't. Tomasi's three-part Terminus issues in the Batman and Robin line-up were an example of a wasteful narrative execution which is something that shocked me, given his fantastic job on a previous villain called NoBody. However, his Terminus was a one-dimensional villain who did not have any kind of impact on the story except to confuse and annoy readers. There was also a wonderful subplot called War of the Robins between the Terminus issues and that should have been the focal point instead because it had a potential for great character progression which I believe was Tomasi's literary strength in the first place.
On the other hand, Snyder's take on Clayface, one of the well-known villains from Batman's rogue gallery, was not just an exciting, action-packed plot but also a momentous examination of Bruce Wayne's stages of grief as he confronts this enemy. Clayface was formidable in this story since his shape-shifting abilities have evolved that he can now perfectly embody anyone and not just mimic them temporarily. With this upgrade, he chooses Bruce as bait (since he is the primary financial investor for Batman Inc.) to lure Batman so he can uncover his real identity (the irony is that Bruce is Batman all along which is sort of amusing to see play out throughout the story).
In the process, Bruce is put in a vulnerable position which allows readers to see him in a more humanized sense. In fact, he is frequently out of the Batman costume most of the time, further emphasizing his nakedness. This two-part story also highlights how utterly alone Bruce can often feel in his crusade against crime in Gotham, and how the villains he faces are mere reflections of his darker inclinations. In this case, Clayface is a man who abandoned his real identity in favor of a more empowered one because it gives him a sense of importance, no matter how ugly and bloated that may be. He can change face the same way Bruce can put on a mask--and feel less human especially when being human is the most painful thing to bear.
Contextualizing that with the loss of his only son and heir, Bruce's confrontation with Clayface is also a personal battle to accept that he is still a man of flesh and bone underneath the trappings of his costume. His real face is the one that gets cut and bleeds, and that there is more strength to that than fear. Bruce Wayne has always been a character whose very story starts with loss and anger. He made it his life's mission to fix Gotham, to be its watchful protector, all the while sacrificing well-adjusted relationships outside that paradigm. With the inclusion of his son Damian in his life, Bruce was learning to be more of a mortal man than an ideal--but losing his family again has made it seem like he's back from scratch.
Yet ultimately, a fresh start is what Bruce needs at this moment. After apprehending Clayface alongside Commissioner Gordon and GCPD, Bruce returns to the batcave and has an honest conversation with Alfred about how much he misses Damian and that he's just not ready to replace him (nor does he ever have to, that's the thing). He then allowed his loyal butler and long-time friend to sit with him and watch videos of Damian during one of their crime patrols for a while. It was such a heartbreaking scene, being exposed to Bruce's vulnerability like that, reminding the readers that Batman is not just about the kick-ass Dark Knight and his adventures, but also about the intimate journey of the orphan little boy from a lifetime ago who lost the people he cared about and how he had risen above it to become something more not just for himself but for a city that needs a hero.
This issue also ends the two-part James Tynion IV story GHOST LIGHTS which features Superman and Batman confronting a creature of horrors. It was yet another perfectly simple yet elegantly concluded piece, effectively juxtaposing what Snyder has imparted in the Clayface storyline resolution, and allowing me a glimpse of the fondness that these two heroes do have for each other in spite of their glaring differences. I really like that Batman acknowledges in his own reticent way that Superman's presence and efforts to comfort him are much appreciated; and that there is a friendship between them that's built on compassion, and not just tolerance.
I love this issue so much because it was sublime with a melancholic streak, yet also offers hope to both its readers and Bruce Wayne himself. It also serves as a great opening to the Zero Year issues which I am gosh-darn excited to talk about after writing this. So it would seem that Synder doesn't need to complicate plots and produce a lot of action to sell me his take on Batman at all. Like Tomasi, he should focus on telling stories with a humanistic scope because those are the ones that resonate with Batman fans.
* Here's to new beginnings and another exciting chapter in Batman's life!