In the middle of the ongoing battle in DETECTIVE COMICS proper, Tynion and Barrows take us on a detour through Basil Karlo’s disturbed psyche. Exploring his past and reimagining the iconic origin story, this annual addresses continuity concerns while also contributing a worthwhile addition to the Batman mythos.
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With Clayface’s new origin revealed in DETECTIVE COMICS ANNUAL #1 many questions begin to surface. How much has DC REBIRTH, not to mention the NEW 52, altered the conditions of Basil Karlo’s transformation into the supervillain we know as Clayface? Is his Post-Crisis origin still intact? After all the retcons and reboots, what’s left? With his life hanging in the balance and his final fate up in the air, there are still so many questions about Clayface’s true origin. James Tynion IV and Eddy Barrows take this opportunity for exploration and run with it in DETECTIVE COMICS ANNUAL #1.

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Detective Comics Annual #1
DETECTIVE COMICS ANNUAL #1 page 7. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Birth of Clay

Throughout the course of the issue, we witness Basil’s downfall firsthand, from a rising star to the monstrous form we know today. The pacing is swift but the extra size of the annual gives the reader just enough time to stew on the inevitable outcome. The story does this without overstaying its welcome or interrupting the flow of the ongoing arc. It feels natural and appropriate that Tynion gave context to Karlo’s past now, rather than later, when the impact of Clayface’s struggle would wear off.

The dramatic irony in this issue is palpable, knowing what we know now. This, surprisingly, does not detract from the reading experience in the slightest. In fact, it heightens the suspense and our investment in the characters as we wait, painfully, for the final shoe to drop. We can’t help but feel just as powerless as Basil himself as we watch events unfold beyond our control. The outcome is already decided, making the experience of reading torturous in the best possible way.

Detective Comics Annual #1
DETECTIVE COMICS ANNUAL #1 page 8. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Faces of Clay

The events of this issue contextualize Basil’s psychological state, adding depth and emotional weight to the occurrences of the past arc. We delve into Karlo’s family history, showing the damaging effects his father had on his self-image, and further expanding upon his issues with identity. This isn’t just an origin for Clayface either, mind you. Glory, a future member of the Victim Syndicate, has ample focus throughout the issue. Her inclusion in this retelling is crucial considering it’s the primary driving force behind Basil’s character regression back in the present.

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Inker Eber Ferreira and colorist Andriano Lucas really flex their muscles here. They depict flashback sequences in sepia, with panels bordered by film strips. This gives off an old B-horror movie aesthetic. I can only think to describe the art as “beautifully grotesque.” It maintains the emphasis on vivid colors and the lush, lively art from the first arc. The artists show their skill at effectively portraying horror. This is apparent in the scene showing Basil’s first transformation in excruciating detail. This artwork bursts forth from the page and impresses itself on you, increasing the impact of Tynion’s writing.

Something Borrowed

There are many obvious inspirations to this take on Clayface. References are made to the Daggett corporation and “Renu,” the chemical that gives Clayface his malleable properties. These are all callbacks to the episode “Feat of Clay” of Batman: The Animated Series fame. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering its one of the best Clayface stories ever produced. The climax is also similar to Karlo’s 1941 introduction, in which he hunts down cast members of the film he was replaced in.

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What could have been a muddy mess of borrowed plot elements comes together to make a richly textured story. It’s more of a meditative reflection on the classics than an outright copy. Tynion writes with reverence and respect for what came before, “molding” these retold stories into something fresh and new.

Detective Comics Annual #1
DETECTIVE COMICS ANNUAL #1 page 5. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.


Overall, Tynion mostly plays it safe, but ambitious concepts stand out and raise the story higher, beyond a simplified retelling. This story owes much of its success to older tales that came before, while also managing to carve out its own mark as well. Plus, it’s simply a fantastic retelling of the classic origin story. It’s not crucial by any means, but it’s still a worthwhile piece of backstory for Clayface’s current character in DC REBIRTH. I recommend this to anyone looking for a clear intro to Basil or comic readers who might enjoy an homage to the classics while also being treated to something new.

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