4 out of 5
The cover for this issue, from John Byrne, smartly latches on to a “villains in love” angle that ties the two featured stories thematically together, although, tonally, they are very far apart.
Mortal Clay is whatever a ‘textbook’ example of Alan Moore would be, applied to Big Two superheroes, without whatever reductive qualities such a description may imply. From a dude who’s offered some landmark stories under the DC banner in which guys and gals in tights have their humanity expounded upon and explored, this short tale focused on the third Clayface follows that thread, while being surprising and affecting completely on its own terms. As this is a more sympathetic portrait of a villain, we start from his point of view; it’s actually quite late in the tale when Batman intervenes. Everything is “normal” to start with, with CFIII (although we’re not told who’s speaking yet) in search of some lost love, and, when they’re discovered through the window of a department store, we’re exposed to a more obsessive narrative, further twisted when we discover more about their “relationship.”
Ye eagle eyed readers will note my use of quotations around a couple of terms there. And because this is Moore, and because he’s not just stopping with “look at this curiosity!” and stopping there, we get to dig deeper into Clayface, and Batman, for a memorable short.
Max Allan Collins and Norm Brefoygle offer up a more humorous bit, focused on Penguin going straight in order to impress a dame. The hitch is that Batman just can’t buy into Penguin’s good behavior, and becomes something of the villain in his attempts to suss out the truth. Collins’ isn’t aiming for anything too revelatory in this turnaround, though, writing what’s essentially a gag strip (or what could make for a could’ve made for a good Animated Series episode…), making some of the dialogue a bit perfunctory in order to stick to that tone. Brefoygle takes an interesting tactic of going heavy noir shadows on Batman, with some truly awesomely blackness-soaked depictions, juxtaposing this against the cheery Oswald. It’s definitely a fun read, though certainly not as (and not intended to be as) impactful as Moore’s half.