By: John Layman (story), Jason Fabok (art), Jeremy Cox (colors)

The Story: Look on the bright side, Clayface—no messy, expensive divorce proceedings.

The Review: Ah, love—that most elusive of virtues.  If I’ve learned nothing else from How I Met Your Mother (and indeed, what you learn from HIMYM boils down to pretty much nothing), it’s the more effort you put into finding love, the more it seems to escape you.  Another thing I learned from HIMYM: it’s that even the least deserving people can be suckers for love.  You can take the toughest, most dominant bozo in the room and love will reduce him to a weeping mess.

In short, love is the most wonderful horrible thing—and vice versa.  It shouldn’t surprise you, then, that Clayface also gets caught in its trap in a big way.  It’s easy to feel sorry for the big lump.  He’s not nearly as inherently evil or sadistic as some of the other crazies running around Gotham, and the protective way he looks after Ivy is rather touching.  As he flips cars and bellows at the world to give him his wife, you can see just how far gone he is over her.

What makes the truth even crueler for Clayface is how much of his relationship with Ivy turns out not only to be a lie, but nonexistent.  At first, you’re inclined to think that even though Ivy doesn’t hold even the slightest inkling of sincere romantic feeling toward him, at least she devoted a good amount of time making the mud-man feel good.  But once Batman mercilessly reveals even the sweet-talk was just in Clayface’s head, Ivy’s deception seems a lot less forgivable.  The scene works quite well, except Layman pushes his point a little too far: “This time I hit him where it hurts.  A place I didn’t even know was vulnerable.  His heart.”  Cornballs.

Meanwhile, the Death of the Family crossover pokes its head into the issue only slightly, so slightly that it feels a bit premature to deserve its die-cut cover.  In fact, the shadow of Joker only seems to interrupt the flow of Layman’s arc, taking the primary antagonist out of the picture before the conflict between Bruce and Penguin actually reaches a climax.  On the other hand, the move leads to the introduction of a new villain, an unexpected one with a hilarious name.*  New villains of any credibility are short in supply these days; let’s see if Layman can buck the trend.

Fabok certainly has one of the more pop-friendly styles of art among all the newly-joined artists to the DC ranks.  Every character looks perfectly formed, even if they’re not what you call attractive.  Even the Penguin has a very put-together, dignified handsomeness, despite his squat frame.  Fabok employs a mostly straightforward method of storytelling, without much flair or innovation, but he never gets in the way of the script.  Cox makes up for Fabok’s natural delicateness by using strong, earthy colors, giving everything more grit and heft than I imagine Fabok’s lines generally have.

In his last back-up, Layman showed us Ivy’s seduction of Clayface from her point of view.  She sees her actions as prudent, maybe even harmless, for all their deception.  Here, looking at it from Clayface’s perspective, you realize just how mean her act really was.  The way Andy Clarke draws (and Blond colors) Clayface’s increasing, almost innocent happiness makes it easy to sympathize with the villain, and makes the turn at the end of the back-up even more satisfying.

Conclusion: It seems we’ve gotten a little carried away from the initial premise of the arc, but Layman gives an engaging diversion nonetheless.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * How proud of himself do you think Layman was when “Emperor Penguin” popped into his head?  I mean, come on.

– I just love that the Joker has all the other villains in Gotham scared poopless, giving Penguin the sweats and encouraging Ivy to haul ass from town as quickly as she can.