WANTED: Earth-Two's Most Dangerous Super-Villains


Personal information

Character History

Real Name: Basil Karlo


Residence: Mobile 
Occupation: Actor , criminal
First Appearance (Golden Age): Detective #40 (June 1940)
First Appearance (Post-Golden Age): None certain

Basil Karlo was likely borne around the turn of the 20th century and by the 1930's, was a well known actor in the emerging film industry.   Renowned as a make-up and special effects artist, Karlo's signature role was as "The Terror", the monstrous antagonist of the movie "Dread Castle".   Fame was unkind to Karlo, exposing his fits of rage and altercations that were picked up by the press and broadcast around the world.  Karlo's reputation became so toxic that he was soon untouchable and "retired" to avoid further scandal.

In 1940, the Argus Motion Picture Company planned a remake of "Dread Castle", casting newcomer Kenneth Star in the lead role.  Julie Madison, fiancee of Bruce Wayne, is also an aspiring actress and obtained a part in the picture.  As production begins, Wayne visits the set and as introductions are made, Basil Karlo arrives to congratulate the cast.  After an awkward meeting, he departs, leaving Madison to fill in the backstory of the older actor.  They also witness Ken Star arguing with Lorna Dane, his lover and co-star.  After they leave, Bentley, the head of Argus, is shaken down by a protection racket.

That evening, Bruce tells Dick that he feels the set is a powder keg and that something will go wrong soon.  When Lorna Dane is murdered on the set in the very scene where her character is murdered, Julie fears that she is next when her scene is filmed.  Adopting their identities as Batman and Robin, the two heroes begin to patrol the set in earnest.  The first encounter finds the protection racket again threatening the studio and suspecting their involvement in the murder, thrash them before an interrogation reveals they are low-end operators and promptly dispatched.

Batman questions Bentley for other suspects and the name of a former lover, Fred Walker comes up.  When Batman visits Walker's apartment, he finds the dying Walker hanging on a hook in the closet.  He mutters the word "Clayface", then dies.  Meanwhile Robin standing post at the Dread Castle sees a might in the deserted set and investigates.  There he is ambushed by the real murderer - Clayface - and dragging onto the castle's parapets.  As Batman returns, he sees the villain fling Robin into the moat and dashes to rescue him while Clayface makes an escape.

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The next day, Julie Madison is scheduled to film her own scene with "the Terror" and Clayface lurks in the shadows.  At the scene's critical moment, he aims a knife but his hand os stayed by a bat-rope wrapping around his wrist.    A melee ensures with Clayface swearing he will never be taken alive.  He is proven wrong when the combined efforts of Batman and Robin truss him up for the authorities and when the make-up is removed, Clayface stands revealed as Basil Karlo.   Driven mad from jealousy and rage at his lost career, he had determined that no one would replace him and when Walker had discovered his identity, he had also been murdered.  Karlo is then remanded to the a prison asylum while he case was decided (Detective Comics #40).

Nearly a year later, Karlo is being transferred between prison during a violent storm when the ambulance taking him skids off the road and over a steep embankment, killing the drivers.  Karlo survives, more insane that ever and vows to take his vengeance as Clayface!  Finding a movie supply story, he assaults the owner and takes what he needs from their inventory - make-up, wigs and costuming  - to re-create his identity as Clayface.  

Reading about it in the papers the following day., Batman and Robin suspect Clayface will attempt to avenge himself on Argus studios and that evening, they patrol the largely empty studio.  Clayface, lurking in the shadows, sees them and resolves to take his revenge on them as well.  He first attacks Batman with a spear, which the detective dodges.  The two engage in hand-to-hand combat, which ends when Clayface dazes Batman with a prop.  He then leaves Batman on the floor and places a truck in gear, heading for him.  Expecting Batman to die, crushed beneath the truck's wheels, he sets off in search of Robin.

Clayface funds the Boy Wonder and clubs him from behind.  He leaves the unconscious teen on a set and then sets the entire studio ablaze.  Fleeing, he does not see Batman dodge the truck and arrive at the fire.  Learning Robin is still inside, Batman douses himself with water and charges into the blaze.  Finding Robin, he navigates back to safety but Clayface is long gone.  That evening, as Julie Madison - now known as Portia Storm - is driving home, she spies a skulking figure that she is certain is Clayface following her.

The next day, Batman pays the studio a visit on the set of Storme's new movie.  Agreeing that Clayface will likely target her for thwarting his prior search for vengeance, they arrange a plan to lure him into the open.  Later that day, Batman and Robin crash through the studio's guard as Clayface watches from hiding.  As Portia's scene reaches a key moment, Clayface uses a bow to lodge an arrow in her back.  Seeing where the arrow came from, Batman gives chase and corners Clayface.  The two battle down a flight of stairs and the mad criminal is eventually subdued and taken into custody.  As the actors rush to the fallen Portia, it is revealed that "Robin" is actually Portia Storme in a spare uniform and "Portia" is Robin wearing a life preserver of cotton and cork which has absorbed the arrow's impact (Detective Comics #49)

The later activities of Clayface are unrecorded.  During the Infinite Crisis, Power Girl view fragments of time from Earth-Two, on which shows the adult Robin pursuing Clayface.  When this occurs is unclear but is presumably at least the 1970's and it is not clear if this is Basil Karlo or an unidentified imitator or successor. The final fate of Basil Karlo on Earth-Two remains unknown.

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Powers and Abilities

Clayface was a master of disguise, with years of experience in theatre and film crafting a variety of looks, often ranging into the monstrous.  He was a talented actor and in his prime physically fit with a strength that was likely magnified by madness as his sanity was slowly lost.  He had above average familiarity with a number of weapons, as  product of personal interest and their use on the stage.

Weaknesses and Limitations

Clayface's core limitation was the loss of his sanity, exacerbating an ill temper and predilection for violence.  This made him rash and prone to errors of assumption and overconfidence.  An ordinary mortal, he could be contained with overpowering force.

Multiversity Villains


The Basil Karlo version of Clayface is thought to have a largely similar history to his Earth-Two counterpart (Batman #208),  After years in Arkham Asylum, he murdered his nurse to assault a horoor movie produce who was screening his films with an invitation.  The producer turned the tables on Karlo, murdering him so he use the Clayface escape as a cover for his own series of murders (Detective #496).
Prior Earth-0
The early career of Clayface in this timeline is largely similar to others.  In later life, he manipulated several inheritors of the Clayface name to obtain blood samples and imbue itsellf with shape-shifting powers calling himself the Ultimate Clayface (Detective Comics #604-607).  He became an active member of the Gotham super-criminal community and had repeated clashes with Batman as well as the Outsiders.  He final fate in this timeline is unknown.




Reprinted in

Detective Comics #40

First Appearance and origin, vs. Batman and Robin

Batman Archives #1 Batman: The Golden Age Omnibus #1, Batman in the Forties, Batman Chronicles Vol. 3, Batman: The Golden Age Vol. 1, Batman Arkham: Clayface TPB

Detective Comics #49

vs. Batman and Robin

Batman Archives #1 Batman: The Golden Age Omnibus #1, Batman from the 30’s to the 70’s, Batman Chronicles Vol. 2, Batman: The Golden Age Vol. 2