Matt Hagen: Ready for His Close Up
by Scott Summers
Imagine a world full of mirrors. Walls, ceilings, floors, houses, streets, trucks—everything, polished to a dazzling shine. Imagine you couldn’t turn your head without seeing an image of yourself, reflected. And all the people you know—envision them mirrored from head to toe, so when you looked at their faces you saw yourself. Now imagine you needed to see those reflections everywhere—that if you glanced at someone who didn’t show you a side of yourself, you’d feel as empty and unreal as though you didn’t exist. Imagine that your entire notion of yourself depended on what you saw reflected in other people.
At this point, you may begin to get an idea of what it’s like to be Matt Hagen, alias Clayface. It accounts for his singular taste in interior decoration, which runs exclusively to movie posters featuring himself, and for his continual re-watching of his own videos. For Hagen, all the world’s a sound stage. Everybody else he knows is simultaneously an extra in his movie and a member of his audience, a crowd that comprises his only access to a sense of self. If he stopped finding this reassurance in others, in the way fans and strangers respond to him, he fears he might shrivel up and squirt away. To a shrink, this constellation of behaviors is called narcissistic personality disorder; to a director, it’s called working with actors.
But why doesn’t Hagen get by with a little help from his friends, rely a little more on the people he’s closest to? Short answer: because he can’t. He lacks the software. Matt Hagen is incompatible with the give-and-take necessary for genuine friendship. Instead, given to explosive self-pitying rage, he abuses and exploits everyone who tries to get close to him. He’s a total sponge, and a nasty one at that, even before he undergoes his squishy renovation. Hagen rants and fumes, throwing home-wrecking tantrum after tantrum, but always—somehow!—relents just soon enough to keep others from deserting him. As far as Hagen’s concerned, the people in his life don’t experience emotions as real or as justified as his own. Their cares only irritate Hagen, like a supporting cast upstaging the star.
Freud famously decreed that real accidents don’t exist, and it may be no accident that a man desperate for validation should end up immersed in plasticizing serum and repurposed as a body-morphing freak of nature. Long before Re-Nu-Yu, Hagen was a shape-changer—a man who would do absolutely anything to earn the reaffirming gaze of his audience; as Clayface, he’s just gotten better at reshaping his physical form to get it. He never stops playing to the back rows, even in his death scene. Wringing out his last words for every drop of potential sympathy, the expiring Clayface still shamelessly begs approval from the audience—in that case, Batman.
Despite the zillion possibilities inherent in a shape-changing physiology, Hagen’s default form resembles nothing so much as a huge, grinning turd. Is it too much to conclude that this is Hagen’s true self-image? Remove the façade ofstardom, privilege, and talent—the varnish on Hagen’s empty interiors—and is there anything left? After Hagen’s first so-called death, itself a fit of solipsistic and self-indulgent violence, he leaks away and leaves in his place a Clayface-shaped shell. We can forgive the attendants at Gotham’s morgue for being so easily fooled by this empty husk. Hollow, fragile and abhorrent, it’s a lot like the real Matt Hagen.
DSM-IV-TR Diagnosis: 301.81 Narcissistic Personality Disorder