Preston Payne was one of several people who took the name Clayface and was an enemy of Batman.
Preston Payne was born an acromegalic – a victim of chronic hyperpituitarism which hideously distorted his body. In contrast however, Payne was also gifted with an exceptionally acute intellect. As a child, Preston was naturally made the subject of abuse and ridicule by his peers – a syndrome that continued well into his adult life. Preston Payne graduated Hudson University at the top of his class and immediately went on to work for S.T.A.R. Labs' Gotham City branch.
Desperate to cure his physical deformities, Payne sought out the world's foremost cosmetic surgeons, but all of them told Preston the same thing – there was nothing they could do. Payne learned about the existence of a super-villain named Matt Hagen, a.k.a. Clayface. Knowing that Hagen had the ability to remold his own physical features, he visited Hagen in prison. He pleaded with him to help, but was only able to procure a needle-full of Hagen's blood. Taking the blood back to the laboratory, Payne experimented on it, upgrading its chemical mixture, hoping that it might be able to restore him to some semblance of normalcy. The serum appeared to have worked and Preston was able to reconstruct his own facial features so that he could appear normal. This brilliant success was only a temporary solution, tragically. While out on a date, Payne's face began to melt away like a wax candle. His date tried to pull away from him, but when Payne grabbed onto her, he found that he could transmit his bio-immolation like a disease. The woman's flesh and bone melted into a bubbling pile of protoplasm right before his eyes.
Panic-stricken, Payne returned to his lab that night where he constructed a protective exoskeleton to contain his contagious mass. To make matters worse, Payne learned that if he did not discharge his viral effects upon an unsuspecting victim, his body would be wracked with pain and a severe fever would overwhelm him. Dubbing himself Clayface, Payne stalked out into the night in search of victims to alleviate his fever. He did not wish to take lives, so he concentrated solely on bowery derelicts – people whom no one would miss.
Crimes of Clayface
Clayface's actions soon earned him the attention of Batman, who encountered Payne when the latter broke into one of S.T.A.R. Labs' Starhaven facilities outside of Gotham. Payne had broken into the lab in order to steal a device that he had hoped might cure him. Their confrontation ended on a battle atop of the Gotham Bridge, where Clayface escaped with a leap of fate.
Back at his base of operations at the Father Knickenbocker Wax Museum, Payne began installing the stolen technology. Batman located him and another struggle started. During the fight however, some candles were tipped over causing the entire museum to erupt into flames.
Batman dragged Clayface out of the building, but when Payne saw the flames, he broke away and ran back inside the flaming building to save the most important thing in his life – a mannequin named Helena.
Clayface was presumed dead, but he had survived after he dove out a back window into the Gotham River. Payne tracked down "Helena" to a department store, where he remained hidden until his own madness exposed him. When another victim of his "lethal touch" showed up, Batman and the GCPD surrounded the place and Payne was captured for good. He was institutionalized in Arkham Asylum, where he was allowed to keep "Helena" as a companion in his cell.
The Mud Pack
Unfortunately, Payne's peace was short-lived. Former thespian Basil Karlo, the original Clayface, embarked upon a plan to unite all of his successors together as the Mud Pack. He had Sondra Fuller, aka, Clayface IV impersonate the former Outsider known as Looker and have her visit Payne at Arkham. Tapping into Looker's psychic abilities, Fuller manipulated Payne into destroying his synthetic lover and breaking free of Arkham – killing one orderly and injuring another in the process. The GCPD put out a manhunt and they chased Payne into the woods, firing several tranquilizer darts into him. Fuller caught up with him and used Looker's telekinesis to carry the unconscious Payne back to Karlo's hideaway.
When Payne revived, he had no idea where he was and had little interest in Basil Karlo's schemes. He backhanded Karlo, but Fuller (as Looker) used her mental abilities to calm Payne down. Karlo then had Fuller mind-control Payne into robbing 1st Gotham Bank. Fuller accompanied Payne on this mission disguised as Batman. Karlo had little interest in money and only sought to sully Batman's reputation and hopefully, bait a trap for him that would lead him back to the theater. They then staged another robbery at the Gotham Plaza, but by this point Preston began to shake off the mental effects. The real Batman showed up and the two began fighting.
Clayface nearly defeated the Caped Crusader, but Fuller knew that this was outside of Karlo's plan, so she knocked Payne out with two over-sized clay fists and flew off with him as a giant, clay eagle.
When Preston awakened, he lunged at Clayface IV demanding to know why she had turned on him. Fuller then revealed that while he was unconscious, Karlo betrayed them both, taking samples of their blood with the intent of transforming himself into the ultimate Clayface. Payne wanted nothing to do with Karlo, but he did come to appreciate Sandra Fuller. He was the only one who found her attractive in her natural, clay-like form. The two soon fell in love with one another and decided to leave Gotham forever.
Preston Payne and Sondra Fuller found a private cave to live as outcasts just outside of Gotham County. As months passed, Preston's pain became unbearable and after a failed research for a cure, he had to venture out into the city to claim a human victim. With the pain temporarily gone, Sondra and Preston shared a passionate night and a few weeks later, they learned that Sondra was pregnant. Payne and Sondra were happy and even made the off-color joke of naming their child Cassius Clay, who was born inside their cave and even at infancy demonstrated abilities similar to his parents.
Unfortunately, their son was kidnapped by the serial killer Abattoir, who blackmailed them and forced Preston to abduct a man called Graham Etchinson in order to return their son. Preston succeeded in taking the man to Abattoir, but he was forced to murder several people to accomplish this, which turned the new Batman's attention on him. Abattoir left Cassius and moved away with his victim, leaving Preston to confront Batman. Preston was knocked unconscious with a special gas and soon he was taken by the authorities back to S.T.A.R. Labs.
Preston recently was coerced into working for Prometheus after the latter threatened Cassius' life. Experimented by Prometheus, Preston gained the shape-shifting abilities of the original Clayface and was made as a decoy while implanted with a bomb meant for the Justice League. When the ruse was discovered, the bomb detonated and apparently killing Preston.
- Unique Physiology: Unstable, protoplasm flesh contained within a special exoskeleton.
- Corrosive Touch: Preston Payne transmits the viral infection that courses through his body into others. Although he is immune to his own power to some extent, Payne's touch causes organic matter to bubble, blister and melt into a pool of protoplasm.
- Malleable Clay-like Body: Shortly before his demise, Payne received shape shifting abilities similar to Basil Karlo as a result of being experimented on by Prometheus.
- Genius Level Intellect: Although he rarely displays it, Preston Payne was gifted with an enhanced intellect that enabled him to graduate top of his class at Hudson University, and become a researcher at S.T.A.R. Labs immediately following graduation.
- Technological Reliability: Preston Payne cannot exist outside of his special exoskeleton or else anything he comes into physical contact with will dissolve. In addition, Payne suffers massive migraines which he refers to as the "fever" which can only be alleviated by transmitting his virus to another resource, ultimately killing them. Payne had gained some measure of control over these episodes, but following the Mud Pack affair, he began suffering migraines once again.
- Mental Illness: Preston Payne was diagnosed as clinically insane and was taken to Arkham Asylum shortly after the incident that transformed him into Clayface III, which triggered the mental illness. After Payne started a relationship with Lady Clay, many traces of mental illness disappeared.
- Exoskeleton: Clayface wears a special exoskeleton of his own design which he uses to contain his infectious body mass. The exoskeleton contains a power pack which sits upon Payne's back (usually obscured by his cloak).
- Although this character was originally introduced during DC's Earth-One era of publication, their existence following the events of the 1985–86 limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths remains intact. However, some elements of the character's Pre-Crisis history may have been altered or removed for Post-Crisis New Earth continuity, and should be considered apocryphal.
- 31 Appearances of Preston Payne (New Earth)
- 16 Images featuring Preston Payne (New Earth)
- 3 Quotations by or about Preston Payne (New Earth)
- Character Gallery: Preston Payne (New Earth)