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Preston Payne (New Earth)

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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 known as Matt Hagen, aka, 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.[2]

Clayface's actions soon earned him the attention of Batman. Batman encountered Payne when the latter broke into one of S.T.A.R. Labs' Starhaven facilities outside of Gotham. Payne broke into the lab in order to steal a device that he had hoped might cure him. As Clayface lunged at him, Batman temporarily shorted out his exoskeleton with a live cable. Payne quickly recovered however and escaped. He even ripped out the axle of the Batmobile so his foe could not follow him so easily. Stealing a car, Clayface headed back towards Gotham City. As he drove, the "fever" overwhelmed him and he veered the car off the side of the road, crashing it. He then stopped motorist Lester Burton and killed him to steal his vehicle. By the time he arrived in Gotham, the GCPD already knew that he was coming. Commissioner Gordon closed off the Gotham Narrows Bridge, but Clayface climbed the steel cables with his stolen mechanism, hoping to escape. Batman caught up to him and the two fought one another on top of the bridge. Tired of these entanglements, Clayface dove from the bridge into the river.

He retreated back to his base of operations at the Father Knickenbocker Wax Museum where he began installing the stolen technology. Batman tracked him down and the two fought one another for a third time. Batman finally defeated him by sabotaging the power pack that ran his exoskeleton. 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.[3]

It was believed that Clayface died in the fire, but in truth, he survived. Failing to find his beloved Helena amidst the flames, he dove out a back window into the Gotham River. He searched for her for many months until discovering that she had turned up at Rosedale's department store. Payne sneaked into the building after hours and found a way to remain hidden in stock rooms and closets during regular operating hours. At night, he reunited with Helena and a bizarre romantic relationship blossomed between the two. By this point, Payne had gained control over his migraines and "fever" pitches and no longer had to kill others to alleviate his own pain. For the first time in a long time, Preston Payne felt normal. Things were peaceful for Clayface and his "bride" until one evening when he saw a night watchman stealing a scarf from the mannequin's neck. Payne believed that Helena was being unfaithful to him, so he murdered the guard and concealed his remains. The body was eventually discovered however and Commissioner Gordon showed the police report to the Batman. Batman recognized the telltale signature of Payne's corrosive touch and tracked him down to Rosedale's. Clayface fought against Batman, but the Dark Knight easily apprehended him. Clayface was remanded to the care of Arkham Asylum. Batman recognized Payne's emotional needs and requisitioned to have Helena brought to the hospital with him. Clayface and his mannequin were together again, but things weren't the same after that. "The love was gone..." as Clayface put it.[4]

A short time later, Clayface was one of the many patients freed when Batman's most dangerous foe, Ra's al Ghul, orchestrated an elaborate break-out of the asylum. The break-out was part of a massive plot against Batman using the entirety of his rogues' gallery against him. While most of Batman's foes agreed to follow their benefactor, Clayface refused and returned to Arkham to be reunited with Helena.[5] The peace was short-lived however. 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, the rundown La Scala Theater in Gotham. Payne was still unconscious as Karlo revealed his grandiose scheme to get revenge against the Batman.[6]

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.[7][8]

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.[9]

Preston Payne and Sondra Fuller found a private cave to live in just outside of Gotham County. Living off fish and berries, they carved a private paradise for themselves. Although the world considered them as freaks, they were very much at peace with one another. As months passed, Preston began to suffer his fever episodes once again. He researched a cure for his condition, but failed to come up with any solutions. At one point, the pain became so severe that he had to venture out into the city to claim a human victim.[10] It was also at this time that Preston discovered that Sondra was pregnant with his child. Payne was elated and even made the off-color joke of naming their child Cassius Clay. The child was born inside their cave and even at infancy demonstrated abilities similar to his parents.

One evening, while Preston and Sondra were out for a walk, the serial killer known as Abattoir discovered their cave and abducted baby Cassius. He left them a message indicating that if they ever wanted to see their child again, they would have to kidnap his cousin, Graham Etchison. This harrowing incident forced the Clayfaces to return to Gotham City where they encountered the Batman once again. This time however, they were not facing the Batman that they had fought in the past, but rather, his replacement – Jean-Paul Valley. Preston didn't know that this was not Bruce Wayne, but it mattered little to him. The only thing that mattered was the safety of his child. Batman succeeded in rescuing Cassius Clay and returning him to Payne, but he was not about to let Clayface go free. Using one of his blades, he sliced open the protective covering overtop of Payne's face then exposed him to knock-out gas, rendering him unconscious. Preston Payne was returned to Arkham Asylum.[11]

Preston recently was coerced into working for Prometheus after the latter threatened Cassius' life. Experimented by Prometheus, Preston regained his shape-shifting abilities 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.[12]

Powers

  • 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.

Abilities

  • 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.

Weaknesses

  • 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.

Equipment

  • 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).
  • Superhuman Strength: When wearing his exoskeleton, his strength level is triple that of a normal human being, allowing him the ability to tear down steel doors with little effort.[13]
  • 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.
  • Preston Payne was never attractive, but his current state makes him repulsive to others and those who see him will usually run screaming in terror.[citation needed]

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