At a glance, "Batman: The Dark Knight" #23 feels overly simple, as Batman goes up against Clayface once more and tries to capture him once and for all. But if you've read past issues of "Batman: The Dark Knight," you know by now Gregg Hurwitz is the master of lulling you into a false sense of security. And sure enough, he and Alex Maleev still have some more Clayface action just waiting for us.
The plot of the issue is in fact almost paper-thin; Batman pursues Clayface and tries to trap him using a new containment technology. The item that Batman uses might as well be a magic wand, because it's slightly unexplainable and it's just taken for granted that it can project a special field that keeps Clayface stuck inside of it. Hurwitz has done this before with his Scarecrow story, though, and to a lesser extent the Mad Hatter; you think it's over, everything seems to have come to a close, and then the villain roars back for another round the next issue. With a "Next Issue" blurb promising us just that, I don't think it's any secret that this particular storyline hasn't actually come to an end. That's a good thing, because if things had come to a rest here, everything would feel half-finished at best. It's such an easy snatch-and-grab of Clayface that there's no emotional heft to the script, nothing particularly gripping.
The writing of "Batman: The Dark Knight" #23 survives mostly on knowing that it's not the conclusion. That's a little frustrating, because Hurwitz's script for the previous issue was so much stronger, delving into the head of Jim Gordon. The glimpse into Clayface's head here just doesn't have the same punch to it, and that's too bad because that's normally Hurwitz's biggest strength on this series. Maybe that'll improve next issue (especially based on the "Next Issue" blurb's hint about what the focus will be), but for now it's not quite there.
On the other hand, Maleev's art looks excellent as ever. Jim Gordon's tired face when Batman gives him a test-slap looks perfect; you can see the exhaustion radiating off of his face. His imprisoned Clayface is both comical and nasty at the same time; there's something about his pudding-shaped body that looks wonderfully ridiculous, until you see that baleful look in his eyes and the set of his jaw. Maleev's backgrounds are also well rendered, which is no big surprise; his rise to prominence on "Daredevil" was in part with the amazing cityscapes that he'd draw into the backgrounds, and we get more of the same here. The image of Clayface being hauled through the air with the Gotham City skyline behind it is quite breathtaking.
As a middle chapter, "Batman: The Dark Knight" #23 works all right. It's by no means perfect but it's enjoyable enough. Standing on its own, it's not quite up to par. Fortunately it's part of a serial medium, and I think most readers will be back in October for the next chapter. For now, it's good, but we've seen a lot better before.