Now this is how you write a comic book!  Full of action, humor, and thought provoking dialogue.  This isn’t the finale of an arc;  it is not a particularly important issue in the bigger scheme of things; it is just setup for things to come. However, you can tell they took their time and made this issue count. It is so expertly crafted that it keeps use engaged panel after panel!  To keep a long story short (too late), it’s not the destination but the journey that matters, and this book holds true to that.

All the characters in this issue seem very self aware.  You get a lot of reflection on what others think of the characters and what the characters actually think of themselves.  I really enjoyed seeing Croc being recognized as more than just an animal.  It is almost as if the stories that we have read of him as being animalistic are nothing more than just that, stories that people have made up and spread by word of mouth.  I’m not saying I want Croc to be one of those villains you have empathy for, because he is sadistic, but it’s nice to show that his inclinations are not based on natural instincts and that he has humanistic motivations.  I’m not going to break down every character, but they all have beautifully lucid and cognizant moments in this issue.

Not only do we have nice moments that let the characters shine that seem completely natural and not forced, we also get a ton of humor.  I easily counted a dozen humorous moments or lines.  Even Batman had a small bit that made me chuckle.  Keep in mind that most of this humor is with witty repertoire and doesn’t degrade into slapstick, but for a single instance.  Things frequently fall into the realm of realistic and somber in the present Batman titles, and while there is nothing fun about examining a dead body it’s still nice to try and maintain a bit of levity to balance stuff out.

Just a small note on the pacing here;  in several of the previous issues, they have tried to cram as much as possible into each issue and they just ended up feeling muddled and all over the place, in my opinion.  This issue only has one “check in” scene with a character that we haven’t visited in awhile (Gordon) and the rest is devoted to only two storylines.  The flow of this story is much smoother and having more than just two pages per grouping allows you to flesh stuff out and not seem so rushed.

Andy Clarke handles art duties in this issue and boy, am I happy!  Other than in Eternal #5, you might recall Andy’s work from the backup Man-Bat stories in Detective Comics.  There, he proved that he had quite a handle on depicting monsters through his Man-Bat illustrations.  His strong work in Detective is most likely what earned him the honor of drawing Killer Croc and us the joy of getting to see him draw Croc.  Andy Clarke’s pencil work is immaculate throughout, and this might be the most beautifully rendered I have ever seen Croc.  In my opinion, Clarke has only one area that is both a strength and a weakness: his penchant for drawing realistic expressions.  Sometimes, he nails them and you can understand the tone of the dialogue through the characters’ face/body language alone.  Other times, you don’t even need a word to be uttered to understand, due to the facial expressions.  On the flip side, he will occasionally try an expression that just seems off or silly.  Kind of like when you pause a movie in the middle of some dialogue and the actor’s face looks insane.  My favorite expression in this particular story is the one on Batman’s face right before Croc pounces.  The way Batman’s lips are pursed and the clenching of his jaw really emphasize the tensing of every muscle right before Batman explodes into action.

Now lets talk about that Alex Garner cover!  If you aren’t familiar with Garner, he has been doing all the Batgirl covers recently and even if you aren’t a fan of Batgirl the covers alone have been worth the price of the issues.  His work has an Alex Ross feel to it, but while Ross tries to duplicate reality, there is still something very comic book like about Garner’s work.  I also enjoyed the fact that the cover was an actual event that occurred in the issue.  Sometimes, when you have one artist working cover duty and another working the pages you don’t always get similar portrayals by both artist of the characters at hand; here,  I was happy to see that both Clarke and Garner seemed to be working together to craft something complementary.  I like the occasional cover that is there for no other reason than flash, but every so often it is nice to see a cover that previews an event that we actually get to see.

Spoiler

  • Is that Werner Zytle (Count Vertigo) playing with the toys?!?!?!?!?  Please be so!  That spyral hypnosis thing coming out of just one eye is exactly like Vertigo!
  • Looks like next issue will sport a superhero vs superhero fight that actually has a plausible reason for occurring.
  • “I don’t really speak Portuguese.”  I’m going to let it slide because they threw that “really” in there, Batgirl might not be fluent but she definitely knows Portuguese.
  • Batman says Penny-One 4 times!  I haven’t brought this up for awhile because I felt it would have been beating a dead horse, but 4 times.  I had to say something.  If we are going with the assumption that it is so people don’t connect Alfred with Batman by using his real name, doesn’t the two of them having a personal conversation about Julia where Batman says Pennyworth kind of give up some info to people potential spying on the broadcast signal?  sigh.
  • If Julia eventually gets let in on the secret and joins the team does that mean she will be Penny-Two…….again, sigh.
  • The spot where Croc is mentioning Bane is in reference to the Arkham War mini-series.
  • “Ol’ dead Nightwing”  Wow Hood, that is pretty callus, even for you.
  • I know that these lines are from Jason’s point of view so they make sense since as a Robin he wasn’t better than Babs, but I’m not sure Richard Grayson was ever truly jealous of Batgirl’s mad skills.
  • I guess the Red Hood narration talking up how good Batgirl is was so that in the next issue when Batgirl is giving Hood and Batwoman a hard time it is more believable.
  • In case you don’t remember, that guy with the net looking face that gets killed by Falcone’s henchman was one of the Penguin’s guys.
  • I love that Batman is still being skeptical of Bard.  It’s just such a Batman thing to do.  Love it.
  • “To keep a long story short (too late)”  Anybody out there get that reference?  If so 2 points for you, which can be  redeemed for absolutely nothing.  :)

Interesting Facts:

  • Waylon Jones (Killer Croc) made his first appearance in Batman #357 (1983).  The original Croc wasn’t a mindless beast:  back in the 80’s he was very intelligent and used his smarts and overwhelming physical prowess to become the mob boss of all of Gotham.  A reader recently told me that he had a chance to talk with Gerry Conway, one of Croc’s creators, and that Conway has been very disappointed with the direction they chose to go with his character.
  • The Croc story, here, reminds me of Batman #471 from 1991.  In it, Waylon becomes friends with a bunch of homeless people living in the sewer and protects them at the detriment of his own safety.  While the depiction of Croc still shows him as being unhinged, this story illustrates that the human element of him is not yet completely lost.   It is a wonderful “done in one” story and I highly suggest you pick it up if you ever come across a copy.  It also features my favorite Batman artist ever, Mr. Norm Breyfogle.
  • A visual element of Croc that is now firmly attached to the character, is the inclusion of bandages always being wrapped around his forearms.  Prior to 1993 this was not a visual cue that you were looking at Croc, but in Batman #489 (1993) Bane broke Croc’s arms and afterward, for awhile in the comic, he had casts on his arms.  The look was so cool, especially as the casts began to decay and the bandages hung draped from his arms, that it has been a part of the character ever since.  Even when it isn’t bandages something is usually on his forearms, for instance, in the video game Arkham Asylum Croc is sporting manacles.

Recommended if…

  • You’re a huge fan of Killer Croc.
  • You like seeing a Croc that isn’t all primal and has some humanity left.
  • You’re a fan of Andy Clarke’s artwork.  They need to start giving this guy more to do.
  • You like to focus on the story at hand and not be bouncing around all the time.
  • That cover.  THAT COVER!
  • You’re a fan of humor and wit.  This issue is full of it.
  • You have 3 dollars….and even if you don’t.

Overall:

This issue hit that sweet spot for me.  Exactly the right blend of action to dialogue, along with much better pacing than the last few issues.  The feeling of overcrowding I had been experiencing recently evaporated with the tighter storytelling on display here as well.  This is one issue you should definitely pick up.  Can’t wait to see where this is headed, next issue is sure to be good!

SCORE:  9.5/10