Who is Killer Croc? What motivates him? Is he just a primal beast, or is there more to one of Batman’s strongest, most brutal foes than meets the eye? With Rebirth recently begun and new creative teams plotting out the next few months and years in Gotham, now is the perfect time to get to know Waylon Jones, a.k.a. Killer Croc, as we eagerly await his first appearance on the new Batman landscape.

If you come to comics late—like I do—it’s easy to think of Batman’s Arkham regulars as having always been a part of his story. This is a fair assumption in many cases, with characters like Mr. Freeze, Riddler, Penguin, and the Joker showing up in stories throughout most of the Dark Knight’s publication history. But some of the heaviest hitters are actually quite new. Batman: Arkham: Killer Croc collects an assortment of classic Croc stories, beginning with his first appearances in the early 80s, and spanning the next thirty years into the New 52.

What’s included

This volume contains a mixture of arcs and standalone tales. First up is Croc’s four-part debut, which DC sadly snips, including only the first three installments:

  • “Don’t Mess with Killer Croc”, from Batman #358, originally published in 1983; written by Gerry Conway, with pencils by Curt Swan, inks by Rodin Rodriguez, colors by Adrienne Roy, letters by Ben Oda, and cover art by Ed Hannigan and Dick Giordano
  • “Confrontaion”, from Detective Comics #525, originally published in 1983; written by Gerry Conway, with pencils by Dan Jurgens, inks by Dick Giordano, colors by Adrienne Roy, letters by Ben Oda, and cover art by Ed Hannigan and Giordano
  • “Hunt”, from Batman #359, originally published in 1983; written by Gerry Conway, with pencils by Dan Jurgens, inks by Dick Giordano, colors by Adrienne Roy, letters by Ben Oda, and cover art by Ed Hannigan and Giordano

Next up is a single-issue story from 1991 that paints a much more morally confused—and consequently more sympathetic—picture of Croc than what we sometimes get.

  • “Requiem for a Killer”, from Batman #471, originally published in 1991; written by Alan Grant, with pencils and inks by Norm Breyfogle, colors by Adrienne Roy, letters by Todd Klein, and covert art by Breyfogle

Our third tale is Croc’s pre-Knightfall encounter with Bane, followed by the Robin/Croc/Bane scuffle that takes place during Knightfall proper. I’ll be reviewing these two as a complete set:

  • “Killer’s Bane”, from Batman #489, originally published in 1993; written by Doug Moench, with pencils, inks, and letters by Jim Aparo, colors by Adrienne Roy, and cover art by Travis Charest and Ray McCarthy
  • “Crocodile Tears”, from Detective Comics #660, originally published in 1993; written by Chuck Dixon, with pencils by Jim Balent, inks by Scott Hanna, colors by Adrienne Roy, letters by John Costanza, and cover art by Sam Kieth

Next, we see Croc’s appearance on the post-Knightfall scene, as he tangles with Dick Grayson—now Batman—and Robin:

  • “Prodigal Part 1”, from Batman #512, originally published in 1994; written by Doug Moench, with pencils by Mike Gustovich, inks by Romeo Tanghal, colors by Adrienne Roy, letters by Ken Bruzenak, and cover art by Mike Manley

Frequent collaborators Doug Moench and Kelley Jones are the team behind our next story, as Croc tries to find acceptance far from Gotham:

  • “Killer Croc: Fast Train to the Wet Dark”, from Batman #521, originally published in 1995; written by Doug Moench, with pencils by Kelley Jones, inks by John Beatty, colors by Greg Wright, letters by Todd Klein, and cover art by Jones
  • “Swamp Things”, from Batman #522, originally published in 1995; written by Doug Moench, with pencils by Kelley Jones, inks by John Beatty, colors by Greg Wright, letters by Todd Klein, and cover art by Jones

Next up is a short-but-well-done “silent film”, as Croc works his way back to Gotham:

  • “Workin’ My Way Back To You”, from Batman Chronicles #3, originally published in 1996; written by Chuck Dixon, with pencils by Gabriel Hardman (credited as “Gabriel Gecko” within the actual comic pages), inks by Robert Campanella, colors by Patricia Mulvihll, letters by Clem Robins, and cover art by Brian Bolland

A series of backups from the post-War Games Gotham are collected as one installment:

  • “The Beast Beneath”, from Detective Comics #808-810, originally published in 2005; written by Andersen Gabrych, with pencils by Tommy Castillo, inks by Rodney Ramos, colors by Jason Wright, letters by Nick J. Napolitano, and cover art by Ramon Bachs

The Joker even gets to weigh in on poor Waylon, who’s still struggling to belong:

  • “Beauty and the Beast”, from Joker’s Asylum: Killer Croc #1, originally published in 2010; written by Mike Raicht, with pencils and inks by David Yardin, Cliff Richards, and Rodney Ramos (inks on pg. 21), colors by Jose Villarrubia, letters by Patrick Brosseau, and cover art by Francesco Mattina

We finish things off in the New 52, with a Tim Seeley tale from the Batman and Robin series:

  • “Blood in the Water”, from Batman and Robin #23.4, originally published in 2013; written by Tim Seeley, with pencils and inks by Francis Portela, colors by Tomeu Morey, letters by John J. Hill, and cover art by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, and John Kalisz

Croc’s first appearance

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Okay, so it’s not technically his first appearance. That would be an issue earlier, in Batman #357; however, the footnotes in this arc seem to indicate that Batman’s earlier experience with Croc was indirect and from a distance. Batman #358, Detective #525, Batman #359, and Detective #526 chronicle the Dark Knight’s first face-to-face, hand-to-hand encounter with the atavistic terror.

I love the character that Conway establishes in Croc. Most of my (limited) prior experience with Waylon depicts a primal brute out-stupided only by the likes of Solomon Grundy. Here instead we see a tragic picture of a child deprived of any normalcy by his condition, orphaned by the death of his mother as she birthed him, raised by an aunt from whom he received no love. Without making light of his many sins, I find myself rather sympathetic to his plight; his descent into crime was well-cultivated by neglect and scorn, and I can’t help but feel broken-hearted for this man born (and raised) at such a disadvantage.

There are plenty of other things to love in these first installments: Batman’s dedication to detail-oriented detective work, Dan Jurgens’ artwork, and some new (to me) background on Jason Todd. There’s also this fantastic “so Batman” moment late in the second chapter that I won’t spoil for you, but you’ll know it when you see it.

It isn’t all perfect, though (is it ever?). There are some jarring transitions between scenes and locations, as Conway attempts to juggle several plotlines. Bruce also has a bit of a hissy fit and freaks out at Dick without any justification, and as much as I don’t like to see Bruce being a jerk, the real problem here isn’t my preference, but how there doesn’t seem to be any convincing cause for such an outburst in the story.

My biggest complaint is definitely the lack of that final chapter. This was a great introductory arc for Killer Croc, and I would have loved to have read its conclusion inline with the rest of it. There’s a strong possibility that Croc has something to do with the death of Jason’s parents (well, one of them, anyway), and I want to pull that thread. This trade won’t let me do it, though.

Complaints aside, this is a great start to the volume. If I have to read an entire book centered around one villain, it helps to make him interesting right off the bat; and, make no mistake, this is not the one-dimensional Killer Croc that I remember from the Arkham games, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a very good thing.

Requiem for a Killer

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Where the first story gives us sympathy for Croc as a result of his origin, “Requiem” shows us his present humanity, further emphasizing the tragedy of his condition and what he’s become. Grant gives Croc folks to care about, and his desire to protect them puts he and Batman on the same side by the end, both working together to save the sort of people that society ignores and forgets.

What Breyfogle’s artwork lacks in refinement, it more than makes up for in style. The opening spread above is just one example of that, but there are several others throughout. This vision of Croc tormented by Batman is a well-executed visual, and a necessary counterweight to the villain’s decision to work with the hero later on.

I’m hoping we get to see Killer Croc in Rebirth real soon, and not just in the Suicide Squad book. There’s a great dynamic in “Requiem” between Batman and Croc that I’d love for Tom King or James Tynion to reestablish (and if Tynion, I’d love to see current Detective artist Eddy Barrows’ take on the character, as well).

Croc and Bane

I’ve only been reading comics since 2013. Like most newcomers, I set out to read the major stories from Batman’s history, and my interest in Bane led me to Knightfall early on. As you might imagine, Croc’s role in that story (and its buildup) is secondary, and as such, he lacks any depth aside from what we bring in from prior books. That’s not to say these two chapters are boring, and the “Croc-as-quasi-hero” motif from “Requiem” continues here; but there’s just a lot more going on because of the overarching narrative. Moreso than any of the other installments in Batman: Arkham : Killer Croc, these Knightfall tie-ins are dependent parts of a much larger, external story.

Moench and Dixon open their scripts with a rather poetic voiceover, and I appreciate the treatment of Croc by both writers. Even when Dixon describes him in more animalistic terms, it is cast against the damage done to him by Bane. Unfortunately—at least if you’re reading this for Croc–he’s absent from many of the scenes in Dixon’s script, and when he does show up, he gets his scaly tush handed to him.

Of the two principal artists, I’m partial to Balent. Both gentlemen provide excellent layouts, but Balent’s figures and facial work are more refined, whereas Aparo’s tend toward goofy (have a look at Bane’s muscles). Overall, though, there’s solid storytelling from both.

These Knightfall tie-ins aren’t necessarily the best Killer Croc stories, but they do capture a significant moment in his history, and I particularly enjoyed the first installment, which sets some context for the second one, which I read in the Knightfall trade a few years ago. Ultimately, the bouncing around in the second part makes it a bit harder to invest in as a standalone, but if you’ve read Knightfall, that’s an easier problem to overcome.

Prodigal

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After reclaiming the mantle of the Bat from Azrael, Bruce heads off into the world to find himself. Or something. As he does, he passes the cape and cowl to the one who should have taken it last time: Dick Grayson. Dick’s first day back is also Croc’s first day back, the villain now hungry for revenge on Bane (who is currently warming a cell in Blackgate). With the man who beat him out of the picture, Croc settles for a scuffle with Dickbats and Robin.

This is still a dependent part, tying into the larger “Prodigal” storyline, but it’s also a good  tie-up of Croc’s Knightfall arc, and Moench includes plenty of nice, small details that add a lot of value to this one all by itself. There’s a flashback from Dick’s early years at the Manor, Dick and Tim trying to make do without Alfred around (even if this story doesn’t really explain why Alfred’s not here), and Dick dealing with the pressure of being the Batman instead of depending on Batman. I also like Gordon’s perceptiveness in discerning that Dick is not the original Batman.

If you’re a relative newbie like me, it’s also interesting to see Dick learn of Croc for the first time. Prior to reading this, I never realized that Dick wasn’t around when Croc first appeared on the scene. It’s a nice layer to add to the rich history of Batman, and—in my opinion—a great example of continuity helping comics feel that much more real, and thus more worth the investment of your time.

Artistically, Gustovich is a bit too eager to tilt the camera, but his layouts and finishes are otherwise above average. The showdown between Croc and our heroes is full of motion and excitement, and I like the shots Gustovich chooses to capture. Adrienne Roy—whose work graces roughly half of this volume—stands out here, as well, especially in the general aesthetic of Gotham at sunset—whether at the docks or in the business district.

While Croc isn’t the focal point, “Prodigal Part 1” is a solid story. It’s not entirely self-contained, but neither does it lean too heavily on its future parts. I enjoyed it the first time through, and am enjoying it again even now.

Fast Train/Swamp Things

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For the longest time, I couldn’t stand looking at Kelley Jones’ artwork. The huge bat-ears, goofy faces, and odd proportions that define his style flew against the far more serious, grounded approach that I favored as a fan of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series. But a strange thing happened a few months ago: while looking for books to review for Batman News, I stumbled upon Batman: Unseen in my local library. After one read, my opinions on Jones largely solidified, and I didn’t care much for Doug Moench’s drippy, dramatic dialogue and voiceover, either. But as I sat down to write my review, I found myself enjoying Unseen more and more. My horizons broadened to include the quirky stylings of Moench and Jones, to the point that I would now even consider them one of my favorite teams in the history of Batman comics.

I was therefore excited to come to this two-part Moench/Jones/Croc/Swamp Thing team-up. The staples are all here: theatrical language, exaggerated, often-comical facial work, large ears, and enormous capes. But as in the case of Unseen, the team even manages to sneak in some interesting, less-bizarre concepts that my head—disarmed by the humorous nature of the rest of the story—can process without the distraction of the horror that fills most of the remaining stories in this volume.

Once you’ve read this far into the trade, it’s apparent that Croc’s greatest human desire is peace. Swamp Thing offers him a path toward that peace, and away from the civilization that tempts him into conflict, but Batman plays something of an adversary, determined to bring Croc to justice. Not having read a great deal of Swamp Thing stories, I was intrigued by his lack of concern for the affairs of the human world around him, and moved by his concern for Croc. Moench’s entire concept of coming home to the swamp is a smart one, but it is Swamp Thing’s characterization that really makes it work.

Jones, for his part, supplies plenty of the comic relief you would expect, but just as often delivers stunning panels shrouded in shadow. I love his Batman silhouettes, his perspectives, and especially his Croc, peeking out of the dark as he does in the image above (which reminds me a lot of Black Mask in Unseen).

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I prefer my Batman stories in Gotham, but this crossover is less about Batman himself than it is about Killer Croc, and I thoroughly enjoyed the trip to the swamp. As ever, Moench and Jones are the perfect tour guides on strange terrain, and they deliver one of my favorite stories in the volume.

Workin’ My Way Back To You

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I’m a man of simple tastes: I like a warm bed, meat and potatoes, and larger-than-life comic book characters punching livestock in the face.

There isn’t much to say about this one—it’s fairly short and without any text. It does, however, give us an entertaining visual account of Croc’s journey back to Gotham from the swamp. Hardman’s storytelling is outstanding, and makes this well worth revisiting, even as it offers only a small set of simple pleasures.

The Beast Beneath

A series of backups from Detective, this story is the first in the volume to depict Croc’s transition toward the more animalistic appearance that he has sported in more recent years. This change is credited to a virus introduced by Hush, and we spend most of this installment on Croc’s pursuit of a cure from Dr. Maria Bellezza, someone who’s helped him before.

The story is, overall, pretty chilling, with lots of grisly Croc moments (including him biting off almost half of someone’s upper body). Gabrych—whose writing I usually find lacking—does an admirable job depicting Croc’s struggle against indulging his increasingly animalistic tendencies, and there’s a sense of foreboding and inevitable disappointment that propels you from one page to the next, even if it isn’t always fun to look at.

Tommy Castillo’s pencils are for the most part decent, with good layouts, faces, and figures. My biggest complaint is with his depiction of Dr. Bellezza. There’s no indication that she has any sultry elements to her characterization—as opposed to someone like Ivy or Selina—but Castillo nonetheless renders her as eye-candy every chance he gets. It’s quite unnecessary, and distracts from the serious business at hand.

This is by no means a bad story, but it is also my least favorite in the whole book.  I doubt I’ll be revisiting it.

Beauty and the Beast

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How about that title page? If earlier stories in this volume established Killer Croc as a sympathetic character, this one—at least early on—sets him up as one bad mama-jama. Baller move, Croc.

Told by the Joker from inside Arkham, this tale is another take on the tragedy of Croc’s quest to find a place where he belongs. A low-level crook with greater ambitions enlists Croc’s help, he and his wife manipulating the poor villain with feigned respect and trust. As is always the case, the good for Croc just doesn’t last, and the story ends with him broken once again.

By this point in the book, I feel like I’m on Croc’s side, even in spite of the horrible things he’s done, because as much as he is responsible for his own bad choices, he has also been pushed in every way imaginable by the uncivil citizens of the so-called civilized world. Mike Raicht writes Croc perfectly, giving him no dialogue until the second-to-last page, instead allowing the artists the chance to tell Croc’s side of the story visually, which they do quite well. And when he finally does speak, it’s positively heartbreaking:

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Even as “Beauty and the Beast” feels short because of its storytelling style, it is one of the best parts in the book, one worth many repeat readings.

Blood in the Water

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We at last come to the final tale in Batman: Arkham: Killer Croc. It lacks the depth of some of the best stories in the collection, but it is a pretty well-scripted one-and-done, and it has some nice nods to earlier stories also collected here.

The artwork is likewise nicely done, both in the layouts and the figures, and I was especially happy to see Croc’s form more closely resemble his earlier appearances (which, incidentally, also more closely resembles his portrayal in the upcoming Suicide Squad film).

My biggest problem is that Seeley’s inner monologue for Croc, while nicely written, doesn’t sound like Croc’s voice. His description of his atavism, and the line he draws from that to Gotham, seems much more like something Scott Snyder would have written for Batman.

It isn’t the best, but it isn’t the worst, either. “Blood in the Water” is just decent—maybe worth reading again at some point, but not some point soon.

Bonus material

There isn’t much extra here, but you do get some Killer Croc info pages and two pinups.

Value: New

This is almost three hundred pages, and you can get a hard copy for fourteen bucks. Factor in the high quality of most of the stories, and even the serviceable quality of the low points, and that price is a steal.

Overall

I started this book with little knowledge of or interest in Killer Croc. I ended it with a new addition to my list of favorite Batman characters, and that is all thanks to some darn-good storytellers telling a largely consistent tale across thirty years. Croc is a much more compelling character than he may seem on the surface, and the writers and artists in this volume do an excellent job of preserving what makes him interesting, even across years and varying creative styles. If you already love Killer Croc, or you’re interested in learning more about his tragic past and present, this book is well worth your time and money.

SCORE: 8/10