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Original Airdate: June 11, 2005
Writers: Thomas Pugsley & Greg Klein
Director: Brandon Vietti
Let’s play pretend for a moment, shall we?
Imagine that you’re a seasoned comic book scribe, a man of humble tastes who’s recently left Stan and Friends for the Distinguished Competition. You know your craft well – enough that you’re writing for Batman, one of the company’s biggest cash cows. Even better, Batman and Detective Comics had settled their differences and merged their borders years ago, allowing DC
to milk one story for the price of two that much more space to chronicle the Dark Knight’s adventures.
But as late, the management’s decided that things have gotten a little… stale. Shake-ups in the status quo are called for – nothing too drastic, you realize, but enough to draw in new readers while keeping a tight grip on the old dogs. Plans for a new Robin are already coming along nicely, but what’s really needed is a new villain – someone who can shake Gotham up like never before, test the Bat like none ever have.
Well, you’re not man to run from challenges, and you rise to the occasion. This new rogue on the block’s gonna be tougher and stronger and smarter and uglier than all the rest put together. And everyone’s gonna know it, too, ’cause he’ll be taking over all Gotham’s gangs in a multi-issue story, with every one of the Bat’s other villains along for the ride just so everyone will see what chumps they are next to the champ. Yep, even the Joker.
And when all’s said and done, this new guy will break the Bat, or
die trying come closer than anyone else has.
What? Bane? Who’s that? I’m talkin’ about this handsome fella:
(By the way, it seems that I owe That Other Show’s Clayface an apology. Croc – especially in his early days – lifted way more from Ben Grimm, down to the speedos.)
Created by Spider-Man legend Gerry Conway, Killer Croc was more or less the Bane of the ’80s, and his debut arc was Conway’s swan-song on the Batman books. That story as a whole hasn’t aged especially well (save for one part in a zoo that still gave me the chills when I revisited it recently), but it becomes a bit more interesting in the context of what happened to Croc afterward.
See, a lot of these Ultimate Batman Villains™ tend to only have as much staying power as their creators do (anyone remember KGBeast? Bonecrusher? Hell, even Hush has kinda fallen victim to this), and for a few years after Conway’s run, Croc wasn’t looking like an exception. Post-Conway creators pulled him out for a cameo every now and then, but mostly he just sat there, gathering dust while their Ultimate Batman Villains ran amok.
But then… well, I don’t know exactly what happened, but writers started taking an interest in him again.* As early as Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum one-shot in 1989, he was considered an indispensable part of the Arkham crowd. While some stories (including two of the worst Batman Elseworlds to ever see print) followed Morrison’s lead and turned Croc from “ruthless gangboss with anger issues and horrible skin condition” into “savage, unintelligent animal obsessed with eating people”, others portrayed him as a Frankenstein-esque sympathetic monster, and some even tried resurrecting the gangboss angle, including our old friend…
Unfortunately, while Dixon’s take (which expertly combined the aspiring mobster with the sympathetic outcast) is probably my favorite Croc, the version that’s stuck around with fandom the most is probably Paul Dini’s. Yes, he did give us one of the most terrifying and/or tedious bits in Batman: Arkham Asylum, but I think we all know what I’m really talking about.
The funniest part is that – spoiler – that’s not actually Croc at the card table, but for better or worse, “Almost Got ‘im” was so lauded that it permanently embedded the idea of Croc the rock-obsessed moron into fandom. It even started influencing Croc’s later appearances on the show, despite the fact that his debut painted him as cunning enough to frame a cop for murder. Bah.
Alright, maybe I’m being a little too bitter about that admittedly delightful bit of comedy. Let’s see how The Batman tackles good ol’ Waylon, shall we?
Like Croc’s debut on That Other Show, we start off with a horror-movie kind of opening. But where Croc’s scenes in the first act of “Vendetta” were frantic in both animation and music (not to mention his victim’s melodramatic screams), the keyword for this Croc is sleek. Despite being much, much bigger, he slips through Gotham’s rivers with nary a ripple, and even his first victims are a bit… suaver, being professional jewel thieves instead of skittish stool-pigeons.
They’re intimidated by Croc all the same, but really, who wouldn’t be?
(Man-Bat better look out, or his coveted “Batman villain who rips off the Lizard most” trophy is goin’ straight out the window.)
Like Catwoman, Croc gets a fairly straight translation of what he looked like in the comics around then (long story short, Hush injected him with a super-duper-mutagen virus thingy and everyone just kinda forgot to make an antidote). But not to worry – this show’s haters found something else to complain about. Namely, his “hick accent”.
I dunno about you, but I like it. Why?
- Croc’s canon backstory puts him as a native of either Florida or Louisiana, usually the poorest parts to boot. So really, this is the more faithful take.
- Despite the stereotype, the accent actually makes Croc sound more articulate next to the guttural growls of Aron Kincaid (RIP) and Brooks Gardner.
- You do not diss Ron motherfucking Perlman. Ron Perlman will find you. He will find your friends. And he will plant explosive nanobots into their bloodstream.
With a new gang well in hand, Croc immediately sets off stealing random shit around Gotham, and strikes nine times before Batman decides to get off his ass and do something about it. While Bruce
‘s computer lays out the usual kid-friendly deductions, Alfred starts introducing another indispensable element of the Bat-mythos.
kleptomania shrine trophy room is one of those things that almost every Batman fan knows and adores, even those who otherwise insist that Batman only fight murderers and rapists, Robin be given the boot, and the Joker should never make a single joke because HE’S NO LAUGHING MATTER, BUB. There’s just something inherently fun about the whole idea that can touch even the most jaded fan’s inner child, I suppose, and it’s made for a lot of kickass Batcave spreads from artists as varied as Norm Breyfogle, Marshall Rogers, and the incomparable Dick Sprang.
(Strangely enough, I’m fairly sure that it never showed up on That Other Show aside from an off-hand reference to Batman keeping Two-Face’s giant penny – well, unless you count that one issue of the tie-in comic.)
Now, a fair amount of stories tend to be coy about where each trophy came from, but The Batman uses it as a straight Continuity Cavalcade, which I can’t really disapprove of. Sure, it raises a few questions about when he had the time to haul these things into the cave, never mind whether it’s legal/ethical to keep it from the police (I suppose that’s why he keeps calling these little souvenirs “evidence”), but I love the attention to detail too much to care.
Where was I? Oh, right – Croc. Batman figures out he keeps striking near water, so off to Gotham Bay he goes. He finds Croc and his gang pretty quick, and for their insolence against Ron Perlman earlier, the latter are given the worst fate imaginable: an off-screen takedown.
The big boss fight with Croc starts out a little weird (though I guess Pugsley and Klein should be given credit for being creative with the environment), but it gets sweet when it comes down to hand-to-
hand claw. That Other Show’s Croc – like most of its fighters – emphasized weight above all else, but this Croc emphasizes speed. As he should, since crocodiles are fast motherfuckers in real life.
And when Batman lands a lucky hit? Croc decides it’s time to take a little swim.
This part is pretty well-directed and animated, and I can almost feel Batman suffocating in that murky water. Of course, he makes a narrow escape a couple minutes later – he’s still got a toyline to support, after all.
Croc and his gang go back to the Standard-Issue Sewer Hideout, at which point Richie decides to start mouthing off about their new boss for no particular reason. That goes about as well as you’d expect.
Older fans may be disappointed that Croc didn’t break his legs or make him into gumbo or something, but I kinda like a Croc who doesn’t need violence (or even a raised voice) to intimidate.
Anyways, Croc reveals his evil master plan: flood Gotham so he and his men can loot it at will. That’s… pretty much it.
A real American hero, he is. Unlike some people who’d rather pose for a Fall Out Boy cover ’cause their costume got all wet.
Bruce’s brooding time gets interrupted by a flash newscast: a huge patch of Gotham, including the financial district, has been flooded. Out-of-touch plutocrat he is, he naturally ignores all those vampire skeletons in the water and concentrates on the fact that Croc just… happens to be helping himself to some payment for a job well done.
So Batman slips on
the newest toy variant a totally necessary and well-foreshadowed waterproof costume, goes down to the financial district, and engages in the most crazy awesome sport known to man.
We’re still not in the third act yet, so Croc wins this round too. But Batman doesn’t come out of it totally empty-handed…
Believe it or not, this Bat-interrogation is even lamer than the one from “The Big Dummy”. Batman doesn’t even touch the guy before he starts spitting out a bunch of rushed possible backstories for Croc: military experiment, circus freak, voodoo victim…
With all that potential fanfic material out of the way, Batman gets the location of Croc’s hideout from the guy and heads down there to pick himself up a new crocodile-skin wallet. Croc, who’s too busy dealing with Gotham’s remaining vampires for this shit, is happy to oblige.
Okay, Croc having attack crocodiles at his command might seem gimmicky (not to mention unpleasantly reminiscent of That Other Show’s Sewer King), especially since he’s already got human backup in this episode, but this is once again something that goes all the way back to Croc’s debut in the comics. That, uh, “part in the zoo” I mentioned in the prelude? It involved Croc feeding Jason Todd’s parents to hungry crocodiles.**
I mean, we don’t see it on-page or anything, but somehow, that just makes it worse.
Anyways, while Batman buries Croc’s crocs under a shit-ton of rubble (actually a step down from how his predecessor handles uppity reptiles), Croc gets ready to flood all of downtown Gotham by reversing the polarity of the city’s canal pumps. Or something. Cue the big final fight-scene.
Yeah, the fights are really the strong point (some would say the only point) of this episode, and this one’s fairly unique, since half of it consists of Croc and Batman playing keep-away with the pump-wheel. ‘sides, what can I say – Bruce fighting dirty is always worth a watch.
So Gotham (and its remaining vampires) are saved partly because Batman tricked Croc into turning the wheel the other way. Croc is understandably kinda pissed, but like Daddy Croc always said: there’s nuthin’ a little time at the swimmin’ hole can’t fix.
Batman saves himself this time by – I shit you not – nitpicking a comment Alfred made back in the cave.
As we all hopefully know from grade school and/or The Magic School Bus, crocodiles aren’t amphibians. More importantly, Batman’s the one with a rebreather.
So our hero breaks free from Croc’s grip, slips the rebreather on, and makes Croc’s turf into his turf. And when a desperate Croc tries to surface for air, Batman uses his grappling hook to keep the guy just inches from the surface until Croc’s lungs give out.
Yep. This is officially the second time this Batman has drowned a criminal into submission. Saturday-morning wuss, my ass.
But because a superhero must stand for the lives of all, not just pretty-looking, law-abiding people, Batman takes it upon himself to resuscitate Croc. With the rebreather, people. With the rebreather.
Any uncomfortable subtext is reserved for the next scene.
And so our hero returns home, having learned a valuable lesson in appreciating taxonomic pedantry and also carrying one of Croc’s broken fangs for his
stalker shrine evidence room. The end.
Not really the most emotionally or intellectually gripping tale, I’ll admit, but Killer Croc stories rarely are. Ron Perlman does wonders with what’s largely a one-note role, and the cocky, affable twang he gives Croc (even when Croc is talking about how he’ll be murdering tens of thousands of innocent people) makes all but the most groanworthy one-liners work. And, if nothing else, the fights may be the best that The Batman‘s offered yet.
And in case you’ve forgotten, “hick” Croc eventually migrated to the world of Lego Batman, so as far as I’m concerned, he’s got the sweetest deal of them all.
* I’m told that Croc’s loss of intellect in the comics can be directly traced back to Rick Veitch having Batman nerve-gas him in the pages of Swamp Thing, but I’ll have to take their word for it, as I’m not even finished with the Moore run yet.
** Pre-Crisis Jason, not the one you probably remember from Under the Red Hood. For newbies, this will hopefully illuminate things.