J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
Sometimes the best way to get to know a character is to see them through their villain’s eyes. That’s the case in DC’s Batwoman #21, written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman and drawn by Francesco Francavilla. The story focuses on Killer Croc, who was assumed to be a casualty of the nightmare Medusa had brought to Gotham City, as he contemplates what it means to be a villain and how his life has come to this point.
A little melodramatic for Killer Croc? Maybe, but that’s what I like about this issue. It’s not something you’d expect, which is why I like Batwoman in the first place. Killer Croc, for the first time in his life, has a home. A family. And his newfound desire to protect something that matters to him leads him to look at Batwoman in a whole new light.
Killer Croc was rescued from being found by the authorities by a group of werebeasts there were allied with Kyle Abbot, sometime-ally of Batwoman. However, now that Abbot is dead, this group wants Batwoman’s life in exchange for his. Killer Croc, being a killer and all, has no problem putting the hurt onto any of the Bat-family. However, for the first time, he actually cares about someone in the werebeast cult. Claire, a fellow lizard-person, helped to revive him and even made love to him, a first for the giant reptilian villain. So rather than go blindly looking for a fight, Croc is more introspective of the entire situation.
I think it’s interesting to note that losing his virginity, which is typically a life-changing experience for women in literature, seems to have changed something in Croc. Maybe it’s what causes a sense of obligation to protect someone for the beast. In any case, that injection of devotion really takes its toll on Killer Croc, who takes on a protector’s role rather than a murderer’s one, and that makes all the difference in the world.
Killer Croc tracks down Maggie Sawyer, Batwoman’s love interest, because he’s been tipped off that that the Gotham City detective smells an awful lot like the hero. That’s good enough for Croc and he prepares to ambush Sawyer. However, before he makes his move, Batwoman arrives on the scene and the pair shares an embrace that the villain wasn’t expecting at all.
Thinking that he has an advantage because of a civilian, Croc charges Batwoman. This is where things go sour for Killer Croc, as rather than send the civilian to safety, Batwoman invites Sawyer into the fray. As Batwoman gets tossed around by Croc, Maggie opens fire on him. During the battle, while facing opposition he hadn’t planned on dealing with, Croc reflects on the life that brought him to this point. The loneliness of being different drove him down his murderous path but something he sees in Batwoman’s life, with Maggie’s assistance first and then Hawkfire’s, that makes him start to rethink the course he’s taking.
Surrounded by a power he’s only just coming to understand, love and devotion, Croc abandons his mission to flee. He decides that killing Batwoman isn’t worth what he’s got waiting for him back home, so he runs. He recalls all the times he’s run before, but this time, he actually has some place to go. There’s just one thing he has left to do.
Killer Croc kills the man who sent him on his fool’s errand. “You were gonna get us all killed, ya moron.” Us. Killer Croc, who has until this point been only looking out for himself, sees a greater good worth killing for. Perhaps he saw that, in his battle with Batwoman, you’re only as strong as the people you keep close to you. And now that he has people to be close to, he has an entirely new purpose in life.
What makes this issue so great is the deeply personal story Williams and Blackman are telling about a man who has had nothing to live or die for suddenly having his entire worldview turned on its head. His battle with Batwoman, which had once been because of their differing ideologies, was very different now that he could find some common ground with her. Maybe that’s all that was missing from young Waylon Jones’ life until this point. He could never identify with normal people or normal relationships. His war on Gotham City, on the Bat-family, on humanity as a whole stemmed from not being able to relate.
But with Claire waiting for him underground, counting on him, Croc could see why he was always losing his battles. He didn’t have the same causes as normal people. He couldn’t understand them and their needs. It was why watching Batwoman’s fiancée come to her aid, watching Hawkfire join into the fight without being asked, that triggered a sense of understanding in the beast and forced him to rethink his actions.
Batwoman may have thought she beat the villain physically, but, in reality, she won by showing Croc all the things he could have if he could just think “…long and hard about your next move. You’re going away, one way or another.” She had no way of knowing how right she was, that Croc would literally go away and start over. The bad guy got away, but Batwoman won by representing something bigger than herself.
Has Killer Croc turned over a new leaf? Time will tell. But I think that his encounter with Batwoman has turned him into a better werecrocodile. And maybe that’s all that really matters in the end.