Lex Luthor. The Joker. Darkseid. For the most part, the titular bad guys taking over comic shops in September as part of DC Comics' Villains Month are heavy hitting villains whose brain power often matches their brawn.
And then there's Killer Croc.
Taking the spotlight in a comic labeled "Batman And Robin" #23.4, Batman's musclebound reptilian foe is getting his first major New 52 spotlight courtesy of writer Tim Seeley and artist Francis Portela. And though the villain known as Waylon Jones is most commonly seen as a brutish, mindless beast these days, he once held a place in Batman's rogues gallery as a tough and formidable underworld boss in stories by creators Gerry Conway, Gene Colan and Ed Hannigan. And after this one-shot, Seeley told CBR News, that may be the take fans will be coming back to.
"I think there's a tendency to tell stories about Croc where he's just a monster who doesn't understand things. Maybe he can't understand romance or people, and it's just dumb," Seeley explained. "At the end of all these Croc stories, he just flops down and gets arrested. I don't know why. I knew I had to tell a story about how, despite his obvious difficulties in looking like a monster and everybody thinking he's dumb, he rises above that. What's he got going for him? What are the things that make Croc completely different from all the other Batman bad guys?"
The writer came upon that take as a challenge since initially he was unsure what to do with Croc. "Generally when I get a call from Marvel or DC, I inevitably find myself in a position where I'm going 'Oh sh--!'" he laughed. "In this case, they called me and said, 'How do you like Batman stuff?' And I said, 'I love Batman stuff!' Then they said, 'How would you like to write Killer Croc?' And I immediately thought, 'Oh sh--!' because my first reaction was, 'I have no idea what to do with Croc.' It was the same when Marvel called and said, 'Do you want to write Ant-Man?' But I always say yes, and then after sitting down and thinking about it, I know I can come up with something cool."
Thanks to his work on horror fare such as his own "Hack/Slash," Seeley was tapped specifically to reinvigorate Killer Croc. "I had been talking to [editor] Joey Cavalieri for a while about doing something at DC, but nothing ever really came out of it. Then he thought of me for this. 'Oh, I got a big monster guy and kind of a horror story.' I guess my name came up with that. They gave me pretty specific directions about it. It had to be a story about Killer Croc that showed him in his element and showed why he was a formidable bad guy. I think there's a tendency to just show him as a big dumb muscle guy, so this had to display his formidability.
"Structurally, they wanted to see some of his origin story as it relates to him now, but we weren't beholden to any previous continuity. If we wanted to modernize and tweak it, we were totally allowed to do that. There was structure in there, but there was room for me to find how I could put my own spin on it. My in was just that I didn't want to tell a story about a guy with an alligator on his head. That's too inhuman. I needed to have a face and eyes and expressions."
As Villains Month focuses on the bad guys as the "hero" of their story, Seeley's Killer Croc tale won't be about the slithery enforcers latest failings against the Dark Knight. Instead, the writer said he's focusing on Croc's place as an outcast amongst Gotham City's rogues gallery. "How does that relate to living in a city like Gotham where at any time you can get punched in the face by Batman or run into the Joker, Riddler or Penguin trying to steal the same things you are?"
On the artistic side of the equation, the writer said Portela proves a good match for Batman's world as he's been finding his own way to script a classic Gotham comic. "I think there's such an established thematic and stylistic feel to what is a Batman story, you have to take that into account," he said. "I can't write this the same way I write 'Hack/Slash.' There are elements of style, but I have to think about how what Batman has become is a fusion of gritty crime noir and crazy, almost professional wrestling costumes and some really emo reflection on our pain and difficulties in life. I had to get myself back into that kind of thing. But fortunately, like every other kid who grew up reading Batman comics, I've kept up with things over the years. It's a mythology you're familiar with, and when you go back into it, you just have to hit the right voice."
"Batman And Robin" #23.4: Killer Croc" ships on September 25 from DC Comics.