One of the things that struck me almost immediately about “Batwoman” #21 was that J.H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman and Francesco Francavilla had tied up a loose thread (or at least woven it back in) without feeling like it was an unnecessary diversion. Often, stories like this can feel inconsequential or a throw-away, and considering this issue is an interlude during part of a larger story, that was a distinct possibility. Instead, “Batwoman” #21 makes me somewhat eager to eventually see Williams and Blackman return to this forgotten thread.
It would have been easy, after all, to simply wave a hand at Killer Croc’s appearance in the last “Batwoman” storyline. Transformed by Medusa, the writers could posit that with her defeat that everything was back to normal and go along their merry way. Instead, Williams and Blackman delve deep into the psyche of Killer Croc, and find out what makes the man who was named Waylon Jones tick. What surprised me was how compelling Williams and Blackman make Croc. He’s still a low level villain and a bit of a loser — at one point early on, Croc even thinks to himself, “I’m always gettin’ to the big game and never touchin’ the trophy. Always on the losin’ team.” “Batwoman” #21 doesn’t try to redeem the character or make him some sort of unsung hero. Instead, Williams and Blackman show Croc stumble through life, get manipulated and end up with his life on a different track than it was when the issue started.
It’s that last point that makes “Batwoman” #21 work above all the rest, although there’s a lot to be said just for watching Croc muddle through basic decisions. But I appreciated that Williams and Blackman avoid the obvious route of just putting Croc back at square one. The book on some level is avoiding that trap all along; they didn’t just revert him after Medusa got ahold of him, and we don’t get another “Croc being led off to Arkham” image either. Instead, this is a story that’s going somewhere. Considering this is just an interlude issue, that makes it all the more impressive. Wherever Croc ends up, this should be fun to watch.
Williams and Blackman also don’t lose track of Batwoman or her own supporting cast in this issue, even though it focuses on Croc. One of the best moments of the comic is when Croc first attacks Batwoman, and we’re reminded of the difference between Batwoman and Maggie Sawyer’s relationship and that of so many other superheroes and their romantic partners. When Croc explains how he thought that Batwoman was going to waste time trying to defend Maggie, only to have both of them start attacking him, I literally laughed out loud. It’s a funny moment because of Croc’s surprise, but it’s also a great moment for the duo as they each use their own skills to attack the villain. Maggie’s “You’re under arrest” moment is paced perfectly, and it’s nice to see the non-title-character get a little spotlight of her own.
Francavilla’s art’s been showing up everywhere lately, it seems, and I like that he’s in demand. His page layouts are great, with panels aligned to look like scales, or gently waving to match the curves in the blade that Croc is brandishing. Every page is approached not as a collection of panels, but as an individual piece of art in its own right that can then be broken up into smaller (equally individual) artistic selections. On the page where Croc is spying on Batwoman and Maggie, look how the eyes are at the top of the page, the mouth at the bottom, and the action in-between. Each of the six panels works well in telling Williams and Blackman’s story, but Francavilla’s art turns the entire page into something that can also be appreciated as a whole.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Francavilla’s art style is still strong, too. I like his color choices with the greens and oranges, and how he uses each addition of a new hue as an artistic choice in its own right. Lots of fine lines are on display here, and the strange animal/human hybrids look wonderfully alien under Francavilla’s pen. The quieter moments also come across nicely here; Maggie sitting on a car hood drinking coffee, or just the scene of a library? They’re handled with just as much care as big, climactic fight scenes. And that final page? Wow. Beautifully drawn and designed, with that final panel perfectly understated yet handing a final punch from Williams and Blackman’s script.
“Batwoman” #21 is not only a good example of how to handle a fill-in artist stepping on board for a month, but it’s that rare kind of comic where the more you read it, the more you appreciate it. Every time through you find something new to like, and that to me is what makes a strong comic. All in all, well done.