With August comes summer swelter and…the carnival! Yes, scruffy carnies preparing food-like products, assembling death-trap rides, and running rigged games. Good times. Then there are the side shows with their giant rats and bearded ladies. And those are just the employees! In honor of this poor-man’s amusement park, we’re looking and villains and antagonists who are associated with the carnival. I might take liberties with the association, but ‘s all good, man.
Moving from the refined lord of strategy and crime Ra’s Al Ghul, we meet Killer Croc. Change is the spice of life, right? We’ll be focusing on Batman: The Animated Series, season 3 episode 10: Sideshow.
What can Killer Croc teach us about ourselves? A lot.
Killer Croc first appeared in Detective Comics #523, where he was Waylon Jones. A criminal with grand dreams, he wanted to become a leading force in the crime world. Unlike the anthropomorphized croc we see in later incarnations, he instead preferred working from the shadows. Stealth tactics like sniping were his MO. His name came from his hardened skin.
In Batman: The Animated Series, Killer Croc evolved, or maybe devolved, into having gray, knobby hide, no hair, and no cheek skin.
After an abusive childhood, he became a pro wrestler, but I doubt he was as popular as The Rock. Unless maybe he wore a mask?
Killer Croc isn’t a favorite villain of mine, I’ll be honest. I know Dr. Andrea Letamendi, Clinical Psychologist, over at Arkham Sessions (go listen to the podcast of the episode!) loves him, but he’s basically just a really smart thug. Period. Since it’s honesty time, I have to point out that a lot of a villain’s appeal is their looks. Sorry, but hotness plays big role in charisma.
Due to his appearance, people mistreat and insult him. They also underestimate him. While the former drives him to rage, the latter is a blessing in disguise. It comes into play in this episode, Sideshow.
Ugliness is useful, but it’s reserved for intimidation. Intimidation isn’t as versatile as charm. You know the adage, “You catch more wasps with Mt Dew than a fly swatter”? Okay, so that’s my new, improved, accurate version. If your targets are humans and not, I dunno, Klingons or orcs, manipulation and charm work wonders. Just ask Lex Luthor, Loki, Moriarty, Hannibal… The list goes on.
It’s amazing how much you can get away with if you are personable and say/do it with a smile. A shocking number of people think insults are jokes if you grin while saying them.
One interesting thing about Croc is the fact that he’s an intelligent thug capable of using strategy and subtly to achieve his goals. While he’s super strong and brutal, he only uses brawn if he needs to. This changes in later incarnations, especially after his devolution was accelerated.
It’s good to remember that direct force against a problem is rarely the best approach. In Jujitsu, one of the esoteric principles is that one man can move a boat that is floating, but a group of men can hardly move a boat that’s grounded. Croc “floats” his targets and enemies. In other words, he manipulates situations so his enemies are sinking, out of their element, with circumstances crashing down on them. He puts them in his element, where he can move them with little force or effort.
We’d do well to follow his example: Reframe your problems so that you have the advantage. Play to your strengths.
Welcome to the Freakshow
Croc is in chains, riding a prison transport train. The corrections officers think everything’s all nailed down, namely his chains. Oops. Croc tears free and makes a break from the train.
Batman, of course, was aboard, since he needs to supervise every prisoner transfer. If you wanna commit a crime in Gotham, just do it when one of the Rogues Gallery is in play. Really, Batman should camp out at Arkham Asylum and wait for breakouts. They happen every week or so, which means he’d be spending his time more efficiently. Then again, I dunno why Wayne Enterprises doesn’t just take over Arkham and run it like a proper place of detention. Stonegate Prison doesn’t have nearly as many problems…
Batman and Croc go on a merry chase through the woods. Croc pushes over a tree and climbs across it to the other side of a canyon. Then he makes it rain…boulders, that is, when Batman follows.
Croc falls into the river below, however. He’s rescued by a kid with painfully cute eyes and…painfully awkward flipper hands and feet. I mean they are actually his skin.
They put 2 and 2 together and come up with 3: Croc is from a sideshow like them. This underestimation is all he needs. He plays along, taking advantage of their hospitality.
They’re nice folk, quite happy to welcome to their humble farm that is out on the middle of nowhere, far, far away from law enforcement. They bought the place with money they saved from the freak show. They have around $50k left. Not bad. Croc sees his break.
Cue conversations and bonding time that make us the viewers scream at Croc not to screw up a good thing. He can’t hear you. That night, he finds the money in a secret panel in one of the carnival wagons. Don’t ask me why they had the wagons or how they got them there. You’d think they’d want to ditch all signs of their previous life. Then again, they still wear their carnival costumes, so…Stockholm Syndrome?
Flappy waddles in and catches Croc red clawed. Croc says he’s looking for a blanket, which is totally believable, since you look for blankets in empty carnival cage wagons. I know that’s where I keep my blankets.
Croc puts the money back when Flappy goes for a blanket that’s in a cupboard nearby. It’s here we see an opportunity for Croc to change. Here he is, free, out in a place where he is accepted and even valued. Perhaps if he’s not around the abuse that supposedly made him so bitter, he can live a semi-normal life. Is he the villain he is because of others’ treatment of him? Does he subconsciously decide to live up to their expectations of him: that he’s a monster? In other words, is it the old, “You think I’m scary? I’ll show you scary!”
Villains who change their allegiances – from themselves to the heroes, or from crime to law – are fascinating. Writers must know the character inside and out to do justice to the character arc if they choose to “redeem” the villain. It needs to be believable but not obvious. It needs to be difficult but achievable. If a villain changes their spots, I always hold out hope that they’re sailing under false colors and will turn on the heroes at some point. Keeps things interesting!
While Croc is usually dull as a villain in my opinion, seeing what exactly would make him retire from the life of action would be interesting.
Trivia: Swamp Thing invites Croc to Louisiana to live in his natural element.
Our study of villainous life natures crashes to a halt when the Batman arrives. Bats doesn’t know when to let a scientific study progress, I see. The elephant crap hits the fan as the carnival cronies attempt to defend Croc. Croc gets the best of the Dark Knight! Then Batman blabs that Croc is an escaped con. They have no idea who this nutter “Batman” is. Not surprisingly, they choose not to believe a guy in a mask and a cape who’s pretending to be some sort of bat guy.
Here’s Croc’s mistake: he doesn’t take full advantage of their disbelief. Oh, he plays along to an extent, but then he acts just like Batman knew he would, tossing Bats in a cage wagon, then trying to kill him. This isn’t the best way to prove you’re not a criminal.
Then again, Croc is in a predicament. Now that he’s got Batman trapped, what can he do with him? If he kills the Dark Knight, the carnival peeps will know Croc is a criminal. If he doesn’t kill him, Batman will eventually escape and capture or chase Croc. Sadly, Croc doesn’t care what his hosts think anymore; he launches right into Kill Mode.
Has Croc realized that this life isn’t for him?
After Bats’s inevitable escape, then his scuffle with and apprehension of Croc, Croc admits, “I guess I was just being myself.”
It’s hard for a villain to change his ways.
It’s hard for anyone to change their ways!
An object that’s not in motion tends to stay not in motion. Change is difficult, sometimes painful. We’re off balance when we enter unfamiliar territory when we move to a different city or job. If we’re trying to change something within ourselves, the struggle is even worse.
You can’t run from yourself. You have to face your demons and conquer them.
Our will is finite. The more we struggle to change, the more will we use. While it does get stronger with use, it is no match to a determined subconscious. Not until we decide to make the change part of us do we succeed. Saying, “I’m not the kind of person who does ____” instead of saying, “I can’t do ____” shifts the battle from the will to the core of being.
We only make changes if the payoff is enormous or the alternative is dismal. Before we change, we have to weigh our options to see if change is worth the effort.
What if the change isn’t necessary? So often we get ourselves into panic attacks because we think we need to change. Usually the trigger is our idea that we need to please others. Do we? If you change yourself into something you don’t like just to please others, what happens to your spirit?
Don’t shrink your spirit to fit your situation. Instead, expand your situation to fit your spirit.
Find where you fit before you break yourself squeezing into someone’s mold.
Croc knew who he was, and he wasn’t afraid to show it. Yes, it got him in trouble, but he had to be true to himself. Now, if you’re carrying out criminal plots, you should probably maybe consider changing that habit.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments.
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