A towering, beastlike shape looms over you as the stench of sewage fills your nose. The monstrous man snarls and flashes a mouth full of pointy teeth. And you immediately…smile because you’re a huge fan of the super-sized super-villain.
That’s what you do if you’re Andy in the new middle grade graphic novel My Buddy, Killer Croc. Writer Sara Farizan and artist Nicoletta Baldari take a boy named Andy to Gotham City, where he makes new friends of all stripes—and scales. Is it possible for a bad guy to be a good friend?
Andy is a middle schooler who just moved to Gotham from Florida. He lives with his aunt Meredith while his dad takes some time to recover in therapy and rehabilitation. Why does he need to recover? A small-time criminal, we learn that Andy’s dad has made some bad choices over the years that led to an acquaintance with Waylon Jones, AKA Killer Croc. Before Andy moved Gotham, his dad took him to see Killer Croc in full wrestling action and afterward introduced the two. Andy instantly became a fan. He saw past Killer Croc’s frightful face and greeted him with a grin the first time they met. “You’re the best wrestler I’ve ever seen!” he gushed, much to Killer Croc’s surprise.
Years later they meet again in the sewers under Gotham City when Andy ventures below to hide from some school bullies. There he finds his favorite wrestler on the run from Batman. The starstruck middle schooler helps Killer Croc get his claws on supplies and food, and in return, Croc shows him a few of his wrestling moves. Andy’s a natural.
When Andy and Killer Croc get a moment to sit down and quietly chat beneath the busy streets of Gotham, they find out that they’re not entirely different. Baldari’s characters are gorgeously expressive in this exchange, from the hurt in Killer Croc’s eyes as he recalls his past to the eagerness on Andy’s face as the two find a connection. Even the slight curl on the end of Killer Croc’s tail adds a small trace of gentleness to the otherwise brutish wrongdoer.
There’s more to everyone than just what you see on the surface, My Buddy, Killer Croc reminds readers of any age. A super-villain can be a friend, and a superhero can be frightening. For instance, as relative newcomers to Gotham City, Andy and his aunt share a similar wariness of the Dark Knight. “I mean, what kind of grown man willingly wears that outfit?” Meredith says with a smile. She later stands up to Batman when he attempts to question Andy about Killer Croc’s whereabouts. Aunt Meredith is a boss.
Super-villains are gonna super-villain, though. Killer Croc takes advantage of his friendship with Andy to pull off another high-profile heist. But just when you think that Killer Croc is merely using Andy to land that big score, the end of the story throws in a wholesome twist that hints that there’s more to Croc than you might expect.
Yes, you read just those three words in the same sentence: wholesome Killer Croc. My Buddy, Killer Croc delivers that and much more, thanks to its delightful pairing of a thought-provoking comic book tale with striking and vibrant art.
Would I want Killer Croc as a buddy? I’m not ready to declare myself a BFF just yet. He might be a multifaceted character, but he’s still got a long sentence in Arkham to finish before I’d consider it. But thanks to My Buddy, Killer Croc, I’d probably think twice before dismissing any member of a rogues gallery as simply a “villain.”
Who knows? Maybe Batman will take the same lesson to heart one day.
My Buddy, Killer Croc by Sara Farizan and Nicoletta Baldari is now available in bookstores, comic shops, libraries and as a digital graphic novel.
Kelly Knox writes about all-ages comics and animation for DCComics.com and her writing can also be seen on IGN, Nerdist and more. Follow her on Twitter at @kelly_knox to talk superheroes, comics and pop culture.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Kelly Knox and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.