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Year of the Artist, Day 178: Gabriel Hardman, Part 2 – The Batman Chronicles #3

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Gabriel Hardman, and the story is “Workin’ My Way Back to You” in The Batman Chronicles #3, which was published by DC and is cover dated Winter 1996. Enjoy!

In 1995, Hardman drew a bunch of Ultraverse comics after Marvel bought Malibu (hey, remember that?), and then he drew a story in The Batman Chronicles, which came out in November 1995. In this story, Chuck Dixon took what was one of the most interesting things about Doug Moench and Kelley Jones’s Batman run – Moench sent Killer Croc, who had been gradually “devolved” by many writers from an intelligent crime boss to an inhuman monster, to Houma, where Swamp Thing promised Batman he’d look after him – and did away with it, as Swamp Thing obviously didn’t care to stop Croc from returning to Gotham, as he does in this story. Dixon did give us a wordless tale, though, so the storytelling fell largely on Hardman, still drawing as Gabriel Gecko.

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In less than two years, Hardman has become a more interesting artist, although perhaps it’s because Robert Campanella is inking him (I almost typed “Roy” instead of Robert, and wouldn’t that have been an interesting inker for Hardman … or, you know, anyone). Either way, it’s clear that Hardman is developing a style, and he’s gaining confidence. He draws Croc on model, naturally, with the beetled brow, the wide nose, and the beady eyes, but he does a good job with it. In Panel 1, the close-up establishes Croc’s awareness of his surroundings, as on the first page of the story he’s being chased by hunters, and so in this one he’s trying to turn the tables on them. We see the bullets zipping all around him in this panel. Hardman begins the panel with his claw, which grips the tree and leads us to his face, the expression on which is a good mix of fear and anger. He comes around the tree in Panel 2 and leaps at the hunters, and Hardman draws a nice terrified face on the hunter we see. Croc’s brows have raised just slightly, making him seem angrier and more determined, and Hardman does a nice job linking the eyes of Croc with those of the hunter. The entire panel is composed of nice lines, actually – the fist in the upper left forms a nice line through the hunter’s eyes to Croc; the dogs’ heads and eyes are in a line, and the eyes of the hunter and the eyes of the hound in the background form a good angle with Croc’s eyes, taking the expanded scene on the left side of the panel and focusing our gaze on Croc. Meanwhile, the hunters on the left are swathed in darkness, while Croc is lit a bit more, spotlighting him slightly. Hardman and Campanella do a nice job on the background, too, as we get a lot of precise details of the swamp, setting the scene well.

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Croc hops on a train heading north, and we get a nice little sequence here. We get an eerie green on Croc in Panel 1 – Patricia Mulvihill colored this story – which fits in with both the fact that he’s a crocodile man and the weirdness of the swamp. Campanella – I assume – draws motion lines on the train to make it less “realistic” and also to show how fast it’s approaching Croc, who steps aside and grabs hold of it. Another thing the motion lines do is make Croc’s grabbing of the train more impressive – it’s going so fast that we expect a normal man to get his arm ripped off, but Croc is so strong he manages to grab it and climb aboard. It’s subtle but effective. Hardman gives us backlit hunters in the final panel, as they’re just happy that Croc is out of Houma, and Mulvihill colors the scene with light purple, almost contrasting the more realistic colors she had been using with a hue that implies a new day is coming to the town.

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Croc finds a train to Gotham (of course it’s owned by Bruce Wayne, because Bruce Wayne is the only wealthy businessman in Gotham), and stows away. There’s a lot of nice work on this page, even though it’s not very technically brilliant. Hardman draws Croc framing the “WayneChem” sign on the tanker car, just in case we missed it, and he draws the chain almost disintegrating when Croc grabs it in Panel 2, continuing the subtle hints at Croc’s strength. In Panel 3, while the upper part of Croc’s shadow could easily be missed, Hardman remembers to draw his claw, and he makes sure to draw it big, which it would be from the angle of the light streaming against Croc. We switch the point of view in Panel 4, and it’s a nice backlit pose from Croc, leading to Panel 5, where the dude gets unceremoniously dumped. What’s extremely odd, to me, is that Hardman shows in Panels 3 and 5 that he actually has luggage. What the hell? Anyway, Panel 6 is a nice callback to Panel 3, as Croc took the dude’s baseball cap – the guy needs to keep the light out of his eyes, after all! While Hardman hasn’t quite developed a unique style yet, it’s clear he pays attention to details, which always makes for interesting artwork.

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Some billionaire douchebag (I don’t know if he’s a douchebag, but billionaires in comics not named Bruce Wayne tend to be douchebags) puts his prize bull into Croc’s car, which leads to a fight. Hardman isn’t great at the action, as presumably he didn’t have a lot of space to draw it (this is the third of three stories in the issue), so we get a jump from Panel 1 on the first page, in which Croc bashes the bull on the head, and Panel 2, where the bull manages to wound him. Unless the head-bashing didn’t stop the bull’s charge? That’s probably it, although it’s not clear. Croc crouches in the corner in Panel 3, and then on the second page, he leaps forward and punches the bull out, Mongo-style. Hardman’s work here is fairly pedestrian – once again, the space allotted to him could have meant he was constrained a bit, and trying to jam a bull charge and Croc’s big punch into these two pages makes this look a bit more cramped than it could have been. It makes the battle a bit less impressive, but such is life, I guess. The final three panels, however, are quite good. The bull lies insensate at Croc’s feet, and Hardman does a really good job showing his stoic face in Panel 3 and then his evil grin in Panel 4. His brows become thinner in the middle and wider on the edges, and despite the sharp teeth, his smile looks more human than usual. He’s had a very good idea, and on the final page of the story, the douchebag billionaire finds that his prize bull is nothing more than a skeleton. Them’s good eatin’!

While this story doesn’t feature the best art, Hardman’s development is pretty nice, especially with a good inker. The use of blacks throughout is nicely done, and Hardman shows that he’s getting better at laying a page out, even with the space troubles within the story.

During 1996, Hardman drew some more Ultraverse comics, and then, abruptly, he disappeared. Where did he go? Into the soulless hole of Hollywood, where presumably they pay actual money and not Confederate scrip or Monopoly bills or whatever it is Marvel and DC pay their artists. So tomorrow we’ll check out what he drew when he emerged from that dank, sunny pit and started doing comics again. It’s quite a difference! Check out more differences in artists in the archives!

3 Comments

This wasn’t really Dixon’s fault. In Swamp Thing, Croc had duly turned up, just in time for Mark Millar’s lengthy arc about Swampy deciding to accrue a wide variety of other powers and essentially become a benevolent god. As the Swamp Thing gradually became the villain of his own book, we got a scene where a still-animalistic Croc instinctually tries to oppose him and his literally slapped down for his troubles.

The aftermath in Swamp Thing — basically, the main character had a lot to answer for and the book headed into a cancel-and-relaunch setup — pushed Croc and much of the supporting cast out, so Dixon took the opportunity to bring Waylon back to Gotham where he’d be used once more.

Ironically, the whole “devolving Croc” angle originally spun out of a misunderstood plot point in an earlier run of Swamp Thing where Rick Veitch had written the reptile-man as a grunting homicidal savage and deposited him in Arkham. However, it was then revealed that Waylon was faking his devolution as part of some larger plan. Unfortunately, the savage Croc had appeared in the main Swamp Thing book and the reveal of his planning happened in an issue of Secret Origins where Croc narrates the Floronic Man’s backstory. Veitch quit the book over censorship issues soon after, so all most readers saw was Croc going downhill mentally without the context.

And of course, we needn’t dwell too long on the unpleasant and unfortunate implications of taking a villain who was created as ethnically African-American and using him a plot of this sort.

Omar: I had forgotten about that plot point in Swamp Thing, so I guess I can absolve Dixon! :)

I didn’t know about the Veitch story about Croc – that sucks. I read a few early Croc stories, and he was pretty interesting. Writers have done some reclamation work on him, but it’s too bad he hasn’t returned to his original version. And yeah, one of the few crime bosses (if not the only) in Gotham who’s black ends up like that? Not great.

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