When we think of Batman’s various rogues, we often think of crazy guys with gimmicks but who are generally just regular humans in terms of superpowers in that they often don’t have any. There are a couple exceptions like Killer Croc and Clayface, but by and large, superhuman freaks are not really the kinds of things Batman faces on a regular basis. Heck, one of the few superhumans from his personal rogue’s gallery, Solomon Grundy, seems to duke it out with everybody and started off as an Alan Scott foe.
That’s a bit of what makes Orca such an odd choice for a Batman foe.
Let’s set the stage here a bit: just after No Man’s Land ended, there was a shuffling of creative teams on the various Bat-books. Greg Rucka, who wrote easily the most and the best storylines from No Man’s Land, got Detective Comics. And longtime G.I. Joe and Wolverine scribe Larry Hama, who wrote arguably the worst parts of No Man’s Land, got Batman. The idea was that Rucka’s work would show Batman as a detective, as fit the title of the series, while Hama’s work would show Batman as a superhero. I don’t recall off-hand who got the other Bat-books right away, but I think Devin Grayson was writing one to emphasize Batman’s extended “Bat-family”.
OK, on the surface, giving each book a distinctive feel is hardly a bad idea. In fact, it’s a downright good one. Rucka and Grayson would be writing to their respective strengths, and Hama had that long Wolverine run to show he could do a somewhat street-level heroic tough guy. What could possibly go wrong?
Oh wait, I already said what it was: Hama wrote what was arguably the weakest parts of No Man’s Land. Something about Hama’s writing style didn’t really fit Batman as a character. His Batman, indeed his Gotham City, was rather chatty. Hama only lasted about six issues on the title, so it would seem I was not alone in that opinion, but he did give us one thing to remember: Orca the whale woman.
Orca was one Dr. Grace Balin. Dr. Balin was one of those all-around do-gooders who probably should stay far away from Gotham City. An expert in marine biology who volunteered to help the homeless, she was left paralyzed from the waist down after an accident. She took a job at the Gotham Aquarium while looking into gene therapy, particularly using orca DNA to repair spinal columns. Because when I think of animals with great healing factors, the killer whale is among the first that comes to mind.
However, much like one of a certain wall-crawler’s scalier nemeses, Balin could only regain the use of her legs in a whale form. That also gave her, well, whale powers I guess in that she was massively strong and could swim very well. She started off as something of a Robin Hood-type figure, stealing things to then use the proceeds to help good causes. Naturally, that had her run afoul of Batman and one wealthy woman who shot her a few times, and the resulting treatment to save her life made the whale body a bit more permanent.
From there, she was killed along with a few other minor villains during the One Year Later storyarc, but she came back in Nightwing’s book during the New 52 where she seems to have eventually reformed. That’s about all I have on Orca, but she was the most memorable thing in Hama’s entire short run. In fact, I used to do a little fanfic/round robin storytelling style RPG set in a next generation DCU, where the idea was the children of the original Justice League formed a new one. It was suggested I go as Batman’s son (Thanagarian Hawkwoman was his mother because I did not see Catwoman as the settle-down-and-have-a-family type), and that meant somewhat being responsible for everything that happened in Gotham City. That was actually a bit of fun, but for Orca, I barely used her directly, instead saying she and Killer Croc hooked up and had a large brood of children called the Carnivore Kids, and normally I would never bring something like this up, but then I found out this happened in the Injustice series:
I’d wonder if Tom Taylor read my stuff, but it isn’t like tossing two of Batman’s freakiest enemies together is that revolutionary.
Sweet Home “Episode Five”
Noteworthy Issues: The Amazing Spider-Man #62 (July, 1968)
The X-Files “Home”