James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad features one grinning DC Comics villain whose presence dominates the company’s adaptations in every medium of entertainment: movies, video games, live action, and animated television. He’s in the Arrowverse, he’s in the Harley Quinn cartoon, he’s going to be in Rocksteady’s upcoming Suicide Squad game.
It’s not the Joker: It’s King freakin’ Shark.
The DC Universe just… has a shark man in it? Is that allowed? And why is he in so many DC Comics adaptations? How did he get tied in to all of these disparate projects of wildly different continuities, tones, and lead characters?
Once you know the secret of King Shark, his appeal becomes obvious. One, he is a shark. And two, that is the only thing you really need to know about him. Really.
King Shark is a shark man who needs no introduction
It is a truth universally acknowledged that every comic book villain has an origin story. Maybe it’s full of pathos, like how Killer Croc has a weakness for the underdog because was mistreated based on his appearance, or how Man-Bat is always seeking a cure for his tragic condition. Maybe he’s a weird but strangely enduring major Flash villain like Gorilla Grodd, who comes from a secret African city of sentient gorillas called Gorilla City. But what you need to understand is this: In a genre notorious for convoluted continuity, gritty reboots and decades of history…
There is no explanation for King Shark.
King Shark is just a big, dumb, hungry shark man.
He’s just a goddamn Street Shark who exists in the DC Universe without any firm reasoning behind it. When given his first full appearance in 1994’s Superboy #9, Karl Kesel and Humberto Ramos did set him up with a vague origin story about maybe being the child of the King of All Sharks and a human woman, virtually which no comic has ever cared to mention again.
King Shark himself doesn’t care about why he is what he is, because what he is is a shark. That’s a level of self-confidence that we should all be so lucky to reach.
Embrace the ineffable mysteries of life, and also, this shark man
It’s that mix of an inexplicable concept with nothing to back it up that has kept King Shark in DC continuity while other one-off characters are forgotten. King Shark wasn’t left out of the New 52 reboot: He debuted in its first month as a member of the Suicide Squad. Though, if you’re a comics reader with a fondness for the guy, it’s probably because you read Gail Simone’s Secret Six, in which a clear personality shines through in his handful of appearances.
King Shark can regenerate whole limbs but doesn’t like it if you call his little growing chicken wing of a new appendage “dainty.” King Shark thinks all meat is delicious and he likes to fight and kill things made of meat and eat them. King Shark wants everyone to know that he is a shark and he loves being a shark. In one story arc, it is established that the most effective torment Hell could cook up for him would be to trap him in a vegetarian restaurant for all eternity.
King Shark is a pure distillation of the joy of superheroes
The superhero genre asks its readers for a certain amount of suspension of belief, on the promise that the reader will be rewarded, with characters and storylines that are only possible because of their own willingness to embrace the fantastic. As genres go, is not alone in this.
But King Shark takes that bargain to its most escapist extreme. After all, even Street Sharks, a cartoon based on a toy line about four anthropomorphic shark men named Jab, Streex, Ripster and — I cannot stress this enough — Slammu, came up with a backstory for its characters. King Shark has appeared multiple times since his introduction, in Secret Six, in Suicide Squad and even in a brief stint as Aquaman’s sidekick. But he’s never been given a backstory that stuck.
Because if you’re a person who’s interested in putting a giant, dumb shark man in your story as a recurring character, you already understand that there’s no way to make that idea cooler by coming up with an explanation for him. A giant, dumb shark man is already inexplicable.
“Embrace this shark man,” the story says. “He will never move you to tears, and the fact that he’s a shark will not enter into some meta-narrative. But if you but embrace this shark man, I promise that we’ll have some fun together.”
Reader, if you can believe a man can fly, you can believe a man can be a shark.
And King Shark is a shark.