From C-list villain to multimedia darling—the journey of DC Comics’ King Shark has been an unexpected one. But when you’re the son of a Hawaiian shark god and a human woman, nothing about your existence is normal. But thanks to his scene-stealing appearance in The Suicide Squad trailer, the world has suddenly fallen in love with the man-shark hybrid voiced by none other than Sylvester Stallone.
Unlike a lot of characters in the DCEU, King Shark’s comic book history only goes back a couple of decades. He first appeared in 1994’s Superboy #0 as a cameo, before making his first full appearance in Superboy #9. Superboy in this instance is Kon-El, the teenage clone of Superman; this series finds the new Boy of Steel moving from Metropolis to Hawaii to start his crimefighting career.
King Shark is a giant great white shark with a humanoid body. He has big nasty teeth, and claws that can rip anyone to shreds. Which he often does. He can also breathe underwater and swim incredible distances, as sharks do. But mainly, he likes to kidnap people and eat them. That’s the long and short of it when it comes to his motivations. (Which also seems to be the case in The Suicide Squad.)
In those early comics appearances, Superboy finds out about a series of unsolved murders in Honolulu. The big reveal is that the missing persons are kidnapped and eaten by Nanaue, a creature everyone believes to be some kind of mutated great white shark. Nanaue is actually the son of a mythical shark god named Chondrakha, or “the King of all Sharks,” and a human woman. The human woman remains unnamed, but we’d like to know the backstory of that romantic encounter.
Some time after his defeat by Superboy, the killer fish finds himself drafted into the Suicide Squad. He has an explosive belt placed on him, just in case he tried to escape. Well, he tries anyway, and they detonate the belt… and he still survives! Guess sharks don’t blow up as easily as Jaws might have one believe.
In the years following, King Shark has several more run-ins with Superboy, who repeatedly hands him his fin. King Shark even attacks Superman at one point. Why he thought he could defeat the Man of Steel after failing to beat his teenage half-clone is beyond us.
When teams like the Secret Six or the Secret Society of Super-Villains need a giant killing machine on their side, they recruit King Shark. And that’s more or less the context readers see him in for years. (He does get a cool action figure two-pack with Superboy in the ’90s!)
In 2011, Flashpoint rewrote the DC universe, and with it, the history (and even appearance) of King Shark. Reintroduced as a Suicide Squad character, his origins are slightly altered. Nanaue becomes the child of the Hawaiian shark deity Kamo. After Kamo is captured by Amanda Waller on an island in the tropics, she takes his son with her to raise. (The hope being that the son would be easier to control than its father.)
Waller raises him in a lab, and she turns him into one of her living weapons. This version of King Shark has a head like a hammerhead shark, and not a great white. Which is decidedly less cuddly.
In the New 52 era, King Shark has several run-ins with Aquaman, who makes more sense as his archenemy than Superboy ever did. In fact, in more recent years, King Shark has been trying to set himself up as the criminal kingpin of Atlantis. A sort of underwater version of Daredevil’s Wilson Fisk. But it’s really in other media where King Shark has flourished.
CW / Warner Bros. Television
First, a version of the character appears on The CW’s Flash. He’s essentially a totally different character, now a science experiment gone wrong; no “shark god” baby in the Arrowverse. But he does look a lot like his comics counterpart. And fun fact: he’s voiced by David Hayter, voice actor for Solid Snake in the Metal Gear video games, and screenwriter of X-Men, X2, and Watchmen. (What an odd résumé).
Warner Bros. Animation
King Shark’s recent surge in popularity is also due to animated shows, both the G-rated and the R-rated kind. He’s a recurring character on DC Superhero Girls and also on the decidedly adult Harley Quinn series. All of these things are just preparing him for his biggest break yet in The Suicide Squad. And we can’t wait to see. With our Bat-shark repellent handy of course.
Featured Image: Warner Bros.