Review: Suicide Squad: King Shark trade paperback (DC Comics)

October 12, 2022

 ·  5 comments

Though meandering at times, far from perfect, Tim Seeley and Scott Kolins' Suicide Squad: King Shark is what most comics should aspire to be. Certainly just a project intended to capitalize on James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad movie, Seeley not only goes so far as to honor elements throughout King Shark’s almost 30 years (!) of DC Comics history, but also dovetails well enough with his own recent Nightwing run.

It is, again, not perfect, but Seeley commits thoroughly to a silly storyline and never skimps on the genuine emotion. Though the plot is full of anthropomorphized animals — Kamandi would feel right at home — Seeley never treats the characters with a hint of scorn. Where books (and particularly Suicide Squad books) have a tendency to present the characters as objects of ridicule for the audience, King Shark never blinks an eye at portraying a shark-man protagonist. It makes for the best kind of comics, one that immerses itself in the fantastical and tells a compelling story to boot.

[Review contains spoilers]

Way (way, way) back when, King Shark was one of a couple of compellingly dark villains set against the sunny backdrop of Kark Kesel and Tom Grummett’s Superboy series (and drawn prominently by Humberto Ramos). In 1994 (if not also now), it was beyond shocking that the Shark’s mother allowed him to chew off her arm. That Seeley brings Kaikea back, sans arm, after almost 30 years is real dedication to recognizing the breadth of King Shark’s history, especially since King Shark has long since evolved from those terrifying origins to something more comical. There is even a bit of shuffling on Seeley’s part to make the contradictory Superboy and Aquaman depictions coincide.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

What follows is the kind of animal adventure that’s a genre in itself in DC Comics history — B’wana Beast is here, Animal Man’s “the Red”, and Black Bison, and it wouldn’t have been surprising to see Prince Tuftan, Tawky Tawny, or Solovar. Much of the A-plot is King Shark battling various other man-animals (worms, birds, tigers, cockroaches, etc.) as part of a mystical fight club for evolutionary dominance, all set against a faux kitsch tiki bar background (something like the worst Jungle Cruise ride ever). Though many of these fights mostly amount to background noise, Seeley is often clever, as when the Man-King avatar has the power to throw fireballs because, of course, what differentiates humans as a species is the ability to “make fire.”

Along for the ride, on the other side of this is Shawn “Defacer” Tsang, Seeley’s original character and the primary love interest of Seeley’s Nightwing run. Though a continuity ago, Seeley deftly finds a place for Defacer among the various events in Nightwing since his run, and not only also includes in the story the character Orca from the same run, but also cameos the Run-Offs characters. (Letting alone King Shark, that Orca should still be around some two decades after her debut in Larry Hama’s panned Batman run is itself another miracle of comics.)

It is nigh impossible to reconcile Shawn Tsang here with the one from Seeley’s Nightwing, astounding given the same writer involved. Where before, this former child-(villain)-sidekick seemed a fair match for Nightwing Dick Grayson, now she comes off petty and juvenile, a weird regression. Though Scott Kolins is the right artist for all of this book’s animal body contortions, he too makes Defacer more cartoony than Marcus To previously. It’s hard to see these characters as the same — and particularly that Defacer’s former human partner Pigeon is now (and has always been?) a supernatural “godkiller” seemed a bizarre retcon that really took me out of the story.

And yet, Shawn’s want to be accepted, paralleled with the variety of “parents” who’ve loved and abandoned King Shark over the years (his shark-god father and, smartly, Amanda Waller), is effectively moving. There’s plenty of great and strange moments of this type — hard-nosed Waller playing with dolphins, and an arc for B’wana Beast (amalgamated, to an extent, with related character Freedom Beast) that seems to build off some of the work Steve Orlando did with the character in Midnighter and etc. The “Suicide Squad Black” that appears here is disappointingly shallow in plumbing DC’s magic villains, but I’m glad to see the concept still showing up.

2.5

Rating

It is amazing that King Shark is still around; it is amazing that King Shark appeared in a live-action movie; it is amazing that King Shark has received his own miniseries. Tim Seeley even goes so far as to tie King Shark tongue-in-cheek to the 30th century Legion of Super-Heroes (I’d have been happy to see a Kid Shark actually following after Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl). In Suicide Squad: King Shark, despite talking tigers, Seeley demonstrates King Shark as a leading man with a long life and disappointments and successes along the way. Surely it shows there’s potential in any character with the right writer steering the way.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Comments ( 5 )

  1. This was such a fun read, and I was so grateful to see Tim Seeley embrace King Shark's long, bonkers history.

    Full disclosure: I really, really hated every drop of /The Suicide Squad/. And with the obvious movie tie-in angle you noted, I was so worried that the Gunn/Stallone portrayal of King Shark as a brain-damaged toddler was going to stick. Not so, thanks to Seeley and Kolins, who earnestly respect this genre we take so seriously.

    (Also, sidebar, between this and Killer Croc, I love that Tim Seeley has quietly carved out a niche as the guy who rehabilitates villains that others have written off as mindless brutes.)

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    1. "I love that Tim Seeley has quietly carved out a niche as the guy who rehabilitates villains that others have written off as mindless brutes."

      This. I HATE how everybody falls into that trap with Croc.

      I think most people, if not everybody, forgets that when he debuted back in the Eighties, he actually was running his own crime outfit. He's not in, say, Riddler's league, but also wasn't an idiot. But the slide into the now unfortunately 'iconic' berserk beast-man began after Crisis.

      Hell, even Batman TAS fell into the trap. In "Vendetta", they were drawing from early Eighties Croc. Waylon crafted a decently clever frame-up of Bullock that even Batman was nearly fooled by.

      After that? "I threw a rock at him!" (and I regrettably say this as someone who dearly loves that Paul Dini joke.)

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    2. To be fair, that was batman posing as Killer Croc but I agree that the standard depiction of Croc as a dumb savage monster is an insult to his true character.

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    3. True, heh. Good point about Bats-as-Croc.

      Actually, I enjoy the alternate interpretation of thatjoke that Bruce wasn't just overplaying Croc being dumb (or rushing to get them back on track so Joker would unwittingly confess Catwoman's fate/location). He was also trolling the other rogues with that bit.

      This fight with Croc's what BATMAN considers to be the closest any of them ever came to killing him -- Croc, a lizard man with a big rock, had more luck than master criminals with complex death trap or overly convoluted schemes.

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    4. The Batman: The Animated Series' episode "Almost Got 'Im".

      Basically, by sheer coincidence, Croc, Two-Face, Joker, Poison Ivy, and Penguin all end up hiding out in the same Gotham bar at the exact same time.

      To pass the time while lying low, they play cards and start swapping stories of the times they 'almost got Batman' (and hysterically keep trying to outdo each other).

      The twist is that 'Croc' is actually Bruce in disguise (as part of a case he was working). Thing is, Bats overplayed Croc being dumb as a rock (though you COULD argue he was really just playing into the others rogues' personal perceptions of Crock as the dumb muscle).

      But, like Ned Flanders, subsequent Croc episodes played up and into that characterization and it alas stuck and undermined the DCAU incarnation of the character.

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