Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Great Sharkspiracy of comics!

 You know what I’ve realized about this site? I dwell on negativity too much, and on things nobody else cares about. So I’ve decided, what with it being Spring and all, to show off a kinder, gentler side of this site, and to talk about a subject everyone can get into: God’s fuzzy little creatures.
  But then I decided maybe I'd focus on his scaly little creatures.
 Or maybe his winged little creatures.
  I eventually settled on not-so-little, not-so-fuzzy, and probably-not-made-by any-benevolent-God-creatures; Sharks.
 There have been all kinds of oddly recurring character types in comics that you wouldn’t think are widespread, but are. Muck monsters, big-headed villains, armor-clad tyrants, vigilantes in fedoras and blue suits, dead sidekicks and….sharks.
  However, what began as a simple exercise in my OCD has led me to a rather chilling discovery. What is it? Read on gentle readers, read on.
 8) The Shark (Centaur)
 First appearance: Amazing Man Comics #6 (Oct. 1939)
 This character here was the first shark-based character in comics, and would you believe it? He debuted the same month and year as comics' most famous aquatic hero, Namor! Now, while it’s true that Namor had appeared earlier in a promotional comic that was never released, they still both have the distinction of being the first aquatic heroes in comics. Actually, considering that Namor wasn’t really a hero in his early stories so much as a villain protagonist, you could still argue that the Shark was the first aquatic hero in comics! Also, while Namor had yet to be retconned as coming from Atlantis, the Shark’s Greco-Roman connections where explicit from the start: He was Neptune’s son.
 It’s also worth noting that he had futuristic technology like a TV screen that could see anywhere, as well as scales on his trucks very similar to Namor’s, but predating them.
 Created by Lew Glanz, The Shark also shared Amazing Man Comics with Bill Everett’s character Amazing Man (obviously) and an adventure strip called Chuck Hardy and the Land beneath the Sea. So in other words, he was quite at home. Lew Glanz may not have been an overlooked genius, but he did have a knack for utilizing big panels at a time when doing so was unusual.
 That said, aside from those distinctions, the Shark was a fairly bland hero without the personality quirks that made Namor so interesting. Still, he gets props for being the first, and since some of the Centaur publications characters have appeared in Marvel continuity or at its old Malibu imprint, there’s no reason Marvel can’t bring him back.
 Speaking of Sub-Mariner…
 7) The Shark (Timely/Marvel)
  First Appearance: Sub-Mariner Comics #23 (Summer 1947)

 While I’ve sung praises of Bill Everett’s return to his greatest creation in the 1950’s, his initial return to the character in the late 40’s was pretty hit or miss based on what little I’ve seen. One example of this was Sub-Mariner #23, where on the cover by Syd Shores we were promised a hideous, green-skinned, amphibious shark-man:
 And on the inside (drawn by Everett), we got an ordinary smuggler with a big nose and sharp teeth:
 Kind of disappointing, huh? And to make matters worse, he wasn’t even the first animal-themed big-nosed smuggler with bad teeth Sub-Mariner had fought. There was The Fox all the way back in 1942’s Marvel Mystery Comics #27:
 But despite his blandness, Roy Thomas remembered the villain, and brought him back for Invaders Annual 1 in 1977, a brilliant parody (at least, I hope that’s what Thomas was going for) of Golden Age team-up book formats, with each character branching off into their own separate chapter drawn by different artists. The story involved The Invaders investigating three villains who had joined with the Axis; Agent Axis (a Boy Commandos villain Jack Kirby misremembered as being a Captain America villain), The Hyena (a Human Torch villain) and of course, The Shark (whose original story was retconned to have taken place in 1941).
 Art-wise, it wasn’t too successful at creating a Golden Age feel (except for Alex Schomburg’s Human Torch chapter), but when it came to replicating the gimcrack logic of Golden Age comics, Thomas hit the nail on the head.
 The Shark’s big evil plan in the Sub-Mariner story was…to steal Namor’s speedo, and he did:
 No, I’m not making this up or cutting out some crucial context, read the whole thing:
 Needless to say, his scheme was foiled. Namor would later gain for a far more enduring foe patterned after a shark, but for being one of the few villains who it can be confirmed, in canon, came up with a scheme which involved undressing the hero, The Shark deserves a special place in the supervillain hall of fame.
  6) Killer Shark (Quality/DC)
 First Appearance: Blackhawk #50
  Boy does this character have a convoluted history. He was a post-War villain (mostly just a pirate and bank robber) from the Blackhawk’s original Quality run who appeared only three times (each with huge gaps between each other) before DC built him up as a major recurring villain once they acquired the rights, then years later he was retconned as a Nazi whom Blackhawk had faced during the war, and then retconned as a separate character from, and then a successor, of the same Nazi villain. It’s funny how in all of their marketing, DC tries to build up Blackhawk as some sort of brooding war comic, when, even back in the Quality days, outlandish adventures with villains like Killer Shark seemed to be the rule rather than the exception.
 Still, as far as villains go, he’s not so bad. In fact, most Blackhawk fans consider him the closest thing the Hawks have to an archenemy. In his early stories he was just a crook, like I said, but he did have an amusing habit of using the same old scheme over and over again in all of his stories: Trying to kill Blackhawk himself with a tank containing a sea creature in it.
Batman wasn't the only hero to carry shark-repellent, who knew?
 To be fair, he was a pretty cold-blooded creep (from his debut in Blackhawk #50):
 His coolest moment came in Blackhawk #81 where he sent out a fleet of giant mechanical sea monsters to ravage ships:
 Most of his Silver Age DC appearances had him turning Lady Blackhawk into his henchwoman “Queen Killer Shark” through mind control, which, believe it or not, has endured as an aspect of her character to this day:
 He may not have the best costume, but you gotta respect a character that has lasted so long that most people would consider a poor fit for the series which features him.
  5) The Shark (again!) (DC)
 First Appearance: Green Lantern vol.2 #24
  Probably the most well-known character on this list, this creature is one of my favorite ridiculous villains, and also a good example of what happens when you try too hard to modernize a character. He was a tiger shark who was exposed to nuclear waste, which somehow evolved him into a humanoid shark (with the ability to change into a human form).
 Now as far as villains go, there’s really nothing better or worse about that origin or concept than any other, but what really made it funny was that he also developed (not kidding) telepathic powers! It resulted in entire stories that could have easily involved Hector Hammond or Sinestro and which made so little use of The Shark being, well, a shark, that it seemed pointless.
 That is, except when he would fly around the city by telepathically summoning waves of water that would float in air and carry him around the city in:
 That….that is just the type of totally batshit concept that is the reason people read comics. Actually, scratch that, loads of non-comics readers like that type of nonsense too. Remember the ruckus everyone threw over that Sharknado movie? DC could have reprinted his two silver age stories in a one-shot to cash in on it.
 After that, he made most of his appearances in Aquaman’s titles (a far more logical choice) and perhaps most memorably, Action Comics #456 with a cover resembling a rather familiar movie poster, even though the story inside was a fairly typical one, mainly distinguished by featuring short-lived Superman supporting character Captain Strong; a Popeye parody.
 Easy to mock as The Shark is, he was kinda endearing. That is, until Geoff Johns made him a Jaws wannabe who goes around eating people and biting off their limbs with blood spraying everywhere:
 You know, while it may be a logical way of utilizing the character, especially since he’s driven by his predator instincts…doesn’t that just seem like overkill for such a silly villain? He’s just another vicious monster now, and weirdly enough, nowhere near as memorable. Hell, some artists don’t even seem to know what species of shark he’s supposed to be. I guess some villains really are better off being corny and ridiculous.
 4) Kai-Mak (Timely/Marvel)
  First Appearance: Marvel Mystery Comics #23
 Unlike Killer Shark or Green Lantern’s Shark, Kai-Mak here only ever made one appearance, all the way back in 1941. Yet, what he lacks in appearances, he more than makes up for in sheer awesomeness.
  Kai-Mak is a big, evil shark with a Hitler hair style who is worshipped by the Zambiji people, all of whom offer him sacrifices during the full moon. He also can come on land, talk and is easily enraged if anyone ever calls him ugly or a coward.
 He fought Aarkus, the Golden Age Vision, to a standstill before having his mouth ripped apart by the hero. This is notable for being one of the first all-out brawls Simon & Kirby ever depicted between a superhero and villain.
  Despite his apparent death, Kai-Mak is just begging for a comeback. Couldn’t you see him battling the Agents of Atlas? Or being featured on the cover of Tales to Astonish or something (“I Fought Kai-Mak—the Shark God from the Sea!”)? If a talking tree can become a featured character in a major motion picture, anything is possible.
 3) Hook Jaw (Albion)
 First appearance: Action #1 (No, not that Action #1)
 Now here’s a really unusual choice. First, this shark is from a British comic. Second, he’s the protagonist of his series! Now, usually you’d think a comic starring an animal would be a humor comic.
  Well, does this look like a humor comic to you?
 Hook Jaw was a series about a shark that hates humans because he got a harpoon stuck in the middle of his lower jaw. It started out as sort of a Jaws-rip off centered around a crooked oil rig company and a hero named Rick Mason, but apparently in its final installments evolved into a bizarre sort of serialized anthology horror comic in the Man Thing vein, with various criminals who would end up eaten by Hook Jaw. I get the impression that fans preferred the earlier stories, but I gotta say, the idea of doing a series about a shark that just happens to keep eating criminals week after week, with a harpoon stuck in his jaw, is one of the greatest concepts I’ve ever heard.
 Hook Jaw’s stories were incredible gory and violent, and topped the polls as the reader’s favorite feature. In fact, they even caused a major controversy in the UK, getting singled out by politicians and even successfully banned in many areas. If what I read is true, that’s even more extreme than anything Wertham did!
 Hook Jaw is such an awesomely fucked up premise. Read it all here, even though it’s mostly the adventure/Mason stuff.
  2) Tiger Shark (Marvel)
 First Appearance: Sub-Mariner #5
  While the Shark may have been Namor’s first recurring (if only by retcon) foe themed after a shark, his most enduring shark-themed adversary had been this guy, and he’s one of my favorite B-list supervillains despite a debut that borders on the laughable.

 The saga of Tiger Shark began with a dazed and injured Namor staggering around an island after battling Captain Marvel, only to be attacked by a giant killer robot.
 The robot belonged to Dr. Dorcas; an evil marine biologist (don’t all marine biologists have killer robot guards?) who planned to siphon Namor’s powers as well as the powers of some tiger sharks into Todd Arliss, a former Olympic swimmer who injured his back while saving an old man who fell overboard. Arliss assumed Dorcas could repair his back (Why he thought a marine biologist would be the person to cure him in anybody’s guess).
Todd immediately went mad with power (I love how Dorcas apparently just had a mask lying around in case something like this happened) and his first battle with Namor started because…he said he was stronger than Namor. Man, and people say the Hulk takes his status as the ‘most powerful one there is’ too seriously.
 In the very next issue, Tiger Shark tried to become Atlantis’s new warlord, but ended up getting his ass kicked by Namor. The fight scenes are pretty good, but none can really match the fury of John Buscema’s cover:
Tiger Shark would spend the next few issues making cameos in an Atlantean insane asylum, before escaping. His sister Diane would become a longtime supporting character, and Dorcas would be a mainstay of Namor’s rogues gallery; even teaming up with his creation and Attuma to form the “Slayers of the Sea” in Super Villain Team-Up #1:
 Even though the implications of Tiger Sharks’ early appearances were that he was insane and might someday be redeemed, he was mostly used as a straight up villain thereafter. He even polished off Namor’s human father at the behest of a villainess called Lyra:
 Despite some silliness and letting the character’s sympathetic qualities decay, Tiger Shark has a lot going for him as a villain. His gill slits and sharp teeth make him a lot more menacing than your average Silver Age villain, his costume is simple but striking, and the fact that he’s a spiteful ex-Jock make him a good fit for Namor, a character known for his arrogance.
  Like Green Lantern’s Shark, Tiger Shark also got a gritty reboot. His came during Jae Lee’s 90’s run, which I have to confess, is my favorite post 70’s take on Namor because of its sinister, over-inked, Lovecraftian vision of Atlantis. Tiger Shark’s gritty reboot was pretty cool though, as gritty reboots go; he became a genuinely creepy looking hybrid creature who called himself “Arlys Tigershark” and for a time, was portrayed as something of an anti-hero and used as dark comic relief:
 I liked how his thuggish personality contrasted with the more regal characterization of the other Atlanteans. As far as gritty reboots go, I wish more were like this.
 1) The random anthropomorphic shark Jay Garrick was a jerk towards. (DC)
 First Appearance: All-Star Comics #3.
 In the JSA’s very first appearance (which was just them recounting stories), The Flash told the story of how he went looking for some undersea treasure (Hawkman wasn’t the only JSA hero who had weird underwater adventures), and this happened:
  Is it a joke? Are we meant to assume it was just some random shark and Jay was doing the voice in his retelling to be funny? Or are we meant to accept that the shark really could talk?
 Logically, it should just be chalked up as a weirdly out of place gag panel. That's what I thought at first.
  But maybe—just maybe, something far more sinister is afloat, I mean afoot.
 Note how this shark was separated from his mother, and seems unusually smart for one of his species. What if he was traumatized by losing his mother, developed an intense hatred of superheroes because of it, and then years later, grew up to be the same shark that got exposed to nuclear waste and became Green Lantern’s villain?
  Or who knows, maybe he was one of the very tiger sharks Dr. Dorcas used in his experiments? Todd Arliss wasn’t driven insane. He was possessed!
 The big problem is how he got from Earth II to Earth I and then the Marvel Universe. I don’t know how he did it, but he did. Perhaps he is one of the children of Kai-Mak, and losing both his mother and his father has caused him to plan revenge on every superhero in the multiverse! Perhaps Hook Jaw takes orders from him. All these shark-themed supervillains? All are somehow possessed by his will. The few shark-themed heroes like Lew Glanz’s Shark? They’re in on it!
  Even the ‘cute’ sharks may be part of this vast conspiracy! Sherman of the Sherman’s Lagoon newspaper strip? Sleeper agent!
 Jabberjaw? Well, has anyone ever seen those kids he hung out with? They didn’t just fade into obscurity and end up addicts like the kids from Speed Buggy.
 Beware of his wrath. For soon he might decide to leave the fictional universes, and come to ours! Even your fishbowl may not be safe!

 And have you noticed how crappy Shark Week has gotten over the years? And all the attention that gets paid to movies like Sharknado and Mega Shark VS Giant Octopus? It’s his influence I tell you! His!
  He may look like some silly cartoon shark that appeared in another wise serious superhero story, but behind that poorly-drawn exterior lies one of the most cunningly evil brains in the universe, affecting both Marvel and DC. And can it be a coincidence that his first appearance was also the first appearance of the Justice Society? I think not.
  Pay heed! Pay heed! The day of the Multi-versal shark attack doth draw near!
  Whose side are you on?

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