The 1960s Batman TV series carries a reputation for giving the Dark Knight a seemingly endless arsenal of gadgets to use in his fight against crime. These tools sometimes appeared incredibly limited in use, with the Caped Crusader pulling out an instrument necessary only for that exact situation. Yet even the goofiest of Batman’s gadgets has god-killing potential in the hands of the Dark Knight.
This proves to be the case in Scott Snyder and John Romita Jr.’s All-Star Batman #2. When Batman tries to take Two-Face across the country in an attempt to cure him of his evil personality, the villain offers the fortunes of Gotham’s wealthiest crime bosses to anyone who frees him from the Dark Knight’s grasp. This gains the attention of King Shark and Amygdala, who attack Batman on a moving train. Batman quickly dispatches them by attacking King Shark with a shark repellent, sending the hulking god reeling and knocking himself and Amygdala off the train.
Batman’s shark repellent carries an infamous reputation among fans of the character, and has accrued a number of joking references in films, comics and TV shows. The gadget first appeared in 1958’s Batman #117, where the Caped Crusader and his Robin use the shark repellent against a giant sea monster while in pursuit of an alien thief. However, the most famous appearance of the shark repellent comes in 1966’s Batman: The Movie, wherein Adam West’s Batman uses it to fight off an exploding shark that has caught his leg on the ladder of a helicopter. The shark repellent would later appear again in West’s Batman series; in a 1967 episode entitled Surf’s Up! Joker’s Under!, Batman uses the repellent on a shark during a surfing competition against the Joker to ensure the Clown Prince of Crime doesn’t become the King of Surfing.
As humorous as this gadget is to fans, it clearly has its place in Batman’s arsenal. King Shark is an impulsive, vicious killer who often works as muscle for other villains, when he’s not fighting alongside Amanda Waller’s Suicide Squad. However, the being – known as Nanaue – is also the son of DC’s God of Sharks, recently fighting for his species in the epic Wild Games, which showcased his godlike strength, durability, and healing (in Tim Seeley & Scott Kolins’ Suicide Squad: King Shark). While King Shark may not think much of his godly lineage, he is essentially the embodiment of all sharks, making it clear why shark repellant would affect a god even more drastically.
Snyder and Romita Jr.’s inclusion of the Bat-Shark Repellent provides a fun nod to a piece of Batman history while also showing how effective any weapon can be against the bizarre enemies Batman faces on a daily basis. The gadget has become something of a symbol of a sillier period for the Caped Crusader, with the West series’ commitment to comedy providing a stark contrast to the more serious modern era of the hero, but part of what makes DC’s comics great is constantly reclaiming the excesses of superhero stories. It’s a perfect symbol of how superhero comics consolidate their characters that the Bat-Shark Repellant is at home in both a pure comedy Batman story and a high-octane, action-oriented battle with real emotional stakes.
Batman is a surprisingly versatile character, and it’s a perfect expression of what the Dark Knight means to different fans that depending on the writer, his goofiest TV gadget is either a joke about his infinite arsenal of gadgets or an awesome way of dispatching a challenging foe.
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