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Shark of War #5 (review)

Writer and Artist: Ben Lacy

Biting Comics, 2022

Rather sadly, in 2019, a friendly and inquisitive Beluga whale was found swimming off the coast of Norway with a camera attached to a harness around its neck. The BBC website reported at the time:

“An investigation was launched by Norway’s domestic intelligence agency, which has since told the BBC “the whale is likely to have been part of a Russian research programme”… Because of the whale’s apparent spy status, he was given a tongue-in-cheek name. In a nod to hval, Norwegian for whale, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the beluga was christened Hvaldimir.”

If you did not catch issues 1 to 4 of this independent title, Shark of War, here is a synopsis from the Kickstarter site:

In issue 1, we learned of the creation of the Shark of War by two unethical scientists in a Black Ops Military Program.  When he escapes, preprogrammed to enforce the laws of the United States, he takes it upon himself to punish criminal activity along the U.S. coast with maximum force.

In issue 2, a powerful criminal cartel hires one of his creators to strike back, and they do, using a swarm of cyber piranha in an epic battle that doesn’t go well for the Shark of War.

In issue 3, near death, the Shark of War goes looking for help from his only friend in the world. Unfortunately, that friend is a poor, 9 year old orphan.  

In issue 4,  he’s finally recovered. He’s been upgraded. He’s stronger, faster, and packing bigger guns. Plus he’s really pissed off.  But the Coastal Cartel and Dr. Brooke Douglas are also deadlier than ever as even the U.S. Navy can’t stop them.

Terse, exciting copy. But what of the story? The plot is a strange amalgam. It is as if Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s masterful We3 – domestic animals upgraded as weapons – was bolted together to any number of Jaws -type horror films. Dialogue boxes, in which the titular fish (by way of a grey shaded box), called Gnasher, communicates to its armour (in a yellow shaded box), provide some tactical insight into what the shark is thinking as it fights off both the US Navy as well as cybernetically-enhanced piranhas. (“Can you track the helicopters? asks the shark – apparently it knows what a helicopter is.) The dialogue is as breathless as the promotional copy. “It’s a good thing I’m a genius and planned for this,” thinks the attractive evil scientist as she improbably jumps onto the back of a domesticated shark and rockets away from a firefight aboard a luxury yacht.

The Kickstarter page notes that the story features, “The dark humor of Robocop”, and for anyone who is a fan of 1980s big-budget Jerry Bruckheimer-style stories, featuring explosions, gore, guns, and an enormous suspension of belief, then this title is for you. The image of a shark flying through the sky with two big jets below its dorsal fin is completely bonkers.

Completely missing is the empathy of the story of Hvaldimir. Great white sharks are feeding machines. While they are the subject of various environmental preservation laws having regard to their role an essential apex predator of the world’s oceans, they are hard to like. This shark, conversing with menace with its enhancements, fitted with jets and missiles, has the charisma of a chainsaw. But, so did most big budget action films of the 1980s. “Looks like its just us, Gnasher”, says a hologram of the shark’s controller, improbably named Dr Fischer. “I wish we’d gotten to eat Dr Douglas,” replies the shark. “Agreed,” says Dr Fischer. No doubt that opportunity will arise in issue 6, which will also feature a pod of orcas whacked out on cocaine. Harry Ellis at Nakatomi Corporation would be proud.

A link to the Kickstarter campaign for this comic is here: