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What Book Does King Shark Read Upside Down In The Suicide Squad?

Even before James Gunn's "The Suicide Squad" hit theaters, it was easy to see that one of its breakout characters would be the Sylvester Stallone-voiced Nanaue, better known as King Shark.

He is the perfect supporting character for an ensemble piece like this, because he is so easy to understand. Audiences could gather most of what they need to know in a few seconds. He's big. He eats people. Sometimes tears them in half. And boy is he dumb. The film's trailers went out of their way to emphasize his essential Barney Gumble-ness (plus the eating of the people), often featuring the moment in the briefing when Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) asks for questions, and he points to his hand and indicates that it is in fact a hand. But he's also shown enacting another cliché of the dim-witted: attempting to read a book that he's holding upside down.

At least he's trying. That should be commended, especially considering the book he picked is a doozy; no "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" or "Island of the Blue Dolphins" for this murderous man-marine hybrid. Instead, what King Shark is reading is the Modern Library edition of philosopher William James' "The Varieties of Religious Experience."

Why is King Shark reading William James?

In "Varieties," William James, brother of the novelist Henry James, sought to take a practical, psychological look at the feelings religion and the more vaguely defined but less dogmatically rigid "religious experiences" provoke in the individual. That is, he's not comparing and contrasting different religions as concepts themselves, but rather the way that their traditions, rituals, and practices make the individual believer feel and behave.

Which is important for King Shark because of his heritage. Though his origins have fluctuated over the years since his introduction, the current, seemingly-stable canon pegs him not as a teenage nerd bitten by a radioactive shark, but as the offspring of a pairing between a human mother and the shark God known as The King of All Sharks. The King of All Sharks has appeared infrequently and under different names in different DC continuities, but those appearances have largely avoided the question of what religious experiences he provokes. Presumably, if anyone is capable of harboring them — or at least wanting to understand what they might be — then it's his son.

Considering that one of James' essential qualities of a religious experience is that it involves something that cannot be perceived by the senses, perhaps Nanaue is seeking insight on how to deal with his absent father. It's unlikely, based on the sheer volume of death and destruction King Shark deals out in the film, that he got much out of the book's sections on saintliness, or using religion as a guide to a more fruitful moral and ethical life. 

Maybe he'll get there eventually, if his time in The Suicide Squad doesn't catch up to him first.