The world of comic book superheroes is one where you never know what’s going to happen. In the case of DC Comics’ Nightwing, what has happened is that a lot of fans have been made very sad about a shark-man with a terrible mustache.
Meet Guppy, an unsuccessful, low-level criminal who gets no respect — either from his partners in crime or the leading-man superhero who regularly pumps him for information. Guppy lives in Blüdhaven, the official territory of Nightwing, the all-grown-up persona of the first Robin, Dick Grayson.
Blüdhaven has a reputation as being a place that’s just as crime-ridden as Gotham City, but without any of the style and a lot less money. And that reputation is fully capable of including a mostly unremarked upon anthropomorphic shark who dresses like a villain in a Home Alone movie. (Although, honestly, he’s not the only anthropomorphic shark in the DC Universe.)
But much like the oceans his ancestors (presumably?) walked out of, Guppy’s story has hidden depths. When we first formally meet him, he’s just a guy that Nightwing pounds on for a lead on a serial killer with mind control powers. When he says he’s got a sick dad to take care of, it just seems like he’s trying to avoid a righteous roughing up.
It isn’t until an issue later, in Nightwing #36, that writer Sam Humphries and artist Bernard Chang give us a healthy does of Guppy’s everyday life. First, we see that he really is a guppy among his peers; the little fish that everyone picks on.
Then, we find out that he’s not kidding about his dad. Guppy’s father, King Sturgeon, used to run Blüdhaven’s docks with an iron fin. But these days, well. After his buddies stiff him on his share of the take, we see Guppy wander home with fish for dinner — a livid bite mark on it’s side shows that he didn’t even have the cash for the grocery store — and we meet King Sturgeon for the first time.
At this point, I knew that I liked Guppy — he’s right up my alley, thematically — but I didn’t realize he was much of a hit with other readers until I noticed that the subreddit r/DCComics had honored him with a flair (a small icon that users can append to their usernames). I reached out to Beary_good, an r/DCComics mod, to see if Guppy had really made that big of a splash so quickly.
“We didn’t get specific requests for a Guppy flair, but people on the sub did seem to take quite a liking to him,” Beary_good told me.
A post titled “Characters that could use a hug in 2018” focuses on Guppy’s two pages from Nightwing #36, and is full of commenters hoping that he gets a happy ending. Some were deeply touched by Guppy’s predicament, while others said they could personally identify with it (struggling to cover health care costs or dealing with bullying, presumably, rather than committing low-level crimes).
That was sort of the idea, Nightwing writer Sam Humphries told me.
“I really poured my own emotions into Guppy,” Humphries said over email. “I pulled on memories from when my own dad was very sick in the hospital and I had to put a brave face on all sorts of things. Not just to him, but I had to deal with the outside world like a normal person even though I felt totally helpless inside. I’m glad people are able to relate to Guppy, even if they aren’t half-shark criminals (presumably).”
Humphries said that in Nightwing, he wanted make characters that would feel as much a part of Blüdhaven — the seedy port city eternally in Gotham’s shadow — as the Joker feels to Gotham or Lois Lane does to Metropolis.
“In places like Blüdhaven,” he said, “whenever there’s a sudden influx of money, not everyone gets rich, or even taken care of. People get left behind.”
Guppy was partly inspired by the character of Frankie in 2012’s Killing Them Softly, played by Scoot McNairy, but that the finishing touch came directly from Nightwing artist Bernard Chang.
“Guppy wasn’t truly born,” Humphries said, “until Bernard gave him his sad little mustache.”
Guppy’s mustache gets very sad indeed, in his third appearance in Knightwing #37 this week. Humphries told me that the little bottom feeder has a role to play throughout the book’s current storyline, and issue #37 certainly leaves him in quite the cliffhanger. Guppy might be sticking around, but whether he’ll get that happy ending everyone’s rooting for remains to be seen.