I absolutely love D-List characters and I certainly love mutants, so it’s wonderful to combine the two in this column. However, aside from sparse appearances and little character exploration, there has to be something more to make a good D-List character. The extra ingredient in this month’s recipe is that he is a popular villain’s son.
Shinobi Shaw is the son of the infamous Black King of the Hellfire Club, Sebastian Shaw. Like his father, Shinobi is a mutant, and has the ability to phase through solid matter. Unlike his father, however, Shinobi has been completely inactive for the majority of his existence. The D-List is going through a phase this month as we welcome Shinobi Shaw.
Created by Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, and Chris Claremont, Shinobi first appeared in X-Factor vol. 1 #67 in 1991. Sebastian Shaw ranted about losing his business, Shaw Industries, and his son arrived claiming responsibility. Sebastian attacked Shinobi, who then revealed he was a mutant by phasing his hand into his father’s chest and leaving a bomb. Shinobi mocked the man until it exploded, killing him (float like a butterfly, sting like a Shinobi).
To my knowledge, it was never even hinted that Sebastian Shaw had a son before this comic, which made Shinobi’s introduction a bit jarring. However, it was clear that Shinobi was just as ruthless as his father, so this incident was quite an incredible surprise (he came, he Shaw, he conquered). Shinobi was clearly a malevolent and callous mutant, so obviously, the young man would cause much more mayhem, right? Eh, not exactly…
Shinobi acclimated to a life of luxury in his father’s stead quickly and joined a villainous group known as Upstarts. The members of this group competed against each other to kill mutants for sport to receive “points.” Fitzroy had captured Emma Frost and was responsible for killing the majority of the Hellions, and Fabian Cortez was believed to have killed Magneto. For years, Shaw’s reputation relied solely upon the murder of his father—he hadn’t done anything impactful since (lazy millennials…). In fact, after X-Force threatened him, Shinobi quit the Upstarts and turned his attention to growing the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club.
Shinobi invited Warren Worthington III to join his Inner Circle since the two had apparently known each other since they were children. Psylocke accompanied Warren, but the X-Man ultimately rejected Shaw’s offer. Shinobi attacked and the three fought until Betsy plunged her psychic knife into the villain’s head. She saw all of the abuse Shinobi suffered at the hands of his father growing up, which obviously helped mold the young villain into the cold, manipulative person he became. Betsy tried to tell Shinobi that he didn’t have to rule over people by stepping on them, but Shaw refused to listen. Shinobi then tried unsuccessfully to recruit Storm and poisoned her so she would be easier to manipulate. Of course the X-Men came to her rescue, but Storm commented that Shinobi was a frightened little boy who had to buy or bully people.
Shinobi Shaw may have seemed incredibly badass when he killed his father, but he was showing himself to be a broken man, as bullies do. I appreciated that writers tried to hint at more of a detailed childhood and gave him emotional handicaps, but these attempts at giving the character depth sadly fell short because they were quickly supplanted with more indifference. When Cordelia Frost wanted to join the Hellfire Club and brought Shinobi a mutant to impress him, Shinobi didn’t care (well that wasn’t very mondo of him—some of you will get that joke). When Shaw heard that his father was alive, he tried to find a way to suppress the mutant gene to use as a weapon against Sebastian, but his plans were thwarted by X-Force and he disappeared for years.
Shinobi disappeared when his father reappeared and it’s unfortunate because their relationship could have been explored. Sure, Shinobi had once killed Sebastian, but whether the two had decided to work together, engaged in a rivalry, or ultimately viciously worked against each other, it was a relationship worth exploring. Finally, after years, Shinobi appeared during Necrosha because Sebastian had apparently killed him. Wait…what?!
Shinobi’s death was never shown on-panel, nor did either Sebastian or Shinobi elaborate on the details, and this was a terribly wasted opportunity. It would have been interesting to see the young Shaw in hiding and his father somehow surprise and then murder the young man. It made for excellent dramatic effect to see Sebastian shocked and terrified to see his son, primarily because of Clayton Crain’s fantastic artistic ability, but it was nonetheless anticlimactic.
The X-Men recently targeted the Nasty Boys, but found the villains dead (if they have to change their name, I suggest the Dead Boys). The Upstarts, all thought to be dead, surprised the heroes, and claimed responsibility for the Nasty Boys’ plight. It was explained that Necrosha resurrected Pyro, so the same can be assumed for many other mutants who have been seen since with no explanation, including members of the Upstarts (or maybe just “because comics” is explanation enough). Although he didn’t give the X-Men any details during this fight, Shaw knew that Emma Frost was manipulating the events surrounding the dire circumstances mutantkind faced. Shinobi refused to be manipulated, so during the battle, he phased his hand into his face and solidified it, killing himself.
As a child in the 90s, I thought he was badass. When I read “Necrosha,” I was surprised to find out he had actually been dead, but was glad to see him. Finally when he showed up in Uncanny X-Men, I was very excited—for a few pages. Shinobi Shaw could and should have been a lot more interesting and powerful than he was, but there were so many wasted opportunities and he disappeared twice for nearly a decade each time. I loved his confidence and his suave nature, and his lineage alone could have made for awesome stories. Instead, there are established but vague relationships to his father and Warren that have not been explored and may never be.
Shinobi Shaw has appeared in the Ultimate Universe of Marvel Comics as a minor character, but as far as I know, he contributed nothing substantial and has never appeared elsewhere. I write about characters with untapped potential all of the time, but I really feel like Shinobi could have been (and done) more. Certainly, some characters are destined to fade in the background, but Shinobi murdered his own father, a major villain, and joined the ranks of murderous sociopaths, but amounted to nothing. I hope he’s not currently burning in Hellfire and we see more of Shinobi Shaw in the future.