Stargirl: Who is the Dragon King?

The big villain of Stargirl, and the leader of the Injustice Society, is the mysterious Dragon King. We look into the character's history.

Nelson Lee as the Dragon King on DC's Stargirl
Photo: Josh Stringer/The CW

DC’s Stargirl has been delivering heartfelt action and deep cut characters since it first hit screens in May. Over the past couple of months we’ve fallen head over heels for the heroine and her gang of ragtag teen superheroes. But as much as we adore the burgeoning, bumbling Justice Society, the other thing that Stargirl has excelled in is introducing lesser known villains, building an impressively chilling gallery of rogues who make up the show’s Injustice Society. 

The newest addition to that motley crew is Nelson Lee’s Dragon King. The terrifying masked scientist is not only the father of Courtney’s new arch-nemesis, Cindy Burman, but also appears to be the ringleader of the Injustice Society and presents a horrifying new threat for the team. 

Dragon King was born out of Roy Thomas and Rich Buckler’s Justice Society of America expansion book, All-Star Squadron. The series imagined the JSA as heroes in World War II–the era they were first introduced–and also featured Quality Comics additions better known as members of the Freedom Fighters. This setting not only worked as a revisionist historical superhero narrative, but also allowed Thomas to continue a tradition of outdated racial stereotypes that many publishers had begun to leave behind. Dragon King’s first appearance in 1981’s All-Star Squadron #4 leans heavily into the racist “yellow peril” tropes of the Golden Age while building in some pretty eccentric backstory and fantasy lore. 

Stargirl‘s Dragon King shares a similar origin with his comic book counterpart as they were both Japanese WWII scientists with a penchant for experimentation and torture. But there are some key differences that likely won’t make it into the show. 

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While Stargirl’s Dr. Shiro Ito was indeed a scientist in WWII, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see him as the monologuing cartoonish vision that Thomas and Buckler created. In All-Star Squadron #4 we learn that Dragon King has a plan to use magical historical knick-knacks to strengthen the “Empire of Japan,” but the big thing to note here is just where he’s getting that magic. In a plot point that’s incredibly unlikely to ever air on The CW–outside of Legends of Tomorrow–Dragon King’s Spear of Destiny was once in the possession of Adolf Hitler. 

In that issue, Dragon King’s plan is to gain control of the superheroes that he’s lured to his lair and use them as weapons, which is a cliche for a reason. Although the setup here is pretty ridiculous, it does seem like with Dragon King working alongside the new Brainwave–who he’s very eager to connect with and control–we could see Stargirl take on this classic comic book trope. In his first appearance he appeared to be a human man in a mask, but he went into hiding and eventually turned himself into a lizard-man hybrid thanks to his own nefarious experiments. That monstrous fiend is the version of Dragon King that we’ve seen on Stargirl, thanks in part to his prominence in the Geoff Johns comic which inspired the show. 

Dragon King was a key part of Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., the series that introduced the world to Courtney Whitmore and Stargirl. From the outset, the supervillian’s machinations were shaping the story, just like in the TV series. And in the same way that 2020’s Stargirl is steeped in an Americana that feels very of its time, 1999’s Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. is a veritable smorgasbord of outlandish action. Despite the fact that Dragon King was more likely to be experimenting on strange bug-creatures than humans here, his passion for torturous science was clear, as was the threat he played to both Stargirl and Blue Valley. There’s also an interesting route that the show could take as Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #6 seems to go on a strange detour centering on a group of aliens who want to take over Blue Valley. If you’re wondering what that has to do with Dragon King, well, he blows up their ship as he’s not willing to let anything ruin his plans…not even a potential alien invasion! 

Something that immediately sticks out about the TV version of Dragon King compared to his comic book counterpart is that the former seems to be a mad scientist who does his own experiments whereas in the books he’s more of a maniacal puppet master pulling the strings. In the show, he seems to be playing both parts as someone who has complete control over Blue Valley, its inhabitants, and its institutions. In both iterations, Dragon King’s lair is underground and features an abundance of secret passageways which are definitely not up to code. 

Unlike some of the other characters featured on Stargirl, Dragon King doesn’t have an extensive backstory or even a concrete set of powers. But in every iteration he’s incredibly strong and intelligent, as well as having a passion for science and the occult. When he does appear he’s often in pursuit or possession of a magical artifact. Although Stargirl is relatively realistic, the accessories and artifacts of the original JSA have played a large part in the story. The pen that contains Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt, the Green Lantern‘s Power Battery, Hourman’s Hourglass, Dr. Mid-Nite’s goggles, Wildcat’s cowl, Dr. Fate’s helmet, and, of course, Courtney’s Cosmic Staff are all incredibly powerful and could be potential targets for Dragon King. 

Though it’s unlikely we’ll see the classic Spear of Destiny, we know Dragon King has his own powerful magic staff. Whether it’s origin is similar to the magic of the comics or is a new scientific take on the weapon remains to be seen. We also know his daughter Cindy Burman A.K.A. Shiv is looking for a cosmic power of her own, setting up a perfect conflict with Courtney. 

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This series is more interested in the legacy heroes that the children of villains will become, but Dragon King is a singularly scary antagonist. He’s the only one of the Injustice Society (or the JSA, for that matter) who has told their child the truth about the past and experimented on them to make them a villain. Along with that, he has a strange (maybe) clone wife, many comic book accurate clone minions that Cindy isn’t afraid to kill, and, oh yeah, he keeps Solomon Grundy as a pet under his own home.

After a few weeks of letting viewers think that Icicle was the real threat, Stargirl has finally unleashed the true power behind the horror of Blue Valley on the world and we can’t see what he’s got up his green-cloaked sleeves. 

You can watch Stargirl on DC Universe on Mondays and The CW on Tuesdays.