The DC Universe has gotten a recent rise in shark-based characters. Namely, King Shark, also known as Nanaue, warmed people’s hearts in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. Sylvester Stallone voiced an adorable and horrifying humanoid shark who gained friends for the first time, all the while he nomming on many people.
Stallone’s voiceover work for the character helped introduce some fans to the character, but he is not the only shark in the sea. Namely, he is far from even the only recent adaptations of King Shark to exist. Harley Quinn on HBO Max has King Shark on Harley’s crew, voiced by actor/comedian Ron Funches, and he is a delight. He portrays the character with a hilarious charm that adds to the lore of this lovable shark villain.
Right off the bat, HQ’s King Shark subverts expectations. He enters the room of Poison Ivy’s (Lake Bell) apartment and the entire crew stares at him in shock. Harley (Kaley Cuoco) even breaks a bat over his head. Then Clayface (Alan Tudyk) enters with a laugh saying this is a “classic misunderstanding, bat down, bat down.” He introduces his friend and says he invited him to be a “hacker extraordinaire” and “social media maven.”
Harley tells him their profile “isn’t getting any bites.” King Shark angrily asks if that is a shark pun, with dark shadows overtaking him, and then chuckles saying it was very funny, and asks them to “scooch” so he can get to their computer. He then corrects Harley for not using the right keywords in her Nemesis profile (think Tinder but for finding the right hero to fight).
This sequence gives the character a fantastic introduction. They already play with the expectation that King Shark will just be muscle, a bloodthirsty killer. That assumption would be understandable, but they show off Funches’ warm sense of humor for a cold-blooded character with his playful banter about shark puns and criticizing Harley for using the wrong keywords.
Of course, King Shark is more than just a tech wiz. During a mission, King Shark – on headset speaking to the group – thanks Harley for letting him use his brains “for once” and that “most people don’t let me be who I am.” He then bites the security guard’s head off and uses his tech skills. His physicality is combined with Funches’ playful delivery here to toy with the nature of the shark-based villain. Ironically, King Shark is discussing that he never gets to be who he is right before eating a person, in typical shark fashion.
Later in that episode, King Shark is in prison after a failed mission. He has become a “cool boss” over the prisoners, threatening to shank a fellow inmate for getting “inferior toilet wine.” He then accepts Harley’s apology for leaving him in jail for too long as he got a better understanding of prison issues. Plus, he furiously yells at inmates for mockingly calling him a fish, screaming that he will kill “each and every one” of them with his “bare hands” as he leaves.
This King Shark is not just a big, silly shark monster who bites people’s heads off – although he does eat people from time to time. Funches is given his freedom to take the character in every direction possible, from screaming rage about toilet wine to excited curiosity. When he asks the Queen of Fables (Wanda Sykes) if Cinderella’s mouse is tough enough to commit robbery – after calling him “precious,” of course — the mouse puts on full Rambo attire, lighting and smoking a cigarette in an instant before throwing it in King Shark’s face. The Queen of Fables asks if that answers his questions to which Shark responds, “It does, but it actually brings up a lot of other questions.” As he says earlier, King Shark is allowed to use his brains for quick deliveries and humorous jokes while also mixing in the occasional moment of violence. But the character outweighs the violence here.
King Shark even gets some narrative weight in the season two episode “Bachelorette.” A talking lobster named Samson – a parody of Sebastian from The Little Mermaid voiced by Phill LaMarr – asked Nanaue to return home for an arranged marriage to help a deal go over with the Hammerhead Sharks. He has to go through some humorous ordeals, like listening to an “Under the Sea” parody song about pooping in the ocean, before telling off his father. In the end, he accepts the marriage but only on paper (but at least his daddy knows he’s not happy about it). Then, he delivers an emotional monologue about finding love that “excites him, the kind of love that doesn’t have limits.” He wants to avoid a “milquetoast marriage” and to find a true “soulmate.”
That speech not only says a lot about King Shark as a character, but it also serves as a declaration about the themes of the entire season, mirroring Harley and Poison Ivy’s feelings and eventual pairing. They gave an important moment to a talking shark who minutes ago said that he prefers toilets to pooping in the ocean, and Funches delivers the hell out of that speech. He works through several ranges of emotions and, given his ideals shown throughout the series, it works. King Shark wants to be known for his brains and his abilities and he will not let an arranged marriage define him.
This episode shows how much Harley Quinn allows Funches and the writers to work with the character. He is hilarious but he also has quite a bit of emotional heft and backstory. Yes, the Stallone version is funny, and his relationship with Ratcatcher 2 is sweet. With that said, The Suicide Squad’s Nanaue is more of a one-note character compared to HQ’s incarnation. TSS‘ King Shark says some funny one-liners about using a fake mustache and he does grow to learn about friendship, but he lacks the depth (shark pun intended) to match HQ’s version.
This is in no way intended to be an indictment of Stallone or Gunn’s work on Nanaue. It more serves to highlight the brilliant work that Funches and Harley Quinn have done to create such a fun, well-rounded character. They took a giant, walking, talking shark and made him funny and complicated in a wide variety of ways, from over-exaggerated animation to clever puns and thoughtful comedic timing. It is a strong pairing of biting talent and swimmingly good writing, which makes sense given how great Harley Quinn is as a show.
KEEP READING: King Shark Is Your Friend
“We were kind of screwed.”
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