Sometimes hero, sometimes anti-hero, and sometimes outright villain, Namor the Sub-Sailor isn’t just one of Marvel’s most complicated characters. Also it’s his first superhero. Created in 1939, Namor was quick to make a strong impression thanks to his complicated backstory, dramatic eyebrows, and super-short green swimming trunks.
Namor finally joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, where he will be played by Narcos’ Tenoch Huerta. While we wait, let’s learn all about the passionate character known as the Sub-Mariner, and why it’s so much more than just Marvel’s answer to Aquaman.
Who is Namor, the Sub-Sailor?
Created by Bill Everett, the Sub-Sailor officially debuted in 1939 in Timely Comics’ Marvel Comics #1. Although the original Human Torch also debuted in that issue, Namor the Sub-Sailor can be considered the first original Marvel charactersince it had appeared months earlier in Motion Picture Funnies Weekly (of which only a few copies were printed).
Half human and half Atlantean royalty, namor is proudQuick-tempered and willing to do anything to protect his kingdom. He has been an Avenger and one of the X-Men, a founding member of the Defenders, and even fought alongside Captain America in World War II against the Nazi threat to the entire world. He is the ruler of Atlantis and fights fervently for his people.
But Namor is not a natural benefactor like Cap. His temper and arrogance make him an anti-hero who has no qualms about destroying anything that gets in the way of his goals. In his first appearance, he kills two innocent divers just for being in his underwater domain. Although time has softened his stance towards humans, Namor has maintained the same arrogance throughout the more than 80 years he has been a part of the Marvel universe.
The origins of Namor
Namor’s first appearance featured him as “an ultraman of the deep who lives on land and sea, flies in the air, has the strength of a thousand men”. After a first deadly encounter with humans, the prince’s mother explains her story to the reader.
The pointy-eared prince is the son of an Atlantean princess and a human explorer named Leonard McKenzie. His story begins in 1920 in the waters of the South Pole. The captain’s expedition ship repeatedly blasted the ice over Atlantis, shaking the city with explosions that claimed the lives of many Atlanteans. Princess Fen was sent to the humans above to act as a spy. She and the captain fell in love and got married, but Fen did not forget her mission.
Although the princess considered Captain McKenzie a good man, she never lost her mistrust of humanity and blamed them for the destruction of her kingdom. She passed those beliefs on to Namor, her “Avenging Son”.
With its roots in the Golden Age of comics, its star would eventually fade until Stan Lee introduced him to modern Marvel Comics in 1962 Fantastic Four issue #4. The “new” Human Torch, Johnny Storm, encountered an amnesiac Namor in New York City. Namor’s fate was intertwined with that of the Fantastic Four, as he fell in love with Sue Storm, had a bitter rivalry with Reed Richards, and had Doctor Doom as his ally.
Over the years Namor would fight both for and against the world above, all in the name of keeping their own people safe. Namor has also found more love interests over the years: humans, Atlanteans, and aliens. He has teamed up with the Avengers and the X-Men, as well as Doctor Doom and a group of supervillains called the Camarilla.
Most recently, he battled Amadeus Cho, Seda, and the Agents of Atlas in the Atlantis Attacks mini-series (2020) in retaliation for capturing an Atlantean creature.
“Are you a hero, Namor? Or are you a monster?” Cho asked him in the first issue.
“I am a king,” replied Namor. “So I’m both.”
Namor’s powers and abilities
Namor is often considered the first mutant in long history of Marvel publications (if not the first in the Marvel Universe timeline). Those iconic wings on the ankles? They are not part of his Atlantean or human ancestry, but rather a mutation that gives him the ability to fly. When he pops out of the water for a surprise attack, Namor is known to yell his iconic catchphrase, “Imperius Rex!”
The Sub-Mariner also has superhuman strength and endurance, the ability to breathe underwater, and a telepathic ability with sea creatures and Atlanteans. It can swim at super speed and has an extraordinarily long life.
Namor is a born leader of the kingdom of Atlantis and has acted as a diplomat on the world stage. During writer-artist John Byrne’s notable run with the character, Namor also demonstrated his business acumen as he entered the human corporate world for a time.
Namor’s rivalry with Black Panther
Namor and T’Challa have a long and dysfunctional relationship. in the comics, which is true of just about everyone who spends a lot of time around the haughty king of Atlantis. As a superpowered king, Namor views T’Challa as one of the few people in the world worthy of his respect.
Nevertheless, their relationship worsened in the Avengers vs. 2012 X-Men. At one point, a Phoenix-possessed Namor flooded Wakanda, wreaking untold destruction on a realm that once prided itself on never having been invaded. The two were later forced to work together to stop the Incursion threat in writer Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers series, but that alliance was shattered when T’Challa stabbed Namor and left him for dead in another universe. . Namor survived, but their friendship has seen better days.
How the MCU is changing Namor and Atlantis
Namor finally makes his MCU debut in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, but perhaps not in the way that fans expected. The film features Tenoch Huerta in the role, and the first trailer suggests that Namor will actually be the sequel’s main villain. Although, as we’ve already said, that’s not that much of an exaggeration based on some of Namor’s adventures in the comics.
Huerta’s choice and the suit designs seen in the trailer suggest that Atlantis is being reimagined as a Mesoamerican or South American kingdom. Basically the Western Hemisphere’s answer to Wakanda. We suspect the film will reveal that Atlantis once fought off Spanish conquistadors and other colonizers before eventually retreating to the safety of the ocean, rather than hiding through technology like Wakanda.
The trailer doesn’t make it clear why Atlantis declares war on Wakanda. However, the 2019 film Avengers: Endgame may give us a clue. Early in the film, Danai Gurira’s Okoye comments on a mysterious underwater earthquake, but the film never picks up on that loose end. Is this an early warning sign that Atlantis has been preparing to attack the surface world?
Although the frigid relationship between Namor and T’Challa has become a hallmark of modern Avengers comics, the untimely passing of actor Chadwick Boseman means that we will not see that rivalry in the UCM. Instead, we may see the hot-headed Namor taking on Shuri, as two of the MCU’s most powerful and secretive nations go to war with each other.
The Sub-Mariner on television and video games
- TV: The Marvel Super Heroes, an animated television series from the 1960s, had a segment dedicated to Prince Namor. Since then, he has appeared in more animated series such as the 1980s Spider-Man series, Avengers: United They Stand, and the Fantastic Four series in both the 1990s and early 2000s.
- Games: 1991’s Spider-Man was the first time the Sub-Sailor was introduced as a playable character. Players faced him as a boss in the Fantastic Four PlayStation game; later, Namor would participate in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. He most recently can be found as a playable character in Marvel Strike Force, Marvel Contest of Champions, Marvel Puzzle Quest and Marvel Super War.
Will Marvel’s oldest original character become its newest star on the big screen? Only time will tell.