Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
While we are all anxious to see how the Marvel Cinematic Universe will go about choosing a new Black Panther (or Panthers because there can be more than one), the upcoming film Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will also bring one of the very first Marvel heroes to the big screen—Namor, the Sub-Mariner!
Namor first appeared in the very first superhero comic published by Timely Comics, the company that would become Marvel Comics. Published in 1939, Marvel Comics #1 (August 1939) was an anthology book that introduced some characters who would go on to be legends. By order of appearance, Namor was technically the third hero introduced after the Human Torch (not the one you know from the movies) and the Angel (definitely not the one you know from the X-Men).
From the very outset, Namor acted with very different motivations. He sought revenge against the surface world that had wronged his submerged civilization. In his debut story, he killed some divers and then set about on more attacks on the world above.
Even though there was something regal about him, it was hard to see Namor in a purely heroic mold. Later, he attempted to destroy New York City in an epic battle that pitted him against the Human Torch in the crossover fight that would later come to define Marvel’s shared universe. Eventually, Namor realized that the fascist threat was a greater menace, joining in the Nazi punching escapades of heroes like the Human Torch and, of course, Captain America. His super-strength, his ability to breathe underwater, and his uncanny ability to fly using wings on his ankles made Namor into a potent force for good.
As an aside, Namor might sound a lot like Aquaman to you. However, Namor predates the DC’s aquatic hero by two years.
After a long hiatus, Namor returned in Fantastic Four #4 (February 1962). After the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch (the one you know from the movies) accidentally restored the memories of a vagabond living in an NYC flophouse, the Sub-Mariner returned to his aggressive plans to protect his kingdom of Atlantis against the surface. A regular foe for the quartet, Namor also held a deep attraction to the Invisible Girl. While the team treated Namor as a menace, they were always aware of his inherent nobility and tried to convince him to be more heroic.
Namor went on to become one of the great guest stars of Marvel Comics. Throughout the Silver Age of Comics, his imperial arrogance and angry nature led him to fight just about every Marvel hero or team you could think of. Although Namor tended to tangle with the most powerful heroes (he was particularly effective at fighting the Hulk), he once had a memorable struggle with Daredevil. Completely outmatched, Daredevil threw everything he had at Namor. Eventually, the Sub-Mariner relented, impressed by the street fighting superhero’s tenacity.
He also headlined his own books, including a memorable run in the 1990s in which Namor shifted tactics, using the riches of ocean shipwrecks in an attempt to buy out the surface world.
Through the years, Namor would find himself on the side of good and evil. He has a strange sort of best frenemies relationship with Doctor Doom. Sometimes the supervillain manipulates Namor. Other times they have worked together to save the world. Namor may be the closest thing Doom has ever had to a loyal friend. Namor has also found himself on various teams. He is a longtime and loyal ally of the Fantastic Four. He was a mainstay of Dr. Strange’s Defenders team. Namor eventually became an Avenger. His status as “Marvel’s First Mutant,” also led Namor to operate with the X-Men. For a person who is genuinely hard to know and like, Namor sure has many friends.
And, of course, Namor has battled the Black Panther. His undersea kingdom of Atlantis has warred with Wakanda many times. Presumably, that is what will happen in Wakanda Forever. This version of Namor played by Tenoch Huerta looks different, with a new style that appears to be a synthesis of Aztec, Mayan, and Incan civilizations than Namor’s traditional Roman aesthetics. I have no doubt that Namor will prove to be a dangerous foe for the Wakandans and a potential new ally for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.