Who Is Namor? Just Marvel’s Aquaman?

Namor is making his Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) debut in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever but if you don’t know your comic book history, the name “Namor” might be a mystery to you. While he used to be very popular during the 1940s and 50s, he hasn’t quite had the same level of prestige as some of his fellow Timely Comics’ “Big Three” compatriots, Captain America, and The (original) Human Torch. Like the previously lesser known, Guardians of the Galaxy, the MCU is sure to reintroduce and change parts of Namor for a modern audience, but who and what are they working with? Is Namor just Marvel’s version of Aquaman?

Creation

Marvel Comics #1

Namor the Sub-Mariner was created two years before DC’s Aquaman in early 1939 by writer-artist, Bill Everett. Initially, the character wasn’t even set to debut in a Marvel comic, but for Motion Picture Funnies Weekly (April 1939), however, that was very quickly shelved when the publisher wanted to expand into comics. Hence, Namor made his first real appearance in Marvel Comics #1 (Oct. 1939). At the time, he was just known as the Sub-Mariner with Namor being his real name.

Namor was one of the original Marvel characters and is credited with being the first known comic book antihero. His influence has significant historical importance, despite his waning popularity over time.

Comics historian, Les Daniels, described Namor in his book, Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics (1991):

“Namor was a freak in the service of chaos. Although the Sub-Mariner acted like a villain, his cause had some justice, and readers revelled in his assaults on civilisation. His enthusiastic fans weren’t offended by the carnage he created as he wrecked everything from ships to skyscrapers.”

Everett stated that he got the idea of the character from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798). This is where the “Sub-Mariner” title came from, whilst the name “Namor” came from Everett writing noble sounding names backwards, hence Namor is simply “Roman” spelled backwards, which Everett thought sounded the coolest.

The Sub-Mariner (1968)

When describing the character, Everett called Namor an “ultra-man of the deep [who] lives on land and in the sea, flies in the air, [and] has the strength of a thousand [surface] men.”

One anecdote describes the creation process as a response to Carl Burgos’ Human Torch, who could manipulate fire, so Everett created Namor to play to the notion of “fire and water.” But this seems to be more of a legend than fact.

Powers and Abilities

Namor’s powers are like if Superman could speak to fish, they’re so broad. His powers are a result of his hybrid human/Atlantean DNA. This hybridisation was a result of his mother, the Atlantean Emperor’s daughter, Fen, fell in love with an American sea captain, Leonard Mackenzie. Namor was born in Atlantis and had pink skin rather than the usual blue of Atlanteans. If that origin sounds similar to Aquaman, you wouldn’t be wrong, but the details are quite different, though we won’t get into that here.

Alright, so his powers, they include:

  • A fully amphibious physiology meaning he can live underwater, withstand the immense pressure of the depths, and he can see even in the murkiest of waters
  • Superhuman strength, speed, agility, and durability. His strength does diminish the longer he is out of the water, but if he stays wet, he has strength enough to go one-on-one with the Hulk.
  • Flight (which isn’t really explained by his origin, but rather that he is a mutant in the style of the X-Men so he’s often given the title of “Marvel’s First Mutant”).
  • He is at least 100 years old but looks like he is still in his prime
  • Super hearing, especially underwater
  • Swimming at high speed, even by Atlantean standards
  • Telepathic communication with sea creatures

What can’t Namor do (except stay out of the water too long)?

A (Not So) Brief Publication Timeline

When Namor first appeared, he was an enemy of the United States of America. In one of his early appearances, he battled the Human Torch in 1940 when Namor threatened to sink Manhatten under a tidal wave. However, once World War II broke out, Namor did put aside his differences to fight the Nazis alongside Captain America.

During the 1940s, Namor had his own series, The Sub-Mariner, that ran from Fall 1941 to June 1949. However, once WWII was over, Namor mostly disappeared alongside the general decline in popularity of comics.

Namor did enjoy a brief revival in the mid-1950s when he was revived alongside Captain America and the Human Torch in Young Men #24. After this Namor received a continuation of his series from April 1954 to October 1955, but this was cancelled once again.

It wasn’t until 1962 that Namor would appear again in Fantastic Four #4 (May 1962). In this edition, Namor has lost his memory and has been discovered by the new Human Torch, Johnny Storm, as an amnesiac derelict living in the Bowery section of Manhattan. Once his memory has returned, Namor is given new purpose as a he discovers that Atlantis has been destroyed by nuclear testing.  His antihero status is returned as he is fuelled by vengeance and a quest for identity. He teamed up with the likes of Dr. Doom and Magneto at this time, but this didn’t last long.

Namor was a hit in the 60s but couldn’t get his own series again due to publication and distribution restrictions. Once those were lifted in 1968, we saw Namor get his own series once again.

The Sub-Mariner lasted from 1968 to 1974 before it was cancelled. This was the last time that original creator, Bill Everett, worked on Namor before his death. The series’ cancellation didn’t kill Namor as he still made several appearances thereafter.

A small four-issue miniseries appeared a decade later in September 1984, Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner.

November 1988, we saw a 12-issue maxiseries, The Saga of the Sub-Mariner, that lasted until October 1989. This series provided a retrospective on Namor’s past adventures whilst also tying up any loose ends and resolving any contradictions that may have appeared during his long history.

We got a proper Namor series in April 1990, Namor, The Sub-Mariner, written and pencilled by John Byrne. This was the first time that “Namor” was emphasised in the cover logo rather than “the Sub-Mariner.” This series saw Namor become the CEO of Oracle Inc., a corporation aimed at reducing pollution, obviously with a large focus on the ocean. Whilst others believed Namor should be explored further, Byrne believed that Namor was a character that worked best as part of a group, hence this series has a massive supporting cast.

When the series ended in May 1995, we would see Namor much again until a 12-issue miniseries, Namor, in June 2003. This series followed Namor’s youth and his romantic relationship with a young surface girl.

When Namor ended in May 2004, it was followed by another miniseries, Sub-Mariner vol. 2 (August 2007 – January 2008), that introduced his son, Kamar.

Since then, Marvel have struggled to get Namor into the popular consciousness again. He got a new series in 2011, Namor: The First Mutant, but this was cancelled less than a year after it appeared. The same happened with the 2011 revival of The Defenders, which Namor was a part of.

The last appearance of Namor was as a main character in the New Avengers (2013), in which Namor is a member of the Illuminati.

While Namor was the first, he isn’t one of the most popular. He might have beat Aquaman to the punch, but we all know which has stayed in the popular consciousness longer, for better or worse.

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