Many Marvel characters have obvious DC equivalents. With his gadget-heavy suit and billionaire lifestyle, for example, Iron Man is the spiritual heir of Batman, while Hawkeye and Ant-Man have similar abilities to Green Arrow and the Atom, respectively. Few share quite so many similarities as Namor: the Sub-Mariner and Aquaman, however, a pair of amphibious super heroes with an almost identical set of skills.
Although both are heirs to the thrones of underwater kingdoms, there is one key difference between them – while Aquaman is a fully signed up member of the heroic Justice League, Namor has flirted with being a hero, a villain and an anti-hero over his eight-decade history on comic-book pages.
Now, one of the biggest names in the Marvel Comics canon yet to make his big-screen debut has been lined up to play antagonist in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (in theaters from November 11). Here’s everything you need to know about a comic-book icon who’s equally home on land and water as he makes his appearance ready for future Marvel movies.
Who is Namor: the Sub-Mariner?
The child of a human father and an Atlantean mother, Namor McKenzie is the ruler of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis and its homo mermanus people. Like his DC opposite number Arthur Curry/Aquaman, the Marvel Comics version of Namor is equally comfortable on land and water, can communicate with numerous sea creatures, and occasionally carries an ancient weapon known as the Trident of Neptune.
Namor’s full skillset (which has varied over the course of his long history) stretches beyond Aquaman’s, however, most notably in the wings attached to his ankles that give him the ability to fly. He also has a tendency to shout “Imperius rex!” when heading into battle.
What is Namor’s history in Marvel Comics?
While fellow Wakanda Forever debutant Ironheart is a newbie to Marvel Comics, Namor is a bona fide veteran of the four-color panel. Debuting within 12 months of both Superman and Batman – as well as predating Aquaman by a couple of years – Namor ranks among the first comic-book superheroes. In fact, he’s such an old-timer that he started out as a character in the Timely Comics stable, decades before the company rebranded itself as Marvel.
Created by Bill Everett, Namor’s first appearance came in Motion Picture Funnies Weekly in April 1939. In those early Golden Age years, he started life as a villain with a penchant for trashing human civilization, though during World War II, he joined forces with Captain America to fight Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
As the public lost interest in superheroes in the post-war years, Namor disappeared from view for much of the 1950s, but made a spectacular comeback when – with the legendary team of writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby at the helm – he appeared in 1962’s Fantastic Four #4. In a politically relevant twist, this Namor was on a quest for vengeance after Atlantis had been destroyed by nuclear testing, though his general civility ensured he was more antihero than all-out villain. By 1968, he’d been gifted his own Sub-Mariner comic book, which ended six years later in an unlikely crossover with his DC Comics doppelganger, Aquaman.
Over the years, Namor has continued to flirt with both the forces of light and darkness, sometimes appearing alongside the villainous likes of Magneto and Doctor Doom, at others lining up for super-teams such as the Avengers, Defenders and the X-Men – he is, after all, “Marvel’s first mutant”.
And, foreshadowing the events of the new Black Panther movie, he’s also had plenty of dealings with Wakanda. A comic-book retcon revealed that he fought alongside T’Challa’s father, T’Chaka, during World War II, while he’s also had an on/off friendship with T’Challa.
“[Namor’s] always been really cool and charismatic, but also arrogant," Black Panther: Wakanda Forever director Ryan Coogler told Entertainment Weekly. “He's kind of an asshole, kind of romantic, and just incredibly powerful.“
If Namor’s such a big deal, why haven’t we seen him in a movie before?
As far back as the early 1950s, US television was eyeing up Namor as a potential rival to The Adventures of Superman, but the live-action project was abandoned without even filming a pilot. Marvel’s efforts to make a Sub-Mariner show in the ’70s met much the same fate, largely thanks to perceived similarities with the short-lived Man from Atlantis TV series.
Namor’s screen appearances have subsequently been limited to kids’ cartoons, where he’s cropped up (as both a hero and villain) in the 1967, 1994 and 2006 Fantastic Four shows, 1981 episodes of Spider-Man, and Spider-Man and his Amazing friends, and 1999’s The Avengers: United They Stand.
With regard to his long-awaited live-action debut, however, Namor has been repeatedly thwarted by that age-old enemy of the comic book icon: wrangles over screen rights.
Back in the 1990s, Universal bagged the rights to the Sub-Mariner, though Marvel Studios overlord Kevin Feige confirmed in 2014 (via ScreenRant) that the character was back under Marvel control. But he also added that “there are entanglements that make it less easy. There are older contracts that still involve other parties that mean we need to work things out before we move forward on it.”
An Entertainment Weekly article from October 2022 suggested that rights issues prevented director Ryan Coogler from including Namor in the first Black Panther movie, though it’s clear they’ve been cleared up in time for Wakanda Forever.
How will Namor fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Namor makes his debut in the Black Panther sequel, where it appears he’ll be an antagonist to Wakanda and its people. But while this incarnation of the Sub-Mariner (played by Narcos: Mexico star Tenoch Huerta) retains the pointy ears, green swimming trunks and ankle wings of his comic-book counterpart, other aspects of the character have gone through a radical overhaul.
The biggest shift is that the movie Namor is not the ruler of Atlantis which, let’s not forget, has already been established as Aquaman’s domain by the DC movies. Instead, he’s top dog in Talocan, a new hidden undersea empire that takes inspiration from Mayan culture – indeed, the production team worked closely with experts on Mesoamerican civilizations to keep things accurate. That’s reflected in the portrayal of the character – M’Baku explains in a Wakanda Forever trailer that “[Namor’s] people do not call him general or king. They call him K’uk’ulkan, the feather serpent god.” K’uk’ulkan is a genuine Mesoamerican deity.
Like Wakanda, Talocan is a hidden, technologically advanced society, but Namor and his people are not necessarily delighted with King T’Challa’s decision to open his country to the world at the end of the first Black Panther.
“That decision puts Talocan in jeopardy,” Huerta told Empire. “And Talocan has to take action to protect themselves.”
“[Wakanda and Talocan] often find themselves in conflict because they're not dissimilar,” producer Nate Moore explained to EW. “They are these nations that would prefer to be hidden and isolated, with monarchs who are incredibly powerful and have strong points of view about how the world should be.”
This preview clip for Wakanda Forever hints at the tensions between the two countries:
Unlike the comic-book incarnation of the character, it seems that the movie Namor won’t be entirely self-centered. “Maybe the most important twist in the character is that he’s not a selfish person,” Huerta said in EW. “He's taking care of a community. He’s not an individualist. He’s part of a tribe.”
Though when it comes to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe and how things play out in Phase 5 and beyond, perhaps the biggest talking point is that Namor – like his comic-book counterpart – has been confirmed to be a mutant. In the wake of Ms Marvel’s big reveal that Kamala Khan is also genetically different, Marvel seems to be paving the way for the X-Men’s arrival in the MCU…
But another famous entanglement of Namor's with the wider Marvel world is a fascination with Sue Storm. With a Fantastic Four movie in development right now, Namor is lined up to immediately start driving a wedge into the Invisible Woman's marriage to Reed Richards.
For more Black Panther-based content, read our spoiler-free Black Panther: Wakanda Forever review. Or check out our Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ending and post-credits scene explained article.
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Richard is a freelance journalist specialising in movies and TV, primarily of the sci-fi and fantasy variety. An early encounter with a certain galaxy far, far away started a lifelong love affair with outer space, and these days Richard's happiest geeking out about Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel and other long-running pop culture franchises. In a previous life he was editor of legendary sci-fi magazine SFX, where he got to interview many of the biggest names in the business – though he'll always have a soft spot for Jeff Goldblum who (somewhat bizarrely) thought Richard's name was Winter.