Marvel Studios are killing it in the box office, but their greatest hero still hasn’t had a chance to stretch his ankle wings on the silver screen. Now a poor intimation is getting the Hollywood treatment, but damn it, Namor the Sub-Mariner is a bad ass and he needs a movie too.
(Spoilers for New Avengers #22 at the very bottom of the article)
Is it possible to be a die-hard fan of a character for their potential to have a great story, even if that story hasn’t been told yet?
I know what you’re thinking: “He’s just a second-rate Aquaman,” and “He’s just an idiot in a speedo,” and also some disturbing thoughts about your mother – stop that, it’s not healthy.
But hear me out: Namor has Superman-like powers, an army of loyal soldiers and the guts to use all of his resources to destroy his enemies.
Namor’s feature film rights are a bit nebulous right now. Sometimes they say he belongs to Universal, other times he belongs to Marvel Studios, and still other times he’s thrown into that quagmire of Facebook relationships known as “it’s complicated.”
Let me explain.
Why Namor is a Bad Ass
Namor often gets compared to Aquaman – I was about to say “compared unfavorably to Aquaman,” but anything involving Aquaman is unfavorable – and this is woefully inappropriate as Aquaman is nothing more than a third-rate knock-off of the Sub-Mariner. There, I said it. Aquaman appeared two years after the Sub-Mariner, and all of his abilities – even his setting – were lame attempts at copying things already established for Namor.
And Namor could do much more than that. At a time when Superman was still leaping an eighth of a mile, running barely faster than an express train and getting injured by bursting artillery shells, Namor was twisting steel girders like putty, bouncing Nazi firepower off his chest and flying – yeah, that’s right, Namor the Sub-Mariner was the first superhero to fly under his own power.
Hell, he was a lot more firsts. A few years ago Marvel was touting Namor as “the first mutant,” but before that, Namor was the first Marvel superhero. He first appeared in a promotional comic called Motion Picture Funnies Weekly that came out a few months before Marvel Comics #1 in 1939, which introduced other heroes like the original Human Torch. In fact, in his first adventure he saved his own people but killed humans. Later he would outright attack New York City, then the world – before saving it from Nazis anyway – so Namor was the first Marvel supervillain.
Sure, the original Ka-Zar first appeared in a pulp magazine in 1936 but… whatever, moving on.
Namor was also the inciting force that created the Marvel Universe. In the 30s and 40s, superheroes almost never interacted. They existed in their own solitary stories just as most pulp heroes did. Then the Sub-Mariner and Human Torch fought – showing for the first time that these heroes existed in the same world, creating the first comic book crossover. And why were they fighting? Because Namor kept attacking humans and the Torch had to stop him.
What Namor Can Do
Because people are wondering, it’s worth looking at exactly what Namor is capable of.
First and foremost, yes, anything Aquaman can do, Namor can do better. So he can talk to sea life, or more accurately, he commands and controls it (he doesn’t engage in conversation with sea life).
Of course, he also has superstrength. He’s usually stated to be at the 85-ton range, about on par with the Thing or She-Hulk, but at his peak, especially during the Golden Age, he regularly tossed around several-hundred-ton submarines, tore apart bridges like paper and made mince meat of tanks. Fully hydrated, he has been put in the same class as Hulk or Thor. It’s worth repeating that Namor was pulling off these feats at a time when Superman was still struggling lifting cars.
Naturally he can also fly (again, he was the first hero ever to do this), something thought connected to his little ankle wings (they were ripped off for a while in the 90s and he rode a supervillain as a mount).
Less well-known are his other abilities, including energy absorption and projection. He can absorb electricity, store it, and unleash it on unwitting foes to tremendous effect.
Namor can also use echolocation, giving him radar-like abilities. He could give Daredevil a run for his money!
Only used a few times in the Golden Age, Namor can also project water from the pores of his skin with enough force to instantly douse the Human Torch’s flame. A useful power, even if it probably depletes his water-given strength.
Then, of course, there’s his only-used-once puffer fish power. Not the most useful of abilities, to be sure, but interesting none the less.
Although not on par with geniuses like Reed Richards or Tony Stark, Namor’s smarts are nothing to sneeze at. In the 40s he used a number of strange devices, including robotic Trojan Horse-style birds and whales, flying submarines and his personal flying jeep, all of which he built or designed himself, sometimes there on the spot from available materials.
Why People Overlook Namor
First, there’s the Aquaman connection. Namor may have hit the waves first, but Aquaman is a household name. Why? Superfriends, that’s why.
When Filmation was animating DC heroes in the 1960s, they needed something to fill dead air when Superman wasn’t on screen, and Aquaman was available: thus was born the Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure. Every kid wanted to watch Superman even if he was paired up with a silly guy who talked to fish, so of course, now everyone had heard of Aquaman, and so began the decades-long running gag that Aquaman is useless next to the rest of the Justice League (which, of course, he is).
Again, however, Namor was first. In 1966 Namor starred in his own segments of Marvel Super-Heroes, a poorly animated show that largely consisted of re-drawn comic panels moved in front of camera to simulate motion. Hey, they’re campy fun now, but they weren’t all that successful at the time. So of course, the Sub-Mariner was overshadowed by Aquaman’s cartoon.
Then there’s the elephant in the room (and no, that’s not a euphemism):Namor wore a green speedo for decades.
There’s no getting around that, but it can be explained. When Namor was first created, there was no standard for super-hero costumes beyond the requirement that they be interesting, as a result, a lot of heroes fought crime in their underwear – just look at the Human Meteor. It’s important to point out, however, that Namor always wore costumes in his earliest adventures.
Yes, he wore swimming trunks on the covers, but inside the issues – at least those written and drawn by creator Bill Everett before Bill left comics to join the war effort – Namor wore a different costume to reflect the needs of the story. If he was acting like a hero, he wore (appropriately enough) a blue suit with a red cape. If he was a spy, he wore a face concealing mask. If he was the villain, he wore a Hugo Boss-inspired dictatorly suit. The man had style.
During the years Bill was away from comics, however, other artists drew him as he looked in on the covers: wearing nothing but underwear. Unfortunately the look stuck and for decades that’s all he wore, even when Bill was drawing him.
And nothing Namor does should be considered embarrassing.
What can be done with Namor?
First and foremost, stop showing him in a speedo. Sure, the suit has history and he can fight in it from time to time, but he should appear fully clothed on covers like any superhero who isn’t Witchblade (although her lack of clothes on covers is another issue…).
Second, stop calling him Namor. Or rather, keep calling him that, but remember that he has a title: He is the Sub-Mariner. They never make comics called “Kal-El: The Man of Steel.” Superman is his title, so they call him that. Namor the Sub-Mariner deserves the same respect.
Third, present him as the heavyweight that he is. This process began nicely with his inclusion in Marvel’s secret society of superheroes, the Illuminati, and with his inclusion in Marvel’s secret society of supervillains, the Cabal (he’s the only member of both groups!), so let’s have more like this.
Fourth, he needs a really good story to bring him to the forefront of the Marvel Universe. Okay, that one may be asking a lot, but the potential’s there, someone just has to bring it to the surface.
The seeds for this have already been sown, first with his inclusion in the Phoenix Five in 2012’s Avengers vs. X-Men crossover and more recently with SPOILERS FOR JULY AND AUGUST’S NEW AVENGERS the latest issues of New Avengers where Namor was the only superhero with guts to kill seven billion innocent people.
Knowing that two versions of Earth were colliding across realities, and realizing that if one of them was not destroyed prematurely, both universes would die – including a finite-but-infinite number of living beings – Namor did what no other hero could muster up the guts to do: he killed one Earth so that another Earth, and two universes, could live.
That makes him not just the first, but the greatest superhero – and the greatest supervillain – of the Marvel Universe.
Bullet points for those who want to read less:
- Namor was Marvel’s first superhero.
- Namor was Marvel’s first supervillain.
- Namor caused the first ever comic book crossover (creating the Marvel Universe).
- Namor was the first superhero to fly.
- Namor has a sense of style.
- Namor is one of the most influential heroes and villains in Marvel.
- Namor killed (est.) 7,000,000,000 innocent people.
This guy needs a movie. Stat.