They say we like people for their good qualities and love them for their flaws. There may be no Marvel character who better exemplifies this principle than Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Appearing in the very first Marvel comic, MARVEL COMICS #1, in a story written and drawn by a young Bill Everett. (Namor’s title, the Sub-Mariner, is pronounced mr-nr, as in “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” as opposed to as in submarine.)
From the beginning, Namor was a contradictory, angry mess. The offspring of a human sailor and an Atlantean mother, Namor was amphibious, with Caucasian skin tones (as opposed to his mother’s blue skin), pointed ears and elven eyebrows. He possessed superhuman strength and endurance, which made sense since he lived deep underwater and wore only tiny swim trunks, but he also had a feature unrelated to his human or Atlantean heritage: tiny wings on his ankles which allowed him to fly. It’s an entirely whimsical, Golden Age idea which makes no logical sense, even in a world where radioactive accidents grant more superpowers than they do cancer. But the strange detail made him master of land, sea, and air.
But there was no place Namor was truly at home. Although a prince by birthright, Atlantis considered him a half-breed, and the surface world wanted no part of him, either. So he was a belligerent brat, attacking Manhattan with tidal waves and monsters from the deep over perceived slights. When the US entered World War II in real life, Namor decided he hated the Axis most of all the airbreathers.
In the 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revived the Sub-Mariner, initially as a villain, when the Human Torch found Namor living as an amnesiac vagrant in a flophouse. Although he hadn’t aged, years on dry land had erased his memory, but one good dip in the ocean set him back to his petulant, pompous self.
Constantly vacillating between mankind’s defender and its greatest foe, Namor is somehow nonetheless an engaging character. Like a beloved drunk who gets violent when he’s had too much, Namor’s friends in the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the X-Men, all embrace him when he calms back down.
I depicted Namor with gills, which John Byrne introduced in his Namor series of the 1990s. He also eliminated the wings and suggested too long in either environment triggers Namor’s mood swings, which struck me as over-explanation. The Hulk is the repressed, raging id of a bookworm scientist, unleashed with the force of an atomic bomb. Namor? He’s just moody.
I hope you’ll swing by for tomorrow’s installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY!