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December 11, 2019

Happy 80th Birthday to the Sub-Mariner


In October 1939, Marvel Comics #1 was released by American comic book publisher Timely Comics – the very first publication by Timely Comics, which eventually went on to become Marvel Comics. 

The issue featured what with the benefit of hindsight was the first comic book antihero, the Sub-Mariner, also known as Namor. (There is a tedious argument that Namor was published early in 1939 and not late 1939 which we won’t go into here). Namor was first prince and now is the king of the legendary sunken city of Atlantis, and was created by writer / artist Bill Everett in 1939. Mr Everett has stated that his inspiration for creating the character was Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798) – but with winged feet and pointy ears. Back in the late 1930s, readers of the Sub-Mariner’s adventures would have not so much have called him an antihero as an elemental force of nature with a bad temper.

Imperious and Vexed

Namor has consistently been a tetchy character. In his initial appearance, Namor had no real qualms about killing two hapless salvage divers. Eight issues later, during a fight with a superhero called The Human Torch (the first inter-title crossover of comic book characters), Namor releases Bronx Zoo’s herd of elephants and causes a stampede. But by the time the character starred in his own series in 1941, the Sub-Mariner was busy, like the rest of American superheroes of the era, fighting Nazis and then after the attack on Pearl Harbour, the Japanese. Once the war was over, Namor went out of print as superheroes mostly fell out of favour and both Westerns and war comics came into fashion. A brief flirtation with the character during the 1950s failed. 

Reintroduced into Marvel Comics in the pages of Fantastic Four #4 (1962), one of the first things the Sub-Mariner does upon recovering from amnesia is to set a giant sea monster called Giganto upon Manhattan, destroying skyscrapers. 

Attacking Manhattan and the Surface World has become a hobby. Diving into attack, usually wielding a big yellow trident, Namor would yell his warcry:  “Imperius Rex!” This is Latin for “Imperial king!”. Why Namor would scream out his job title in a dead language his unknown. 

This orientation towards villainy has sometimes been extremely pronounced. During the Secret Empire cross-title storyline, Namor became a tyrant and was overthrown by his cousin, Namora. Namor has otherwise been depicted as destroying the African country of Wakanda (twice), assisting super villains to obliterate parallel universe Earths, and starting a criminal cartel called the Cabal. (Namor was also once a movie mogul.)

Recent developments in the character suggest that his mercurial nature was caused by the early telepathic intervention of Charles Xavier of the X-Men. We prefer the idea that Namor is just plain irritable, arrogant, and slightly murderous. 

The character is still in print and indeed in the last month, in the pages of Invaders # 10, lost his ability to breath underwater. Rumours abound that the Sub-Mariner will be the villain of the next Black Panther movie. There has been irresponsible and unfounded speculation that the character might be played by Keanu Reeves. We will not perpetuate that gossip.

Smoking Namor

Most discussions about the character meander through his range of superpowers (including sometimes forgotten ones like his “electric eel” zap and being able to swell up like a puffer fish), the green briefs, or the fact that, despite living underwater, he was a dandy smoker. 

But it is the character’s romantic life we have always found interesting. 

The Sub-Mariner has always had a thing for Sue Storm, later Sue Richards, a character known as the Invisible Woman and a member of the superhero team called the Fantastic Four. Being shirtless has had an effect on the Invisible Woman, and Namor has never been above efforts to undermine her marriage:

Smooth Operator

But Namor has had other love interests. Here are the main ones:

  1. Namor’s deceased wife, Lady Dorma

2. Marrina Smallwood, a member of the Plodex alien species, who also marries Namor, falls pregnant to him, is transformed into an enormous serpent with a taste for Atlantean blood, and is killed by Namor.

3. Carrie Alexander , a scientist who develops a potential mechanical cure for Namor’s rages.

4. The Valkyrie, Namor’s team-mate in the superhero group called the Defenders:

Sometimes Namor’s efforts at charm have become carried away:

Notwithstanding the character’s many flaws, it is odd that Marvel Comics have not made a fuss about this anniversary – which just passed us by in October. Happy 80th Birthday, Sub-Mariner.

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