The Other Underwater King: Everything You Need to Know About Marvel's Sub-Mariner

The studio might want one of its first superheroes to join its Cinematic Universe — but will audiences want to see Namor on the big screen?
John Buscema/Marvel Entertainment
'Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner'

Forget Captain America — the Internet is excited about rumors that Marvel may have regained the movie rights to a character that predates even the Sentinel of Liberty. But would movie audiences even want Namor, the Sub-Mariner to become the next big superhero thing?

During an appearance on Kevin Smith's Fat Man on Batman podcast, Marvel chief creative officer Joe Quesada was asked whether Marvel Studios controls the movie rights to the fan-favorite anti-hero, whose rights were previously controlled by Universal. "As far as I know, yeah we do," he replied.

Asked if that meant the character would be showing up in a future Marvel project, Quesada hedged his bets, saying, "I cannot confirm or deny, sir." However, the situation might not be so clear cut; sources at Marvel told The Hollywood Reporter that the rights situation surrounding the character has not actually changed, with movie rights remaining outside the studio's control for now.

The confusion has brought new focus to the Sub-Mariner, a character many non-comic fans might not even have been aware of, or have confused with DC's Aquaman. (He's the other underwater superhero.) So, who is Marvel's king of Atlantis?

Created by Bill Everett, Namor debuted in 1939's Marvel Comics No. 1, the very first comic book published by the company that would one day become Marvel Entertainment (at the time, the company was called Timely Comics). An immediate success, the character would receive his own series, Sub-Mariner Comics in 1941, which would continue through 1949, before a brief revival in 1954 that lasted a little over a year before being revived a second time as a character in the fourth issue of Marvel's then-groundbreaking Fantastic Four series in 1962, bringing him into the nascent Marvel Universe for the first time.

In this, he again acted as a trailblazer for Captain America, who first appeared in 1941's Captain America Comics No. 1. Namor's successful revival paved the way for Cap to be similarly revived and brought into the Marvel Universe proper with 1964's Avengers No. 4. In a nice moment of meta-text, Namor is actually responsible for the discovery of the frozen Cap in the comic books.

Unusual for such an early lead character in the superhero genre, Namor has been an anti-hero since his creation — originally, he was an enemy of the U.S., attacking the land-dwellers on behalf of his fellow citizens of Atlantis, but he would later join forces with America to take on Axis forces when the U.S. entered World War II. Upon his revival in Fantastic Four — where it was explained that his disappearance was down to his becoming an amnesiac following the destruction of Atlantis by U.S. atomic testing — he resumed his war on air-breathers, setting in motion a trend that would recur throughout his subsequent comic book career.

That's not to say that he's not also a superhero, when the mood takes him. Despite an attitude that personifies "superiority complex," Namor has spent an impressive amount of time fighting for the common man during his comic book career, including stints with the Avengers, the X-Men, the Invader and the Defenders (he was, in fact, a founding member of the two latter teams). He was also a member of Marvel's Illuminati, a group of superheroes who gathered in secret to deal with the cosmic threat that ultimately led to the publisher's 2015 series Secret Wars, which turned out to be a bad idea — following that series' conclusion, he was seemingly murdered for the actions he took to safeguard his world. This being comics, his return is rumored to already be in the works.

For those who get Marvel's Sub-Mariner mixed up with DC's Aquaman, that's entirely fair. Despite appearing two years later than Namor, Aquaman has an arguably higher mainstream profile, and the two share a number of traits beyond their primary gimmick of being superheroes who swim — both are half-Atlantean, half-human occasional kings of their respective undersea kingdoms (in both cases, human fathers and Atlantean mothers; comic book creators just like mer-women, it seems) with superpowers that include increased strength and speed, and the ability to telepathically communicate with marine life.

(Both characters also have bad attitudes towards their fellow heroes, although in Aquaman's case, that's a relatively recent affectation and one that's faded in portrayals over the last few years.)

The similarity to Aquaman might be what ultimately dooms Namor's cinematic prospects, even if Marvel does regain movie rights to the character. Should Marvel Studios want to turn the character into a solo star, it would have to contend with the fact that Warners had already used Aquaman in Batman v. Superman, Justice League, and will release his own solo feature, currently scheduled for a 2018 release. (Jason Momoa will play DC's undersea hero).

Are audiences really ready for two superheroes with essentially the same modus operandi — especially ones as wet as these two?

UPDATED, 5:05 p.m. to clarify the rights situation around the character.

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