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Marvel Comics’ Namor may have preceded DC Comics’ Aquaman by two short years, debuting in 1939 while Arthur first appeared in 1941, but he’ll be beaten to the multiplexes by James Wan’s Aquaman in December. Nevertheless, the Sub-Mariner likely will be heading to the big screen, eventually.
Regardless of how Aquaman performs or is received, Marvel will inevitably want to take its own stab at Atlantis, if only to prove its fish-man has something different to offer. While the surface details of the two comic characters are remarkably similar — including having a human father and royal Atlantean mother — Namor and Aquaman have charted distinct courses over the decades, each evolving into essential figures within their respective corners of comic book canon. Aquaman’s undeniable heroism, frequent place in the Justice League and supporting cast has granted him numerous long-running series, and thus the greater ability to hold down a film franchise. But the less widely known Namor isn’t entirely land-locked by Aquaman’s increasing popularity, and current developments in the comics could open some interesting doors for the character for whenever he does land in theaters. Recent comments from Kevin Feige have left fans wondering when Namor will show up in the MCU, and what purpose he can serve in a post-Aquaman world.
During a Black Panther event screening last Thursday attended by director Ryan Coogler and Marvel president Kevin Feige, among others, film critic Eric Weber tweeted some info gleaned from Feige, including that Namor could make an appearance in the MCU, but the studio is still deciding if and when. The fact that discussions are even happening is more forward motion than the character has received on the film front in quite some time. In 2001, years before 2008’s Iron Man kicked off the current era of superhero box office domination, a Namor film was set up at Universal Pictures, where it remained for over a decade with filmmakers including Chris Columbus and Jonathan Mostow struggling to get the film sea-worthy. While Universal no longer has full rights to the property, the contract situation is still somewhat complicated. Feige told IGN earlier this year, “I think there’s a way to probably figure it out but it does have — it’s not as clean or clear as the majority of the other characters.”
Marvel fans are familiar with how Universal left Marvel with their hands tied on making another Hulk solo film, and similar distribution rights might be at play with Namor. Still, discussions have happened and Marvel Studios has proven time and again its ability to get access to characters previously considered off-limits.
It seems highly unlikely that Universal, assuming it still does retain some ownership over Namor, would want to create a universe solely with Namor. Sure, he has his share of B- and C-list supporting characters: Namora, Dorma, Stingray, Tiger Shark and a handful of others. But, if the price for getting Namor to the big screen is enduring a Stingray movie, then we might as well end superhero movies altogether.
Even a Namor film series set up outside the MCU seems like a stretch given Aquaman‘s upcoming release, especially considering Universal’s lack of access to other Marvel characters. Namor is at his most interesting when interacting with Marvel’s other characters. Alone, he’s just chum.
When Namor does show up in the MCU, Marvel Studios should refrain from setting him up as a solo character, instead utilizing his potential as a supporting character whose hostile nature often causes him to butt heads with Marvel’s heroes and villains. In the comics, Namor has long held the position of antihero, one of the industry’s first. In his early appearances, he threatened to destroy the United States, going as far as to attempt to sink Manhattan before being stopped by fellow Golden Age character the Human Torch — the android, not the Fantastic Four member. Despite these actions, which in any modern comic book would leave him branded a terrorist, Namor turned face and fought against Hitler during World War II. In the ’70s, comic books would rewrite these early appearances by having Namor team up with Captain America, Bucky and the Human Torch as part of the superhero team of Allies, the Invaders. It’s entirely possible that this history could be woven into the MCU, considering we spent only a brief amount of time with Cap and Bucky in WWII. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) actually featured a cameo from the Human Torch at the Stark Expo where he is kept in a glass case and given the display “Phineas Horton Presents The Synthetic Man,” making it easy to imagine some iteration of the Invaders existing even if Cap hasn’t mentioned them yet.
While Namor along with Marvel’s (then Timely Comics) other WWII heroes disappeared following the war, he resurfaced in 1962 in Fantastic Four No. 4. It’s here where Namor once again became an integral part of the Marvel Universe, frequently appearing as an ally and occasional antagonist of the Fantastic Four with an unrequited love for Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman. With the Fantastic Four landing in the MCU following Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, it’s possible that Namor shows up with them whenever they are introduced. More recently, it was revealed that Namor is a mutant, the world’s first (take that, Apocalypse), and even joined the X-Men for some time. This is another possibility for Marvel Studios following their acquisition, though with so many mutants joining the fray, Namor isn’t likely to be at the top of the list for team membership. But what should be given consideration when it comes to Namor’s introduction into the MCU is how often he’s worked with villains, and over the course of the past few years become one himself.
Namor may have fought the good fight alongside the Fantastic Four, the Avengers and the Defenders on numerous occasions, but he’s also sided with Doctor Doom and Magneto. Like those men, Namor makes no excuses for being a dictator. While more often this has led to a personality trait best described as dickish, recent developments have shaded his arrogance with more than a faint cruelty. During the 2012 Marvel event Avengers vs. X-Men, a Phoenix Force-powered Namor goes to war with Wakanda, destroying much of the country with a tidal wave that devastates the population. As a result, Black Panther assumes the title King of the Dead and resides in the ruined city known as the Necropolis while Shuri becomes Queen of the surviving Wakanda. This results in a bitter feud between the two men, a continuing war that sees devastating casualties for both Atlantis and Wakanda, and the transition that would see Namor emerge as a full-fledged villain. As recently as this month, in Avengers No. 9, Namor has accepted his position as an antagonist in order to maintain a ruthless hold over the sea. He has begun to wage war on humans and any hero that would oppose him, including the Avengers, forming a team of undersea villains, the Defenders of the Deep.
As a villain, Namor has truly come into his own and emerged as a threat just as formidable as his former compatriots Doom and Magneto. And it’s in this form that he should come in to shake up the MCU. With Coogler having officially signed on to direct a sequel to Black Panther, it would be fitting for Marvel Studios to make use of the lore that has built up the antagonism between Namor and T’Challa over the years. Black Panther isn’t known for having a great rogues’ gallery, but Namor would make for a memorable nemesis, especially if Marvel Studios nails the casting as it so often does. Seeing the technology of Wakanda against the technology of Atlantis in a war taking place on both land and sea that fully explores the consequences of Wakanda opening up to the rest of the world has the makings of a great sequel.
It’s entirely possible that Aquaman and Namor can both succeed on the big screen, not because of their similarities but because of their differences. While DC looks to receive a great new hero to build a film franchise around, Marvel’s next great villain is waiting in the wings.
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