Why do water-based heroes seem to always get the short end of the stick? For Marvel’s Namor, he won’t take that — in fact, if you mentioned it to him he’d probably give you a firm punch in the snout.
Namor the Sub-Mariner is one of Marvel’s earliest superheroes, created well before Fantastic Four, Spider-Man or even Captain America. Created by Bill Everett back in 1939 and honed over the years by the likes of Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Gene Colan, John Byrne and others, Namor came to embody the spirit of Marvel heroes by having powers but being defined by his personality. For Namor, he’s a self-important and pompous individual that is sometimes cast as a villain but most times as a hero. Torn between his twin homes of Atlantis and human society, Namor has called both home — but also called both enemies from time to time. In terms of associations, he one of the few heroes who has been a part of virtually all of Marvel’s top teams — from the Avengers to the X-Men and even the Defenders and the Fantastic Four. He is thoroughly outspoken, has an eye for the ladies, and isn’t afraid to stand up for what he believes in — even if that earns him the ire of everyone around him.
In this week’s Where Do I Start?, we cover this conflicted hero and find the four stories that show best what makes him tick.
Essential Sub-Mariner, Vol. 1: After re-emerging in Fantastic Four #4, Marvel’s Sub-Mariner was a prominent guest star in a number of titles that paved the way back to his own solo series. This Essentials book collects those guest-starring issues, including an excellent crossover with Daredevil drawn by Wally Wood from Daredevil #7. After that, Namor takes up a place as one of the stars of Tales of Astonish and begins solo stories against his growing rogue’s gallery, from greats like Attuma to not-so-greats like Seaweed Man. Stan Lee writes the majority of the stories in this, but the star of it is artist Gene Colan who has a mastery of human form. These stories really begin to delve into Namor’s place as King of Atlantis and try to carve out an undersea kingdom for him to rule.
Namor: Visionaries – John Byrne, Vol. 1: Bill Everett may have borne Namor and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby might have gave him the spin that made him a Marvel stalwart, but for my money Namor’s chief creator is John Byrne. Years after making his name on Uncanny X-men, Fantastic Four and Superman, Byrne returned to Marvel with a slick style and proceeded to refashion Namor as a businessman and environmentalist fighting the greed of the 80s. This book collects the first nine issues of that, with Byrne writing and pencilling Namor’s foray into the dangerous waters of boardrooms to fight for his kingdom. If you liked the business intrigue of Iron Man but with even more of a superiority complex, this is it for you.
Sub-Mariner: The Depths: This latter-day entry into the Marvel library shows Namor not as a person per se, but as a proverbial force of nature. The unique pairing of Paul Milligan and Esad Ribic show an early Namor adventure before World War 2 when he joined with the surface world; instead, he is receiving an undersea submarine that’s exploring the Marinas trench looking for the fabled city of Atlantis. Like a superhero version of The Abyss, Namor is not so much a character but merely an extension of the mysterious abyss of water and unknown that exists thousands of feet below the water’s surface. A thoroughly different kind of Namor story that gives you a new vantage point on how alien he might seem.
Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Sub-Mariner, Vol. 1: While I admit this might be a little hard to track down given its been out of print for years, the single issues are even harder… but its worth it. This quartet of issues from the 1941 Sub-Mariner series shows writer/artist Bill Everett really bringing his undersea hero to bear against the Axis Powers in the beginning of World War 2. Although Namor has stories before this that are not in this Where Do I Start?, it’s these issues that I believe give you the best of the early days of Namor. It’s important to note this is before Stan Lee ever touched Namor, so the portrayal — and the dialogue — is quite different from the Namor we know today.