Who Is Namor? Why Marvel's Aquaman May Be Black Panther's Next Nemesis

Imperius Rex! The MCU's Atlantis equivalent may be introduced in Phase Five. Here's what you need to know.

Eleven years and over twenty movies, and still Marvel hasn’t found a way to feature Namor the Sub-Mariner. One of Marvel’s oldest characters whose comic book history is as rich as it is long, new (however unconfirmed) rumors indicate Marvel is screen testing of Asian descent to play Namor in Phase Five.

A throwaway line in Avengers: Endgame already set him up as a possible villain for Black Panther 2, while a deleted tweet from director Scott Derrickson hints that he could appear in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

But just who is this sinister-looking fish man? Why does he look meaner than Aquaman? And why should anyone care he’s (maybe) coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Get a good breath of air as we dive into the depths to explain Namor, and what his potential arrival could mean for the future of the MCU.

Meet the Sub-Mariner; “Imperius Rex!”

Namor the Sub-Mariner is one of the oldest characters in the Marvel Universe, predating Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and Iron Man. He was created by Bill Everett for Marvel Comics #1, which despite the name was actually published by Timely Comics. (Timely would rename itself Atlas Comics in the 1950s before turning into Marvel Comics in 1961.)

Inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Namor is the half-human, half-Homo mermanus child of a human sea captain, Leonard McKenzie, and Princess Fen, daughter of Emperor Thakorr of Atlantis.

Marvel Namor John Byrne
Cover of 'The Sub-Mariner' #1, published in 1968.

Because of his hybrid DNA that also classifies him as a mutant, Namor is capable of several superhuman feats. He can swim faster than either humans or Atlanteans, he can breathe underwater, he has an elongated lifespan, and even has wings on his feet which no one can explain. This, oddly, allows him to fly.

Hero or Villain?

If you’re thinking to yourself, “He’s just Aquaman,” you can stop there. While Arthur Curry strives to reconcile the land and sea worlds, Namor has been more antagonistic towards the surface. Some of his earliest comic book tales even saw him “crusade against the white man.” In fact, “Namor” is supposed to mean “avenging son” in Marvel’s Atlantean language. (It’s actually just the word “Roman” backwards, confirmed in an issue of Giant-Size Super Stars #1 published by Marvel in 1974.)

Invaders Namor Captain America
Cover of 'Invaders' #1, a 1970s series that detailed the World War II adventures of Captain America and the world's first superhero team.

While Namor has acted heroically, including his stint fighting Nazis in the World War II-era team the Invaders (alongside Captain America, Bucky, Toro, and the first Human Torch) and the Defenders (alongside Doctor Strange, Hulk, and Silver Surfer), Namor has also aligned with Marvel’s villains, including Doctor Doom and Magneto whenever their schemes overlap with his interests.

Thus, Namor has been classified as one of comics’ first anti-heroes, never settling as either a superhero or a villain. His most famous rivalries include the Fantastic Four and Black Panther, including that time he flooded Wakanda.

Wait, He Did What?

During the crossover storyline Avengers vs. X-Men, Namor flooded Wakanda using the power of the Phoenix Force because he’s a dick. (And also because it’s the Phoenix Force, but mainly, Namor really is a dick.)

Avengers vs X-Men Namor Floodds Wakanda
Namor floods Wakanda, in 'Avengers vs. X-Men' #8.

This would cause serious ramifications for years to come, igniting a royal rivalry between Namor and Black Panther.

And Namor attacked Wakanda not just once, but twice. Later, during the next crossover event Infinity, Namor lied to Thanos and led him to destroy Wakanda again in his search of the Infinity Gems. (They’re “Gems” in the comics, not “Infinity Stones.”) Namor would later confessed this without remorse to T’Challa in New Avengers #23. Cue fist fight.

Namor Black Panther
From 'New Avengers' #23, with Namor and Black Panther trading blows.

Why You Haven’t Seen Namor in the MCU

If it were up to Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige, pretty much all of the Marvel Universe would have been in the MCU by now. But what’s kept the likes of the X-Men and Deadpool from joining the Avengers have been legal ownership by competing film studios.

As fans may recall, in the late ‘90s Marvel sold the film rights to much of its comic book library. At the time, film studios only saw value in properties like the X-Men (which went to Fox) and Spider-Man (which went to Sony), which left Marvel ownership to its lesser-known characters the mainstream didn’t care about, like Iron Man and Captain America.

Well, we all know how that all turned out.

One interesting case was Namor, whose film rights went to Universal Studios but never got a feature film. At some point in 2016, Marvel reacquired Namor, but a 2018 interview between IGN and Kevin Feige suggested that it’s a more “complicated” situation.

“I think there’s a way to probably figure it out but it does have — it’s not as a clean or clear as the majority of the other characters,” Feige said.

It is only rumored, but not confirmed, that Marvel owns Namor in the same way it owns the Hulk (also a Universal property): Marvel is free to include Namor in its franchise, but only Universal can make a Namor movie. This has been the case with the Hulk, and it’s why we’ve only seen Bruce Banner play a supporting role in other movies but never as the star of his own feature film.

Enter: Black Panther 2.

Avengers Endgame Okoye

“We’re Handling It”

A throwaway line in Avengers: Endgame involved Okoye (Dania Gurira) referring to an “underwater earthquake” going on in Wakanda. Okoye dismisses the issue in a report to Black Widow as something only Wakanda will handle. The situation is never addressed again.

The aggressively vague nature of the earthquake leading fans to believe that it will not only have a far more grave importance in the near future (like, say, the next Black Panther), but that it’s Marvel’s entry into introducing Namor. It seems Namor is already, literally, making waves.


Black Panther 2 is expected to release as part of Marvel’s Phase Five in the mid-2020s.*

Media via Marvel Entertainment, Inverse