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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Who is Namor, the ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ villain?

Tenoch Huerta Mejía as Namor in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”

By George Gene Gustines

A fresh face arrives on the shores of the fabled nation of Wakanda in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” which hit theaters Friday. His name is Namor, and he is played by Tenoch Huerta Mejía (“The Forever Purge,” “Narcos: Mexico”). But although the character may be new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he has roots in the earliest days of Marvel Comics. Here is a primer on who Namor is and how he came to be.

FIRST APPEARANCE: Namor — whose code name is the Sub-Mariner — was created by writer-artist Bill Everett and debuted in Marvel Comics No. 1, published on Aug. 31, 1939, by Timely Comics, a forerunner of Marvel. Everett came up with the character’s name from the word Roman, written backward. Other characters premiered in that anthology issue, but none have made quite the, uh, splash as Namor.

BACKSTORY: In Marvel Comics No. 1, we learn that Namor is from an underwater kingdom (later named Atlantis), which is home to a race of water-breathing beings. The Atlanteans do not look kindly upon the surface world, after explosions set off by an American ship demolished parts of the sunken nation and killed many of its people. Namor, despite having a human father, is encouraged by his Atlantean mother to be the scourge of the surface world.

“He was comics’ first antihero,” Mark Waid, a veteran comic book writer and editor, said in a 2019 email interview when Namor turned 80. “Namor’s goal wasn’t to rescue kittens or punch criminals — it was to lead an Atlantean army against the air-breathers of America.”

In the film, the kingdom is named Talokan, which director Ryan Coogler has called “a re-imagined version” of Atlantis. He has explained that it was “deeply inspired by Mesoamerican cultures, specifically from the Yucatán and the Mayan postclassic period.”

ABILITIES: Namor is well armed for his mission against humanity: He is superhumanly fast, strong and agile. He can fly, live on land or undersea, and communicate telepathically with sea life. (That may sound like Aquaman, from DC, but that underwater hero surfaced in 1941.)

LOOK: Despite some early depictions of Namor as blue or green while underwater, he is usually shown as white. His distinguishing characteristics are pointy ears and ankle wings.

COSTUMES: Superhero outfits, particularly for women, can rightly get a lot of grief for being impossibly tight or too revealing. Namor’s original costume leaves little to the imagination — he is clad only in swim trunks. That alone points to his bravery and confidence — and commitment to working out. Over the years, he has worn other costumes, but the majority of them find room to show off his spectacular abs.

The film’s costume designer, Ruth Carter, has said she was inspired by Mayan culture and Namor’s ocean environment for a look that includes kelp in his headdress and cape.

ROLES: The final panel in Namor’s first story shows him diving back into the ocean, and a caption promises further adventures in his crusade against the surface world. But a lot can change over 83 years and Namor has evolved, although his motivation sometimes seems caught in a revolving door. He has been a villain, a hero, an environmentalist and a corporate titan. And, despite being a relative loner, he has been a member of the Avengers, the Defenders and the X-Men. Namor is complicated.

NOTABLE CONFLICTS: One of the most exciting stories from Namor’s early days is a battle royale with the Human Torch, an android hero who also debuted in Marvel Comics No. 1. (This Human Torch is not to be confused with the Fantastic Four hero of the same name who arrived in 1961.) The three-issue set-to opened in Marvel Mystery Comics No. 8 and is an early example of the Marvel motto “to reflect the world outside your window.” The grudge match between the two takes place in New York City

Namor’s unpredictable actions are evident in the story. At the Bronx Zoo, he causes a stampede of elephants but saves a baby from their destructive path. “This kid needs someone to look after him,” he says. But as onlookers begin to reconsider their opinion of him, he responds: “Bah! Stupid idiots! You’ll see.” Sure, Namor, sure.

UNREQUITED LOVE: Namor graduated to his own series from 1941-49. He then received a short revival in 1954, but his best times were still ahead — although the Fantastic Four, his new focus of scorn, may not agree. In 1962’s Fantastic Four No. 4, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Namor, who has amnesia, is discovered on the Bowery. He soon regains his memory and his mighty rage. Five issues later, he returns and finances a film about the quartet, but his secret goal is to make the Invisible Girl his wife. She spurns his advances, which only makes her more attractive to him. One of the most powerful weapons in the arsenal of Susan Storm Richards — these days known as the Invisible Woman — may be her ability to reason with Namor.

FUN FACT: His catchphrase is “Imperius Rex!” After Namor shouted it in a comic book battle in 2019, Thor confessed, “After all these years, Namor, I still have no idea what that means.” Namor answered: “It means I’m going to feed your sorry Asgardian hide to the biggest sharks I can find.” Thor responded: “Why not just say that?” (Maybe because the English translation, “Empire King,” feels a little flat?) Tumblr offers a historic and educational look at the phrase. Welcome to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Namor!

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