Almost everyone agrees that Marvel’s Sub-Mariner character (aka Namor) is more successful than DC’s Aquaman. I’m trying to figure out why that is.
Namor’s first appearance in the Silver Age established a few things about him. First, he’s a cranky hothead. As I said last week, I actually don’t think that necessarily makes him more interesting than Aquaman. Not by itself anyway. It doesn’t take much to have more personality than Aquaman did in his early Silver Age appearances. He had the same, cookie-cutter personality that most of DC’s heroes did. By making Namor an arrogant jerk, Marvel was just doing what Marvel did best: paying attention to characterization. Namor could have had any personality type and he would’ve been more interesting than Aquaman at the time.
Marvel’s reason for Namor’s nastiness is more interesting than the nastiness itself. He’s just regained his memory after decades of not knowing who he is and has learned that his kingdom has been destroyed by nuclear weapons testing. Not knowing where his people have relocated to, he swears to get even with humanity for causing the situation.
But what I really like about Namor from this time period are a couple of things: the undersea world he comes from and his relationship with Sue Storm, the Invisible Girl. Those are the things I want to focus on as we continue looking at his Silver Age shenanigans.
Fantastic Four #4 showed that Namor’s undersea world is populated by giant behemoths and other amazing creatures. They’re not commonplace, but they’re not unheard of either. And it's possible for Namor to actually control them. Aquaman’s world, on the other hand, is more or less ours. When sea monsters appear, they’re aliens or extra-dimensional creatures or mutants that Aquaman has to send home or cure in order to get things back to normal. So Namor's got the immediate advantage of living in a more exciting ocean.
That issue also had Namor falling for Sue Storm and proposing to her. He did it in a very arrogant way and she refused him, but it looked like his feelings were real.
Namor next appeared in Fantastic Four #6, an issue that has Doctor Doom wanting to team up with Namor in order to defeat the Fantastic Four and then all of mankind. Namor seems to have cooled off quite a bit since fighting the Four to a stalemate, but Doom is able to recruit him by reminding Namor of everything the surface-world has cost him.
It’s cool that when Doom finds Namor, the Sub-Mariner is enjoying himself by swimming with porpoises and teaching them tricks. You never see Aquaman doing that. DC’s hero is so one-dimensional that he'd rather ride porpoises while patrolling the ocean’s surface for bad guys.
Doom also discovers the reason that Namor’s relaxed his vendetta against humanity. In the ruins of Namor’s former kingdom, Doom sees that Namor’s got a picture of Sue Storm. Doom wisely observes that if Namor continues fighting humans, he’s going to have to fight Sue as well and that perhaps that's why Namor's given up his fight. Namor doesn’t deny this, but merely tells Doom to mind his own beeswax. He’s obviously got a chip on his shoulder about her.
It’s also interesting to think about where that framed picture of Sue came from. She’s kind of a celebrity, so the simplest explanation is that he cut it out of a magazine or something. But what if she gave it to him?
There’s some evidence to support that idea, because – as her brother Johnny discovers back at the Baxter Building – Sue’s also holding onto a picture of Namor. And it’s no newspaper clipping either. Johnny specifically calls it a glossy photo. Maybe there’s some company in the Marvel Universe that sells glossy photos of recently returned WWII supervillains, but it’s also possible that Sue and Namor have been in contact with each other since issue #4. (Of course, that would mean that Namor's carrying around glossy pictures of himself to hand out, which is probably the most far-fetched theory of all.) At any rate, they're clearly thinking about each other.
However she got the picture, it’s obvious that Sue’s a little hung up on Namor too. She insists that there’s “something gentle” about him. I’m not sure how she came to that conclusion from Namor’s actions in Fantastic Four #4. Maybe she noticed something in Namor’s eyes that Jack Kirby didn’t capture in the illustrations. Or maybe she and Namor have talked to each other, even though not much time has passed.
To finish summarizing the story, Namor shows up at the Baxter Building to plant one of Doom’s weapons. Sue doesn’t believe that he’s there to harm them, but the other members of the Four think otherwise. Turns out they’re right, but when Doom tries to double-cross Namor and harm Sue (in violation of Namor’s conditions for helping Doom), Namor helps the Fantastic Four defeat the mad Latverian.
We also get to see more examples of just how awesome Namor really is. In addition to being about as strong as the Thing, he’s also apparently able to mimic the abilities of some sea creatures. Part of Doom’s plan is to send the Baxter Building hurtling into space as Doom watches from his nearby spaceship. Namor immerses himself in water to regain maximum strength, then shoots himself and the water out an airlock towards Doom’s ship. Namor doesn’t quite make it, but is able to bounce off an asteroid and complete the jump.
Then, when Doom tries to shock Namor by electrifying the ship, Namor’s able to absorb the energy and then discharge it like an electric eel back at Doom. Doom has to abandon ship or be destroyed. Using Doom’s device, the Fantastic Four are able to return their home to Earth, but Namor then confiscates both the device and Doom’s ship and scuttles them in the ocean where they can do no further harm.
He returns to the sea as well, mellowed out even more by the adventure and just wanting to be left alone. It’s a sad, gentle scene and illustrates clearly that Sue was right about him all along.
Next week: We’ll see what brings him back to the surface again.