How Namor’s MCU debut in ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ compares to the comics

How Namor’s MCU debut in ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ compares to the comics

EW dives into the comic-book story of the antagonist played primarily by Tenoch Huerta.

Christian Holub

Namor the Sub-Mariner is the latest iconic superhero to enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe courtesy of Tenoch Huerta‘s performance in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. But despite clocking into the MCU in its 30th installment, Namor is actually one of the oldest Marvel superheroes. Created by writer/artist Bill Everett in 1939, Namor debuted in Marvel Comics two years before Joe Simon and Jack Kirby unveiled Captain America. Namor has been a part of the Marvel Universe for many decades. After starring in solo comics throughout the ’40s and ’50s, Namor was resurrected in the ’60s by Kirby and Stan Lee as a frenemy for their Fantastic Four. Later, he was a member of the Avengers and the X-Men. However, his heart belongs to his undersea kingdom.

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER, Sub-Mariner Comic

Tenoch Huerta as Namor in ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ vs. Namor on the cover of ‘Sub-Mariner’ #1 by artist Michael Turner.

| Credit: Eli Ade/MARVEL; Marvel

So why is Namor showing up in a Black Panther movie? Marvel fans were convinced for years that Namor would, even before Huerta was cast. That has to do with a writer named Jonathan Hickman, whose 2010s superhero comics have been perennial favorites of Marvel readers, generating no shortage of inspiration for the MCU.

Hickman relaunched the New Avengers series in 2012 alongside artist Steve Epting as a book about the Illuminati, whose lineup included both Namor and Black Panther. This story was written by Hickman and Epting just months after the Avengers vs X-Men events. Namor’s tenure as a member of the X-Men is brought to a close when he purchases part of the Phoenix Force. He uses it to flood Wakanda. If you’ve seen the first Black Panther film, you might remember the reclusive nation prides itself on having never been conquered. The massacre of thousands of its citizens is a shocking and tragic war crime that the survivors will never forget.

Black Panther Comic

T’Challa confronts Namor in ‘New Avengers’ #2 by writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Steve Epting.

| Credit: Steve Epting for Marvel

While T’Challa swears to kill Namor to avenge his people, he knows the Illuminati need both their help for the time being. He puts off his oath to vengeance, giving Namor more time for Wakanda to be antagonized. As Hickman’s story unfolds Namor pushes T’Challa to breaking point in a way that his old villains could not.

Due to real-life tragedy, the story plays out differently on screen. What might Black Panther: Wakanda Forever have looked like if Chadwick Boseman had lived? It is, of course, impossible to say, but Hickman’s story was clearly in director Ryan Coogler‘s mind. In the first Black Panther movie, Boseman’s T’Challa delivers a badass line to Andy Serkis’ Klaue (“every breath you take is mercy from me”) that Hickman originally had the character say to Namor. In the sequel, Namor floods Wakanda much like he did in the comics, but with water grenades rather than Phoenix power.

Shuri (Letitia Wright) steps up to the plate in Wakanda Forever, taking up the mantle of Black Panther just as she does in the comics. But unlike her counterpart on the page, the MCU Shuri has no interest in the throne, robbing Wakanda Forever of that face-off between two equally-matched rulers that make Hickman’s story feel so epic. Shuri, like the Fantastic Four’s Sue Storm, is an earth-dwelling female superhero who is enchanted and ruled by the sea king.

Black Panther Comic

T’Challa battles Namor in ‘New Avengers’ #22 by writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Kev Walker.

| Credit: Kev Walker for Marvel

The other major difference between Wakanda Forever and its source material is the rewriting of Namor and his people, usually depicted as white in the comics, as Mesoamerican. The film renames the underwater kingdom of Atlantis Talokan after Mayan mythology. Coogler recently told EW that he spoke to Boseman about his plans to rewrite Namor’s people as Mesoamerican, saying the late actor was very excited about the possibilities.

The film version of the Wakanda/Talokan war has a more tragic resonance, as two oppressed groups fight each other rather than finding common ground. Huerta portrays Namor less as an arrogant egomaniac than he is in comics and more as a loving protector. “Maybe the most important twist in the character is that he’s not a selfish person,” Huerta recently told EW. “He takes care of a whole community. He is not an individualist. He is part of a tribe. ”

Although the changes are quite novel, there is precedent for the film’s rewriting Namor and Atlantis. Everett’s original comics depicted Namor as a gleeful ecoterrorist who declared war on the “surface world” (as one might expect an enemy to Aquaman would say), but specifically on “the white guy.” This aspect of Namor’s motivation has been lost in comics over time, partly due to technological reasons. Everett colored his protagonist with hues of blue, green, and gray as often as pink/white — but his techniques were innovative, and although the colors look great in modern digital uploads on Marvel Unlimited and similar platforms, at the time, they “were compromised by cheap printing, which muddled everything into a purple sludge,” according to Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.

So Namor’s entrance into the MCU calls back to both Hickman’s recent New Avengers epic (which still makes an incredible read, especially considering we’ll never see it replicated exactly on screen) and Everett’s original Sub-Mariner comics (in fact, the Talokan attack on the American naval vessel towards the beginning of Wakanda Forever recalls the character’s very first appearance). It also points to the future. With a new generation Marvel fans being exposed to Namor’s Mesoamerican origins, maybe the comics will include those changes as well. On-screen, Namor declares that Talokan is ready to help Wakanda when the Americans come for them — as the still-coalescing team of Thunderbolts surely will at some point.

Aside from all this, Namor is also a superhero who can fly when none of the other Atlanteans or Talokans can. This is why he was once a member the X-Men. Namor will be involved in the MCU if and when mutants are given a larger role. Talokan forever!

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