Red Lobster fans rejoice: The Marvel movie universe now has a seafood menu. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has introduced a new, aquatic antihero in the form of Namor, the Sub-Mariner (played on screen by Tenoch Huerta). Namor may be most famous for being king of the sovereign undersea nation of Atlantis, but he has one more key connection to Marvel continuity.
Namor is a mutant, tying him closely, if uncomfortably, to the X-Men and their rivals.
To grasp why Namor’s mutant status is significant, it helps to take a look back at the character’s history of rocky relationships with humankind. In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Namor has a new origin story, tied in with a new undersea civilization of Talocan, a considerable update from the character’s creaky, 83-year-old comics debut.
The comic book version of Namor was born to a union of an Antarctic explorer named Leonard McKenzie and a deep-sea Atlantean princess named Fen. This hybrid status made him not only a superhuman — gifted with super strength and flight — but also Atlantean royalty. His origin is also the root of his famously contentious relationship to humankind.
His first encounter with deep-sea divers, in 1939’s Marvel Comics #1, ended with a vow of war in defense of Atlantis. One caption in that debut comic even informed readers that “Namor dives into the ocean again — on his way to further adventures in his crusade against white men!” — a statement that must have been both jarring and intriguing to Golden Age readers.
When superhero comics declined in the 1950s, Namor dropped out of sight. But Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revived him for Fantastic Four #4, and it wasn’t long after that when the legendary creative team made a fateful retcon. In 1963’s Fantastic Four Annual #3 (published almost at the same time as the X-Men’s debut), a caption blithely informs readers that Namor is “possibly the first known mutant of our time!” And lest fans be tempted to write that off as red herring, the creative team soon doubled down hard on the concept.
In 1964’s Avengers #4 (the same story that thawed Captain America), an angry Thor slurred Namor as a “witless mutant.” And less than a year later, in 1964’s X-Men #6, the villain Magneto, then still in his original Snidely Whiplash mode, examined newspaper stories about Namor and concluded that only a mutant could possess so much power — leading him to try, disastrously, to recruit the Atlantean to his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
Namor’s resistance to Magneto’s embrace set the template for the character’s relationship to mutants for decades, in which Namor has identified as an Atlantean first and mutant second, if at all. Even during the character’s relaunch in the 1990s’ worldwide boom of all things X-Men, when the cover of his solo series copy proudly proclaimed him “Marvel’s first and mightiest mutant!”, Namor’s focus remained strictly on his newfound identity as a corporate raider and environmental warrior, not the mutant cause. At one point in the late ’90s, the Atlantean king even found himself on the brink of nuclear war against his old frenemy Magneto, who was then the ruler of his own nation-state of Genosha.
The closest Namor has ever been to the X-Men was under the pen of writer Matt Fraction, when the X-Men took their first stab at creating a mutant homeland — this time on Utopia, an artificial island off the California coast. Initially wary of this encroachment on his ocean territory, Namor was persuaded to join up for the sake of mutual security, and that union brought him into battle alongside the X-Men against the Avengers during 2012’s Avengers vs. X-Men crossover — which, incidentally, is where his mutual enmity with the Black Panther began. The event ended in a crushing defeat for the X-Men, so it’s no surprise that Namor’s relationship with the X-Men’s latest mutant homeland has been much cooler.
So with fans champing at the bit for any and all references to the X-Men in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Namor’s mutant status could position him as a key figure in the MCU mutant roll out — or, like in the comics, Namor could feel more solidarity with his oceanic brethren than surface mutants. Which would make his mutant status more of a… red herring.