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Why is Marvel afraid of Namor’s bulge?

Battle of the bulge

Namor emerging from the water with people waiting for him on the shore in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Image: Marvel Studios
Joshua Rivera (he/him) is an entertainment and culture journalist specializing in film, TV, and video game criticism, the latest stop in a decade-plus career as a critic.

Consider for a moment the plight of the penis-having superhero actor.

It’s a tall order, playing pretend while having to embody impossible physical ideals and also wear elaborate costumes meant to approximate outfits that are drawn on the page without much regard for physics. What’s more, these costumes are not built for real life, but for the screen. Sometimes, this makes being a real human being an inconvenience — dicks can get in the way of what a superhero movie is trying to accomplish. In the case of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the mission is often to portray heroes as conventionally attractive and without sexuality as possible. Sometimes, this is difficult.

This came to mind in the week following the release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Crew members shared behind-the-scenes footage on social media, and fans spotted one particular, noticeable difference from the film’s finished footage: Actor Tenoch Huerta, who plays the aquatic antihero Namor in the film, seems to have had his costume’s bulge reduced.

Before we continue, it’s worth noting that “costume” is a generous term. In the comic books, Namor’s most iconic outfit is a green Speedo made of scales of some sort, paired with his bad attitude. For Namor’s Marvel Cinematic Universe debut, the outfit was made a bit more elaborate. The Speedo was swapped for form-fitting swim shorts, and it was supplemented with lots of jewelry that doesn’t really work as a shirt but can charitably be called a breastplate. The math of the situation is simple, though: Put someone with a penis in swim shorts in water, and the results can be illuminating.

Bulge is a regular concern in superhero costume design, as form-fitting costumes that are meant to highlight — or enhance — idealized bodies leave little to the imagination, and even help it along, by design. But cultural ideas about “appropriateness” must also be observed, and Disney is arguably the most rigid in its quest to be the most “family-friendly” megacorporation in entertainment. Usually, this translates to working very hard to deny sex exists, or that people are capable of having it.

This, as many on social media have noted, results in the extremely funny and very plausible assumption that there are people somewhere in a Marvel or Disney office working very hard to edit every bit of footage that might possess a whiff of penis, lest the world be scandalized at the existence of genitalia. (A Disney publicist did not respond to Polygon’s request for comment.)

Seen from this angle, this is laughable. People have dicks! The context isn’t prurient, and making a big deal over something is a great way to call attention to it.

However, there are several other plausible explanations — Disney being squeamish about dicks is just the most entertaining one to contemplate. It’s also possible, for example, that simple capitalism is at play here, as footage deemed “inoffensive” has the longest reach across varying cultural and social mores across the globe. It’s also possible that Huerta himself didn’t want his member to be indirectly served up on the silver screen in one of the biggest films of the year.

In which case, allow us to offer our sympathies. Comic book superheroes can be wonderful characters but also sexless, and the demands of their box-office dominance mean real people must be contorted into shapes defined purely by muscles and ideals, which are then reflected in costuming. But this is merely a first step, as the person wearing the clothes is just another fabric for digital tailors to sculpt, trim, and tuck as deemed necessary, until there’s little difference between the character seen on screen and the impossible one that was born on the page.