Recently on Twitter (R.I.P), this panel made the rounds. It came from the end of the very first appearance of Namor in Marvel Comics #1 all the way back in 1939. It’s a funny panel, but more than just making me laugh, I think this panel shows the core of the character and what makes him unique in the Marvel pantheon.
From his very first appearance, Namor stood apart. In an era where superheroes were springing up left and right, Namor felt totally unique. He was fiercely anti-authority, a more villainous character, a force of nature acting out his rage on the world of man, but he still became a heroic figure in the Golden Age. He fought alongside Captain America, rescued old-timey damsels in distress, and beat up Nazis, but he kept this volatile spirit. In many ways, he was one of the early anti-heroes with a prominent edge even from the very beginning.
To a lot of people, I think this volatility is a big turn-off. Namor is too much of a dick and too arrogant to be entertaining. But these people are wrong because that’s what makes Namor so good; his personality makes him so flexible. Namor, for decades, has struggled to hold onto his own ongoing, as he’s not popular enough to sell. However, creators have found ways to tell great stories with him in other titles in varied ways. He can be a straight-up villain, enacting his revenge on the surface, or he can be a heroic protector working for the interests of Atlantis and the world. He has been anything and everything, and it always feels totally consistent with his character. I think that’s best exemplified in the sheer amount of teams he’s been in. He’s been an Avenger, an X-Man, a Defender, an Invader, and a founding member of the Illuminati. It’s given Namor a deep wellspring of stories to choose from. As such, this article will only scratch the surface, but if you want to dive into Namor, these are my recommendations.
Thor: The Mighty Avenger #5
The easiest story to recommend here is the guest appearance in the sublime all-ages series Thor: The Mighty Avenger, written with a great sense of fun and sincerity by Roger Langridge, married perfectly with the expressive and stylish pencils of Chris Samnee. This is a non-canon series that acts as an accessible origin story for Thor, so this issue operates as the first meeting between the prince of Asgard and the prince of Atlantis. As such, I think it’s one of the best comics you can give someone who wants to understand this character. It establishes his abilities and emphasises his arrogance and perhaps overinflated sense of importance. But it also never neglects the character’s fiery spirit and more joyful side, which many writers seem to ignore. It’s an incredibly accessible bite-sized issue designed for everyone and anyone. So if you read this issue and want to learn more, you can’t go wrong with my next picks.
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four: Fantastic Four Issues #4, #6, #9, #11, #14, #27 and Annual #1
Fairly easily, I think the best recommendation for Namor is Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four. Namor was a golden age character but was revitalised by Lee and Kirby when they kicked off this new era of superheroes. He appears pretty frequently throughout the series as a villain, rival and sometimes ally to the FF in some of the run’s best stories. These comics are obviously older and could feel a bit alien to some readers, but the sheer imagination, scope and craft on display in these issues is still one of the highest watermarks in the entire medium.
Here they established Namor was the prince of the underwater city of Atlantis, which gave Kirby, in particular, a rich canvas on which to develop a new world and culture. These are stories that established a LOT of what we know about Namor today, such as his great love affair with Sue Storm, constantly fighting for her affection. Namor was mostly just a mysterious underwater man in the golden age; here, Kirby and Lee establish his world and core iconography. So for a first pick, I don’t think you can really do any better.
Roy Thomas run: Sub-Mariner Vol 1 #1-39
Following Namor’s guest appearances throughout the Silver Age, he finally managed to get his own ongoing book again. The series ran for 72 issues between 1968 and 1974, which still remains the longest-running solo title with the character. Now, a lot of this stuff is well worth reading, but I’m focusing on the run by Roy Thomas.
These issues really expand on the world and concepts that Lee and Kirby established, giving Namor new villains and characters to interact with. They introduced Tiger Shark, Namorita, and Sting Ray and reintroduced the golden age character Namora. I wouldn’t say that these are the best stories of the time, but they are very enjoyable, and Thomas was able to work with some of the best artists in the industry. He first worked with John Buscema, who has become perhaps the character’s most defining artist, giving Namor such a real sense of strength and nobility. Afterwards, he worked with Gene Colan, who gave the book a very fluid and moodier aesthetic. These are just very solid superhero comics, and I would recommend it if you want some great art with some of the most important stories for the character.
Saga of the Sub Mariner #1-12
I mentioned earlier that Namor struggles to hold onto his own ongoing series. Because of this, he generally appears mostly in team books or as a guest star. So most of the character’s big events happen pretty disparately, over several different books, hence my third recommendation: Saga of the Sub Mariner, written by Roy and Dann Thomas with art by Rich Buckler.
This series sought to contextualise the character’s entire history and reframe it with Namor as the protagonist. It starts with his parents and moves all the way up until what was then modern Namor. Roy and Dann Thomas do such an excellent job of drawing connections between his different stories, emphasising how he felt during each of them. So if you’ve read his appearances in Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four, you now get to see those events from his perspective and understand the psychology behind his decisions. It’s a prime example of one of the great joys of comics, this haphazard continuity: the idea that one comic can pull a bunch of different narrative threads together and make it feel like one long ongoing story.
This story can operate as an accessible introduction to the character, but I think it’s at its best when you’ve read the stories I listed previously, so you can view Namor through a new perspective. It’s all beautifully illustrated as well, with Buckler’s dynamic and expressive pencils matching wonderfully with various colourists who give it a vibrant and colourful look. It’s an excellent and supremely underrated 12 issues that are an easy recommendation for anyone who wants to track Namor’s history.
Roger Stern Avengers: The Avengers #262-286
Namor has had associations with a lot of different teams over the years. He’s a mutant, so he’s an on-again-off-again X-Man, he’s a frenemy for the Fantastic Four and a founding member of The Defenders and Invaders, but I think a lot of people forget his role as an Avenger as well. In fairness, this is likely because of the relatively brief time he spent with the team, but honestly, that time is when the Avengers had some of their absolute best stories. I am, of course, talking about Roger Stern’s run, which just so happens to be my favourite run on the title ever. Stern has a penchant for excellent character-focused stories that really narrow in on their psychology and internal lives, and his Avengers is no exception.
Namor joins the team part way through Stern’s run with issue #262. Here Namor has been exiled from Atlantis, so Hercules fights him to cheer him up; it rules! Stern really develops some interesting dynamics and relationships here, with Namor’s respect for Captain America and friendship with Hercules. If you want to read some of the best superhero comics out there and see Namor in a group dynamic, this is the best choice.
Hickman’s New Avengers: New Avengers Vol 3 #1-28
For a very different but no less entertaining group dynamic for Namor there’s also Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers. This book ran concurrently with it’s sister title following the main Avengers, which will occasionally cross over with this book (though it is not necessary to read all of that series as well). But don’t be mistaken, this isn’t really an Avengers book; it’s just a way to sell it because this series follows The Illuminati. Marvel’s Illuminati, if you didn’t know, are a group of the superhero community’s key figureheads and their greatest minds. These are the guys who believe they have to make the tough decisions no else can, but entirely in secret. So this is not really a traditional superhero book where Namor and the others save the day and go out on patrol. Instead, it’s a pretty cerebral science fiction series as the Illuminati make tough decisions to save their universe.
If Black Panther: Wakanda Forever got you interested in Namor’s relationship with Wakanda, this is an easy recommendation. T’Challa is also a member of the Illuminati, and he and Namor are at war at a certain point in this series. Hickman gets a lot of really compelling drama out of the two of them, showing a mutual respect and admiration while juxtaposing that with their very different leadership styles. I think this is one the best comics to recommend for someone to see what makes Namor different to everyone else in the Marvel Universe. Hickman has such a strong voice for the character and always makes it clear that he’s willing to go a little further than the others.
Sub Mariner: The Depths #1-5
This year Ram V and Christian Ward teamed up for the brilliant Aquaman Andromeda, an aquatic horror story following DC’s king of the ocean. However, long before Andromeda, Marvel’s own deep-sea hero had a horror comic as well. That comic is Sub-Mariner: The Depths, written by Peter Milligan with art by Esad Ribic through the Marvel Knights imprint.
This is an odd one to recommend here because Namor is barely in it. It follows Professor Randolph Stein, a scientist and full-time sceptic who ventures to the ocean floor to disprove the theory of Atlantis. It takes place almost entirely in a submarine as he and his crew search for answers and maybe go a little mad. It’s very much playing on Heart of Darkness (the book that Apocalypse Now was based on) as it reckons with humanity’s struggle with isolation. It throws in some of The Thing and Alien in there as well, making it an atmospheric and moody read. Esad Ribic early in his career is doing some top-notch work here.
Unlike other Namor comics, the ocean isn’t some lush paradise but a black, endless void that forces these characters to confront themselves. Namor here is used very sparingly, acting as an urban legend and force of nature. He represents the vast, untamed elements and humankind’s incessant need for answers. It’s a great utlisation of the character and the comic still really holds up. I think this story should be celebrated a lot more but sadly seems to be forgotten these days. So if you want something a little more experimental, I say pick it up.
If you’ve gotten into Namor a bit and have taken a liking to the character, I would really recommend going back to the very beginning and reading his early golden-age appearances. It may seem a bit odd to recommend his first stories when you’ve already read everything else, but remember: these are old comics. Several stylistic traits and conventions we associate with superhero comics weren’t really established at this time, so for a lot of people, these might seem very dated.
Golden age comics are certainly an acquired taste; they’re simple and deeply silly stories. However, I think Namor has some of the strongest work from this time. Even in this period of simplified conflicts, Namor stood apart as someone who was far more ambiguous. He spends most of his time fighting the Nazis and will help the US military, but he has no love for the Americans. That was pretty bold for the period and pretty different from a lot of the blatant propaganda you’d get at the time. It’s important to bear in mind, though, that these comics did come out in the 1940s, so propaganda is still present in some unfortunate racism scattered throughout.
Daredevil Vol 1 #7
A lot of the fun with superhero universes is the idea that any character could conceivably meet, even those who seem to have next to nothing in common. I still believe one of the best examples of these kinds of odd pairings is the seventh issue of the very first Daredevil run, where The Man Without Fear met The Avenging Son.
These characters are about as different as you can get. Daredevil is a blind lawyer operating out of Manhattan, a pretty street-level and down to Earth character, although at this point, he wasn’t as dark as he would become. Namor, on the other hand, is about the opposite of that. He’s a loud, boisterous underwater prince who could invade a country if he so wanted. So writer Stan Lee and artist Wally Wood get a lot of fun out of pitting these two against each other. It’s a real struggle for Daredevil as he has to keep up with a superpowered demigod, a real David, and Goliath situation. However, I think the most fun this issue has is the various fish-out-of-water scenarios Lee and Wood put Namor into. He arrives in New York to look for a lawyer, so the pair get a lot of mileage out of having Namor struggle with everyday things like revolving doors and elevators. It’s a genuinely brilliant comedic issue and a total stone-cold classic.