In 1920, an expedition ship, The Oracle, was exploring in the South Pole. The captain, Leonard McKenzie, ordered charges detonated in the ice floe their base was on to check for scientific evidence of anything useful. Unbeknownst to Captain McKenzie, the ancient undersea city of Atlantis was directly beneath them, and the charges they were setting off were causing destruction to it and its citizens.
The elders of Atlantis ordered an army assembled, and had Emperor Thakkor’s daughter, Fen, who closely resembled a surface white woman, to go above and be a spy for them.
Fen went above and snuck into the hold of the ship where she allowed herself to be ‘discovered’, hunched up and pretending to shiver from cold. She was brought to the captain who took pity on her and wrapped her in warm clothes, which actually nearly made her too hot. She couldn’t understand the English language, nor could she stomach the food they tried to feed her, but she came to realize that Captain McKenzie was a good and decent man. As she learned his language better, the two of them became friends, and then fell in love. They were soon married.
But she was continuously delivering secret reports to her people. She told them that the surface dwellers were too powerful. Another bombardment from above wiped out all but a few of the Atlanteans.
When Fen hadn’t returned for a time, Atlanteans attacked the ship and rescued her, supposedly killing McKenzie in the process.
Shortly after, Fen gave birth to a son, Namor – a half white/half Atlantean mutant. Unlike the Atlanteans, Namor had white skin and could live out of water for much longer periods of time. He also had wings on his ankles and could fly. He possessed incredible strength and quickly grew to hate the surface dwellers for what he perceived as their injustices against his people.
At first, in his twenties, he tried to destroy mankind but was frequently thwarted by the original Human Torch, Jim Hammond. He did become friends with a surface woman, Betty Dean, a New York City police officer. And when World War II arrived, he joined the fight against the Axis powers as a member of the All-Winners Squad and The Invaders alongside Captain America, Bucky, The Human Torch and Toro.
At some point during that time, he became injured and disappeared.
In the sixties, he found his way to the Bowery slums of New York City and was living in a flophouse with amnesia. He was soon unwittingly found by the Silver Age Human Torch, Johnny Storm, who recognized his likeness from an old Golden Age comic book. He carried the ragged bum to the harbor and dropped him into the ocean, hoping to revive his memory.
The Sub-Mariner’s memory did return, but when he found his kingdom in ruins, the result of underwater nuclear testing, Namor once more blamed the surface dwellers. He returned to tell The Human Torch that he had renewed his old crusade of vengeance against humankind.
The Torch called the rest of the Fantastic Four and they battled with Namor. Defeated, Namor vowed to return. And he did, again and again.
He developed deep feelings for Sue Storm, aka The Invisible Girl, and she reciprocated to a degree. That became the basis for many of the repeated battles between Namor and the Fantastic Four through the years.
Namor eventually found his people. He attacked New York once again with his renewed host but was once more turned back by the Fantastic Four.
Sometimes hero, sometimes villain – Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner holds an honored place amongst the ranks of the Marvel Universe.
In 1939, Martin Goodman was publisher of Timely Comics. He had a line of men’s magazines but he had also begun printing comic books.
National Comics had released the first superhero comic book, Superman. He was soon followed by Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s Batman. Now other publishers were looking to jump onto that band wagon.
That same year, Lloyd Jaquette started Funnies Incorporated. One the people he hired was Bill Everette. Everette created a hero based in part on Jack London’s Maritime Adventure Tales, Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner and GM Bologna’s Mercury named Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner.
He was first presented in Motion Pictures Funnies Weekly, a free comic meant to be given to movie-going children in hopes of bringing them back the following week in order to continue the comic book tales. Unfortunately, before even one issue could be released, Motion Pictures Funnies went out of business.
But the sales agent for the company, Frank Torpy, was friends with Martin Goodman. He showed Goodman copies of other publishers’ superhero comics. He then made a deal for Goodman to publish the Sub-Mariner along with Carl Burgos’s Human Torch in a new anthology comic titled Marvel Comics.
Throughout the 30s and 40s, Namor had numerous adventures, including as part of a team of World War II heroes called The All-Winners Squad (retroactively named The Invaders) which also featured Captain America and The Human Torch.
Namor would eventually disappear as superhero comics lost their appeal after the war and throughout the 50s. In 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought the character back as a sort of anti-hero in the Fantastic Four #4.
From here, Namor would pop up occasionally in the pages of the Fantastic Four, usually trying to appeal to Sue Storm to leave the team and her fiance/husband, Reed Richards, as well as starring in his own underwater adventures in the pages of Tales to Astonish, and later in his own series.