Namor McKenzie was never an easy person to get along with. Since his introduction in Motion Picture Funnies Weekly (1939), the Sub-Mariner has enjoyed a gray streak as long as the Mariana Trench is deep. One of the first major super-antiheroes for Timely Comics (later Marvel), Namor has been protecting his undersea kingdom of Atlantis since before the dawn of Aquaman and remains a popular (if duplicitous) character. While the cantankerous merman has often fallen afoul of landlubbers, he mostly doesn’t care for surface-dwellers who meddle in, or worse, pollute, his watery domain.
Namor's difficult to pin-down nature seems to have traveled right along with him into the complex world of movie property rights. Unlike the Avengers, the Inhumans, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men, the aquatic leader once existed in a relative limbo between Universal and Marvel. Not long ago, however Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada made waves (sorry), claiming that the Sub-Mariner was back with Marvel. The MCU rumor pot was further stirred by recent rumblings from Reel News Hawaii, claiming that competing aquatic productions were underway in the Hawaiian Islands – something possibly confirmed by an upcoming project revealed in Production Weekly entitled "The Sub-Mariner."
There’s just one problem for Mr. McKenzie: In comic book lore from the last 50 years, he's often been referred as “Marvel’s first mutant” – which is 20th Century Fox's turf. Could a possible crossover production with the Inhumans TV show indicate Marvel’s attempt to excise the Sub-Mariner’s mutant condition?
Can the Sub-Mariner Remain a Mutant?
The complex world of intellectual property rights within Marvel Film Universe (including the MCU, the “Singerverse,” the Spider-Verse, and the confusing, conjoined Universal-Marvel Hulkverse) are about as friendly as they’ve ever been. Sony and Marvel now share everyone's favorite neighborhood Spider-Man, with Spider-Man: Homecoming debuting in July (although Sony may pursue solo ventures for spinoff characters like Venom and the Sinister Six). 20th Century Fox and Marvel may be no closer to an X-Men-Avengers crossover flick, but they are working together on the TV front.
Depending on how well Legion and the untitled X-series fare, Fox may be feeling a little more amicable towards the House of Ideas. While the word “mutant” is still a big no-no for the Disney world, Marvel managed to use the euphemism “enhanced” to bring the hotly-contested Maximoff Twins into their world – even though they split them up with Quicksilver zipping around Fox and Scarlet Witch tearing it up with the Avengers. In the same fashion, Marvel could assign Namor an enhanced status to dissociate from his mutant ties.
They could also return the Sub-Mariner to his pre-mutant roots, when he was merely a hybrid of Atlantean and human physiology. There is yet another way Marvel could go with their old school character, especially in light of the company’s overall Inhumans push – including heavy promotion in the comic book cycle and the brand-spanking new TV show: The Sub-Mariner could become an Inhuman.
Why Marvel Might Make Namor Inhuman
Namor already has a long history with the Inhumans. He and Black Bolt may not always see eye to eye, but their antihero properties served them well, especially during team ups and world-rending crossover events. They also both served as members of the Illuminati – a secret cabal organized by Iron Man. Occasional bad blood aside, if the Marvel’s media machine truly wants to cement the Sub-Mariner as a non-mutant character, and for that matter, all of Atlantis, they could unite the undersea kingdom with the alien-engineered Inhumans.
It wouldn't be that much of a stretch, either, as there is (sort of) a comic book precedent. At one point, Marvel was ready to reset the Atlantean prince as an Inhuman during Secret Wars, in the apparently unreleased series Namor: The First Inhuman. Even before the would-be comic, both groups already had an interesting connection: Attilan (and New Attilan, by default) were both reportedly named after Atlantis – which in and of itself could hint at how Marvel chooses to proceed. Instead of having Namor's powers come from the dreaded (at least to Disney’s cinematic branch) “m” word, they could retcon Atlantis under the Terrigenesis banner.
The studio could even introduce the reborn Sub-Mariner and his people on the forthcoming Inhumans TV show. Marking him (and, by extension, the Atlanteans) as Inhumans offers two distinct benefits. First, it would add another famous face to this new corner of the MCU. Secondly, linking the Atlanteans and the Inhumans as cousins of sorts – which, as offshoots of humanity, they both already are – gives Marvel a lot of mythology to explore in their upcoming television endeavors. Depending on whether “The Sub-Mariner” winds up launching as a television program or actually becomes part of the MCU, his new origins could help to bridge the gaps between Marvel's often disparate TV and film divisions.
Even though the House of Ideas has tampered with Namor's heritage on occasion, changing his powers, his origins, and his very makeup may not be necessary. It might be better just to bring him back to basics.
Should Marvel Change Namor’s History?
While it’s true that contemporary Namor sort of identifies as a mutant, he was classically an Atlantean-human hybrid long before the X-teams first donned their blue and gold. Marvel’s simplest bet for the Sub-Mariner is a return to his pre-60s origin, where he began comic life as the son of Fen (the daughter of Atlantis’ Emperor) and an American sailor named Leonard McKenzie (based on Samuel Coleridge’s epic poem, “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”). Sticking with his original birthright still leaves the studio plenty of room for backstory and curious lore and should also please True Believers who prefer an affiliation-free Namor.
The real question is, despite the working title of “The Sub-Mariner,” is Marvel really cooking up a seafood surprise with their long-time character? As a popular character with a dedicated fan base, it would make sense to develop a property involving the sub-aquatic antihero. An undersea movie may skew uncomfortably close to the upcoming release of Aquaman, which runs the risk of igniting yet another flame war between the Marvel and DC fan-bases. However, the connections to The Inhumans and their production facility could may mean Namor is coming to television. Perhaps it even relates to (or is) the secret Marvel project John Ridley (American Crime) is working on.
To be honest, a television series might actually be the best way to explore the character’s complex storyline and certainly wouldn't preclude a full-length feature or an IMAX pilot movie, like that of the Attilan clan. Televising the Sub-Mariner also pops open a loophole for Marvel, at least presuming Universal still stakes any sort of claim to a solo Namor feature as they do with Hulk. The character's standoffish persona would also fit better alongside Marvel’s grittier Netflix stories or the subterfuge and intrigue of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Inhumans. Especially with rumblings of an Illuminati presence in Avengers: Infinity Wars, the Sub-Mariner needs a proper introduction long before he (hopefully) drops by to scheme behind the scenes with Tony Stark, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and Black Bolt.
Once more, there hasn’t been any official confirmation from Disney/Marvel about a Namor project of any sorts. At the same time, a similar listing in Production Weekly presaged Fox’s announcement about their latest mutant shebang, X-Men: Supernova. So, a trip to the briny deeps could actually happen in some form.
At this point, though, nothing is set in stone. Since Marvel has yet to comment on what “The Sub-Mariner” means for them and for Namor. Nonetheless, the production title is heavily associated, if not entirely associated, with the aquatic Avenger. Marvel will probably retain the crabby Atlantean’s standard origin, as a human-Atlantean hybrid, in order to avoid any confusion. Nevertheless, altering him (and all of Atlantis) into a faction of Inhumans does open up some intriguing possibilities and create a deeper connection between their brand new TV series and one of Marvel's oldest characters. It would also put a final nail in the coffin for Namor’s mutant status, leaving no room for doubt as he potentially enters the MCU.