The Parallel Histories of Aquaman and Sub-Mariner

Dec 17 2018 -- 1:45 PM

There are lots of cases of parallel characters in comics, but no two characters are more alike, or have had more similar histories, than DC Comics' Aquaman and Marvel Comics' Namor, the Sub-Mariner. One is a household name, thanks to years of TV cartoons and, most recently, a big budget movie starring Jason Momoa. The other has yet to have a live-action adaptation, or appear much at all in any media outside comics. But these two undersea monarchs have quite a few things in common besides just being noble Atlanteans, and their histories have run parallel for decades.

The Golden Age (1939 - 1955)

Namor the Sub-Mariner was created in 1939, as Timely Comics' response to Superman. In addition to being super strong, he could breathe underwater and fly. The son of an Atlantean Princess and a human sea captain, Namor McKenzie's early adventures found him actually fighting against the United States, threatening to flood New York for humanity's crimes against the world. He only became a hero in the traditional sense when he joined the battle against the Axis powers in 1940.

Aquaman was created two years later over at DC Comics in 1941. Although he was another underwater hero, he was very different from Namor. Initially, he gained his powers thanks to his father, a famous marine biologist who discovered the ruins of Atlantis and taught his son (who wasn't even given a real name) how to breathe underwater and talk to sea life. But like Namor, most of Aquaman's enemies in the early says were Nazi U-boat commanders and other Axis baddies. Their biggest similarities during this time was kicking Nazi butt on the high seas.

The Silver Age (1956 - 1969)

As was the case with most superheroes, Namor's adventures proved less popular after the end of World War II, and his comic was canceled. He pretty much vanished from the scene, aside from a brief revival during the '50s that didn't last too long. However, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revived Namor in the pages of Fantastic Four in the early '60s, where he became a prominent Marvel character again, seen as both a hero and an occasional villain.During the Silver Age, Aquaman was given an entirely new backstory. In 1958, readers learned that his real name was Arthur Curry, and he was the son of an Atlantean princess and a human lighthouse keeper. Sound familiar? That's because that is essentially Namor's origin story.

The Bronze Age (1970 -1985)

During the '70s/'80s, the two undersea heroes only sporadically had comics of their own, but were both stalwart members of famous super teams. Namor was part of the Defenders, and later the Avengers. Aquaman was a member of the Justice League of America in good standing. Many of their Bronze Age stories for both characters featured rivals to their seat on the Atlantean thrones taking power away from them, and trying to start wars with the surface world. But the majority of their appearances were as part of an ensemble.

The Dark Age (1986 - 2000)

During the "extreme" grim 'n' gritty early '90s, Namor reached peak intensity. He grew out his hair long and began sporting occasional facial hair. Not long after, the usually clean cut Aquaman also grew his hair long and start wearing a beard, and, like Namor, became far more of an antihero who had contempt for the surface world. Aquaman's origins were tweaked somewhat to not appear to be too close to Namor's, but other than that, the characters were extremely similar during this time period.Interestingly, also around this time, during the Marvel vs. DC comic book event, Namor and Aquaman actually fought for the very first time. Namor was given his classic appearance, possibly to make the two characters look different enough in their fight. The winner was chosen by the readers, an the victor in the the battle was actually Aquaman, who won by summoning a whale to leap out of the water and land on Namor.

Modern Age (2001 - Present)

In the twenty-first century, both heroes reverted to maybe their most popular incarnations. Aquaman retained his more serious "don't mess with me" attitude from the '90s, but his look would reflect the most popular version of the character, as he appeared in the classic cartoons from the '60s through the '80s. With Jason Momoa looking far more like '90s Aquaman, his look has reverted to the long hair and bear once more, but with the classic costume to complement them. Namor would stay relevant by joining the X-Men. Due to his ability to fly (something neither Atlanteans nor humans can do), he was categorized as a mutant (even if it is a bit of a stretch). Latching on the popular X-brand has helped keep him fresh in the minds of readers.With Aquaman now in theaters, has that hastened or indefinitely delayed Namor's ascendance in pop culture? Time will tell, but sooner or later Namor will get a live-action adaptation, and when he does, the comparisons between both characters will do doubt be debated about for several more years.

Images: Marvel Comics / DC Comics