Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner was in fact the first Marvel Universe character to see print. He debuted in the ultra-rare 1939 promotional comic book Motion Picture Funnies Weekly some six months before the start of his regular feature in Marvel Mystery Comics. The brainchild of writer/artist Bill Everett, Namor was a violent, hot-headed hero with no love for the world of the surface-dwellers. He remained a fixture of the “Golden Age” comics published by Marvel’s predecessors, Timely and Atlas, until the mid-1950s. He was the first such character revived by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for their new wave of superhero comics in the early sixties, and from the start they established a tenuous continuity with his earlier adventures. The Sub-Mariner’s absence from the scene since the “Golden Age” was explained by showing him living as an amnesiac derelict, a state he had been in for many long years. The full story of how he lost his memory would be revealed much later, after he once again received his own title.
Note: The following timeline depicts the Original Marvel Universe (anchored to November 1961 as the first appearance of the Fantastic Four and proceeding forward from there. See previous posts for a detailed explanation of my rationale.) Some information presented on the timeline is speculative. See the Notes section at the end for clarifications.
Let us plumb the depths of The True History of the Sub-Mariner!
January 1962 – For nearly twelve years, Prince Namor of Atlantis has been living as a bum in New York City’s Bowery. His long hair and beard disguise his appearance. He shuffles around in an intoxicated stupor with no memory, given to fits of rage and violence. The other bums try to avoid him whenever possible.
February 1962 – By chance, Johnny Storm, the new Human Torch, discovers Namor in a flophouse after storming out on the Fantastic Four. Trying to restore Namor’s memory, the Torch drops him into the harbor. Namor swims to a nearby Atlantean outpost in the North Atlantic Ocean, which is in ruins. He learns there that the main city of Atlantis has also been destroyed by the surface dwellers. Namor returns to New York bent on revenge. He directs a giant sea monster to attack the city, but it is killed by the Fantastic Four. When Namor first meets Sue Storm, the Invisible Girl, he is smitten with her. Namor is still a bit mentally unbalanced from his ordeal, and the Fantastic Four are able to drive him off.
March 1962 – Namor returns to Atlantis, located off the coast of Antarctica, and finds the city utterly destroyed and abandoned. He begins searching the oceans for his lost people.
April 1962 – Doctor Doom tracks down the Sub-Mariner and convinces him to join forces in attacking the Fantastic Four. Namor returns to New York to plant Dr. Doom’s “grabber” device in the basement of the FF’s headquarters, which enables Doom to haul the entire Baxter Building into orbit. Then, realizing he’s been betrayed, Namor attacks Doom’s orbiter and leaves the villain drifting in space. The Baxter Building is returned to its foundations and Namor ditches Doom’s spaceplane in the ocean.
May 1962 – Namor continues his search for the Atlantean Diaspora, but without success.
June 1962 – Learning the Fantastic Four have gone bankrupt, Namor hatches an elaborate scheme. He purchases a failing movie studio in Los Angeles and renames it Imperial Studios. Then, he tricks the FF into performing for the cameras while he tries to destroy them. The FF escape Namor’s various traps, however, and Sue shames him into honoring his part of the bargain. Namor orders that the movie be completed, then returns to the ocean depths. Ironically, the documentary film The Fantastic Four is a financial success, and Imperial Studios will continue to operate for many years to come.
July 1962 – Several weeks later, the Human Torch picks a fight with the Sub-Mariner, and manages to bury him in an undersea avalanche. By the time Namor frees himself, the Torch has gotten away.
August 1962 – Namor finally finds evidence of his people, and knows he is on the right track. However, his search is delayed when the Puppet Master takes over his mind and uses him to attack the Fantastic Four. Thus, Namor kidnaps the Invisible Girl. The FF track him down, but Namor is soon freed from the Puppet Master’s control and immediately sends the FF home, intent on resuming his search.
September 1962 – Namor is at last reunited with his people and claims his throne, leading them to re-settle the ruins of the original city of Atlantis in the North Atlantic Ocean. He is also reunited with his betrothed, the lovely Lady Dorma. Namor immediately raises his army and declares war on the surface world, leading them in an invasion of New York. However, when the Invisible Girl is badly injured, Namor calls off the attack. Lady Dorma is furious, and, seeing it as a betrayal, the warlord Krang convinces the Atlanteans to desert Namor. The Sub-Mariner returns to Atlantis and finds himself alone.
October 1962 – Having been abandoned by the Atlantean people, Namor begins plotting his revenge against the surface world. However, he studies his enemies more completely this time, and makes his plans much more carefully.
November 1962 – Namor seeks to make an ally of the Hulk against the human race. Together, they set a trap for the Avengers on the Rock of Gibraltar. During the battle, however, the Hulk seems to disappear, and, realizing he is outmatched, Namor beats an angry retreat. Continuing his search for his people, Namor comes across a group of Eskimos worshiping a strange idol—a human figure within a giant chunk of ice. Enraged, Namor hurls the idol out to sea, where it begins to drift south.
While searching for the Atlanteans, Namor finds an alien from the D’Bari system who’s been trapped on Earth for centuries. Upon learning that the alien is the basis of the myth of the Medusa who turned men into stone, Namor strikes a bargain. He promises to raise the alien’s spaceship from the ocean floor once the Avengers are turned to stone. The plan nearly succeeds, but the newly-revived Captain America saves the day. Meanwhile, Namor comes across a loyal band of his elite guard, and together they attack the Avengers. The Sub-Mariner and Captain America are as yet unable to remember each other, both still suffering from partial amnesia. When the alien blasts off in his spaceship, Namor abandons the fight, certain that the Avengers won’t survive the havoc caused by the ship’s launch.
December 1962 – The Sub-Mariner becomes obsessed with Sue Storm, which drives even his elite guard to desert him. Alone again, Namor boldly invades the Baxter Building and kidnaps Sue. His troops return during the ensuing battle with the Fantastic Four. However, Sue ends the battle by declaring her love for Reed Richards. The surface-dwellers mysteriously vanish before Namor can lash out in rage.
Namor is invited to Magneto’s island fortress in the North Atlantic to discuss joining forces against the human race. The Sub-Mariner soon arrives and meets the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Mastermind, and the Toad. When the X-Men attack, Namor drives them off and then accompanies the Mutant Brotherhood to Magneto’s command bunker. However, Namor is incensed by Magneto’s harsh treatment of the Scarlet Witch and destroys Magneto’s control systems. Flying into a sudden rage, Namor then wrecks Magneto’s fortress, fights with both the X-Men and the Brotherhood, and finally returns to the sea.
Soon after, Namor agrees to meet with Reed Richards at the Baxter Building to discuss a truce. However, the Human Torch and the Thing attack Namor before he reaches shore, afraid that he is launching another invasion. Believing Richards has betrayed him, Namor returns to the ocean depths after an inconclusive battle.
January 1963 – Some weeks later, Namor is finally reunited with his people and once again takes the throne. All is forgiven, and the Atlanteans begin settling into the reign of Namor the First. Before long, however, Atlantis comes under attack by the barbarian hordes of Attuma, who believes the Atlanteans are vulnerable while trying to re-establish their settlement in the long-abandoned city. A war breaks out, and a scorned Dorma decides to betray Namor to Attuma so that she and her prince can have a life together. Once Attuma breaches the walls, though, his promises to Lady Dorma are forgotten, and the war resumes.
February 1963 – Dorma flees from Atlantis, filled with shame, and goes to enlist the aid of the Fantastic Four. They agree to help and travel to Atlantis to do battle with Attuma’s army. Sue uses her powers to make Namor invisible, giving him the edge over Attuma in single combat. Attuma and his followers are defeated, although Namor remains unaware of the FF’s involvement.
March-April 1963 – Atlantis recovers from the battle with Attuma’s hordes. The city strengthens its defenses as Namor builds his government and watches as Atlantean society finally begins to flourish once again. Namor also begins training his troops to fight more effectively. Meanwhile, Warlord Krang continues to badger Namor to invade the surface world once again. Namor is sick of fighting, however, and wishes to turn his attention to domestic affairs.
May 1963 – The Avengers contact the Sub-Mariner with an offer of membership. Aware of his service to the Allied Powers during World War II as a member of the Invaders, the Avengers believe they are offering Namor the chance for redemption in the eyes of the surface world. Namor does not yet remember his time with the Invaders, however, and declines the offer. He is now interested only in being an effective ruler.
Krang continues to beat the drums of war, but Namor now desires to make peace with the surface world. He returns to New York seeking a forum, and decides a public trial will suit his purposes. He engages the law firm of Nelson and Murdock and then goes on a rampage, causing extensive property damage. He is opposed by Daredevil, but Namor allows himself to be taken into custody. However, as the trial begins, Dorma arrives to tell Namor that Warlord Krang has staged a coup in his absence. Namor returns to Atlantis, despite Daredevil’s best attempts to stop him. However, Namor is captured by Krang’s forces and imprisoned.
Namor is soon set free by Dorma, and he leaves Atlantis on a quest to find the fabled Neptune’s Trident, possession of which will prove he is the rightful ruler of the realm. Krang is aware of his escape, however, and sends agents to ensure the quest ends in failure. Along the way, Namor meets an elderly Atlantean named Vashti, whose unwavering loyalty to his prince inspires Namor to persevere. The Sub-Mariner faces a giant squid, the monstrous Seaweed Man, and the diabolical Demon of the Diamonds before abandoning his quest in order to rescue Dorma from the murderous Faceless Ones. However, by placing his love for Dorma above his political ambitions, Namor earns Neptune’s favor. Taking the trident, he returns to Atlantis, defeats Krang, and reclaims the throne.
June 1963 – Preparations are made for a celebration of Namor’s rule and the city’s liberation from the tyranny of Krang. Amidst much pomp and circumstance, Dorma is recognized for her devotion to her prince, and Vashti is made Lord Vashti, Grand Vizier of Atlantis. Then, Krang is banished from the realm to wander the oceans in perpetual exile.
July-August 1963 – Namor focuses his attention on domestic affairs and redressing the wrongs committed by Krang during his usurpation. Namor also helps Vashti settle into his new role, and spends as much time with Dorma as his schedule will allow.
September 1963 – A series of damaging sub-sea earthquakes leads Namor to a floating research platform that is drilling into the ocean floor. After destroying the drill, the Sub-Mariner confronts the lead scientist, Dr. Henry Pym. In the middle of their argument, though, Namor once again falls victim to the Puppet Master and heads immediately to New York. Once there, the Puppet Master forces the Sub-Mariner to rob a bank, but Namor eventually shakes off the villain’s influence.
Dorma finds Namor in the Hudson River and tells him that the earthquakes have awakened the Behemoth, a giant android monster created by the Atlanteans during World War II as a defense against a Nazi invasion of their realm. Returning to the ocean depths, Namor battles the monster until he manages to force it into a bottomless pit of quicksand.
Returning to Atlantis, Namor is informed by Lord Vashti that Dorma has fled the city to marry Krang. The news drives Namor to the brink of madness and he becomes a tyrant, branding Dorma a traitor and arresting her family. Learning they have sought refuge on the surface world, Namor sets off to track them down. He catches up to Krang’s high-speed flagship off the coast of Long Island, but it escapes due to the interference of Iron Man. In a rage, the Sub-Mariner follows Iron Man back to Stark Industries and brawls with him. Then, catching a glimpse of Krang’s ship offshore, Namor abandons the fight and sets off in hot pursuit. Unfortunately, Krang escapes again.
October 1963 – The Sub-Mariner finally catches up to Krang and Dorma, who are now traveling in Krang’s gigantic battle cruiser, a heavily-armed dreadnaught that can fight in the sky as well as beneath the waves. Krang manages to defeat Namor with a powerful missile when the exploding warhead induces a case of temporary amnesia. The stunned Sub-Mariner is found by the leader of the subversive organization called the Secret Empire, who convinces Namor he is one of their agents and sends him to track down and kill the Hulk. However, Namor fails to locate the Hulk before his memory returns. He is still in New York when Krang generates a huge tidal wave that inundates Midtown Manhattan. Despite the troops who are trying to capture him, the Sub-Mariner alerts the American military to the location of Krang’s battle cruiser, and it is destroyed by a Navy submarine. Both Krang and Dorma are captured by the Army, but Namor rescues them and returns them to Atlantis.
Once back in their undersea realm, the Sub-Mariner defeats Krang in single combat before the eyes of all Atlantis. The defeated warlord is then taken away to be imprisoned in solitary confinement outside the gates of the city. Dorma is released when Namor learns that she agreed to marry Krang only to save Namor’s life from the Behemoth, which Krang was controlling. All is forgiven, and Namor once again turns his attention to matters of state.
November 1963 – Attuma and his hordes attempt another invasion of Atlantis, but are driven back by the Sub-Mariner. However, after discovering an indestructible alien robot which recently crashed to Earth, Attuma unleashes it on Atlantis. The Sub-Mariner manages to contact the spaceship as it returns to search for its lost property, and is able to hold off the robot until its owners come to retrieve it. The discouraged Attuma then retreats to Skarka.
December 1963 – Namor’s cousin, Lord Byrrah, speaks out against the Sub-Mariner, blaming him for the calamities that have befallen the Atlanteans over the last year. Surprisingly, the people soon call for Byrrah to replace Namor as their sovereign. Though incensed by their betrayal, Namor accepts Byrrah’s challenge to single combat. However, Byrrah wins the contest through treachery, and his first act as ruler of Atlantis is to have Namor exiled to Inferno Isle some 8,000 miles away. While receiving his sentence, Namor learns that both Attuma and Krang are Byrrah’s co-conspirators. The outraged Sub-Mariner escapes from the volcano monster on the lonely island and swims back to Atlantis. Upon arriving, he finds the city being damaged by a giant vortex-creating machine. After destroying the weapon, Namor returns to the royal palace, where he learns from Dorma and Vashti that Byrrah had used a hypnotic ray to steal the loyalty of the citizens. His faith restored, the Sub-Mariner reclaims his crown. Krang and Attuma flee from his wrath, while Byrrah is sentenced to permanent exile.
January 1962 – For earlier events in Namor’s life, see OMU: Ancient History 4.
February 1962 – The Sub-Mariner is reintroduced in Fantastic Four #4. Coincidentally, Johnny sees one of the other bums in the flophouse reading an old copy of Sub-Mariner Comics. It is established as early as Fantastic Four #2 that the Marvel Universe has its own counterpart of the Marvel Comics Group, which went on to become something of a running gag in various titles.
April 1962 – The first “Super-Villain Team-Up” occurs in Fantastic Four #6.
June 1962 – In the original story in Fantastic Four #9, Namor’s business venture actually has the unlikely name of S-M Studios. This was later changed to Imperial when it was realized that kids might get the wrong impression of what kind of movies Namor was making. It’s unlikely Stan Lee realized that S-M could mean “sadomasochism” as well as “Sub-Mariner.” He didn’t have that sort of sense of humor.
July 1962 – The Human Torch first takes on the Sub-Mariner solo in Strange Tales #107, which at the time was a sort of companion title to Fantastic Four.
August 1962 – The Sub-Mariner first comes under the Puppet Master’s sway in Fantastic Four #14.
September 1962 – The original city of Atlantis is located at roughly 55°N by 21°W, whereas Thakorr’s Atlantis (where Namor grew up) is over 8,700 miles away at about 66°S by 10°E. The Atlantean invasion of New York is depicted in Fantastic Four Annual #1.
November 1962 – Namor and the Hulk first team up in Avengers #3. In the following issue, Namor plays his part in the resurrection of Captain America. The real reason Cap and Namor don’t seem to know each other is that it wasn’t until years later that Roy Thomas had the idea that they had fought side-by-side during World War II as members of the Invaders. That was the first major “retcon” of the Marvel Universe.
December 1962 – Namor is unaware of the behind-the-scenes involvement of Doctor Strange in Fantastic Four #27. He deals with Magneto and the X-Men for the first time in Uncanny X-Men #6. His battle with the Human Torch and the Thing occurs in Strange Tales #125.
February 1963 – Namor fights off Attuma and his barbarian hordes for the first time in Fantastic Four #33. Attuma’s realm, called Skarka, is located about 1,200 miles west of Atlantis.
May 1963 – Again, the Invaders angle is not in the original story in Avengers #16, but it explains why the Avengers would make Namor such an offer at this point. He would eventually join Earth’s Mightiest Heroes many years later. Namor battles DD in Daredevil #7. The Sub-Mariner’s 15,000-mile journey to find Neptune’s Trident kicks off his solo series in Tales to Astonish #70 and following.
September 1963 – Namor’s encounter with Iron Man forms an early Marvel crossover event, as the story detours into the “Iron Man” feature in Tales of Suspense #79-80.
December 1963 – This brings us up to Tales to Astonish #91.
OMU Note: The Sub-Mariner’s final canonical appearance was in Namor #25.
Next Issue: The Way It Began: Fantastic Four -- Year One