When the human Captain Leonard MacKenzie fell in love with the Atlantean princess Fen, their union produced a hybrid child with unique abilities. Namor, whose name means “Avenging Son,” was born with incredible strength, bulletproof skin, and the ability to breath both air and water. He could even defy gravity, aided by wings on his ankles that allowed him to control his flight path.
In 1939, Namor began crossing swords with the surface world, often provoked by humans who looked at him with fear and suspicion. Called the “Sub-Mariner” by the media, Namor came to believe humans were a threat to his people and he staged attacks against New York, leading him to battle the android superhero known as the original Human Torch. But when the Nazi menace rose, Namor saw them as a greater threat and joined with Allied forces to combat them. He even teamed with Captain America and the Torch to form a team known as the Invaders.
Some time after the end of WW II, an attack on Atlantis left the Sub-Mariner an amnesiac and he wandered the streets of New York for years. He was eventually discovered by Johnny Storm, a member of the Fantastic Four who called himself the new Human Torch. Johnny helped restore Namor’s memories only to discover that the Sub-Mariner was once again intent on waging war against humanity, believing that surface people had destroyed his home and civilization. Eventually, the Sub-Mariner found that his people had survived, relocating to safer territory, and his need for vengeance cooled. Since then, he has often worked with Earth’s heroes as well as against them, depending on what he believes will benefit his people. Most recently, Emma Frost of the X-Men has recruited Namor to also act as a protector of Earth’s mutant humans, those born with the special X-gene that gives them superhuman abilities. How long the Sub-Mariner will stay with the X-Men is anyone’s guess.
And during all these adventures, he’s had a unique wardrobe (or lack thereof). And since he’s got a new series premiering this week, it seems an appropriate time to look over his aquatic apparel, don’t you think?
SWIMMING TRUNKS WARRIOR
When the Sub-Mariner first appeared, he was just a guy in black swim trunks. The only outward sign that he isn’t a normal human diver is his lack of breathing equipment and the fact that he has definite elfin features. He quickly got blue striping on the sides of his shorts.
Swim trunks seem like an easy yet lazy way to indicate that Namor is supposed to be amphibious. With no other real decoration, it comes off as too plain, especially when we’ve seen in various comics that other Atlanteans do not dress like this. Most artists depict them as having robes and sashes, so next to them, the Sub-Mariner looks somewhat naked, as if he were in such a hurry to rush into battle that he forgot to get dressed first.
Some artists would alter the color of the lining or drop it altogether. Some would have a simple “S” belt buckle that matched the belt, while others colored it red or gave it an angular shape to make it stand out. But these tweaks don’t push the shorts into a place where we can say that they’re a special look or a costume. Give me a pair of black swim trunks and a sharpie and I can make this outfit for you.
Interestingly, Namor’s cousin Namora (a female counterpart introduced later) had a much more interesting look. The design is distinctive and the material is not cloth but rather something that resembles fish scales. Namor must have taken note of this, considering some of his later apparel.
A couple of years after he first got his own comic, the Sub-Mariner switched out the trunks for a swimsuit that seemed to be lined with blue fish scales.
The simple touch of altering the material has made Namor’s outfit more unique. If you saw a guy wearing this on the beach, you’d likely give him a second glance even if he didn’t have devil-ears and little wings on his ankles. It doesn’t look like something you could find in any store. The scales give a sense of armor and protection, resembling chain mail. I’d still prefer a little more to Namor’s look, but this is a step in the right direction.
Namor, like many superheroes, faded away towards the end of the 1940s. He had a brief revival in the 1950s, during which time he also sported a brand new belt. This thing seems to be made of metal, so we now have a stronger sense of Namor wearing armor into battle. The fact that he hasn’t chosen to armor the rest of his body can be taken as a sign of Namor’s confidence in his own resiliency to injury (understandable when you have bulletproof skin and can give the Hulk a good fight).
You’ve gotta give the Sub-Mariner credit. You have to be as confident a man’s man as the Old Spice Guy to strut your stuff in the Antarctic wearing nothing but shorts and a weight-belt. And unwinding with penguins is a key move. Ladies love penguins.
Still, the belt buckle is really just a big “S.” Unless you have your letter really stylized (such as Superman’s S-shield or some versions of Aquaman’s A-belt), I’m often not impressed with simply having a letter as your symbol or logo. Some Atlantean symbol or even an icon as simple as a trident would improve this. Or you could drop trying to have a symbol on the belt entirely, not every person with powers needs a copyrighted logo.
The look was not consistent. At times, Namor had the blue scale shorts and the big belt. Other times, he had the blue scales with a much slimmer belt. And sometimes he had the simple black trunks again.
Wait, wait, wait. Did Namor just exclaim “Great Pickled Penguins?” What kind of sick freak pickles penguins? You’ve got some explaining to do, Subby!
RED FISH MEANS ANGRY FISH?
After years of being an amnesiac, the Sub-Mariner got himself a shave and a haircut before deciding he was going to declare war on humanity. In his initial battles against the Fantastic Four, he got himself a pair of red scale shorts (which I guess he kept in a storage locker at the bottom of the sea just in case of emergency).
So does red work as well as the blue shorts? For me, not so much. Blue scales say “fish” and “aquatic” to me. But red scales say “lizard” and “desert snake.” That is not the message you should get from a guy who’s nicknamed “Sub-Mariner.” He’s a powerful merman, not a sidewinder in human form.
CLASSIC GREEN TRUNKS
After a couple of adventures, Namor switched to green scale trunks, which has become his classic color. In fact, this basic look has become so cemented with the character that artists showed him wearing the same trunks in flashbacks of his World War II adventures.
True to the Sub-Mariner’s history, the green shorts look has never been consistent either. Some draw it as large shorts, some as tight speedos. Some artists have had Namor wear golden bracelets with this look, some have not. Starting in the 1990s, the bracelets would sometimes be depicted as more complicated or being decorated with designs. Some have made given them blades.
Some have had the belt be black, while later artists made it standard practice to give him a gold belt. For a while, he had the S belt buckle. Then later a starburst, then later still a seashell. There have also been artists who have given a trident belt buckle to the green shorts. I definitely like the trident design on Namor’s belt better than the seashell. Seashells are not intimidating to me and Namor is often a guy who will throw his fists first and ask questions later.
I definitely prefer bracelets on our boy. I don’t mind them being divided into pieces, but having decorative designs on them usually seems a bit wrong to me. Namor has never seemed one prone to decoration or the trappings or royalty, he’s more utilitarian. I also don’t particularly care for them to have blades. Namor is not Wolverine, he’s not someone who silently stalks you and stabs your arm before you know he’s there, he’s more of a blunt instrument in how he deals with things. I think blades contradict that idea.
In one of Namor’s issues, Marvel did an adaptation of the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” which was the major inspiration for Namor’s creator Bill Everett. In this special issue, Namor temporarily had a trident design imprinted on his chest. This is actually an interesting idea to me. It brings in a design element without forcing Namor to wear a shirt (since he seems to be so against that). Not sure this particular design works though. Maybe if the trident tattoo was black or if it were shaped differently. Maybe if it weren’t so large.
I’ll tell you one other thing. I don’t care for Namor with a beard or pony tail. Just don’t. Aquaman rocks that look, but on Namor I think a beard and long hair risk obscuring his unique elfin features. Even without a costume, the man’s face tells you he is otherworldly. Don’t draw attention away from that.
JUST TOO FUNNY NOT TO MENTION
For a while in the 1960s, it seemed there was no consensus on what Namor could or couldn’t do. For a while, the idea was floated (see what I did there?) that he could mimic the abilities of any marine creature, making him an aquatic version of Animal Man.
That was handy for times when the Sub-Mariner needed to absorb and redirect electricity like an eel or when he used sonar to detect invisible opponents. But it also led to hilarious moments such as when Namor imitated a puffer fish.
Seriously. A puffer fish. And people laugh at Aquaman? That’s just hysterical!
BLACK SUIT NAMOR
Back in the 1970s, our boy Namor was exposed to some nasty stuff that caused a mutation in his cells. Now, when he was out of water, his body would lose nearly all of its moisture in a matter of minutes. Too long in the open air and he would die (a much more severe version of Aquaman’s old weakness to fast dehydration). But luckily, the Sub-Mariner was brought to his former enemy and romantic rival Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. And Reed, being one of the smartest men on Earth in the Marvel Universe, made him a new special suit that utilized a “system of tiny tubes and filters to recycle the moisture in Sub-Mariner’s pores.” This system was “wafer-thin” and was powered by Namor’s body heat, which naturally would rise when he left water.
This is a whole new approach to Namor after decades of having him only in swim trunks or scale speedos. And I must say, I’m surprised Reed Richards of all people would design an outfit that would leave a man’s chest so bare and his arms completely uncovered when the purpose of the suit was to keep his body moisturized. And what is the scientific purpose for those fin-wings?
But I digress. For whatever reasons he had, Reed designed this suit and so let’s consider it. First of all, I dig the trident belt. It’s big, its bold, it says “I will mess you up.” That’s Namor’s personality, definitely. The black and gold work strongly together. Added with the belt and the cut of the shoulders, this suit makes Namor look very authoritative and that’s fitting for a prince of Atlantis who is also its fiercest warrior. The open shirt adds a touch of barbarian to the mix or perhaps a pirate. Either way, I think it works for our boy here, who is a prince but is also often called the “SAVAGE Sub-Mariner.”
Those extended shoulders though, I don’t know. They work on dry land, but they seem a bit off for someone who’s spending a lot of time swimming underwater since I imagine it would cause some drag. Likewise, I’d be worried the fin-wings could slow him down while he’s in swimming and could hinder his movements when he’s trying to fight on dry land. I’d almost be willing to forgive them since one could argue that they’re there to indicate flight, but the ankle wings already do that.
And speaking of those wings, the cut-out in the back of Namor’s boots are a bit odd. I understand Namor needs his wings to be free, but those cut-outs seem larger than necessary for that purpose. And they make Namor look like he’s wearing dancer’s leggings.
Eventually, Namor recovered from the moisture mutation and started sporting his shorts-only look again. But ever now and then, an artist has brought back the black moisture suit and tweaked it a bit. Here, for instance, we’ve altered the trident to be much most subtle and have shrunken down the belt so that it no longer looks like a warrior’s weight-belt. And we’ve got some large shoulder pads.
Shoulder pads I could work with. Fin-wings I could work with. But when you combine them, now I’m sure that Namor has seriously limited how much he can use his arms.
Ah, now this is cool. It’s got the authoritative look of the first black outfit, but its cut and seams indicate a tighter, sleeker form more advantageous for a swimmer. The trident has also been touched up a bit, now resembling some regal seal. Still not sure about the fin wings, but all in all I very much dig this suit.
This is another version of the black suit that we’ve occasionally seen on Namor. We’ve finally lost the wing-fins and that’s cool. But we’ve also lost the scale design in the shirt, which makes it look fairly plain and uninteresting now. And we’ve added a serious high collar to the mix, which just looks pretty silly on our boy. For whatever reason, that collar just makes him look like a sea elf to me, one who plays pan pipes in his spare time and then ponders what games he can play on mortals he finds sleeping in a forest.
ANCIENT ATLANTEAN ARMOR
Wait, why do we have a picture of the Shredder here? Oh, hold the phone! That isn’t the Ninja Turtle villain who wore can openers on his arms, that’s Namor sporting a suit of armor last worn by an ancestor centuries back!
Well, folks, it was the 1990s. If you were a superhero, that meant you needed to get a new look that was “extreme” or “edgy.” And this outfit is definitely “edgy.” And “pointy.” Very, very pointing.
Everything about this armor is meant for attack. Spikes on the chest plate, spikes on the bracers, spikes on the leggings. If you try to tackle Namor from behind, you are going to wind up impaled or possibly decapitated. I understand you want to look intimidating, but this is overkill. If Namor sits down on a sofa, the spikes on his legs are going to rip that sucker apart. And I’d wonder if using those bracers in an attack could cause Namor to get the spikes caught in someone’s rib cage.
Not to mention that gold is a heavy metal and seeing a guy dressed like this and operating underwater immediately convinces me he will be moving too slowly to swim effectively or dodge any attack. And while gold is the material of a king or prince, there is nothing regal about this design. It emphasizes the the Sub-Mariner’s savage aspect while overshadowing the other qualities that round out his character. It just doesn’t suit a guy who is more of a blunt force instrument, declaring his intentions to the world as he leads an army of Atlanteans, mutated fish and whales with legs (no, seriously, he had those).
And why wear the green speedos over armored pants? It stands out in a not good way.
WELCOME TO THE X-MEN
Recently, Namor has joined forces with the X-Men in their quest to protect mutants on Earth. His new X-outfit seems to be an evolution of his black moisture suit with nods to his old blue scale shorts.
The black sides give it a sleek look, as do the plain, undecorated bracers. It’s streamlined and simple, which matches Namor usual approach to life. No complications, he just tells you how he sees it and what he plans to do. The collar is a little disco-era, though. I understand that it can indicate the type of collar a prince might have, but I’m still on the fence about it.
The blue scales are a cool design and their coloring works nicely against the shiny black. I also imagine this suit will provide nice camouflage the deeper Namor goes into the ocean.
Since he works with the X-Men now, naturally Namor has their trademarked X-belt buckle. He also has X designs on his pants. Normally I am not a fan of multiple copies of the same symbol on a person’s costume, but here I’m okay. First, because the X’s are subtle outlines rather than bright, blaring reminders of something you could already figure out. Second, because the X’s allow for the pants to be cut in such a way that they allow Namor’s ankle wings to be free.
Now hat he’s working with Marvel’s most popular franchise and he’s getting his own series again, Namor is surely in for some interesting times. Maybe we’ll see another costume change soon. Maybe he’ll check the X-Men uniform and reveal green speedos underneath. Who knows? In any event, I hope you enjoyed this. This is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off.
Alan Kistler writes the comic book history/fashion column Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. He is an actor and freelance writer living in New York who has been recognized by Warner Bros. Films and major media/news outlets as a comic book historian. He is also the creator/host of the web-show “Crazy Sexy Geeks: The Series.” He knows entirely too much about the history of comics, Star Trek, Doctor Who, time travel, and vampires that don’t sparkle.