Why Are Black Panther and Namor Rivals in Marvel Comics?

When Black Panther premiered in 2018, audiences fell in love with Wakanda. The hidden nation’s wondrous technology and beautiful culture were unlike anything we had seen before in the MCU. And with Wakanda, the MCU gained Black Panther, a hero full of wisdom and enough bravery to protect his people and the world. In the comics, Wakanda has been a source of marvel (and Vibranium) since the mid 1960s.

However, Wakanda isn’t the only not-so-secret civilization of Marvel comics. Deep under the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, the lost empire of Atlantis is ruled by Namor. Over the years, he has gone by many names like Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, the Avenging Son. But one thing has remained constant: a bitter, longstanding rivalry with the Black Panther. How did it all begin? Let’s look back first on their kingdoms.

Dueling Kingdoms

Both Wakanda and Atlantis have chosen to remain largely separate from the rest of the world. With their precious resources and insular cultures, their leaders and their people thought it better to not get involved with the rest of the planet’s messy wars. Ultimately, the long history of tension between these two kingdoms might just come down to fear.

Against the rest of the world, there’s always the looming danger of discovery and exploitation. And with rulers who are so prominent in the public eye, it’s only a matter of time before that happens. As a result, each kingdom fears the other, viewing them with distrust — who would be the first to betray the other’s secrets? While Atlanteans and Wakandans have both proven their societies have noble warriors and gifted scientists, the biggest decisions fall upon the shoulders of their rulers. Shoulders that have had to bear the weight of nations for longer than most heroes have been around.

Polar Opposites

While Wakanda and Atlantis might share similarities, their rulers could not be more opposite. Namor McKenzie is hotheaded and proud. He will do whatever it takes to get what he wants, no matter who is in the way (he’s even sided with Thanos before). T’Challa, unlike his peer, is humble and even-tempered. His people look to him for guidance. Both are deeply admired by their nations and would do anything to protect them. However, the ways in which they rule reveal their many differences.

To describe Namor as complicated would be like calling the Mariana Trench really, really deep (the trench is, in fact, about 36,201 feet deep). Complicated is an understatement. Namor the Sub-Mariner is extremely polarizing for whomever he comes in contact with. He’s been a longtime antagonist of the Fantastic Four, a member of the Avengers and their affiliated teams, as well as an ally of the X-Men. After all, Namor comics refer to him as the first mutant — a title which certainly holds as far as publication goes, since he debuted in 1962.

On the other hand, T’Challa is not traditionally characterized as an antagonist. He is a defender of his people and beloved for that reason. Like the rulers before him, T’Challa is empowered by the spirit of the Black Panther, a gift to the Wakandan people from Bast the Panther God. Similar to Namor, T’Challa’s first introduction to the wider world of super heroes was through the Fantastic Four. And much like Thor, throughout the decades T’Challa has lost and regained his title of Black Panther, opening up the position for others to claim or inherit as well.

Team Players

T’Challa and Namor have very strong ties to the Avengers, both having been members and, in T’Challa’s case, occasionally a leader of the team. They also began their careers as heroes alongside the Fantastic Four and both heroes were founding members of the Illuminati. Another notable team they both belonged to was called the Defenders. This team consisted of a wide range of super heroes, including She-Hulk, Moon Knight, Valkyrie, Hawkeye, Clea, U.S. Agent, Black Knight, Luke Cage, and Wonder Man.

Though they have shared many team memberships, that doesn’t necessarily mean T’Challa and Namor have learned to get along. Their distrust in each other has reached a boiling point on numerous occasions. One of these battles occurred during the Secret Wars event, a time when the Multiverse was threatened by Incursions and the influence of Doctor Doom. During one of their fights, T’Challa gives one of his most memorable lines to Namor, having just bested him in combat: “Every breath you take is mercy from me.” Chilling words, especially given to a water-breather.

Another confrontation that cemented their rivalry was during the Avengers vs. X-Men event, in which the Phoenix Force chose five mutants as its host, one of whom was Namor. Driven mad with power, Namor sent a tidal wave to destroy Birnin Zana, the capital of Wakanda.

What does this mean for the MCU?

The Black Panther sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, pays beautiful homage to Chadwick Boseman’s beloved performance as well as pushes the ongoing narrative of Wakanda forward.

In addition to the return of Queen Ramonda, Nakia, Okoye, Shuri, and M’Baku, many new characters are introduced. Most notably, Namor makes his live-action debut as the ruler of Talokan, an underwater empire similar to Atlantis. Alongside Namor, there’s Namora and Attuma, while RiRi Williams, AKA Ironheart, and a newly introduced member of the Dora Milaje, Aneka, will join Wakandan forces.

The biggest mystery of Phase Four’s final entry is who could take T’Challa’s place as Black Panther. As his younger sister, Shuri could be next in line to inherit his power and she has done so in the comics, as both Queen of Wakanda and the Black Panther. Keeping that in mind, back in 2009, Black Panther Vol. 5 #11 showed Shuri acting as Black Panther and blaming Namor for the attempted assassination of T’Challa. This newest MCU film will undoubtedly enrich the lineage of the Black Panther as well as bring new figures into the fold.

With decades of stories and battles, there is still plenty of Black Panther lore to choose from when it comes to on-screen adaptations. And in the comics, T’Challa continues to influence the worlds of the Avengers and the X-Men — especially thanks to complex rivals such as Namor.

How do you think the world of Wakanda will continue to develop in the MCU? Join the conversation alongside other Marvel fans in the Let Your Spoiler Sideshow Facebook Group, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!