[Note: The relationship between Marvel Comics and its predecessors, Timely and Atlas Comics, has been presented differently over the years. In the 70's Roy Thomas, writer and editor of Invaders, stated that comics from before the Marvel Age of Comics were not canon unless otherwise confirmed by a modern comic. The Timely Comics were presented as comic books published about the Invaders in-universe that frequently got the details wrong. In the 80's the first volumes of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe referred to Namor's first appearance as Fantastic Four #4, not Marvel Comics #1. In the 90's further OHOTMUs said the same and John Byrne's Namor comic reinforced the fictional nature of the Timely Comics. Only in the 21st century have the OHOTMU and certain select sources embraced the entirety of Timely and Atlas Comics as in-universe canon to Marvel Comics unless specifically contradictory.
As a consequence, this Spotlight will address Namor's adventures from Timely Comics and Atlas Comics more broadly, working only with major events and confirmed stories referenced in the Marvel Age of Comics, with contradictions noted as necessary. The Saga of the Sub-Mariner was a maxi-series that covered Namor's entire history up through 1989, "authenticating" a great many Golden Age stories for the Marvel era. As a result, it will be co-cited alongside many original issues for its confirmations, as well as its original material.]
Namor McKenzie, alias Prince Namor the First, is the first known hybrid mutant offspring of Homo sapiens sapiens and Homo sapiens mermanus, also known respectively as the surface-worlders and Atlanteans. His father, Leonard McKenzie, was a merchant ship's captain in the first quarter of the 20th century. McKenzie and his vessel, the Oracle, were appointed on a secret mission to the Antarctic by President Woodrow Wilson to recover the lost ship the Endurance and its precious cargo, a lode of Savage Land Vibranium. McKenzie was also hired by a man named Paul Destine, who possessed natural psychic abilities that he wished to increase further. Destine's research had uncovered evidence of a race known as the Ancients that may have developed their psychic powers to the utmost and he had hired McKenzie and his crew to help him locate the city of the Ancients near Antarctica. McKenzie and Destine forged ahead of the other men at their destination and located the city itself. Destine attempted to tempt McKenzie into claiming the find solely for themselves, but intended to betray his "partner" at the first opportunity. Although not gifted with telepathy like his companion, Leonard McKenzie recognized Destine's evil intent and fought against him. The cavern leading to the City of the Ancients collapsed during their struggle, leaving Destine buried with his "treasure," while Leonard returned to his vessel. [Iron Man and Sub-Mariner #1, Namor, the Sub-Mariner #52-53]
McKenzie and the Oracle needed to blast their way through the icy shelf around Antarctica on their voyage and inadvertently caused destruction beneath the waves. The kingdom of Atlantis was located in the waters around Antarctica, and King Thakorr demanded to know the cause of the explosions. He instructed his daughter, Princess Fen, to choose a suitable scout party to investigate. The adventurous and daring princess chose to scout the surface herself instead, and came across the Oracle. Fen was caught by the sailors and brought before the captain, who was smitten with this blue-skinned beauty, and she with him. Using a potion to survive out of water for up to five hours at a time, Fen spent considerable time with Leonard McKenzie and the Oracle.
Princess Fen reported back to her king and father what she had learned of the surface-dwellers. As she grew enamored with Leonard, however, her reports grew fewer and further between, and they were soon wed in a shipboard ceremony. Her absence troubled Thakorr, who feared the worst. A war party of Atlantean soldiers assaulted the Oracle, believing Fen to be a prisoner. In the fighting that followed, Leonard McKenzie was seemingly killed by a young warrior named Krang. Crestfallen, the now pregnant Fen returned to her undersea kingdom and her people. Soon thereafter, in the year 1920 as surface dwellers measure time, Prince Namor was born. [Marvel Comics #1, Sub-Mariner (1st series) #1, Saga of the Sub-Mariner #1]
[Note: The story of Leonard and Fen has been retold many times, with many details changing with each telling. Sources vary as to whether Thakorr sent Fen directly as a spy and seductress, or if she chose to go herself rather than name a royal scouting party. How long Fen could survive out of water and why also varies. Also of concern is whether Fen was sending back occasional intelligence reports, or if she was completely out of contact with Atlantis during her time on the Oracle. One element that never changes is that Fen and Leonard were married on the ship regardless of how long they were there together, because children out of wedlock is a sin. Yes, I'm joking. I'm just making sure people read these.]
Namor grew up in his grandfather's court, learning from his mother as well as King Thakorr and Queen Korra. He attended royal business sometimes as prince, but also played with his friends and cousins while growing up. Namor had an antagonistic relationship with his cousin Byrrah, the emperor's stepson, partly because of his unique abilities and because Namor preceded Byrrah in the line of succession to the throne. Still, Namor, Byrrah and their friend Merrano spent most of their days together playing as children. Like most boys his age, Namor had little use for girls like his distant cousins Dorma and Namora. [Sub-Mariner Comics #35,39, Namor the Sub-Mariner #20, Saga of the Sub-Mariner #2]
His Caucasian flesh tone marked him as a halfbreed and an outsider from birth, but Namor's other special attributes would only surface over time. He discovered his ability to breathe in air far longer than other Atlanteans at age ten after accidentally being trapped on the ice shelf far from water. He slowly came to recognize his great strength and speed as compared to other Atlanteans, but his greatest discovery came at age fourteen.
When Namor and his mother went for a walk out on the icecap (Fen using her serum to breathe), a quake suddenly caused a crevace to open beneath them. Fen tumbled helplessly to the bottom, but Namor slowed his descent just by willing it. Only after instinctively rescuing his mother with her broken leg did Namor realize he was flying under his own power using tiny wings that polyped from his ankles. The young prince was now the master of land, sea, and air. [Sub-Mariner Comics #35,37-38, Saga of the Sub-Mariner #2]
He learned about new weaknesses as well as strengths, however. At fifteen, Namor, Namora and Byrrah were exploring an abandoned Antarctic research facility when Namora accidentally knocked over a kerosene container, causing a blaze inside one of the shacks. Namor didn't even have words in his language for fire or burning, and was surprised by the pain and weakness he felt while trying to rescue his cousin. Namor only learned on the fly that water would protect him from fire, and he managed to get Namora to safety in time. [Sub-Mariner Comics #40, Saga of the Sub-Mariner #4]
Possibly because of the blasting caused by the Oracle, Atlantis temporarily relocated to a colony in the Pacific Ocean when Namor was a boy. One summer when he was young, Namor surfaced and played with a "dry girl" called Sandra Pierce on the beaches of California. It was a wonderful afternoon both would remember for years to come. [Namor #1]
When he was sixteen, Namor and his cousin Bobo were apprenticing with the Tri-Team, trident wielding Atlanteans who protected the Neptune Net by which King Thakorr fished for the entire colony. Bobo's older brother Beemer was already a full member of the Tri-Team, and often picked on his brother and on Namor for being a "pink-belly." Namor convinced Bobo to put on a gill-scarf and go with him to pick up dry girls on land. He crossed paths with Sandy again, now a teenager herself. She and Namor were quickly smitten with each other and she brought Namor as her guest to a fancy mixer at the beach club. Namor shared his secrets with Sandy, telling her not only that he was a water-breathing prince of Atlantis, but also about feeling different as the only true amphibian among his people. [Namor #2-3]
Namor soon invited Sandy to visit him in Atlantis, using special breathing worms. While Bobo got to know Sandy's friend Liz, Namor brought Sandra all the way down to the ocean floor. They came back several times, and Sandra got to know Namor's family at his cousin's birthday party. Despite Beemer and his mother Zarina's attitudes, Sandy was welcomed by the royal family, and she and Namor continued to grow closer. [Namor #4-5]
Matters became more complicated when Sandy brought Namor to meet her parents. Atlantis was dealing with oil deposits seeping through from underneath the rock, polluting the waters. Sandy recognized the substance, but didn't say anything to the confused Atlanteans. However, her father found a splotch of oil on her clothes when she resurfaced, and saw the chance for profit. Despite the Great Depression going on, Mr. Pierce sank his funds into searching for the oil reservoir, and began racking up significant debt. When workers came to collect their back pay during dinner with Namor, the sea prince stood up for Henry Pierce against his employees. Realizing how desperately Pierce needed it, Namor offered to moderate a deal between Henry and Atlantis. He spoke to Thakorr and Korra and explained how Henry wanted to siphon away the "black stuff" and encouraged the king and queen to consider strengthening ties with the surface world this way. Sandy was concerned about allowing drilling in Atlantis, but Namor didn't see any harm. [Namor #6]
As Namor and Henry went wheeling and dealing with both the Atlanteans and potential backers at the country club, Sandy began to feel neglected. Both her father and Namor were ignoring concerns that the oil was seeping out from the sea bed even more now that drilling had begun. Namor finally acknowledged the pollution caused by the seeping oil, and got Henry to work on engineering stronger structural support on the seabed to prevent it from escaping into the water. He also shooed Sandy away to confront her father about "serious business," making her feel even more alone. [Namor #7-8]
Zarina blamed Namor for bringing the dry people to Atlantis and dirtying the fishing waters with oil, so she had Beemer make a play for Sandy at a mixer. Sandy, feeling the need to get back at Namor, accepted the dance. They succeeded in making Namor jealous, but that only caused more problems. As Henry and Sandy left for the surface, Beemer struck at them. He injured Henry and took Sandy to the drilling rig. Namor and Bobo rescued Sandy, but Namor was furious and nearly killed Beemer in the process. Bobo was hurt as well, and Zarina used her sons' injuries to get the people of Atlantis believing Namor cared more about the surface dwellers than he did about his fellow Atlanteans. It didn't help that Henry lashed out at the royal family while his daughter was missing, calling them savages in the heat of anger. [Namor #9-10]
Meanwhile, Bobo had been disowned by his mother for siding with Namor over Beemer. Namor and Sandy accompanied him to the surface, only to find out Liz had become pregnant by Bobo and was being shuttled off by her parents. Bobo chose to stay on the surface in order to find Liz. Back in Atlantis, Zarina encouraged Beemer to destroy the drilling rig, which he did with the help of the Tri-Team. Unfortunately, uncorking the oil reservoir only caused it to seep out uncontrollably into the waters. Atlantis was now virtually uninhabitable. Zarina and Beemer tried to blame the catastrophe on Namor, but the Tri-Team revealed the truth and cleared Namor's name. As Atlantis prepared to migrate to the South Pole and cleaner waters, Namor regretfully said good-bye to Sandy, telling her he loved her but his responsibilities to his people required him to leave with them. Once Sandy returned home to find her father intended to build NEW drilling platforms, having learning nothing from the ecological damage and destruction caused by his drilling, she chose to abandon her surface life. She then traveled with Namor and Atlantis as they journeyed to build a new settlement. [Namor #11-12]
[Note: The Namor "Tsunami" series had several continuity errors. It aged Namor a few years, making him sixteen during Prohibition, but Prohibition ended in 1933 when he was thirteen. His younger cousin was referred to as Namorita instead of Namora, and his cousins Byrrah and Dara were depicted as little girls instead of boys. Needless to say, Sandy Pierce was also never heard from again.]