The latest trailer for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever makes it clear war is coming. Namor (Tenoch Huerta), the film’s antagonist, is rushing in like a tidal wave at Wakanda’s darkest hour. It’s an echo of a long-lived comic book rivalry between Black Panther and Namor, and while the shape of the story will be necessarily different, the reasons for a Black Panther sequel featuring Namor remain just as compelling: He’s not just a villain. He’s something more.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, director Ryan Coogler explains the MCU version of Namor is a little different from his comics counterpart. His kingdom is not Atlantis, but Talocan, a creation original to Wakanda Forever, inspired by Mayan culture and intended to be similar to Wakanda; a mythical nation of riches hidden in plain sight.
“The film deals with a lot of things, but one of them is foils — people who exist in contrast, but there’s a thread of similarity,” Coogler told EW.
It’s a quote that underlines what makes Namor the perfect Black Panther villain: He is, in many ways, T’Challa’s equal and opposite, the sovereign leader of an unconquered people fiercely determined to protect it from the outside world. But while in the first Black Panther, T’Challa eventually learned it was time to change his country’s ways, it seems Namor and Talocan may not have yet gone through that growth.
This also echoes T’Challa and Namor’s relationship in the comics. Comics Namor (sometimes called the Sub-Mariner) has a long and complicated history, but his conflict with the Black Panther stems from a simple fact that makes them such compelling rivals: They’re not superheroes. They’re kings.
Namor and the Black Panther operate on an entirely different level than most other characters in the Marvel Universe. They’re dedicated to their people first and foremost, and all other causes second. This often puts them at odds with characters that would be their allies otherwise — the Avengers for T’Challa, the X-Men for Namor (Comics Namor is a mutant, which is…interesting given how the MCU has started using that word) — and gives their actions wider ramifications for the world at large.
Simply put, when one of these characters enter a story, that story just gets bigger. The best storytellers in comics lean into this (writer Jonathan Hickman’s long tenure on Avengers and, especially, New Avengers deals with the feud between T’Challa and Namor at length).
The MCU version of this story, sadly, will have to take a slightly different tack with the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman, and by extension, T’Challa. However, all of that storytelling weight is still there. Wakanda is bigger than one person, and whoever steps in to bear the mantle of Black Panther will also have to step up to face Namor, and put warring philosophies about what sort of person a leader should be to the test — with the pride of each nation at their back.
Black Panther and Namor have always been more complicated than good and evil, right and wrong. To them, saving the world isn’t enough — saving a people, their identity, and their indelible mark on the world is what really matters.