Published July 14, 2022

The History of Atlantis

Discover the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, which has played a critical role in the shaping of the Marvel Universe.

As the home and underwater kingdom of Namor the Sub-Mariner, Atlantis is one of the most critical places in the Marvel Universe. From its legendary collapse into the ocean to its modern war with Wakanda, Atlantis has literally reshaped the world, and it has given birth to some of Marvel’s greatest heroes and most terrifying villains. 

Since Namor was created by Bill Everett in MARVEL COMICS (1939) #1, the Sub-Mariner’s undersea kingdom has had a tense relationship with the surface world, igniting some of Marvel’s most iconic stories. Let’s take a closer look at Atlantis and how it shaped the history of the Marvel Universe.

How Atlantis Fell Into the Ocean

Before it sank, Atlantis was one of the strongest regions in the prehistoric world, with the continent standing as an early beacon of civilization in what is now the Atlantic Ocean. But while fighting off barbarians from Lemuria, Atlantean King Kamuu unleashed the power of the magma pits that heated his homeland, which shook the city’s foundations and caused massive destruction. Meanwhile, in THE ETERNALS (1976) #2, the Celestials returned to Earth and fought a group of revolting Deviants by causing the Great Cataclysm, which sent Lemuria and the geologically unstable Atlantis to the bottom of the ocean around 20,000 years ago. 

While the ancient civilization scattered, some Atlanteans were given the ability to breathe underwater through Atlantean magic. Thousands of years later, their blue-skinned, water-breathing descendants reassembled in the sunken ruins of Atlantis. Roughly 9,000 feet below sea level, this generation of Atlanteans built a new Atlantis that persevered through countless battles with other undersea kingdoms, internal conflicts, and multiple migrations around Earth’s oceans.

Namor, Prince of Atlantis

The modern history of Atlantis is deeply tied to Namor the Sub-Mariner, its most famous resident and frequent ruler. The Sub-Mariner is the son of the Atlantean Princess Fen and human sea captain Leonard McKenzie. Due to his mixed heritage, Namor is a mutant with enhanced strength, speed, endurance, and flight, all of which eclipses the considerable abilities of other Atlanteans. 

Like all Atlanteans, Prince Namor was raised to be inherently suspicious of the surface world. In some of his earliest adventures, the Sub-Mariner even attacked New York City and fought the original Human Torch. However, Namor eventually joined the Torch, Captain America, Bucky, and their allies in the Invaders and the All-Winners Squad during World War II. While he ostensibly joined the war effort to protect Atlantis, the Sub-Mariner briefly endured the first of several exiles from Atlantis for helping the surface world. 

After an encounter with the telepath Paul Destine and a powerful Atlantean artifact called the Serpent Crown, Namor lost his memories and spent years wandering around the surface world. In FANTASTIC FOUR (1961) #4, Johnny Storm’s Human Torch found the amnesiac Namor and restored his memories by dropping him into the ocean. Although Namor’s first encounters with the Fantastic Four ended in battle, the Sub-Mariner soon became infatuated with the Invisible Woman and evolved into a regular ally of the entire team. 

While Namor has taken Atlantis to the brink of war and allied himself with Doctor Doom more than once, the Sub-Mariner has saved the surface world just as many times as a member of the Avengers and the X-Men and as a co-founder of the Defenders. Some of Namor’s family members also followed in his heroic footsteps. For instance, Namora fought alongside Namor during her cousin’s early adventures and as one of the Agents of Atlas, and her daughter Namorita was a founding member of the New Warriors.

Atlantis Attacks

During one of Namor’s extended absences from his kingdom, Atlantis played a central role in the 1989 crossover ATLANTIS ATTACKS. In that storyline, the undersea kingdom was a pivotal part of the plan to bring Set, an ancient Serpent God, back to Earth. At the time, Namor had abdicated his throne and was operating as a hero on land. After a fierce undersea battle, Namor’s aggressive longtime rival Attuma ruled Atlantis in his stead.  

As part of a complex plan developed by the Deviants’ Ghaur, Attuma attacked the surface world with Atlantis’ armies. With Atlantis defenseless, Ghaur launched a nuclear attack to sacrifice the kingdom’s population to Set in WEB OF SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL (1985) #5. While that attack was largely successful, Earth’s heroes ultimately foiled Ghaur’s wider plans, and Namor reclaimed Atlantis’ throne shortly after that.

Atlantis vs. Wakanda

When the all-powerful Phoenix Force returned to Earth in AVENGERS VS. X-MEN, it set up one of the most brutal conflicts in the history of Atlantis. While working closely with the X-Men, Namor absorbed a portion of the Phoenix’s corrupting power, which had been split up between five mutants. After initially working with the Phoenix Five, Namor went rogue and attacked Wakanda with the full might of his power, flooding it in AVENGERS VS. X-MEN (2012) #7-8.

Although Namor was subsequently depowered and defeated, this devastating attack pushed Atlantis and Wakanda to the brink of battle. As their nations prepared for all-out war, Namor and Black Panther found themselves working together as part of a reformed Illuminati to stop Incursions from other realities. Even though the two heroes worked out a tentative peace, the treaty was rejected by Shuri, who was serving as the Queen of Wakanda at the time. While Namor was away, Shuri ordered a devastating attack on Atlantis, and the Sub-Mariner responded by manipulating Thanos and the Black Order into annihilating Wakanda. Despite the brutality of the attacks, both kingdoms were eventually rebuilt in the wake of SECRET WARS (2015).

Defenders of the Deep

After years of putting up with pollution and the subsequent destruction of his underwater kingdom, Namor declared open war on the surface world in AVENGERS (2018) #9. Namor assembled several of his aquatic allies and enemies as the Defenders of the Deep to protect Atlantis and defend the oceans from humanity's pollution and neglect. The team clashed with the Avengers, the Winter Guard, and the Squadron Supreme of America, and Namor also took on the Agents of Atlas in ATLANTIS ATTACKS (2020).

After the Sub-Mariner suffered several embarrassing setbacks, the Atlanteans revolted against Namor in AVENGERS (2018) #49. As the Atlanteans confronted him, the Winter Guard’s Red Widow and a seemingly brainwashed She-Hulk attacked Atlantis. After the Red Widow set a gamma bomb to destroy Atlantis and kill almost all of its population, She-Hulk ordered Namor to evacuate Atlantis and single-handedly absorbed the bomb’s blast. The 12,000 citizens of Atlantis scattered across the oceans, and Namor joined the Avengers, where Captain America put him in the team’s custody for his recent actions.

As it did in the years after its sinking, Atlantis stands empty now, with its population “free-swimming” around the world’s oceans. However, Atlantis still carries a heavy history, and it’s only a matter of time until it rises again.

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