Writer Christopher Cantwell on Namor’s Powerful New Voyage
The writer describes his new comic series starring the Sub-Mariner, ‘Namor: Conquered Shores,’ plus why he loves this formative character.
Having already cracked the minds of Doctor Doom and Tony Stark, in his new NAMOR: CONQUERED SHORES limited series—first issue out in comic stores now—writer and showrunner Christopher Cantwell (Halt and Catch Fire) adds another complex and powerful figure to his resume with the sometimes nefarious Namor. However, there’s a personal connection and deep affinity here between creator and character, just one of the many topics we covered in a candid chat with Cantwell about the new series and more.
You talk in the afterword to the first issue about first encountering the Sub-Mariner and the original Human Torch in MARVELS (1994)—what did that series mean to you?
CHRISTOPHER CANTWELL: I think what I remember best and most was Alex Ross’ art. It was incredible to see the Marvel Universe leap to life like that. In tandem, though, it was the first time I really was exposed to and paid attention to Namor and the Torch. And the way the Torch’s origin was rendered was so evocative of classic science fiction/horror—everything from Frankenstein to Ray Bradbury. That captured my imagination in a new way that was different from Spider-Man and the X-Men, which I had been reading since grade school. I came to MARVELS much later.
What about Namor captivated you as a reader?
CHRISTOPHER CANTWELL: I think it’s interesting that Namor can be divisive, both in the Marvel Universe and to readers. He can be off-putting and unlikable and sometimes even villainous. That gives you such a broad palette to write from when you’re talking about the characters’ motivations. He almost functions like a god in the Marvel Universe in that way to me. He’s not out to be liked and win over friends. I find that level of confidence—arrogance?—attractive as a writer. It’s present in Tony Stark and Victor Von Doom, both of whom I’ve had the chance to write.
What are some essential Namor stories that shaped your experience with the character?
CHRISTOPHER CANTWELL: I keep volumes of Golden Age Timely Bill Everett stories on my work desk next to the volume of [Carl] Burgos’ Human Torch stories. The conflict between the two of them is so elemental and never-ending. There’s no resolution. It will last forever. I wanted to capture that in this story. I also love the [Golden Age] All-Winners Squad and the Invaders. It made more sense to me that the Torch and Namor would only have a loose alliance in the face of a temporary crisis—World War II—and otherwise not be interested in the affairs of humans on a day-to-day. They have their own agendas, especially Namor. The Nazis are a threat to Atlantis. Even when Namor has been in the Avengers at times, it’s worked best when he had his own goals that superseded the team mission. I also love [1970’s] SUPER VILLAIN TEAM-UP stories of Namor and Doctor Doom. They saw eye to eye at times that were troubling if you really love Namor as a hero. That’s dealt with somewhat in our book. I do love the  John Byrne NAMOR series too, but mostly for the powerhouse muscularity of the art. Namor is like a catalog model in that and just a force of nature. I do like FANTASTIC FOUR: 1234 by Grant Morrison and Jae Lee, too, for how it shows Namor’s magnetism, and Sue Storm being drawn to him. That book had a direct influence on how we portray Namor and Sue’s relationship in “Conquered Shores.”
Do you feel like the rivalry between Namor and the Golden Age Human Torch is integral to defining both?
CHRISTOPHER CANTWELL: Yes. Both of them are kind of jerks. But both of them have a charisma that draws you in, even if you don’t trust it. And both of them are kind of defined by their antipathy towards the other, and wouldn’t exist without the other. Jim Hammond has always been more of a good dude, but I think Namor draws out the worst in him. We all have those people who just push our buttons and make us crueler versions of ourselves. Doom does that to Reed Richards, he brings him down to a lower level I think. They just get under each other’s skin. Marvel has these great binary star systems that are full of delicious back-biting, mistrust, and rivalry.
How did the addition of Captain America change the dynamic?
CHRISTOPHER CANTWELL: Well, now you’re installing this paragon of truth and morality into the story. Cap is why the Invaders didn’t collapse in my mind. He’s a leader and can hold very disparate people together, that’s one of his super-powers. In our story, Cap has been counseling Namor for years. He’s very invested in Namor’s vision of a better, more unified world where Atlantis can actually save surface humans and integrate them into their new society. Cap is the lighthouse in the darkness for Namor. He’s that for all of Marvel.
Why was it important for all three characters to be represented in this series?
CHRISTOPHER CANTWELL: Because then you get an Invaders reunion! Who doesn’t want that? But in terms of story structure, it gives us three [1940s] Golden Age heroes providing a through-line to an uncertain future. All of them are from the Timely era, and now we’re at the end of time.
Where did the idea for NAMOR: CONQUERED SHORES come from?
CHRISTOPHER CANTWELL: Honestly it comes from my deep desire to write a Namor/Human Torch story worthy of those old Alex Schomburg covers. But it also came from me trying to reckon with our own uncertain present and future. There’s an obvious climate change parallel in this story. But there is also hope. The world didn’t end; it has changed. The world is changing now. What are we going to do about it? Are we going to devolve into infighting and tribalism, or are we going to pull ourselves together and unify? Who knows?
What is the main premise of “Conquered Shores”?
CHRISTOPHER CANTWELL: In a flooded Earth of the future, Atlantis reigns supreme. But an older Namor reflects on the past, and regrets his wars against the surface. In his twilight years, he has rededicated his life to saving the remainder of humanity, but he faces factions that are against him, and don’t wish for him to succeed. But still he works towards salvation for those forgotten, and redemption in himself, even as his old mercurial ways and enmities begin to flare.
What role will Luke Cage play in “Conquered Shores”?
CHRISTOPHER CANTWELL: I needed a human who was less on Namor’s side from the beginning. Captain America and Namor had too much of a shared history for them to have a two-person journey that had real ups and downs and conflict with dimension. Cage made sense to me as one of the super-powered humans that stayed on Earth because he wanted to protect the innocents left behind. And I imagined he could have developed quite an antipathy towards Atlantis over the years. And he’s never really been a fan of Namor.
Once you learned Pasqual Ferry would be illustrating this book, what did you do to tailor the story to his many strengths?
CHRISTOPHER CANTWELL: Pasqual has really made this book his own with his art. It’s incredible. I leaned more and more into the “timeless” nature of the story because Pasqual can’t be pinned down to any era. He’s his own artistic voice and completely unique. As he designed new Atlantean characters, I just had fun coming up with who else made sense to fit into his world. I feel like it was Pasqual’s style that made me want to bring in Marvel’s version of Frankenstein’s Monster. I wanted to see Pasqual’s take on him, and it does not disappoint. I also wrote more scenic panoramas for Pasqual, to let his capabilities with scope really show. The book may seem apocalyptic when you hear the premise, but both Pasqual and [colorist] Matt Hollingsworth have crafted something visually beautiful and stunning. Like I said, the world hasn’t ended in our story. It’s radically changed. Pasqual and Matt have really communicated that.
What can we expect beyond issue #1?
CHRISTOPHER CANTWELL: Well, as Namor and Luke Cage push forward, they will encounter parts of the past that will have to be incorporated into their new present. Namor will reckon with his personal past. Feelings around the Fantastic Four and Sue Storm. Doctor Doom. What does Latveria look like now? And of course, he’ll be newly haunted by the Torch and want to pursue him, both for plot reasons and psychological ones. And eventually they’re going to catch up to each other.
I want [readers] to just be hooked on Namor and see him as this complicated character that is full of surprises, and always will be. You never know what he’s going to do. And again, we went into the vault and pulled out some old toys that I think show how vital they are in the Marvel Universe. I want people to get hooked on these timeless characters and demand new stories for them. And then I want to write a Frankenstein’s Monster limited series next. There, I said it!
NAMOR: CONQUERED SHORES #1 is available now in print and digital comic shops! And, stay tuned for issue #2 hitting shelves November 16.
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