The Marvel Universe has its fair share of monarchs. Odin rules Asgard, Doctor Doom is the tyrant of Latveria, both Black Bolt and Medusa have been the monarchs of the Inhumans. Yet its two most famous kings are Namor of Atlantis (or Talokan in the MCU) and T'Challa aka Black Panther, of Wakanda.
Black Panther and Namor: Two kings
Debuting in 1939's Marvel Comics #1, Namor McKenzie aka the Sub-Mariner predates the company Marvel Comics, having debuted when the company was known as Timely Comics. The creation of Bill Everett, Namor is Marvel's first antihero, having been created with an adversarial regard to the surface world that so often threatened his home kingdom of Atlantis. Though an incredibly noble character, Namor is passionate and quick to anger, with his temper often drawing him into conflict with other heroes that he might otherwise be able to reason with.
T'Challa aka the Black Panther would debut in Fantastic Four #52. Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, T'Challa was Marvel's first Black superhero, responsible for the advanced nation of Wakanda, and would quickly join the ranks of the Avengers. T'Challa, like his nation of Wakanda, is secretive, and his attempts to rejoin Wakanda to the rest of the world also reflect his own journey to open himself up. But that journey is a long one, and T'Challa will often sacrifice his own morality to defend his nation's sovereignty and its secrets.
Despite Black Panther debuting in 1966, it would be a long time before either he or Namor met. Thanks to the time-traveling villain Kang, T’Challa would meet Namor in World War II in Avengers #71 by Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, Sam Grainger, and Sam Rosen. The first time the two would share significant page time would be in the massive 1973 Avengers/Defenders crossover by a talented roster of creators including Steve Englehart, Sal Buscema, Bob Brown, Mike Esposito, and Frank Giacoia. However across the pages of Defenders #8-10 and Avengers #115-118, Black Panther and Namor didn’t officially meet.
The two would again appear in 1976's Daredevil Annual #4, in a story by Chris Claremont, Marv Wolfman, George Tuska, Frank Chiaramonte, and Annette Kawecki. However, just as with the crossover, the two never actually interact, and here never even share a panel together in this book, instead each entering as the other exits a scene. However, it wouldn't be long until the two had their explosive first meeting.
Black Panther and Namor: War!
Namor and T'Challa would finally meet in the pages of Defenders #84, a story aptly titled 'Battle Royal!' written by Ed Hannigan with breakdowns by Don Perlin, finishes by Tex Blaisdell, letters by Diana Albers, and colors by George Roussos. The story begins with several of Atlantis' soldiers meeting with Wakandan pirates at the unpopulated rocky outcrop of Kiber Island, a newly minted protectorate part of Wakanda in the Atlantic Ocean. There the soldiers are purchasing stolen Wakandan technology in attempts to learn more about the abilities of the surface world.
This meeting is foiled by the arrival of Black Panther and his elite commandos. T'Challa is able to capture the pirates and some of the Atlantean soldiers before single-handedly pursuing the escaping soldiers to Atlantis. Meanwhile, Namor learns of some of this from his advisor and is outraged at his general's wide interpretation of the orders to "protect Atlantis."
When T'Challa arrives in Atlantis, neither monarch is in a mood to negotiate. Namor, already angered by the actions of his commanders, finds T'Challa's apprehension of his soldiers and the pursuit into Atlantis a violation of his nation's sovereignty. T'Challa, on the other hand, rationalizes that because the crime was committed on Wakandan soil, the men are subject to Wakanda's laws and his enforcement of them.
The fight that ensues resembles many other superhero vs. superhero battles, but with one significant factor. Namor and T'Challa are rulers of their kingdoms, each action they take is inherently political. While a fight between Captain America and Iron Man might have political consequences ala Civil War, the stakes never get quite so high as they do here. Wakanda's naval fleet arrives in Atlantis and rescues T'Challa, but their communication with the command center in Wakanda only escalates the situation, as Wakanda prepares to fire nuclear missiles if T'Challa's condition worsens. Atlantis, too, prepares their own missiles in case of a Wakandan attack.
Things worsen when the Hulk, who as Bruce Banner was a guest of Namor's, flees Atlantis. The military command in Wakanda mistakes the Hulk's speedy launch from the underwater city as a launched missile and fires their own at Atlantis. Disaster is thankfully averted when T'Challa calls Namor and informs him of the trajectory, giving Namor just enough time to deflect the missile into Kiber Island. Though no lives were harmed, this first encounter would begin a wedge between the two nations that would culminate in disaster.
Black Panther and Namor: A storm brews
Two decades would pass before Namor and T'Challa would find themselves at odds again in a story titled 'Stürm und Drang.' Occurring near the midway point of Christopher Priest's run on Black Panther, 'Stürm und Drang' is a story that explores T'Challa's personal past and his political present. It is also incredibly complex, involving not just Namor, but Lord Ghaur and warlord Kro of the Deviants of Lemuria, Storm of the X-Men, Dr. Doom, Magneto (who ruled Genosha at the time), T'Challa's adopted brother Hunter, and a recently revived Klaw.
The conflict of 'Stürm und Drang' begins when T'Challa and Storm discover a Deviant child hiding in the Wakandan wilderness. The forces of Lord Ghaur are attempting to capture the child, but are beaten back by the heroes. In return, Ghaur sees this as an act of war. The conflict between Wakanda and the Deviant land of Lemuria draws the attention of Namor, Doom, Magneto, and the United States, with the Atlantean ruler fearing that an all-out war between Wakanda and the underwater nation of Lemuria will threaten other denizens of the oceans.
The events of Defenders #84, called the 'Kiber incident' by the characters, are brought up in 'Stürm und Drang,' with the various monarchs concerned about the possibilities of a repeat incident. Wakandan forces form a blockade around Lemuria, only for Atlantean forces to surround them. Namor and T'Challa come to blows, and a war between the two nations ultimately begins, and the United States quickly joins the fray. The war only truly ends thanks to the savvy of Everett K. Ross, a U.S. attaché who is able to talk Ghaur into surrendering. Though the war ends, the tensions between Atlantis and Wakanda were stronger than ever, and the other monarchs of Marvel's universe were aware of it.
Black Panther and Namor: Machinations of Doom
The 2009 Black Panther series by Reginald Hudlin and Ken Lashley begins in tragedy as T'Challa, returning from a diplomatic meeting with Namor, crashes into the Wakandan airspace, having been ambushed by none other than Dr. Doom. T'Challa slips into a coma due to the severity of his injuries, and is thus unable to serve as either King or Black Panther. Thankfully, there is someone to step up to the challenge.
Introduced in 2005's Black Panther #2 by Hudlin and John Romita Jr., Shuri, princess of Wakanda, has always had ambitions to be Black Panther. In her debut appearance, she is seen preparing to challenge her uncle S'Yan for the mantle, only to be beaten to the arena by T'Challa. Now with another opportunity, Shuri was ready to avenge her brother's assault and defend Wakanda as the Black Panther.
Unfortunately, Wakanda did not know who attacked T'Challa, and thanks to the machinations of Dr. Doom and a group of traitors known as the Desturi, Wakanda was misled into believing Atlantis was responsible for the attack on their king. In the follow up story 'Power' by Jonathan Mayberry and Ken Lashley, Shuri, armed in a suit designed by Wakanda's top scientists, confronted Namor.
(A brief aside: while most people likely know Shuri as the ultra-intelligent version shown in Ryan Coogler's film Black Panther, and indeed the character was introduced by Hudlin and Romita Jr. as someone studying in nuclear physics and an intellectual match for her polymath brother, T'Challa, the comics did not place a great deal of emphasis on Shuri's scientific intelligence until after the film's debut.)
Thanks to the interference of the Fantastic Four, cooler heads ultimately prevailed, but this story meant the tensions between Atlantis and Wakanda would not change with Shuri in power.
Black Panther and Namor: A kingdom drowned
The past decade of stories feature the most devastating turns in the Atlantean-Wakandan conflict. It was during the crossover event Avengers vs. X-Men that things truly took a turn for the worse. Five of the X-Men, including Namor, became enraptured by the Phoenix Force, the cosmic entity that had often possessed Jean Grey. A conflict between the Avengers and the Phoenix Five as they would be known began, and at the center was the young mutant, Hope Summers.
The second act of the conflict saw the Avengers take the mutant Transonic hostage and hold her prisoner in Wakanda. The telepath Emma Frost, herself consumed by the Phoenix Force, told Namor where she sensed the young mutant. Namor, a character already known for his short temper, found his rage and powers amplified by the Phoenix Force, leading to the horrific assault on Wakanda in which he flooded the capital city. This is an action that would have ramifications for years.
Black Panther and Namor: What giants do
During the events of Jonathan Hickman's New Avengers, T'Challa learned of a multiversal collapse. Faced with the destruction not just of the main Marvel universe, but the destruction of everything, T'Challa called upon the Illuminati, a secret assembly of some of Earth's greatest heroes. This alliance meant a temporary truce with Namor, who was a member of the group. And so while tensions between their nations were at an all-time high, T'Challa and Namor were actively working together to save everything in existence. And as the situation mounted, Namor asked T'Challa for peace.
T'Challa, however, was not king. Though the Panther Goddess Bast had elected to raise T'Challa to be Black Panther alongside his sister (and thus, the only time Wakanda has had two Black Panthers), Wakanda's governance still belonged to Shuri, alone. At the guidance of her generals, Shuri elected an all-out war on Atlantis. T'Challa, who was privy to the decision, summoned Namor for a private meeting in New Avengers #8 by Hickman, Mike Deodato, Frank Martin, and Joe Caramagna.
"This thing you started," began T'Challa, "This thing between you and I — it's poison for our nations. Two giants battling each other, completely unaware of the world — the lives — they are destroying around them. You were right, our people should be spared... but that is not the world. We know they are always the first to pay a much-too-costly price. I regret that."
When Namor asks T'Challa what the former king of Wakanda has done, T'Challa replies, "What giants do."
Atlantis is besieged by the Wakandan military, including the dreaded Hatut Zeraze (Wakandan for Dogs of War), which T'Challa had previously outlawed. The result is the total annihilation of the kingdom of Atlantis. It was an act Namor could not forgive. During the crossover event, Infinity, also penned by Jonathan Hickman, Namor told the generals of Thanos that the remaining infinity gem, the time gem, could be found in Wakanda, leading the alien tyrant to launch a full scale assault on the nation, an assault that ultimately led to the destruction of Wakanda.
Black Panther and Namor: Two men at the end of everything
The mutual destruction of their kingdoms would make the rivalry between Namor and T'Challa intensely personal, culminating in an assassination attempt by T'Challa that would ultimately fail. Indeed, T'Challa, Namor, and the rest of the Illuminati would fail to save the multiverse, which would collapse in on itself entirely, until only a single world remained, a world ruled by Dr. Doom.
These events would be told in the 2015 crossover series Secret Wars by Jonathan Hickman, artist Esad Ribic, color artist Ive Svorcina, and letterer Clayton Cowles. T'Challa, Namor, and a handful of survivors from various realities would form a tenuous alliance to defeat Doom. For T'Challa and Namor, the feud collapsed as completely as their kingdoms had, both men overwhelmed by the task before them. If either were to right the wrongs of their actions, they would need to work together.
As in most superhero stories, Secret Wars ends with the heroes in victory, and reality restored. The kingdoms of Atlantis and Wakanda were restored as well, with T'Challa and Namor now back on their thrones. Though they've had their tensions since then, there is peace between Atlantis and Wakanda... for now.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now available for purchase and for streaming on Disney+.
If you're a Black Panther fan, you should check out the Black Panther shirt from Her Universe that is on Popverse's sister site, The Haul.