Two of the earliest Super Heroes (debuting within a couple of years of each other) are similar enough in notable aspects to suggest at least a subconscious inspiration. Making his first appearance shortly after Superman in 1939, Namor the Sub-Mariner takes his title from Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and his name from the decision that “Roman” looked cool spelled backwards. Called Marvel Comics’ first Mutant, Namor was a product of the union between a human and a member of “Homo Mermanus,” a comic-book species of humans who evolved into sea-dwellers (an idea recently explored in Animal Planet’s Mermaids: The Body Found). Namor possesses his mother’s ability to live underwater; being Marvel’s first Anti-Hero, Namor’s relationship with the “Surface World” is frequently conflicted, as in an interesting bit of ecological subtext, he holds “Surface Dwellers” responsible for depredations wrought to the seas.
Quite similar was Aquaman in 1941. Also the result of a love relationship between a female member of an aquatic race, and a human lighthouse-keeper, the oceans and waters were Aquaman’s home. He remained popular in comics through the ’60s, when he became a founding member of the Justice League; one of the original Super Friends; a recurring character on Smallville; the subject of a TV pilot and a proposed series; and a plot-device on the show Entourage.
Both characters suggest a rethinking of the Sea-God Poseidon/ Neptune; indeed, Aquaman is often described as the “King of the Seas.” The origin-stories of both remind of mythologies involving Sea-Nymphs and Demi-Gods, and both came to be identified with the fabled underwater realm of Atlantis (in fact, both became Kings of their respective Atlantis); in an interesting touch, when Aquaman was first introduced, he was shown as a solitary sea-dweller, living within the ruins of an undersea temple. Both are frequently represented with the Sea God’s emblematic trident, and both are identified as Protectors of the oceans and sea-creatures. Even the names of some of the Atlantean cities in the DC comics-world (Poseidonis and Tritonis) suggest a Classical influence in ancient Atlantis.
Perhaps in olden times, the God Poseidon was the avenue through which human consciousness reached into the depths of the waters; today, it might just as easily be Namor the Sub-Mariner or Aquaman.