First things first, I have to say that I adore the team up of L.L. McKinney and Robyn Smith. This is my official campaign to get more of Nubia in a long running series because seriously it is visually stunning and written wonderfully. From the moment I saw the cover of Nubia: Real One, I was in awe and knew I had to read it. She is one of DC’s first Black female superheroes and it was so ridiculous to me that I hadn’t even heard of Nubia until last year. However, from the moment I saw her rendered by Smith, I had such a yearning to know her story and to understand why I hadn’t read about her before. Her character has been done dirty in the past, and I am so happy this duo is rectifying her legacy. Prior to the book’s release, I was blessed to win a signed copy from L.L. McKinney herself, and I treasure it so much!
Nubia L’Shae Johnson is one of my new favorite superheroes and now one of my all-time favorite characters. In this graphic novel, she is a high school teen who’s struggled for years because she has been forced to hide a part of herself—a very powerful part of herself—while people belittle and try to out her. In a world where Wonder Woman is adored, her equal, Nubia, is seen as a threat. Nubia wields Amazonian strength within her, but also the generational power of the Black women who came before her. In times when people are vulnerable, Nubia chooses to stand up to various forces that already work against her as a Black teen girl. From cops to privileged white boys, Nubia is supported by her loved ones, including her Moms; her friends Jason and Quisha; and her crush Oscar.
I absolutely adore graphic novels and superhero tales, so this book spoke to my heart and frankly gave me so much more than any other superhero story I’ve read before. The thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever been privy to a superhero that cares about racial injustice. Certainly none of the white heroes we all know have time to defend the lives of Black and Brown people since they’re too busy building robots and fighting aliens, I guess? Nubia just felt so immediate because, although I love the idea of a caped superhero, writers don’t usually portray them confronting the very real problems we deal with today. Sometimes I just want to see my heroes fighting people that have corrupted our world. Villains don’t always gotta be some maniacal force; sometimes it’s a white boy who’s been handed the world.
There has been a lot of pushback on this graphic novel because people can’t believe that a ‘regular white person’ can be an antagonist in this way, especially toward a superhero. Nubia is just a teen girl trying to live her life. Simply going out with her friends gives her anxiety, which shouldn’t be the case. I love how real her struggles are, and at the same time, it pains me to read the microaggressions and straight-up racism spewed at her and her friend, Quisha. Nubia is so huge, and I’m happy some people are uncomfortable reading it…because they should be. No one should sit there and be okay with Wayland. He’s a bigot, he’s violent, and he’s racist.
I can’t even convey how much I truly appreciate the way that this story was handled. It’s so powerful and close-knit and warm, but still definitely scary. I was so frightened for the teens in this book ‘cause we all know what happens to Brown and Black kids; just us existing is a “threat.” I’m not sure I can remember a time when I saw a school lock-down brought to the page, but Robyn Smith’s art so beautifully and clearly conveys the shifting tones and emotions of each of the characters, making them just jump off the page. It was like an alarm in my chest, and I zoomed through certain scenes just to see what would happen, and to see their persistence amidst so much chaos.
So, I really love the characters in Nubia: Real One. They were all so dynamically designed and overall Robyn Smith has a stunning art style (please support her other work!). Nubia is fully-realized as being awkward and unsure, but also passionate and bold. Most importantly, she is so much of her own being and NOT a “Black version” of Wonder Woman, which means so much to me. I’m tired of having my favorite BIPOC character be diminished to being the [BLANK] version of some oversaturated white character. When it comes to other characters, Nubia’s moms are so loving. I enjoy reading stories where the parents are very involved in their children’s lives and where the love between them as partners is shown. It’s so sweet and I want more of both of them. Then there’s Jason and Quisha who are so fun. Quisha is especially so great because of the way she represents so many teen activists who are changing our world as we know it. But, why are teens saving the world? Nubia is a fictional character, but take away her Amazonian powers and she still is a super brave Black girl taking on the brunt of so much because no one else will simply stand up. We owe Black women the world, but they shouldn’t have to be doing all the work for change. Black women and girls should see themselves as heroes because for years they have been exactly that; but they shouldn’t have to be the loudest voices in the room. We should all work to actively protect them because they deserve so much more. From the dialogue to the color palette and tone, this graphic novel serves as the true Nubia story we always needed.
To DC fans and my fellow nerds, please stop romanticizing and idealizing characters like The Joker when we should all be praising Nubia as well as the writers and artists who made room for a character like her to be seen! Give Nubia the love she deserves because we deserve more of her!
Trigger Warnings for Nubia: Real One: Police violence, gun violence, misogynoir, racism, sexual assault, sexism
PRR Writer, Jackie Balbastro