Nubia – A Great Character Who Is Neglected

I am what you could call moderately informed about mainstream comics. I know about all the A-list characters, quite a few of the B-list, and a fair number of C-listers. I’m an avid viewer of Linkara’s comic-book review videos, as well as a few other channels that cover comic content, as well as research, TV adaptations… and the comics themselves, of course.

But when it comes to comics, very few things irritate me like taking a magnificent character… and doing them dirty.

For instance, I was livid when Birds of Prey came out, and I saw what they had done to Cassandra Cain. The character in the comics is a complex, well-developed character with a unique backstory, a lot of moral and personal confusion, a likable, good-hearted personality, and some representation for people with learning disabilities. She’s an elite super-assassin who couldn’t bear to kill, and who didn’t speak or read because she was able to read body language so well.

Cassandra Cain in the movie? She’s a mouthy little brat played by a kid who can’t act. It was revolting.

And I sort of feel the same way about Nubia. Now for context, until a few days ago, I had no idea that the character of Nubia even existed, because despite her superhero pedigree – she’s the kidnapped twin sister of Wonder Woman – she’s surprisingly absent from most comic books and not talked about very much. In fact, she’s so obscure that I realized that I had actually read Injustice 2, a comic with her in a small role… and I hadn’t realized that she wasn’t just made up for that comic.

And it’s really a shame, because Nubia is a character that could have a lot of power and resonance.

Unfortunately, her most visible reappearance in recent years… is Nubia: Real One.

This comic book is a perfect microcosm of everything wrong with DC Comics’ young adult stuff at present. They are desperately trying to reach out to younger readers at present, but instead of respectfully making stories about characters like the Teen Titans, Red Robin, Miss Martian, Superboy and other popular young DC characters… they make stories about the woes of being a mostly-ordinary, not-very-dynamic girl living in a crime-ridden rathole of a city, with a little bit of Wonder Woman crammed in there almost as an afterthought.

And yes, they deal with sensitive, painful, complex social issues… with all the subtlety of a wooden club to the nose.

These recent graphic novels are also made by people who are clearly not interested in writing superhero stories. Gotham High is perhaps the most obvious example of this, where it reimagines Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle and… the Joker… as teenagers going to Gotham’s public schools. Melissa de la Cruz’s take on this concept was absolutely ghastly, and I hated every page of it. Reimagining the Joker as a slightly edgy but good-hearted poor boy in love with Selina absolutely made my blood boil. What they did to Alfred – having him abandon the traumatized Bruce for ten years – was unforgivable.

Just the cover makes me angry

The future releases don’t look promising either. I Am Not Starfire focuses on a dumpy, self-pitying pouty goth teen who seems to detest the popular and beloved Starfire character, her mother, and whose lack of superpowers means she won’t be doing anything heroic. We get to focus on coming-of-age woes, mother-daughter drama, and probably how awful Starfire. How enticing. And the Jessica Cruz graphic novel seems to be abandoning the galaxy-spanning space-cop stuff for Mesoamerican mythology and immigration issues. It’s not impossible to deal with such issues in a Green Lantern title, but you should keep the core of the character intact – you can have space problems and social issues!

I’m not going to go into the politics represented in Nubia: Real One, because they are so polarizing. And I hate politics. What I can tell you is this:

  1. There’s a lot of hate woven into the book. It’s the exact opposite of the Black Panther movie, which drew most people in by both acknowledging the struggles that African-Americans face and the need to help, and the fact that trying to get revenge or use violent means is ultimately self-defeating and wrong. It had a good heart that embraced everyone, and this comic… doesn’t. Whatever your political position, it should not come from a place of hatred, which is unfortunately the position of most people today.
  2. A lot of aspects of it do not make sense when you think about them for more than two seconds (why is a well-connected rich boy going to a crappy inner-city public school?).
  3. There is no zero subtlety. None. You know how the X-Men are often used as analogies for various minorities – black people, Jewish people, LGBTQ people? This allows the reader to examine the core nature and effects of prejudice without getting too tangled up in specific immediate politics, and allows them to be taught lessons in a timeless way. This comic is the exact opposite: it bludgeons you with current-day, extremely polarizing politics in almost every single page.

And really, Nubia deserves better. The Nubia of this book is almost painfully unremarkable in every way but her super-strength. I think we’re supposed to see her as becoming powerful and strong at the end, but it feels so artificial after watching her cower, cringe and cry for the entire book. Basically, someone gives her a pep talk about how great she is, and somehow this causes a complete change in personality. Not that she had much of a personality – she has the dynamic qualities of a wet sock.

Furthermore, Nubia is not a superhero in this. She does one vaguely superheroic thing early on, which only occurs in order to establish that all white people hate her because she’s black. But if you hear “Nubia is Wonder Woman’s black twin sister, and she has similar powers!” you expect her to do something… superheroic. Something epic. Something powerful. And it never happens.

Don’t you want to see this woman kick some butt?

In fact, you could probably cut Wonder Woman (who looks awful, by the way) out of the story altogether, and you would just have a rather melodramatic, poorly-written story about a not-very-interesting teenage girl dealing with over-the-top racism.

And that is not what the character of Nubia should be. I don’t know much about the character, but I would expect her to have a lot in common with Diana. And you would expect her story to involve massive threats, gods, monsters, magic, and some kind of epic journey for Nubia that spans both the world of the Amazons and the world of humankind. That is the kind of story that Nubia – the Nubia of the original comics – deserves.

She deserves to be bold, fiery, strong yet compassionate, and confident in her physical and mental power. Not saying she can’t have vulnerabilities – I love doubts and vulnerabilities in powerful characters – but the Nubia of this book is too drippy. I don’t want to see her punch a cop. I want to see her superhero-land on the ground so hard that it leaves a crater, only to rise flawless and indomitable from the dust, and punch some mythic monster in the face.

But it doesn’t happen. Because this book is made for people who don’t read superhero comics, by people who don’t read or write superhero comics.

Don’t ask me why Diana is suddenly speaking Spanish.

I can only speculate on why, because DC seems to be specifically deemphasizing everything superheroic about their superheroes… at a time when superheroes are more popular than they have ever been. I can only wonder why they are making stories that people who don’t like superhero comics won’t pick up because they ostensibly involve superheroes, and people who do like them won’t pick them up because they’re actually all about social issues and bad teen romance, not superheroing.

With a little research, I bet that I could have created a phenomenal story for Nubia. Perhaps one that marries the Grecian origins of the Amazons with some African mythology, for instance, and one that has oodles of action, fantasy and adventure. But for some reason, DC doesn’t want that kind of story to be offered to new readers.

And yet they wonder why My Hero Academia, an unabashed and unashamed superhero story full of action, drama, horror, heart and character development, resonates so strongly.

Oh, and the art in all of these books is horrific. Just the worst. I am shocked that the people who drew these are actually employed at a major comic company rather than posting on Deviantart. DC Comics has access to some of the best comic-book illustrators in the world – see the image at the top of the page – and they keep choosing people whose art is just… ugly and amateurish.

I could perhaps give this art a pass if it were being posted on social media by an enthusiastic self-published person, or someone with a small publisher. But this is DC. It’s one of the Big Two. The art in these books should be polished and sublime, and… are they under the impression that kids only like ugly blobby sloppy artwork in their cartoons and comics? Because when the art of Gotham High is as good as it gets, you have a problem!

Anyway, those are my thoughts on Nubia, Nubia: Real One, and the current slate of DC’s young-adult releases. Ciao!

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