One of the best things that DC Comics has done in the past couple of years is reintroducing some of their most well-known and lesser-known characters to a younger audience via graphic novels. There have been books for Raven and Beastboy from Teen Titans and Zatanna from Justice League. Now, their newest middle-grade graphic novel Nubia: Real One aims to reestablish an unheralded Black superhero as a heroine in her own right.
One of the first things that drew me into this book was writer L.L. McKinney’s dope characterization for Nubia and an awesome cast of characters. Nubia and her best friends LaQuisha and Jason sound true to life like they could be my younger cousin. Their friendship is so much fun to read about as they affectionately make fun of each other and have each other’s backs while being conscious of the world around them. Quisha is especially good because she is a budding Black Lives Matter activist but also a teen who goes to parties and hypes up her best friend Nubia.
Of course, Nubia’s friends weren’t the only characters I loved. Nubia’s two moms Amera and Danielle are two beautiful Black women who have different parenting styles that are amusing to watch. Amera is what I call the “don’t play me” mom, since she is a tad overprotective of Nubia due to her latent superpowers. Danielle is the less strict mom that goes, “Okay I’ll try to talk to Mama Amera about this” and gives Nubia lots of warm hugs. However, this isn’t to say that their respective parenting methods are set in stone. Mama Amera has some poignant and tender moments with Nubia that are beautiful.
Other aspects of characterization I enjoyed was how Wonder Woman was cleverly featured and how white male entitlement was featured through the character Wayland. It was good to see Wonder Woman play a brief role in this story that didn’t overshadow Nubia’s experience or story. If you’re like me and not super into Wonder Woman as a character, it is pretty easy to forget about her until she actually makes an appearance. There are subtle hints to her as the story progresses, but it might take a reread to notice them. As for Wayland, he is a good teaching tool for how misogynoir, toxic masculinity, and racism put Black girls and women in harm’s way.
On top of the character development is the artwork and colors by illustrator and interior colorist Robyn Smith and colorists Brie Henderson and Bex Glendining. Smith’s art is especially noticeable when it comes to different Black skin tones and Black hairstyles. Given how Black female comic book characters are prone to being whitewashed with lighter skin, it is wonderful to see Nubia, Amera, and LaQuisha have rich brown skin. It is also lovely to see braids, long natural hair, dreadlocks, and curls. The outfits are also good to look at especially on Nubia; her style game is stunning and cool.
Moreover, the use of color to enhance emotions and experiences in certain scenes stands out story wise. One page that was burned into my memory is the red, pinks, and light purple you see as Nubia defends herself and then stands over a certain character. The colors on this page make me think of the wide range of emotions and experiences Nubia has experienced, from anger to protectiveness to courage. Another aspect of the book that complements certain pages and scenes is the lettering done by Ariana Maher, especially when it comes to bolded and italic text. The emphasis on certain words increases the emotional impact on the reader, with a good example being Nubia’s talks with Mama Amera.
If there is one thing that stood out to me most about this book, it is how Nubia lives up to her book’s title by being genuine and damn cool. I especially liked how she didn’t have to choose between throwing hands or knowing when to step back and ground herself. I also liked how she was admired and loved romantically by Oscar, a sweet Black Latinx boy. Nubia truly is da realest y’all and I hope this isn’t the last we see of her.
The only issue I had with this book is minor pacing. Without going into spoilers, I thought that a major thing happens too quickly since it happens a couple days after something else big happens. Even though what happens is very true to life, my mind went, “Well that escalated really quick.” It had me taken aback, but only for a moment. It didn’t ruin my personal enjoyment of the book at all.
All in all, this book was one of the Blackest and realest graphic novels I have ever read. Don’t let the middle graders have all the fun y’all. Get or borrow a copy of Nubia: Real One immediately!
Latonya Pennington is a freelance writer from the southern United States specializing in entertainment and pop culture. In addition to BlackSci-Fi.com, her pop culture work can be found on The Mary Sue, Black Girl Nerds, and Buzzfeed. When she isn’t freelancing, she can be found tweeting, reading, doing creative writing, or streaming music shows and anime online. Find her on Twitter.