Naomi: Season One (2019)
Written by Brian Michael Bendis & David F. Walker
Art by Jamal Campbell
It’s rare to see a completely new character debut in the first issue of their own title, not directly tied to the legacy of a pre-established figure in their shared comic book universe. Legendary creator Brian Michael Bendis, a figure who overhauled and recreated Marvel comics through the late 1990s and 2000s, arrived at DC, who apparently wrote him a blank creative check. Bendis was asked what his ideas were rather than be handed properties as the company saw fit. One of his first points of order was to take the Superman books in a whole new direction. Once that was underway, he rolled out Wonder Comics, an imprint he would curate similar to Gerard Way’s Young Animal line.
Wonder Comics is centered around teenage superheroes and is currently composed of the titles Young Justice, The Wonder Twins, Dial H for Hero, and Naomi. While the latter three are very established concepts in DC Comics, Naomi is a brand new creation. That’s not to say she is coming out of a vacuum. In the pages of her comic, we get references to the Rann-Thanagar Wars and the multiversal crisis. Naomi is very much a person living in the always-changing and fantastic DC Universe.
But who is she? Naomi McDuffie is a teenage girl living in the small town of Port Oswego, Oregon. Because of her rural environs, she doesn’t encounter many superheroes day-to-day, so when Superman’s battle with Mongul passes through her hometown, it causes quite a stir. The biggest question is, “when was the last time something like that happened here?” The answer was seventeen years ago, the same year Naomi was born and adopted by her doting parents. Of course, something is up, and our protagonist begins to investigate, leading to a whole host to revelations about people in her town and eventually herself.
There is an apparent reason why the series focuses so much on Superman by the time you reach the conclusion. Both he and Naomi stories, while not tied to the same place, share deep thematic roots. Bendis, who has always been more forward-thinking than many of his colleagues, understands the visuals of a black female Superman-type character, particularly in this current cultural moment. There’s a contingent of fanboy who raise their hackles anytime an established comic book character is Race swapped or gender-swapped. (See Idris Elba as Heimdall, Michael C. Jordan as Human Torch, Jane Foster as Thor, etc.) Their main gripe is that they simply want the character to stay a white male.
I have found myself, as I often do, in a weird third camp where I don’t like characters being swapped but not for selfish reasons but because I’d rather a character begin from scratch and stand on their own merits and not allow racists to argue that the only reason character X exists is to exploit the “original”. There are instances where it works, in my opinion, like Miles Morales as Spider-Man and Michael Colt as Mr. Terrific, but I would almost rather have a brand new character. I also think it’s much more interesting to debut someone new instead of the cynical corporate tactic of slapping a familiar name on a new character and not ever really doing anything inventive with it.
There was an argument awhile back about having a black Batman. I’m not against the idea, but I don’t think you can just make Bruce Wayne black and not change anything else about Batman. I think a black Batman would be informed by his Race just as black people in real life encounter struggles that white people do not experience in everyday life. Even a wealthy black man would still have to navigate the systemic racism of a predominately affluent white society, and I think exciting stories could be told from that perspective. This is why I enjoyed the “Sam Wilson” run in Captain America, and I was sad to see it revert back to Steve Rogers. I think Nick Spencer was telling some fascinating stories about Race concerning the icon of Captain America.
Now all of that is a sidetrack from talking about the fantastic Naomi, which doesn’t explicitly position itself as a title about Race. Naomi is black, yes, but she lives in a progressive corner of America and is surrounded by people who have known her since she was a baby, so it just doesn’t come up. Unlike the black Batman scenario, it totally works for Race to be acknowledged but not front and center in Naomi’s story. Representation is not part of the dialogue but instead in the visuals, with flashbacks to a parallel world with a new host of heroes introduced showcasing a spectrum of diversity we don’t often get in mainstream comics.
The visuals are the most significant selling point for me on Naomi, and they are delivered by newcomer Jamal Campbell. The best adjectives to describe his work are “lush & luminous.” The world feels textured and weighty, Naomi’s powers manifest as light, and he does a brilliant job making the pages look as if they glow. We can’t forget co-writer David F. Walker who has been earning his dues in comics for years working on books that focus on black characters (Power Man & Iron Fist, Cyborg, Nighthawk, Luke Cage) but has also gotten work on some prominent licensed titles (Planet of the Apes, Red Sonja, Vampirella). I would be very interested in reading an interview that breaks down the contributions of both Bendis and Walker to get a sense of what they each brought to the table.
Naomi is a fantastic debut that has me excited for a brand-new original character in the DCU. She’s already followed up this first six-issue run with a story arc currently running through the pages of Action Comics that finds Naomi teamed up with Superman himself. There’s no official word on when Season Two will be released, but I hope she sticks around, maybe a stint in Young Justice and definitely more of her own title.