Nubia—say her name and make sure you never forget it.
You may have heard her name in reference to being Wonder Woman’s long-lost twin sister and the “second Wonder Woman” within DC Comics lore. However, with L.L. McKinney’s new young adult (YA) graphic novel, Nubia: Real One, this powerful young black woman is front and center where she belongs.
“The importance of centering a Black—capital ‘B’—woman in a major comic book universe is the same importance as centering her, centering us, anywhere,” McKinney told The Root in an interview with the book’s creative team. “Black women and girls are always, always, [relegated] to the margins in this sort of thing. We’re an afterthought. Left behind. Not viewed as important until we’re tired of being ignored and express that justifiable frustration. But then we’re called ‘angry,’ right?”
The Root is proud to exclusively reveal the cover art, as well as a few interior images that you’ll see sprinkled throughout this article. It’s a super sneak peek!
Get into this book’s synopsis, via DC Entertainment:
Can you be a hero...if society doesn’t see you as a person?
Nubia has always been a little bit...different. As a baby she showcased Amazonian-like strength by pushing over a tree to rescue her neighbor’s cat. But, despite having similar abilities, the world has no problem telling her that she’s no Wonder Woman. And even if she was, they wouldn’t want her. Every time she comes to the rescue, she’s reminded of how people see her; as a threat. Her Moms do their best to keep her safe, but Nubia can’t deny the fire within her, even if she’s a little awkward about it sometimes. Even if it means people assume the worst.
When Nubia’s best friend, Quisha, is threatened by a boy who thinks he owns the town, Nubia will risk it all—her safety, her home, and her crush on that cute kid in English class—to become the hero society tells her she isn’t.
From the witty and powerful voice behind A Blade So Black, L.L. McKinney, and with endearing and expressive art by Robyn Smith, comes a vital story for today about equality, identity and kicking it with your squad.
I have to admit, I started humming “Boss” by The Carters because of the “real one” insert in the book’s title, but McKinney assures us that the title simply comes from a “genuine place of love between Nubia and her friends.”
Speaking of the power of sisterhood, it must be noted that the creative team behind this project consists of a holy trifecta of black girl magic. Along with writer McKinney, there’s artist Robyn Smith behind the illustrations and colorist Brie Henderson.
“In Nubia: Real One, We focus on the coming of age, of a black girl with her black family and her black friends,” Smith told The Root. “Even her crush is black! We get to see a multitude of experiences both as main and supporting characters. L.L. McKinney put real love into crafting a truly life-giving story.”
Whenever I see black creators at the forefront of a project—especially one of this magnitude—I think of the young black readers (especially little black girls) who may open up this novel and not only see themselves depicted in Nubia but Google the names of the illustrator and colorist and see themselves, too.
“Young black girls and their influence on art and culture has always been present but for the most part goes uncredited,” Smith added. “I’d tell all the young black girls interested in art to take hold of what they create and keep going. Push past the discouragement of underrepresentation. Tell your stories because we need them.”
“There is a major importance in building up a young black girl’s passion for art, be it comics or animation, and it’s important for her to know that, even if she may not see herself represented in the art that she likes, that she could very well become that artist to create the works she would have liked to have seen when she was first exploring what it meant to be an artist,” Henderson told The Root. “Just because we don’t see ourselves in art as much as we’d like, doesn’t mean it can’t exist. When looking at my work and seeing that I look like them, I’d love for little black girls to know that they can draw anything their hearts desire and that all they have to do is put in a little effort, have a little passion, a little drive, and a bit of creativity. Black comes in many shades, and they need to know to never be afraid to design a character that’s as black as onyx or a character with a skin tone like caramel. Black characters are not your token characters, not the ones to die first, or to have the worst storyline.”
Nubia, who debuted in Wonder Woman (vol. 1) #204 in 1976, is historically considered to be DC Comics’ first black woman superhero character. Though she eventually takes over the “Wonder Woman” moniker, Nubia’s identity expands beyond just being known as the “Black Wonder Woman” in this upcoming graphic novel. Comics can typically exist within so many different timelines and universes, so Nubia can certainly have her own.
“I’m almost in my thirties and I can count, maybe, on two hands how many times I’ve seen a black woman be the center of a storyline in big-name comics. I grew up being almost obsessed with Storm because she was cool and she looked like me and she showed me what it meant to be graceful and powerful all in one go,” Henderson noted. “But Nubia isn’t like that at all; she isn’t entirely graceful, but boy is she powerful! She reminds me of myself when I was in high school, full of mistakes, always doing what I wasn’t supposed to be doing, hurting the people who were important to me. But, there’s a beauty in Nubia that shows when she comes into herself and is given that opportunity to shine. Nubia isn’t your token black girl. She isn’t that one black character in the comic that you can point out because she’s the only black character. Young black girls need to understand that they can be depicted as important too, not just as the side or background character.”
“We deserve to be the focus in storytelling, just like everyone else,” McKinney mused. “We deserve to see ourselves as strong, powerful, vulnerable, provided for, and most importantly, loved. I’m hoping that this is what leaps off of the page most of all. That Nubia’s strength isn’t necessarily in how resilient she is—a topic for another time, I could go ON—but in how she’s surrounded by people who will take care of her the way she deserves to be taken care of. People who give her room to be who she is fully.”
“Nubia is frustrated with the world around her, very similar to that frustration I mentioned before,” McKinney added, excited about her “good sis Nubia” finally getting some shine. “And, similarly, people view Nubia as somehow a threat to them simply for her existing and attempting to be her true and full self. People don’t consider strength, courage, or standing up for oneself as a positive thing in Black women. They call us aggressive and combative. That’s something I think we all share with Nubia. And here, she’s celebrated in those things. That’s what I ultimately want to do. Celebrate us.”
Nubia: Real One will officially go on sale on February 2, 2021, but you don’t have to wait that long to call dibs! You can pre-order the book right now for $16.99 (MSRP) at dccomics.com.
This interview has been edited and condensed.