Nubia: Real One by L.L. McKinney – Review

Nubia: Real One by written by L.L. McKinney, illustrated by Robyn Smith, and colored by Brie Henderson, is the next book you have to add to your already overpacked bookshelf.

Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Since Wonder Woman, Princess Diana of Themyscira, first appeared in DCs All Star Comics #8 in October 1941 there have been countless stories, movies, and more about this well-loved character but did you know Wonder Woman had a sister? A long-lost twin sister even. Nubia, DC Comics’ first Black superhero character, was first introduced in Wonder Woman #204, January 1973 and has been popping in and out of the Wonder Woman stories since.

In the 40+ years since her introduction, her relation to Diana has varied from a fellow Amazon, a parallel universe version of Diana, as well as having inherited the mantle in a future timeline. When I was first introduced to her at the age of 11/12, she was Diana’s twin.

There was this hole-in-the-wall comic book shop a few blocks down from my middle school that I would walk to from time to time when the weather was nice. I used to go in there and browser to my heart’s content, the owner more than happy to indulge me. It was there that I first found Lady Death, Evil Ernie, Fables, and a slew of lesser-known comics. It was also where I caught up on Marvel and DC stories, starting my large comic collection off right.

I remember buying only a few Wonder Woman comics, never really satisfied with her character and stories until recently. If I was in the mood for a kickass heroine, I usually just bought a She-Hulk comic since she had a little bit more personality at the time. One of the few comics I did have had Nubia. It’s been a bit of time and I honestly don’t remember if I had any reaction to her introduction other than ‘oh, she’s cool’ before moving on. I was a ravenous reader and all except a few titles and characters never got too attached as I read. It was easier just because of the speed I devoured a multitude of stories at.

Sadly, Nubia overall was barely in the Wonder Woman comics which I only learned in the last few years, and was never really given the spotlight but she was well-loved by many diehard fans of color. McKinney, after being a fan of Nubia from childhood, pitched the idea to DC and they approved.

A little more than two weeks ago, Nubia: Real One was released. My Twitter feed blew up with it and I instantly had to order a copy.

Best book buy of the year.

Nubia: Real One is set in modern-day starting at the end of her junior year of high school. She’s seventeen and hiding her powers as best as any teenager could. Her two moms, one is an ex-Amazon herself, keep Nubia in the dark as to her true lineage and try to raise her like a normal American teen. The problem is Nubia is Black in a country that hates people who look like her.

This story beautifully blends the trials of being a teenager; crushes, parties, and parental nagging with real-life conflicts of today; racism, police brutality, and school shootings. Neither side is heavy-handed, neither is downplayed. They just go hand in hand for Nubia and her friends. The realness makes the story fly by, compelling the reader to just keep going, turning page after page.

McKinney does a great job with modernizing Nubia. In her appearances in Wonder Woman, she’s been the definition of the media’s portrayal of a Strong Black Woman. McKinney takes that and builds off it, molding Nubia into a believable character. She balances Nubia’s strength and vulnerability, keeping in mind that she’s just a seventeen-year-old girl trying to get through high school.

This was a character I would have loved to read about as a kid. A woman with a personality and flaws and one that just felt real. Yes, she can bench press a Buick but even with that, it felt like she was any girl of color in any American high school. One with overbearing parents, nosy friends, and maybe even a crush on a classmate. I love this.

Diana does show up in this book like one would expect, to give some backstory why she’s a full-fledged adult and Nubia is still a teen. I won’t spoil the details, promise. It’s short and probably for the best since having her around longer would derail the rest of the story and take away from Nubia’s identity struggles. I hope, in future books, that they do have more time to interact and form a real bond.

From start to finish, Nubia: Real One does its job and does it well. It blends modernization with the feel of classical superhero stories. It is thought-provoking, comical, and endearing. Once the pandemic is over and I can see people in person again I will be throwing this book into every one of my friend’s hands with a simple ‘you have to read this.’

Now, the big question. When’s book 2 coming out?

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