The Miseducation of DC’s Nubia

(Image credit: DC) “Nubia, Earth 23”

Who is Nubia? She’s a champion of Themyscira, and a big deal.

The image of a Black woman as Wonder Woman is a powerful one. However, despite her fans and appeal in comics; she has seen little recognition outside of a few comics.

Let’s study the history and future of Nubia while listening to songs by the talented Nina Simone (I’ll tell you why later). Firstly, “Pre-Crisis” refers to a storylines in a period of DC Comics published prior to the 1985 limited series “Crisis on Infinite Earths“.

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free – The Pre Crisis

With her first appearance in 1973; Pre Crisis Nubia was tool by the God Mars (Ares) and fought Diana before “coming to her senses”.

(Image credit: DC) Kanigher, Robert., Heck, Don (1973). Wonder Woman vol 1. Burbank, CA: DC Comics.

Naturally, she has the same power set of Amazons: super strength, immortality, and expert combat skills. It is revealed that she is the twin sister of Wonder Woman. In the past, Hippolyta sculpts her from black clay while Diana is white clay. Nubia’s depiction was a friendly rival to Diana despite her origins of being bred to hate. In the same run of issues; she has the opportunity to kill a male warrior in combat, but stated proudly:“A woman doesn’t destroy life, she cherishes it!”

Creators Robert Kanigher and Don Heck’s message is clearly “despite the differences of skin color; unity triumphed over hate”.

Meanwhile in the United States; the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO) was founded. It only addresses the specific needs of Black women in America. It can be suggested that Kanigher and Heck created Nubia to reflect the movement.

Regardless of good intensions, her appearance only lasts a year; she has a brief appearance in the 1979 “Super Friends” issue #25. Once again, she fights her sister before joining forces against an opossing force. A lack of focus outside of Diana’s life signaled to readers that not much could be done for the new character. The 1985 event Crisis on Infinite Earths wiped the slate clean for the DC Universe. This was a chance to break new ground.

Feeling Good In Post Crisis

An entire 20 years passed until we saw the character again with a new origin.

Following Crisis, some of the characters of “Wonder Woman” have new origins. Instead of the “black clay” origins; now exists Nu’bia, the first champion of the Themyscirian Amazons. Here, she guards the pathway to Hades until falling in love the god of light Ahura-Mazda. Now, she has the power of “Cold sight” which will turn any living thing to stone. Due to her absence; the Amazons thought she perished in a battle until meeting Diana in Wonder Woman Annual Vol 2 #8. Thus, Nu’Bia’s arc is built on seeking revenge against the demon the murdered her lover. In conclusion, the storyline ends with the image of a successful Nu’Bia riding an elevator back to Hades; determined to revive her beloved.

(Image credit: DC) Young, Doselle, Denham, Brian (1999). “Nubia” Wonder Woman vol 2. Burbank, CA: DC Comics.

Unfortunately, this short-lived appearance was the last time she appeared in this continuity; the fumbling of Nubia in the late 20th Century continued into the new millennium. The storyline has potential, but we never get to see where it was headed.

New World Coming To Nubia

We are reintroduced to Nubia in 2009. Now, she is the Wonder Woman of Earth 23; in addition to the President of the United States and Superman of the world Kalel. This brings us to the present (of 2021 anyway). What now? Writer L.L. McKinney embraces the huge potential of Nubia with the action-packed comic Immortal Wonder Woman. Mckinney reinterprets the character with illustrator Robyn Smith in the 2021 YA Graphic Novel Nubia: Real One. Furthermore, during an era of protests fighting against racial injustices and Black Lives Matter; McKinney asks the question “Can you be a hero…if society doesn’t see you as a person”.

(Image credit: DC) McKinney, L. L., Smith, R., Glendining, B., Henderson, B., & Maher, A. (2021). Nubia: Real one. Burbank, CA: DC Comics.

To focus on this dynamic will breathe new life into the character.

While the choice may be controversial to some; comics have never shied away from addressing real world issues. In her book “Black Women in Sequence: Re-inking Comics, Graphic Novels, and Anime author Deborah Elizabeth Whaley does a detailed research of Black women’s participation in comics. Among these investigations is Nubia.

Comic book narratives are an embellishment of real and imaginary worlds, as well as their attendant problems, but more important, comics narrate a metaphoric route out of and illustrate the power to fight and maneuver within the world’s prob- lemst and foremost.”

Whaley, D. E. (2015). Black Women in Sequence: Re-Inking Comics, Graphic Novels, and Anime. University of Washington Press.

Will Nubia find an identity outside of Diana?

As of writing this in early 2021; Warner Bros. announced that Patty Jenkins is directing a third entry in her Wonder Woman film series. Many fans want to see her by the side of actress Gal Gadot’s Diana. Undoubtedly, thefuture is bright with the right creative minds nurturing her.

The possibilities are endless. Will she ever clash with African or Egyptian gods? Can she gain her own villains? Can a writer use her to embody the message of Black Feminism? Now, why did I specify that I was listening to activist/singer/songwriter Nina Simone? Her music is groundbreaking; it reflects a timeless feeling of fighting for love, freedom, and hope. To listen to this Black woman sing of these things, while writing about the most powerful Black woman in comics strikes a chord within me. Hopefully it can for you as well. I leave you with a quote that captures the spirit of Nubia:

(Image credit: DC) Coipel, Olivier (2020). Wonder Woman. Burbank, CA: DC Comics.

I had spent many years pursuing excellence… Now it was dedicated to freedom, and that was far more important.

Simone, Nina.

Interested in more Wonder Woman lore? Check out the Megan Danielle‘s exploration of Yara Flor and Diana: https://comicbookdebate.com/2021/01/16/yara-flor-the-future-of-wonder-woman/ https://comicbookdebate.com/2019/04/18/diana-prince-the-icon/