Nubia: Real One
Written by L.L. McKinney
Illustrated by Robyn Smith
Cover Color by Bex Glendining
Interior Color by Brie Henderson with Robyn Smith and Bex Glendining
Letters by Arianna Maher
Nubia: Real One transcends the traditional comic book origin story. It is the embodiment of the Black experience. Nubia is an older teen who lives in a present day world. Throughout the story, she and her friends deal with the issues of social justice, racism, and rape culture. While her powers are always in the forefront, her greatest danger is from an inherently racist society that vehemently disavows her humanity.
This graphic novel is divided into four parts. Also, due to the nature of the subject matter, it contains a trigger warning. I encourage parents to discuss this story with their children.
In part one, we are introduced to Nubia. She is living a normal life in an unnamed town when she finds herself in a position that could expose her powers. After a devastating encounter, she is confronted with the harsh reality that having special abilities is not the only characteristic that causes her danger.
Later, we see Nubia manage the trials of high school, including a bully whose race and class enables their malicious endeavors. She must also must also navigate rightfully overprotective parents.
In part two, the focus is on her in social situations. We see more of Nubia’s interactions with her best friends and her new love interest. However, things take a sudden turn when she exposes her powers to the world in an effort to save a friend.
Part three makes the shift to origin story. Unable to deal with Nubia’s current behavior alone, her parents arrange for her to meet with Diana Prince. Nubia is then told of her heritage, her history, and her connection to Wonder Woman. She is also given a special gift. Later, she attends an event that turns violent, and a tragedy occurs.
In the final part there is a reckoning. Nubia tries to cope with the aftermath of the previous event. Back at school, she once again finds herself in danger. She then makes a decision that will change her life.
The storytelling in Nubia: Real One is magnificent. The blending of teenage angst with humor and action is highly enjoyable. The diversity in the cast of characters is beautifully executed, especially the loving portrayal of her same-sex parents.
However, the biggest stand out is the way the narrative is crafted to show serious, and at times traumatic, current events though a teenage perspective. I commend L.L. McKinney for her courage in highlighting so many difficult and controversial topics. This is a graphic novel that is destined to contend for major awards.
Robyn Smith illustrates the novel using a minimalist youthful style, She, along with Brie Henderson and Bex Glendining, use cool color palettes of pinks and purples to add texture and excitement to the piece.
The actions scenes are very well done. And the panels that focus on character faces displaying various emotions are moving. When the characters were in danger or combat, I was completely engaged.
The team does a great job showing diversity. Especially when it comes to hair. This is what made me the most excited. The different characters wear everything from afros to locks, to natural curls. I’m a Black woman with natural hair. It was exciting to see characters that looked like me and my friend group. And it will be empowering to the young people of color that pick up this novel. Representation matters, and these artists get everything just right.