Review: Naomi: Season One hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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I remember Damage, and I remember Anima, and Scarlett, and also Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (the movie) and Flight of the Navigator and Escape to Witch Mountain. So I have a lot of appreciation for the genre of Brian Michael Bendis and David Walker's Naomi: Season One, and it seems to me if Bendis' Wonder Comics is supposed to recapture the magic of those Damage/Anima/The Ray days, then Naomi is pitch-perfect. Not to mention the need for more new characters in the DC Universe, especially a young, female, African American character in the DC Universe, and for a book that, for the most part, is less about superheroes fighting and more about parents and children and how people in a small town relate to one another.

What difficulties I see for Naomi have to do first with separating the hype — what external forces have led one to expect this book might be — from the story actually on the page. Second, despite the "runaway success" of "multiple printings" that Bendis discusses in his afterword, that this first "season" only totaled six issues and that it did not deliver on the aforementioned hype makes me concerned that Naomi is already a failed experiment — that the wider audience, to its detriment, does not want a family-focused, non-punchy superhero book. The obvious comparison here is to Bendis' Miles Morales, whom he credits Walker for helping with; as I understand it, Bendis' ubiquitous Miles was not an instant success either, so hopefully there's opportunities for Naomi yet.

[Review contains spoilers]

Naomi starts with a couple pages reminiscent of Mark Waid's Thrillbent comics, with the background remaining relatively static while the foreground moves around. That indicates Naomi as "something else," and along with that are the atypical uppercase/lowercase word balloons and a plot moved forward by the investigations of a teen detective, of sorts. This keeps up pretty well through the second issue and into the third, and if one is a fan of comics where characters actually talk to one another sans fight scenes, this is a book for you.

In interesting ways, Naomi shirks the tropes of teen books in its first issues even as it also shirks the tropes of superhero books. A smattering of kids populate the background of the first issues, but we never see Naomi in school, and those kids (short of best friend Annabelle) eventually disappear entirely. Essentially there is no high school drama, no romantic storylines, nor is Naomi particularly smarter than her parents nor her parents out-of-touch. It is not as though Naomi seems a more realistic portrayal of teen life than the norm, but it is one less melodramatic. I appreciate that, though again I can't discern that made a different sales-wise.

Taken on its own merits, Naomi continues to buck the genre in three issues' worth of origin stories in which the town's mysterious stranger is not Naomi's biological father and the spaceship that Naomi's father takes her to see is not one she arrived in (it's her adopted father's, actually, thwarting the Superman comparisons, with Naomi and her father's dual cosmic origins being unrelated). Naomi, it ultimately turns out, is wholly human, though from a parallel Earth and mysteriously mutated with super-powers.

The end of the second chapter, and a good amount of the marketing, promises "the secret history of the DC Universe," and there indeed is where Naomi stumbles. If the origin fake-outs are not as strong as they could be, Walker and Bendis still do good work acknowledging superhero tropes and playing against them. But to believe the hype, one would expect Naomi's origin to shocking, recognizable, and game-changing — that she's a Monitor, for instance, or a New God, or at least a lost child of Gemworld.

That she is none of these — that, at best, she's a denizen of the Multiverse, which is hardly so uncommon these days — takes a lot of wind out of Naomi's sails. Surely to be successful, Naomi was going to have to have some connection to the established DC Universe — she does not — and if I'm correct that some of the initial sales frenzy had to do with interest in a mystery that was supposed to have far-reaching consequences, it's not a surprise the "revelation" might have stymied that.

Either that's a very large mismatch between marketing and what Bendis and Walker intended or something changed mid-series. There are not here the hallmarks of a rewrite — namely, that Jamal Campbell draws the whole book and a guest artist didn't have to step in to help make a deadline post-change — but still something doesn't add up. Whether Naomi just over-promises, or whether that's related to something with Doomsday Clock or Justice League or such, is hard to say. (The Grant Emerson Damage series is a good comparison, one that promised a DCU-related mystery to Grant's origins and powers and then delivered.)

Given all this, Naomi's end is anticlimactic. The audience is patient through the two faux origin stories in expectation of the real one. Then, when it comes, Naomi's origin so fails to deliver that the cursory superhero fight and then Naomi taking off for parts unknown (nods to John Byrne's Man of Steel notwithstanding) seem very sudden; not only do we not really know who Naomi is with any significance, we don't even really know what her powers can do.

Were there a next issue, we might be fine — all right, this arc was basic scene-setting, next month we'll start to get into the meat of things — but this decision to split Naomi into "seasons" (six issue "seasons," at that) again feels off. There is a hefty distance between a new series to introduce a new hero to the DCU and a new miniseries to introduce a new hero to the DCU. In the end, a miniseries feels like testing the waters, something unlikely to have real effect (and that I might, then, not have had so much interest in), and I wonder if that was a shift or if it was always the plan.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Naomi: Season One

Still, hearkening back to the "young hero" titles of yore, the initial chapters of Naomi: Season One delivers a tone that we haven't seen from DC for a while. I'm glad that Brian Michael Bendis is world-building and I'm happy to follow Naomi into his Superman titles and into Young Justice, which is surely where the character belongs. I'll be curious to see if Naomi: Season Two delivers on any of the unfulfilled promises of Season One; given the hype, one would ultimately expect Naomi to have a key role in Bendis' inevitable DCU event, a la Damage and Zero Hour.

[Includes original and variant covers, afterword, character designs]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Naomi: Season One
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 1 )

  1. Thank you for this review. I have this pre-ordered with my local library and I'm sure I will enjoy it much more now that I know the revelation is not as universe-shattering as had been hyped! Tempered expectations and all that!

    Are you going to review The Flash 80 Years of the Fastest Man Alive book? I bought it yesterday and it is much more like the Superman volume than the Batman one. It is 100% Flash stories, features an unpublished Golden Age tale and all of the essays are focused on the comic itself rather than the abstract essays in the Batman volume. It goes right up to #2019 with a Gail Simone tale from one of those Walmart-exclusive comics.


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