Review: Nubia and the Amazons hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

February 5, 2023

I enjoyed Stephanie Williams and Vita Ayala’s Nubia and the Amazons, certainly more so than its contemporaneous Wonder Girl: Homecoming, all of which is leading in to Trial of the Amazons. I still can’t escape the impression DC Comics isn’t putting the resources behind this book — if not the entire new Wonder Woman-verse — that they ought be; there are no brand-new creators here, and yet errors ranging from historical and in-story continuity errors to basic messy draftsmanship marr the book.

But at the core of Nubia is a renewed bit of Amazon lore that’s brilliant and fascinating, and offers storytelling possibilities for years to come. I fear the audience for an ongoing series set among the columns and togas of Themyscira is small, but I appreciate the manner in which Williams and Ayala hint at a path to modernity amidst the staid Greek backdrop.

[Review contains spoilers]

If I understand correctly, Williams and Ayala build on the established idea of the Themyscirian Cavern of Souls with the Well of Souls, which rebirths the souls of women-identifying victims of violence as new Amazons. In a perfect comics conceit, the well has apparently been closed, which is why it hasn’t been at the forefront of late, but now reopens.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

But it is not simply that new Amazons arrive, shaking up the long-established cast of Phillipus, Io, and the rest, but that these new Amazons fully recognize that they had previous lives (even if they don’t wholly remember them) and that a paradise island populated by mystical beasts is not normal. If Hippolyta, Diana, and others seem fully realized Amazons, versed in the foibles of the gods and all the Amazonian traditions, here we now have Amazons more skeptical of suddenly waking up among Wonder Woman’s people.

Not to mention that every one of these new Amazons was, by definition, a victim of violence, not at the hands of Hercules some thousands of years ago but recently, lately, even to the point that Nubia knew the new Amazon Andromeda before Andromeda’s death and might have some culpability therein. The implication is that every new Amazon represents a murder that might yet be solved, and that some Amazons even have families who might recognize them walking down the street, even if the amnesic Amazons themselves would not.

To an extent Nubia has so much going on that it can never quite focus down on these points, but there’s a Quantum Leap/CSI-type direction this new mythos could go, with the Amazons teaming to chase down who killed them and discover the circumstances of their previous lives. I think this actually happening is unlikely — Williams and Ayala seem more focused on court politics and supernatural monsters — but it would be an opportunity to inject modernity into this sleepy setting. (If George Perez made the marble domes of Themyscira interesting back in the 1980s, I think it’s an aesthetic that’s lost its luster in modern comics. Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang did well giving Themyscira an edge, but I don’t think Williams and Ayala have cracked making Themyscira itself as compelling to modern readers as Gotham or Metropolis.)

A story is only so effective, however, as it can keep the reader within the narrative. Nubia turns on this major point, that Nubia and Andromeda have a past history, but then the story itself can’t decide on the circumstances of this shared history — in the second chapter, it seems a pre-Amazon Nubia came to a pre-Andromeda’s rescue, but in the fourth chapter, it’s a post-Amazon Nubia who rescues, and has an affair with, the future Andromeda.

There are, possibly, two perspectives at play here, but I don’t think the text is particularly clear on that point. And it makes a difference — Nubia having known Andromeda in Andromeda’s past life is a big deal, just as Nubia and Andromeda having crossed paths in both’s past lives (and Nubia somehow remembering it) is also a big deal. It reads as a gaffe on Williams and Ayala’s part, an obvious one, and one wonders where the editors were, too. See also a brief mention of Diana Rockwell, Wonder Woman’s namesake and Steve Trevor’s mother, who probably hasn’t been part of active continuity in decades.

And again, compared to Batman or Nightwing or World’s Finest or even Wonder Girl: Homecoming, Nubia doesn’t look like a book trying to compete. Main artist Alitha Martinez does perfectly well in DC’s house style, but indeed the book is very much in DC’s house style, with colors that seem consistently muted. There’s surprisingly workaday credits pages throughout, too, and sloppy ballooning toward the end that breaks the left-right reading. As with I Am Batman, given that a goal of Nubia’s introduction is clearly to get more characters of color alongside one of DC’s tentpole heroes, I’d as soon see DC give these books more pizzazz — bring Wonder Girl’s Joelle Jones over here, for instance.

In contrast to Wonder Girl, Nubia includes its Trial of the Amazons tie-in, the miniseries' sixth issue and Trial part two (the Wonder Girl book omits two issues that have a more complicated Trial provenance). Williams and Ayala do well in bringing Nubia to a close in five issues and then offering a sixth that both forwards Trial and looks in on some of Nubia’s characters, but that doesn’t feel essential to the main miniseries. Put another way, if like me you choose to read Nubia issues #1–5 and then jump over to Trial of the Amazons #1 before Nubia #6, your reading experience will be fine and probably better than going straight from Nubia #5 to Nubia #6.

2.25

Rating

Though I’ll reserve judgment on various Themyscirian shake-ups until after Trial of the Amazons, I can say that if nothing else, installing Nubia as queen of the Amazons in Nubia and the Amazons does add a youthful vibe to Amazonian political strife that we didn’t have before. Stephanie Williams and Vita Ayala do some work to make Hippolyta “cooler” in retrospect, but a Themyscirian Queen Nubia who is not only not completely self-assured, but who’s also often more eager to fight or frolic as to rule from the throne is a lot of fun. I’d like to see more and better from DC’s Nubia camp, but this is certainly a good start.

[Includes original and variant covers, character designs]

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