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

Stephanie Williams and Vita Ayala’s chronicles of new Amazonian queen Nubia have been among the most interesting that the Wonder Woman franchise has been in a number of years. Even if Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s “break everything” approach in the New 52 Wonder Woman shines a little brighter for me, Williams and Ayala are still invoking some seismic changes to the Wonder Woman mythos, if absent the same amount of controversy.

Having read the prelude Nubia: Coronation Special, I had a little hesitation as to the direction Williams was going (Ayala bows out for the miniseries proper), but I needn’t have worried. Nubia: Queen of the Amazons is great, offering both wrinkles in Amazonian adventures that we really haven’t seen before, and also beginning to set up a supporting cast and rogues gallery for Nubia quite outside the Amazons proper. As well, post-Trial of the Amazons, as the expansive Wonder Woman universe of titles seems to be contracting into just Wonder Woman proper, Nubia functions as one last hurrah for the new Amazonian cast.

[Review contains spoilers]

The headline of the previous miniseries, Nubia and the Amazons, was that new Amazons were emerging from the Well of Souls, such that the pasts of these resurrected souls — having met their deaths through violence — were not so far off as the Amazons of old. That extends even to new Amazon Andromeda, whom Nubia met and had an affair with not that long ago before Andromeda’s death and resurrection. Which is to say, we are used to Amazons who died and emerged in the time of Greek mythology, with somewhat clear recollections of their pasts; now we have Amazons newly killed and newly resurrected who don’t remember their past lives, but whose past lives are contemporaneous, with the possibility of past and present intersecting at any time.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

In the Coronation special, collected both here and in Tales of the Amazons, the creative team hints at Nubia’s own past life — apparently a princess among an equally mythology-based kingdom in Madagascar, riders of great leopards, worshippers of the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet. At first I found this mildly overcomplicated, if not too a little repetitive — Zahavah, princess among a supernatural warrior tribe, dies and is resurrected as Nubia among … another supernatural warrior tribe. It seemed grafting a past on Nubia that was so similar to her Amazonian present as to take away from that present, that what we were ultimately getting was a lessening of Nubia’s Amazonian aspects in favor of this not terribly different mythos that the authors created whole cloth.

That might still be the case. But what we ultimately find in Queen of the Amazons is that most denizens of Nubia’s old life have died, and who remains is Zillah, a girl Nubia once treated as younger sister, now traumatized and revenge-crazed and taking it out on Nubia. I can’t know what the the creative team’s future plans are, but for now it seems there’s not too much danger of Nubia stories focusing on Madagascar, at least not directly, since there’s no parents, friends, or society to go back to. (Though I imagine there’s some other descendants that Nubia will come across. I wouldn’t scoff at a giant intelligent leopard, either.)

It’s perhaps too on-the-nose that when Zillah later absorbs the powers of Sekhmet, she gains fangs and pointed ears — she couldn’t be more of Nubia’s Cheetah if she had spots. At the same time, there’s the wonderful sense of getting in on the ground floor — here, someone Nubia used to care about, twisted by Nubia’s own death, now becomes her sworn enemy. Nubia is developing a rogues gallery, and not of random villains but rather people with whom she has connections, and we’ve seen time and again how that translates to storytelling success.

Among allies, Wonder Girl Yara Flor is here. Williams writes Yara still insufferable — insufferable seems to be Yara Flor’s default setting — but perhaps less so than when written by Joelle Jones (we’re spared the jocular narration boxes, at least). I hadn’t expected Yara to appear here, and it’s nice to see Nubia and Yara team up without Wonder Woman Diana before both become side characters in Diana’s title.

As well, while Williams doesn’t explain in detail why Hawkgirl Kendra Saunders makes a connection with Nubia, it’s a fun addition nonetheless. (One imagines given the history of reincarnation among the Hawks, Hawkgirl and Nubia’s people might have some shared experiences, though don’t get me started on who Kendra even is or what her actual background is in the Rebirth/Infinite Frontier era post-Dark Nights: Metal.) I am reminded of one of the best parts of the War of the Gods Wonder Woman era, the friendship Diana had with Hawkwoman Shayera Thal (also Dr. Fate Inza Nelson); a “new generation” of that friendship between Nubia and Kendra would be a fine callback.

Alitha Martinez’s art grew on me in this volume; away from the wild differences in artists in Trial of the Amazons, Martinez draws fine depictions of Nubia, Yara Flor, and others. It’s not a stretch to say Martinez is the definitive Nubia artist, at least the one who’s really defined her modern appearance, and though I’ve no idea if Martinez will be drawing Nubia any more, I’d always be happy to see it. It is only in some of the mid- and late-book fight scenes where the art seems to go astray, with panels too overlapping to be able to tell what’s going on.



I won’t quibble with the details — if, as Nubia: Queen of the Amazons says, Nubia was a princess in Madagascar “long ago,” then how can Zillah only be a younger adult now, etc. — because overall, this book is good. Stephanie Williams, with Vita Ayala, have found a way to open a multitude of story possibilities for the often-staid Amazons; Nubia here fights modern enemies in a modern world alongside the Justice League, still with one foot on Themyscira and one foot in her own newly created past. I’d be happy to see another miniseries solicited.

[Includes original and variant covers, pinups]


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