Life for superheroes can be rough.  Life for a Black superhero is complicated and dangerous in a whole different way. What happens when you are trying to help but no one sees you as the hero? This is the question at the heart of Nubia: Real One as the reader gets to know the first Black Amazon, what her life is like as a teen, and what her connection to Wonder Woman is.

Nubia is a relatable teen. She’s got good friends, very protective moms who stifle her social life, awkward crushes, and real anger at the injustices in our world. She also has superpowers like Wonder Woman that she’s supposed to keep hidden. When she disrupts a convenience store robbery and later defends her friend from a predatory bully, Nubia starts to come into her own as the hero she will become. She also violates the rules set out by her moms to protect her. Later, Nubia and her friends go to a racial justice march that her friend Quisha organizes, and Nubia has to decide how to use her powers and what kind of hero she wants to be.

Nubia: Real One tackles myriad issues that teens are confronted with today: racism, sexism, consent, police violence, transphobia, cyberbullying, and more. Yet McKinney emphasizes the importance of teen friendships, joy, and fun as well. While the problems can seem overwhelming, Nubia’s relationships ground the book and help her through all the drama. Smith’s artwork is a bit cartoony and consistent. It’s easy to know who each character is and the facial expressions are spot on at portraying the appropriate emotions.  The pastel palette in most of the book adds to the consistent tone and feeling throughout.  Many different colors are used for skin tones and some of the darker tones, particularly for Nubia, made her expressions harder to see in the digital edition. Switching to pastel colors on the characters’ bodies in some of the panels helps break this up a bit. The fact that the creators choose to depict Nubia as very dark is purposeful, though, and adds to the story they are telling.

This title is another solid publication from DC Comics as they continue to create original graphic novels for the YA and kids’ markets with YA authors in addition to their monthly comic books. Nubia: Real One is a must-buy for any school or public library with a teen graphic novel collection. It’s a great story depicting a Black teen superhero dealing with just about every topical issue facing teens these days, made by two Black creators. Many teens will see themselves represented in Nubia. A variety of teens and adults will want to read this one.

Nubia: Real One
By L. L. McKinney
Art by Robyn Smith
DC Comics, 2021
ISBN: 9781401296407
Publisher Age Rating: 13-18

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: African-American
Creator Highlights: African-American

  • Mark

    | He/Him Young Adult Librarian, Cedar Mill Library


    Mark Richardson is the Young Adult Librarian at the Cedar Mill Library in Portland Oregon where he selects adult and young adult graphic novels, YA fiction & nonfiction, video games and adult music for the library. He also plans lots of activities for local teens ranging from art contests to teen trivia to Pokemon parties. If this sounds like a dream job, it is. Sometimes he has to pinch himself to make sure he really gets to do all of this. He’s been reading comics for as long as he can remember and has been known to present an occasional conference sessions on graphic novels at the Oregon Library Association’s annual conference.

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