All The World Is Waiting For Nubia!

After several years as a de-powered urban adventurer in contemporary fashions, Diana Prince went back to being Princess Diana of Paradise Island in 1973. As part of the issue celebrating the rebirth of the costumed heroine Wonder Woman, a new character of seemingly great import was introduced. An armored warrior who appeared to be Diana's equal or better (taking into account the Amazing Amazon was probably a bit rusty at super-battles) laid claim to the title of Wonder Woman. It was soon revealed in a spectacularly blatant retcon that this was Nubia, Diana's literal soul sister sculpted from dark clay at the same time as Diana at the command of the goddess Aphrodite ("Afrodite?") Nubia was blessed by the goddesses as Diana was, and meant to be raised as her twin, until she was kidnapped in infancy by the war god Mars. Nubia was then raised to become Diana's adversary, and usurp her role as the champion of the Amazons.

Clearly, Nubia should have either become one of the great Wonder Woman foes, or her staunchest ally. You have to remember, when Wonder Girl was created, she was supposed to be Diana as a teenager. A mistake led to her joining the Teen Titans, and developing into an entirely separate being named Donna Troy. Wonder Girl was treated as a Titans character first, and was very much extant for most of her shared history with Wonder Woman. Steve Trevor was dead, Etta Candy forgotten, and there wasn't much in the way of prominent Amazons. Even if there had been, Diana Prince's main foil for years was I-Ching, who was killed off in the very issue introducing Nubia. Beyond Queen Hippolyte, Wonder Woman was starting off with a blank slate in the supporting cast department. Further, she hadn't dealt with her better known rogues in years, many were quite dated by the '70s, and they'd have to be reintroduced to readers. Nubia had appeared on a fantastic, well remembered cover, and by 1975 was set to be played by Teresa Graves on the television show. Nubia was even introduced as "Wonder Woman's super-foe" as part of Mego's line of tie-in dolls, and the only opponent created for the line. Friend or enemy, Nubia was all set to be a big deal and a lasting addition to the character's lore.

Or not. The Nubia character was dropped from the TV show before she was ever introduced after it made a switch in networks. The comic book character had a tainted origin where she was raised on an island of black male tribesman, then had to defend her chastity and right to self-determination at sword point. Nubia was terribly lonely, and only fought Wonder Woman because of some evil spell. The distinct impression was made that at some point after Mars ran off with Nubia, he sort of lost interest in the whole thing. Wonder Woman broke the spell, and Nubia went off on some random crusade to make the men on her island peaceful. This resulted in a couple of guest appearances in non-Wonder Woman comics in the '70s, followed by being totally abandoned for twenty years.

When Nubia finally was plucked from the deepest depths of obscurity, it was as part of a series of annuals called "JLApe" where the Justice League fought Grodd and his Gorilla City minions to reverse their becoming apes. No weird racial overtones there. Bypassing the obvious pun of rebranding her "Negress," the Post-Crisis "Nu'Bia" passed through a formidable egress into the bowels of Themyscira to defend Doom's Doorway from the inside. So wait, the negra Amazon is locked up in the cellar for centuries, essentially enduring hell while committing no crime, and only pokes her head out to fight monkeys? Merciful Minerva!

A follow-up two-parter drawn by probably the least suitable artist for a Wonder Woman comic ever (the vulgar Irish comedian John McCrea) tied Nu'Bia into Zoroastrianism and saw her devote her life to resurrecting her godly boyfriend Ahura Mazda. This of course happened only after Joe Linsner had popularized Zoroastrianism (such as could be expected) through his Dawn series, so the premise was both derivative and a blow to feminism. As an added bonus, it was the brainchild of African-American writer Doselle Young, best known for alienating The Authority readers with his funky attempted spin-off The Monarchy alongside McCrea. I can't recall which came first, but nobody much dug either.

How did Nubia go from being the great character find of 1973 to a cautionary tale? Being published by DC Comics in the 1970s couldn't have helped, where Black Lightning couldn't survive a year when Luke Cage made it a decade, and The Vixen never got published at all (to this day!) Nubia's creators made a mess out of her origin and motivations coming out of the gate, and allowed her to immediately stall out. It's a shame, because Nubia had such potential to be the Wonder Woman for people of color, arriving just a year after Green Lantern John Stewart (and long before he was making regular appearances.)

Wonder Woman is a character that comes with a lot of baggage and forced regulations, where Nubia offers the opportunity to write a Wonder Woman with much greater freedom to experiment. Nubia could have been a sweet aspirational character, and in a world where Beyoncé Knowles was a serious contender to play Princess Diana in a movie, the character still has an audience in the waiting. Given how distastefully Diana has been handled in recent years, I'd vastly prefer some Nubia myself, either by taking up the sword chopping so that Diana could get back to her magic lasso or by assuming the role of peaceful ambassador that extreme portrayals have forced Diana to abandon. In the year 2012, in order to reflect a black female audience hungry for heroism beyond Vixen in swiftly expanding media platforms, DC Comics needs Nubia now more than ever.

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