I am not a DC guy. I have read a few Batman graphic novels at most. Yet I still should have seen it coming: a Superman allegory, straight out of the playbook for comic book tropes. Naomi begins with a Superman cameo, and his milkshake brings all the boys—and girls—to the yard. The crowd reveres him, including Naomi’s enviornamentalist friend who first scoffs at the Kryptonian before he returns to clean up the collateral damage from a previous battle.
I doubt I would have even blinked if Brian Bendis (with David F. Walker as co-creator, co-writer, but we all know who is pulling the strings) had based this story in Kansas; the allusions are shameless. The first 2/3 of the book concerns a teenage Naomi wondering if there is something more to her life than existing as an adopted child living in Portland. When she shares here feelings with her parents, they express concern, reassuring their love for her. As with Johnathan and Martha Kent, this concern conceals their knowledge of Naomi’s identity as an extraterrestrial with with powers unknown. The twist, or original idea here is, Naomi’s father and town mechanic are also aliens from other planets within the DC multiverse, though they are soldiers rather than blessed with Phenomenal Cosmic Powers.
I remember when Marvel began experimenting with what was at the time called “race bending” when they decided to make Miles Morales the Spider-Man in the Ultimate universe. “Fans” lost their ****. Among their worst counter-arguments were, “Just create [your own] original characters.” Naomi reads like a manifestation of that argument, with a super-powered black teenager adoped into a white-expressing family. She is a 21st century Webster in the era of the DCEU/MCU, where discussions of race remain curiously taboo.
How does it happen that a black character in the era of BLM circumvents race through an alien as if she is a Silver Age X-Men character so as to not offend white readers? Well, Bendis says in his afterward, not once, not twice, but three times that Naomi is totally not inspired by the fact that he has two adopted BIPOC daughters of his own. Readers are supposed to believe that Naomi’s blackness and her white-expressing adoptive parents are completely coindicental. I might have been willing to entertain this defense had Naomi parents been illustrated as an interracial couple at minimum. AAPI, Hispanic, and Latino/as were options, too; even an LGBT couple would have been believable. Here is where I expect David Walker’s involvement to smooth things over, given his work on Luke Cage and Shaft, but it does not happen.
Therefore, perhaps Naomi is not written in a way to avoid offending potentially white readers as it is a comic written by someone who, for all of his accolades, is out of his depth. As a result, the comic reads plainly backwards. Bendis
conceptualizes recycles the Superman origin story, and must generate a narrative to justify it, beginning where the plot ends, with characters enamored by their super-savior.
I suppose we will have to wait for Naomi: Season Two to learn more about Naomi as an original character rather than the sum total of her inspirations. I do at least hope to see more of Jamal Campbell’s artwork. His illustration are the comic’s highlight. Also, I recently found out that Ava DuVernay is behind the live-action Naomi TV show? I have faith that she might do the character justice.