Nu'bia Then and Now, II of II - Now
Here we go with part two of my Nu'bia rundown, dealing with her infinitely superior post-Crisis incarnation. Free of tokenism, overt sexism, and laughably bad writing, and with an added apostrophe in her spelling to ever-so-slightly dissociate herself from being named for a piece of Egyptian geography (which seems odd to me, since Nubia is a reasonably common real-world name, but presumably Doselle Young knows what he's doing better than I), she was reinvented and reestablished as a character with an actual distinct hook and reason to exist, and a pretty cool one at that.
Back in '99, DC decided to really sieze the hell out of the "apes sell comics" day with JLApe - a big League-centric crossover (and I think maybe a fifth week event) with a bunch of tie-in annuals where the members of the JLA got transformed into apes. Nu'bia's story actually begins there, in the Wondy Annual #8 of all places, as a small army of Grodd's people storm the amazon underworld, and Diana, Artemis and the current Shim'tar of the Bana go after them to kick them out. They're sailing along the Acheron Styx in a lansinar boat, when...
The narration is by the ape in the gold hat. He's a high priest of this particular ape cult, and is basically trying to get all his bretheren killed in order to save his own skin, which is why he set them against Diana, knowing they couldn't win. It's a bit complicated, and not terribly relevant.
Huh. Someone with an odd, distinctive speech bubble just turned that ape to stone. Wonder what that's all about?
Meanwhile, the mines in the water weren't explosive so much as phlebotinum-filled, and transformed that ape that just fell into them into a kaiju.
The art is not terribly clear here, but the Godzilla!ape just turned to stone, apparently at the behest of this new woman standing calmly on the bottom of the river Acheron Styx. They both surface, and she takes the opportunity to berate the hell out of Diana.
So that's Nu'bia. Like Artemis, she won the title of "Champion of the Amazons" (aka "Wonder Woman" in Man's World parlance) in fair competition, giving her a clear place in amazon society and Diana's mythology. Yet her mission is distincty different from Diana's, which gives a slightly wider scope to the idea of the position the three women hold, and allows her to interact with Diana without interfering with or being redundant with her. It's straightforward, rational, well-integrated and laden with potential, as new cast member backgrounds go. Admittedly the at-will Medusa gaze is a bit odd at first, but that'll be explained in a minute as well, and is certianly helpful in putting her at Diana's level of play.
(Oh, and if Nu'bia's confusion about names is confusing to you, you should know it was a plot point way back when that Diana is basically the spitting image of her aunt, except not blonde.)
Anyway, the rest of this is mostly just stuff with the monkeys; they think the rakshasas are their gods and want to unleash them on the world or something, and only gold-hat traitor-boy there knows that his people stole their whole culture from humans and thus they have no chance of succeeding because the rakshasas aren't actually their mythology at all. Like I said before, it's a bit complicated and not real relevant. But Nu'bia does some fun posing.
See? I like how she totally balances out how ridiculous poor Artemis looks.
Anyway, Diana does her Truth thing and forces the apes to see their whole quest is a false hope...
... and with that random and curious new plot thread dumped abruptly into our laps, Nu'bia departs, and the rest of the annual is spent in unrelated plot-focused denoument, the two spiffy new characters Doselle Young added to the mythos left to be dealt with as subsequent writers wont.
The first of the two, the Shim'tar Akila, despite being a pretty interesting character with a very good hook (Oxford-grad Bana raised in Man's World, assigned to lead and protect a people who don't especially respect her), got ignored for the next year or so and then unceremoniously stuffed on a bus, off-panel, about five minutes into Jimenez' run so Artemis could take the mantle (she may be back as of last month, but then again, that was a blonde blue-eyed white chick, which Akila is clearly not, so perhaps not). Nu'bia, however, actually had a chance to get some more care and development, when Doselle Young returned to the title a few months later for a brief filler arc and picked up on that abruptly-left-off Ahura Mazda thing.
Context: two new villains, a mated pair named Dr Echo and Blue Ice, show up in Vegas and start killing people and telling anyone who'll listen that they plan to keep killing people until Wonder Woman makes an appearance. She obligingly does, and snaps Blue Ice's arm, but at the moment we're more concerned with a gambler in a nearby bar.
Diana pwns the hell out of the bad guys, as is her wont, while the disembodied voice of Ahura Mazda mocks Ahriman about his blatant fear of her. Ahriman retaliates by stealing the bad guys right out from under Diana's fists.
Meanwhile, a couple get into an elevator looking for a nice quiet nookie corner and end up quite a few stories down in the Underworld in response to a summoning spell instead.
Look, Nu'bia! Her sword appears to have got shrunk in the wash since the last time we saw her. Pity.
Alright, and that's the rest of Nu'bia's story, which explains the random gaze attack, among other things. I like the way she comes across here; she's got wisdom to impart to Diana, but it reads very much as advice between equals, one friend offering another the benefit of her experience rather than any kind of mentorship, despite the age difference and Nu'bia's history with Diana's mother. This is actually one of the cooler things you can do with Diana's royalty - by default, Nu'bia would have seniority between them, and you might expect Diana to defer to her, especially in a conflict concerning Nu'bia's lover. But as an amazon, Nu'bia actually owes fealty to Diana, which means that, despite coming across a bit like an older cousin, she's got the same admiration and respect for and general inclination toward obedience to Diana as younger-cousin Artemis. (Also, Diana's just that good, but the royalty thing helps, is all.)
Back to the plot. Blue Ice, miraculously healed of the rather graphic broken ribs and shattered arm she got from the last fight, wakes up in the presence of Ahriman, who offers her power (stolen from Ahura Mazda) with which to kill Wonder Woman.
Well, that wasn't supposed to happen.
And Nu'bia doesn't take it especially well, either.
This being a few years too early for more familiar CSIs to have set up shop in Vegas, the guy working the morgue is a morbidly hilarious, weaselly little fellow, who tells them the cause of death appears to be electrocution.
I really tried to icon that last panel for y'all, but I just couldn't make it work to my satisfaction.
Actually, ignoring the SCIENCE, the symbolism here is great. Fire (like Hestia's fire, the fire of the lasso and of Diana's spirit) is often associated with Truth, as is gold, which tells you why the lasso is what it is. But interestingly enough, lightning is often associated with truth as well - inspiration, godly wrath, or pure divine truth, in no small part because it was often percieved to be fire in its purest, divine form (which could have interesting ramifications for Cassie's lasso, if McKeever or whoever wanted to take it that way). In fact lightning is Ahura Mazda's preferred method for starting altar fires in more than one Zoroastrian tale I've read.
Anyway, Ahriman basically makes the same offer to Echo that he did to Blue Ice, with an extra side of "Wonder Woman killed your girlfriend, you really want her dead, man" (Ahura Mazda's golden heart taunting him in its disembodied voice the whole time, of course). Meanwhile Diana and Nu'bia are dealing with some petty bank robbers (talk about overkill).
I do like when Wonders shove gods around. What I like even more, though, is that Diana just totally killed Echo, in about the coolest and most fitting way I've ever seen. Justice for the people he murdered to get her attention, and a chance of redemption and to actually save a life, in the same brilliant gesture. And, of course, it was his choice. That is so freaking awesome.
And that's the last we've seen to date of post-Crisis Nu'bia. Except possibly this panel from Jimenez' run, in which an amazon who seems like she's probably meant to be her is standing behind Julia and drag-queen-Phillipus.
So. Obviously, the whole thing with Ahura Mazda makes her a bit complicated to deal with. I don't know if Zoroastrians write in to entertainment media outlets to bitch about people getting their religion wrong the way Hindus and Christians and Muslims do, but if they do, DC certainly got angry letters over this. And even if they don't, it presents a bit of a story conundrum; if she's running around with him, she's probably a bit busy to be showing up at amazon Solstice parties or whatever, meaning she won't be the most frequent supporting cast member. Plus, petrifying gaze. That shit's wicked powerful. Shamazons would have ended a lot quicker and a lot more unfortunately for the Americans if she'd been leading the charge, especially since we know from Rucka that it works when televised.
On the other hand, though, she's awesome. She's an ally of Diana's, in Diana's weight class, good for all the reasons Fury is good but without any of Fury's sanity or continuity issues. She's got an interesting and distinct powerset that's extremely amazon in flavor, and a strongly mythological story that actually stands in a kind of bridge between the Themysicrans and the Bana. She's a friend of Polly and Antiope, providing an opportunity to get a new, non-Polly perspective on Diana's history and ancestry. She's got a bit of direct, obvious magic mojo, something Themyscira's been missing since Magala got... whatever'd. She adds some diversity to Diana's painfully white cast.
And she fills a genuinely unique role in Diana's life. She's the Jim Gordon, the friend who's both very much part of her world and yet also somewhat outside of it, who's a little older, a little wiser, a little more experienced, but still relies on Diana more than Diana on her, the stalwart ally who nevertheless has her own distinct agenda that won't always 100% overlap with Diana's. She's an outside perspective who will get Diana's amazon issues in a way Clark or Etta wouldn't, but without being involved in them the way Donna or Artemis would be. She could give Diana advice without it coming across as patronizing or OOC, but also without any of the loaded mother-daughter dynamic that would be involved in the same conversation with Polly. She has amazonian responsibilities that don't remotely involve Diana, adding a sense of breadth to Diana's world and providing a potential source of reluctant conflict or plot hooks in the form of pleas for assistance and an exploration of friendship vs duty in purely amazon terms.
Also, hey. Long-term title continuity. It's a thing the Wondy mythos could use.