“Who are you and who am I?”
Naomi’s a big introduction to the DC Universe, coming from the stellar creative team of David Walker, Brian Bendis, Jamal Campbell and Carlos Mangual. Chronicling the journey of a young (and only) person of color in a small white town, the book is informed by the real upbringing and experiences of scribe David Walker. But adding to that, the story of Naomi is that of adoption, something Brian Bendis has a lot of experience with. Bringing over that clear lens and perspective, the book is very much a fresh spin on the DC Universe that presents the kind of hero we rarely get. Promising to be Bendis’ equivalent of Kirby’s 70’s additive glory to DC, it’s a book that’s exciting on many levels. But for all its big, renowned talent and great concepts, what may be its true star and talking point is Jamal Campbell. Drawing the likes of Justice League of America, Green Arrow and Nightwing, he’s consistently been a great artist, wielding a visual look and style unlike anyone else, with even coloring that immediately distinguishes his work. But it’s here that he really, truly, breaks loose, fully coming into his own and making a statement through the work.
With Walker and Bendis pushing him, Campbell very much steals the show, displaying thoughtful layouts, creative shots and little techniques that really enhance the basic telling of the story at hand. One of the biggest and best examples comes fairly early on in the book, where in we first meet Naomi’s parents and the family’s having dinner. It’s a great double-page spread with 4 three panel tiers, where in every tier is split between Naomi, her father and her mother. We do not see the parents’ faces in this first appearance, not yet, although we do get to see them talking a lot. We’re only shown their hands and as one goes down every tier, the black panel gutters around Naomi’s panel grow larger and larger, with the black separating her on both sides from her parents. It’s a clever trick to convey distance and how isolated and alone Naomi feels as the scene progresses. This is the sort of interesting storytelling unique to the page, that which makes comics so special. It’s all about imagery in relation to other imagery and the meaning that can be discerned from that. No captions or thought balloons are needed to tell us how Naomi feels, simple tricks like that do the job and convey the context clearly. Add to that the lovely assemblage of expressions and body language and you get a wonderfully put together piece of visual storytelling that accomplishes a lot with ease.
Another strength that Campbell has is the ability to make virtually everything look impactful. Whether you want a double-page spread of a gigantic science-fiction fantasy battle or Naomi doing a virtual meetup with her friends in her room, he can pull it off and with just about the same flair. There’s that same attention to detail and that same gut-punching intensity that draws one’s eyes all over the place as eye-popping information is everywhere to soak in. It’s this ability that helps give Port Oswego, the setting of our story, a sense of lived in history and intrigue. You believe in this place and for all intents it does seem dull, like it’s meant to, and yet it isn’t. The reader is aware of this but soon enough Naomi is too and Campbell helps make a tapestry that you want to explore with her in order to understand. While the dialogue and character interactions are great throughout, with Walker and Bendis working alongside letterer Carlos Mangual to deliver touching moments, it’s often the silent panels that stand out. You get to just live in the moment with Naomi and soak it all in, taking in every event and detail of this world you’ve been dropped in, because how could you not?
And digging more into the lettering, Mangual does an admirable job here. Following the spirit of the Ultimate line of books he did at Marvel, Bendis brings over the lowercase lettering style to Naomi. It’s a solid decision, which helps distinguish the character and her title even further from all others in the DC lineup and it gives the book and its story a bit of a different sensibility. Mangual nails that and more, filling up Naomi’s world with clever effects and aiding Campbell’s artwork in giving texture to the world of Oswego.
Walker and Bendis clearly have a plan here and we’re seeing it slowly unfold. The creative team continues to establish the fascinating new heroine that we all ought to be watching carefully. Her story is unlike anyone else’s and it’s one full of potential and possibility. And getting to watch her discover that and try and answer who ‘Naomi’ really is in the end is very much the journey here. DC Universe secrets, emotional teenage years, lovely representation, it’s all in here and it’s a delightful read.