This interview contains some mild spoilers for Naomi #1. It has been edited for length and clarity.
The story of Superman began with him crashing down in a little town. In Naomi #1, the new DC Comics series from Brian Michael Bendis, David Walker, and Jamal Campbell, another hero’s journey begins when a battle between the Man of Steel and Mongul leads to a collision course with a small town, and leaves a big impact.Naomi (last name a mystery) is a young adopted woman of color, and a Superman super-fan. The story of the Kryptonian baby adopted by Earth parents fuels Naomi’s fantasy that she may also be special. But when the high school student twice misses the hero’s appearance in her sleepy home of Port Oswego, Oregon, it sets her off on a mission to uncover the story of a long-forgotten superhero who had visited the town 17 years prior — right around the time she was adopted.
Part of the Wonder Comics imprint, a teen-focused, in-continuity line of titles from DC, Naomi introduces a brand new character in the DC Universe. While revolving around Naomi’s quest to uncover her (potentially super) origins, the title features realistic teen dialogue, vox pops panels, and Campbell’s luscious art, all of which combine to bring Naomi to life as a real woman, and creates a Port Oswego that feels as lived-in as any of the more recognizable DCU locations.
However, while Naomi at first seems removed from the action of Metropolis, Bendis promises his new character won’t be shrouded in mystery for too long and that she’ll be joining the big-league action soon after. He also shares why Naomi matters as a character to him, and where she fits alongside his other original creation “kids,” Jessica Jones and Miles Morales (who is definitely having a moment right now with a Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-nominated movie).
Den of Geek: Does Naomi feel like a new kid for you? Are you a proud parent all over again?
Brian Michael Bendis: Yes, it really does. Every time I’ve had this wonderful opportunity to be additive to a universe like this, it is, I must say, one of the big joys of my life. And it doesn’t matter how old the character is or what the character comes from, you do, you feel like a proud parent. And so it’s exciting as, I guess as Miles Morales goes off to college. In my head, it feels like our one kid has graduated and started their life as a Golden Globe-winning person. We got to introduce Naomi, whose story is as unique to the DC universe as it is to everything else I’ve had a help in creating over the years.
What makes her unique?
She’s a unique spirit with a unique story to tell. Much like Jessica Jones’ story could only happen in Marvel universe, it really feels like Naomi’s story could only happen in the DC universe. I’m so excited that I got the opportunity to come here with my friend David Walker, and Jamal, and create a brand-new energy that is reflective of the DC universe and will reveal a very big, powerful secret that will be additive to everybody who wants in on it at DC.
This is your Jack Kirby moment to create something original at both Marvel and DC.
You can’t help but think about all the other creators that have come and been in the position that I’ve been offered. I’m not comparing myself to Jack Kirby, I’m just comparing the opportunity, and the opportunity was to really go nuts and really create. He went and created the Fourth World and went bananas. And it took years for people to even catch up to what he did.
I said to David, “I think we kind of really have a similar situation in that we should take as much opportunity and be as creative and additive as possible.” I’m not comparing Naomi to the Fourth World, but I’m saying she was created with the same spirit in that we can be that big and that additive. So though this first issue is very personal and intimate, every issue gets bigger and bigger as she discovers more and more of the secrets around her and the town.
The Superman Complex was introduced by anti-comic psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, but you take the idea, and instead apply it to the desire to have a special purpose – especially for adopted children, because Superman was also adopted. This is personal for you?
Of my four children, two are adopted — one international, one domestic. Because of that, I have an enormous amount of adoption in our world. A lot of our friends, and a lot of our families, a lot of the things that we go to, involve adoption, and psychology. Philosophies about adoption are part of it. It’s always on my mind, constantly. And though people might think that this story is a reflection of my family, it actually is not at all.
Did you talk about Naomi with your kids?
In fact, I sat down with my daughters and I said, “Listen, you’re going to meet Naomi and you’re going to read it and you’ll realize, ‘This isn’t like us.'” And it isn’t. It does not reflect our life at all. It reflects other people like that. There’s a lot of parts about adoption that we have not seen reflected in comics, and really anywhere in literature. We’re talking about representation, sometimes it’s more than just experience and perspective. Even though so many superheroes have lost their parents, they’re not really about adoption.
It is interesting we talk about Superman as an immigrant, but not much as an adopted child.
People don’t really think of Superman as adopted, even though he said to the world, “I’ve been adopted.” It’s not part of his secret identity, and so that would mean something to adopted people. That would be a reflection of them. That allowed me to tell the story: Superman bouncing into this town for one second would cause so much emotional and spiritual crisis. That idea was so exciting to me. That little moment would trigger all of this stuff in the town for Naomi to start investigating.
Superman is this inspiring character for the town, and especially for Naomi …
The Superman connection is very purposeful, not only because of the adopted connection, but there’s a Superman thread that weaves its way through all of the Wonder Comics titles, and only the audience will know what the thread is. The characters will never be able to put that thread together. Young Justice and everybody else, they’ll never know what’s up. You create an energy in the world, and Superman’s moving so quickly, and dealing with his own stuff, he’s never going to be able to wrap his head around what his every action does for every single person. But Superman is inspiring a lot of things that he’ll never even know about.
How would you describe her personality? She comes across as a journalist, or sleuth.
There are certain people in her position who, when they grow up, they become hyper focused on how the world works. It’s because something happened early in life that didn’t work for them like it works for everybody else. So, she’s always been very interested in how the pieces all fit together and that’s also because, in her heart, she knew there’s a missing piece of her world. She’s been struggling for years, trying to just put the world together in her head, and now the missing piece is revealing itself to be missing. It’s not just her neurosis, it’s real.
Even though she’s a whole new character, what percentage of Jessica and Miles are in Naomi?
With Miles, it was so crazy, and was more than you could ever imagine. You’re doing a brand-new character in the midst of another character finding such an amazing international spotlight. You can’t help but reflect on it. I talked to David Walker about this because he was there when Miles was created as well. It definitely feels great that Naomi is a completely different than Miles and Jessica Jones, completely different. But she’s being treated in the same genuine spirit, a very authentic spirit. That feels very good. I feel the same way on the dawn of her debut that we did about Miles when he was first appearing. It feels really real, in the best way possible. So, other than that, she’s completely different.
As a storyteller, do you fear falling into a “chosen one” trap with something like Naomi?
Yeah, no, it’s not a “chosen one” story. Naomi is a spectacular individual with a secret that will be revealed. It is different than, it’s not like, “You’re the only one.” It’s a story of her, so its unique to her. But it’s not the, “You’ve come to save us all.” It is a story being told around kids that know the trope of “the chosen one.” Because she knows it’s a storytelling trope, and is still trying to process her place in the universe.
As far as supporting characters, who are the people that we should be watching out for?
Mom and Dad, you’re going meet them next issue. Mom and Dad know a lot of stuff. We meet Dee, the local mechanic at the end of the issue, and clearly he knows something, and he’s physically a little different than everybody else. So there’s some secrets right over there that we’re going to start diving into right away. And of course, Naomi’s best friend Annabelle is going to be an amazing energy for her to deal with everything that is happening. But this is a story about Naomi and her parents.
How long are you going to play out the mystery of her origin?
Not long. We start unpacking quickly. By the way, by Issue #4, the book’s almost a completely different genre. Right away, this is a massive origin story and there’s a payoff. This isn’t years of her walking around her small town wondering what happened. By Issue #3, she damn well knows what happened, and then the next three issues are her dealing with it. It is an enormous secret, and you got to remember, she’s basically opening a door to something that the DC Universe did not know existed, and it’s enormous. There’s a lot of things behind that door that she has to deal with — or are coming to find her.
Are you going to bring her into the fold with the other Wonder imprints?
Yeah. After her sixth issue, she will debut the very next week in Young Justice. Every hero figures out they have to walk their path; when she figures that out, it’s going to happen in the sixth issue, so that’s exciting.
Naomi #1 is on sale now.