Warning! Spoilers ahead!
Naomi is a teen living in small-town America, where nothing interesting ever happens... until it does.
Superman and Mongul land, mid-battle, and duke it out (for seventeen whole seconds!) before bounding off elsewhere, leaving horrific devastation in their wake. The townspeople's responses are a pretty wide range of expected reactions: fear, disbelief, awe, and so on. Naomi, though, feels like something is... off. She can't put her finger on it, but believes her suspicions to be correct when she starts looking online for news on the incident and finds nothing.
Superman then returns the next day to help clean up the destruction he left in his wake, and the townspeople fawn and cheer, including Naomi's two friends.
After, Naomi begins voicing her suspicions to her therapist, who almost immediately pigeonholes her feelings as the "Superman Complex." The therapist smartly - but misguidedly - draws a line between Superman being adopted to Naomi's mixed feelings toward her own adoption.
But Naomi can't shake her paranoia that something is askew, and everyone she talks to's dismissive attitude about the Superman incident fuels it. Her anxiety is then doubled down upon when one of her friends casually mentions that she heard a rumor that something like this happened in the town once before. Sensing it has something to do with recent events, Naomi sets out to get to the bottom of that rumor, but continues to strike out with the locals until she stops to talk to a man named Dee, who acts like he knows her very well, even though they've never spoken. He dodges the question, then hints and alludes and finally admits that something similar to the Superman incident did happen - seventeen years ago, on the very day Naomi was adopted.
Naomi is a very, very Brian Michael Bendis-y comic – and that’s not a knock on it per se. It doesn’t shy away from the author’s signature decompressed storytelling (love it or hate it, no one utilizes the style better than Bendis); it’s oblique to the point that it could be accused of nothing or not much at all actually happening; its lead is a cool, outsider-ish girl; everyone speaks in a Mamet-informed patois (minus the swears). Oh, and there’s two whole pages of people simply reacting to an unheard question, another Bendis novelty.
In the vein of Bendis’ earlier, noir-informed mystery work (Jinx, Goldfish, Torso), it’s a slow burner. Unfortunately, though, the big reveal at the end of the issue doesn’t quite feel like it earned all the build-up that lead to it. Perhaps it’s because Naomi herself is such an enigma; while that’s certainly by design to a certain degree, by the end of the comic all I really knew about the comic’s own protagonist was that she was an inherently suspicious, nominally cynical outsider who was adopted and had some alluded-to mixed feelings about it. I want to get into this book, but how can I if the lead isn’t compelling?
I’m not entirely sure what David F. Walker’s contribution here was, but I have to assume it was relatively meager since this feels like such a prototypical Bendis book. Plot assist, maybe? They are friends and teach together in real life, which leads to an assumption that they would collaborate well together. Walker tends toward a much more down to earth, man on the street vibe than Bendis does, but where that fits into this issue is anyone’s guess.
Ah, but the art. Penciller/inker/colorist Jamal Campbell is a wonder to behold. His lines are clean and his colors vibrantly pop. He can do big action…
…and small, human moments with equal aplomb. He also shows some chops when it comes to facial expression and body language:
And if you think it’s wrong to (favorably) compare his work to that of David Marquez or early Sara Pichelli, or Patrick Gleason in the recently-released Young Justice, you’re not: Bendis definitely has a particular kind of artist he likes to work with on projects featuring teenage protagonists. They have to have an easy naturalism to their style, with just a hint of cartoonishness. Campbell fits that artistic ideal to a tee, and I can’t wait to see more from him in the future.
Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t hate this comic, but I definitely felt like it could have done more with its premise, or at least to flesh out its lead. That’s the rub when reading a decompressed comic – you wind up feeling like you just might be smarter waiting for the trade, as individual chapters can feel less than the sum of their parts. Naomi suggests a huge pay off for “the biggest new mystery in the DC universe” (it says so right there on the cover!), but for me to be convinced of that, I needed a much stronger first issue than this.
Naomi seeks to carve out its own unique corner in the DC Universe, but despite an intriguing set-up, fails to hit the ground running with anything stronger than a mild trot.
Naomi #1: Mystery Machine
- Writing - 6/106/10
- Storyline - 6.5/106.5/10
- Art - 9/109/10
- Color - 9.5/109.5/10
- Cover Art - 8/108/10