The plot: A brown-skinned girl has her world turned upside down when Superman bounces through town, a predominantly white place that seems a lot like real-life Lake O. His turbo-charged drop-in leads her to question the events surrounding her adoption, setting her on a quest that will ultimately transform the entire DC universe.
Meet Naomi, a new character created by Portland writers Brian Michael Bendis and David Walker. She makes her debut in the eponymous comic in January on Bendis’s new young adult–oriented DC imprint, Wonder Comics. If her story seems personal to Bendis, who is white with two adopted daughters of color, and Walker, who is biracial, that’s because it is.
“DC gave us this incredible opportunity to basically go nuts,” says Bendis. “So we sat down and thought about what we should do with that opportunity [to put] new stuff into the DC universe. And putting in stuff that’s so personal to myself and David and [artist Jamal Campbell] was the answer.”
Naomi is a fresh addition to a world already densely populated with superheroes and bound by the logic of its 80-year history (if you count from the birth of Superman). But even the Man of Steel’s sacrosanct universe needs new blood. “Both Marvel and DC need new characters,” says Bendis. “New people need to walk in, take a look around, and show us something that even Batman couldn’t show us.”
Naomi is one of a number of new characters who break with the old traditions of white male superheroes—Miles Morales, the Afro-Latino Spider-Man appeared first in 2011 (also created by Bendis); Ironheart, a young black female engineering genius, stepped into the Marvel universe in 2016—and Walker is grateful. “I’ve hit a point in my life where, not just as a creator but as a fan, I find the old-school heroes have become a little boring to me. I don’t need to see another white guy saving the day, or another man saving the day.”
Still, according to Bendis, there’s a place for the OG superhero even now.
“I never would have guessed what a therapeutic, lovely place it is just to sit in Superman’s head,” he says. “You can’t spend all day pretending to be Superman in a story and then go out and start fighting with people at Fred Meyer. I find myself being more helpful than I was before.”