Niobe and the Power of Life and Death
Some of my favorite female comic book characters such as Maika Halfwolf from Monstress and DC Comics’ Raven have an internal struggle that impacts who they are becoming. Another character that I’ve come to enjoy for this reason is Stranger Comics’ Niobe Ayutami, a brown-skinned elven teenager with dreadlocks that is destined to save the fictional world of Asunda. Created by Sebastian A. Jones, Stranger Comics’ Asunda features a shared fantasy universe of comic books that mostly feature Black and Black Indigenous characters.
As Stranger Comics’ flagship character, Niobe Ayutami is memorable for a lot of reasons, starting with her origin story. She is the daughter of two different elves, a demonic king and a revered Galemren queen. With her mother missing and her father hunting her down, Niobe flees her ancestral homeland of Ugoma and meets new mentors: a goddess of life, a human man, and a silver elf woman. These three teach her how to heal wounds, wield a sword, and strike with a spear, putting her on the first steps to embodying both life and death.
Learning from different races also allows Niobe to expand her worldview, especially since these races are at war with each other and with Niobe’s ancestral tribe in the jungles of Ugoma. This also gives Niobe resolve that aids her in later adventures.
Soon, Niobe starts transforming from a timid girl to a budding warrior who can fight for her own survival and question the world around her. I liked that Niobe had to learn to fight because so-called “natural born heroes” bore me. Also, Niobe having only healing abilities at the start displays her personal faith and her desire to be good despite the evil people hunting her down.
While Niobe’s origin story begins in the Asunda series The Untamed, it is in her solo series that she really starts to grow. In the first book of Niobe’s series, Niobe: She Is Life, Niobe is on the run from life and from a vampire knight loyal to her father. By this time, Niobe knows that her father is an evil person that must be killed. At the same time, Niobe is so tired of being hunted down by almost everyone that the task of killing her father seems daunting and her faith in the healing goddess is being tested. As a result of this, Niobe is lost in more ways than one.
I really liked Niobe being lost and unsure of her place in the world while still being confident in her personal abilities. Most people think of insecurity as something you grow out of and that confidence is something you must always have, especially if you’re a Black woman. I can’t think of many Black female fictional characters that are allowed to be insecure and change, much less characters that are insecure and confident at the same time.
Yet in her ancestral homeland of Ugoma new faces in the form of other Galemren wild elves, an old dwarf, and a half orc boy gradually strengthen Niobe’s courage. The latter wins Niobe’s sympathies due to being half blooded like her. By this point, Niobe has been repeatedly told by others that being half-blooded is bad, especially since her father has done terrible things. While this hasn’t caused Niobe to hate herself or her ancestral tribe, it has caused Niobe to have doubts about being a better person than her father. It isn’t hard to draw parallels between this and being mixed-race, especially since I’m the child of a Vietnamese mom and a Black dad. Both my parents have flaws that affected me, so I could relate to Niobe’s internal struggle.
By rallying her courage, she inspires not only the half orc and the old dwarf, but also a group of young Galemren girls with magic and fighting skills. Upon learning that she and these girls were hunted for similar reasons, she tells them, “There is nothing more beautiful and dangerous than a wild woman. She is life. She is spirit. She is death. She is God,” before they charge into battle against the orc jade lord, Morka Moa. This is a powerful moment for Niobe because it shows her taking her first steps into the role of a leader and marks the moment that she decides to stop running from those hunting her. By the time she faces the orc jade lord, Niobe herself is life because she has inspired others to fight for their livelihood and her faith in the healing goddess is briefly renewed.
While Niobe and the others manage to defeat Morka Moa, victory comes at the cost of a sacrifice that hardens Niobe’s spirit. As a result, she decides to travel to Zalador in search of the man who put a bounty on her head in the next book of her series Niobe: She Is Death. She purposely lets herself be captured and is taken to an underground sex trafficking ring beneath a church of a heretic god.
Once there, Niobe becomes an embodiment of death. She shaves her bald and adopts a more ruthless fighting style that involves hiding weapons on her body and using her old mentor’s ice sword. This allows her to kill sex traffickers and slave traders with a vengeance, especially once she learns that some of her fellow Galemren elves and silver Morkai elves are victims.
Not only is Niobe hunting bounty hunters totally badass, but it also has her embracing violence, killing, and fury in a way she hadn’t before. When she first learned to wield a sword, she was hesitant because she thought it would make her a bad person. Now, she knows that sometimes violence can lead to justice for those who can’t get it through peaceful means. This had me viewing elves in a more complex light that I hadn’t considered since reading Dragonlance novels.
Violence and death also has a deeper meaning for Niobe personally. Despite her body representing death in multiple ways, Niobe’s body and soul also represents rebirth, especially spiritually. Niobe also comes to terms with the holy and demonic sides of her soul, represented by the devil (who had possessed her father) and the healing goddess. By doing this, she is also able to recall buried memories from when she first fled Ugoma and heard the healing goddess. In turn, this allows her to surrender herself to the healing goddess to prepare her body and spirit for transformation.
Niobe’s preparation for spiritual rebirth is powerful because she is acknowledging a darker side of herself while healing. She knows can bring death to those who deserve it, but she also knows that she can bring life too. Niobe’s acknowledgement of her darker tendencies and personal demons is nothing short of inspiring.
Even though Niobe’s story is yet to be completed, it has been a riveting tale to behold. It is one of inner turmoil, change, and resolve that sees a Black elf girl grow into a fighter, young woman, and heroine. Her body has the qualities of a warrior and healer, while her spirit is that of an angel and demon. Through an ever changing worldview, personal faith, courage, and fury, Niobe is a compelling fantasy heroine that embodies life and death.