Sunday, August 23, 2015

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

by Noelle Stevenson

Paperback, 272 pages
Published May 12, 2015 by HarperTeen (Originally published as a webcomic)
Genre: Graphic Novel, Humor, Fantasy
Awards: Cartoonist Studio Prize for Best Web Comic,
               Harvey Award Nominee (Best Online Comics
               Work), 2013

MLA: Stevenson, Noelle. Nimona. New York: HarperTeen, 2015. Print. ISBN-13: 978-0062278234. Paperback, $17.99.

Find it in your local library!

Lord Ballister Blackheart, the biggest name in supervillainy, is perfectly content to devise his evil plans all by himself, thank you very much. So when a cheeky, excitable teenaged redhead with a Chelsea haircut and a penchant for violence appears in (well, more like infiltrates) his lair, pleading to become his super-evil sidekick, he’s not pleased.

Then she shapeshifts into a shark. This changes the game quite a bit.

What follows is an often hilarious, surprisingly touching reimagining of the hero/villain tale. Blackheart became a professional rogue and mad scientist upon losing his arm in a jousting accident during Hero Training at the hands of his former best friend and current archnemesis, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, who answers to the shadowy Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. The Institution, run by a sinister woman known as the Director, trains heroes and claims to protect the kingdom. Blackheart is determined to get revenge against the Institution, who “had no use for a one-armed hero,” and Goldenloin, since Blackheart believes the events that led to his missing arm were no accident.

Nimona enthusiastically sets to work helping Blackheart with his evil plans, but she proves herself to be far more chaotic and bloodthirsty than Blackheart expected, or is willing to deal with. In one particularly adorable exchange, Blackheart admonishes her revisions to his evil plan, reminding her that there are rules to live by, even for supervillains.

Still, Nimona’s powers (the origins of which she does not want to talk about) are formidable, and she finds ways to get into trouble. Nimona and Blackheart make an impressive team, and as they delve further into the inner workings of the Institution, they form an unlikely bond that becomes increasingly complicated as they discover the dissonance between magic and science and changeable nature of good and evil.


I seriously enjoyed this funny, clever, and unexpectedly touching comic that really turned the superhero motif on its head. The sense of movement and action Stevenson gives to the art in every panel is tremendously effective at bringing Nimona from the page to your imagination, and it is well-suited to the story Stevenson wants to tell. The world she creates – a medieval-meets-hi-tech fantasyland where magic and science collide – is unique and exciting. The characters are all flawed in their own ways and to varying degrees, making even the secondary characters super interesting.

Ballister is a highlight for me – his rigid morality code, bravery, and sense of duty make him kind of a terrible villain, which is good because he definitely becomes the hero of the story. Ballister begins the journey for revenge, but this thirst for vengeance is quickly overcome by a calling to protect the greater good of the kingdom. His sense of justice and fairness is starkly contrasted with Goldenloin’s willingness to cheat in order to win, and we see that one’s reasons for fighting a battle in the first place can make all the difference in who wins the war. Good and evil are not often clearly defined in life, and they are definitely not clearly defined in this book. Also, on the subject of Ballister, a shout-out to the implied past (and maybe future?) romance between he and Goldenloin is in order, though I wish it would have been fleshed out a little more. I’m sure there’s been many an awesome fan-fic story written about their relationship, and rightfully so, because the possibilities are endless.

Noelle Stevenson is a self-identified feminist, and you will see a distinctly girl-power influence all over Nimona. Is she a girl who can turn into a monster, or is she a monster disguised as a girl? Does it matter? Is there a difference? No matter the answers to these questions, Nimona is powerful, self-confident, impulsive, funny, brave, and complicated, with a touch of sweetness that made me fall head over heels for her. She is the master of her own fate, and she cannot be controlled without consent. Regardless of what brought Nimona to Ballister’s lab in the first place, she knows what she wants, and she doesn’t need anyone’s help to get it. A friend who will accept her seems to be what she’s really after, and in Ballister she finds one in spades.

Noelle Stevenson is not only a talented writer and illustrator, she's also just plain awesome. Her Twitter account is one of my favorites to follow because she's just as funny and charming in real life as she is in her books.

Check out this NPR interview where Stevenson talks about Nimona, lady Thor, and women in comics.

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