It’s officially the week of Halloween! So, what shall we dress up as this year?
A knight? A supervillain? A cyborg? How about a shark?
Oh, I know! Why not all of them.. at once!?
This is Nimona.
Written and drawn by Noelle Stevenson, Nimona is the award winning story of Lord Ballister Blackheart, a professional villain who isn’t as evil as the system would make him out to be. As supervillains are wont to do, he spends much of his time being foiled by Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, his foppish arch-nemesis and former best friend. The status quo gets shaken up, however, when Blackheart hires on Nimona, a shapeshifting spit-fire with a penchant for violence, as his sidekick. Nimona wants to help him take his villainy to the next level, but Blackheart has his own moral code, one he struggles to uphold even as the Institution that vilifies him conceals villainies of its own.
At it’s heart, Nimona is a story about perceptions and identity, how others perceive us and – most importantly – how we perceive ourselves. Ballister Blackheart, the most reviled man in all the kingdom, is quickly established as the most heroic. Regal, scrupulous, and highly intelligent, Blackheart is the epitome of an anti-villain. Even as a “villain”, he resorts to violence only as necessary, always taking precautions that his schemes don’t inadvertently harm someone. In fact, his moral dictum against taking lives strongly echoes the core tenant of the superhero Batman, another iconic character who acts outside ineffectual or even corrupt laws in his crusade against evil. Plus, he practices safe science. As the story progresses, we get to see Blackheart take on an almost fatherly role towards Nimona, whose childlike yet vicious tendencies he tries to temper with morality and consideration of consequences. Interestingly, it’s this ersatz father-daughter relationship that leads Blackheart into becoming the compassionate leader he so naturally is.
Nimona, the eponymous character, is reckless, pugnacious, delightfully zany, and emotionally guarded. So, in a word… she’s a teenager. Like a teenager, she’s beset with the belief that life’s just a game and there’s no way she can lose. Considering the scope of her powers, she might not be entirely wrong in that regard. She is arguably the most complex of the cast, partly because she’s also the most mysterious. She’s as much a protagonist as Blackheart is, but she also serves as a sort of living McGuffin – it’s her presence that allows Ballister to finally make progress in his crusade against the Institution. It’s also because of this that said Institution wants to remove her from the picture. Nimona’s shapeshifting powers and constantly changing mood make it hard to know just exactly who – or even what – she is, tying into the series’ theme of perception and identity always shifting.
Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin (no, seroiusly, that’s his name. He picked it out himself) is our main antagonist, though not our Big Bad, serving more the function of a tritagonist. He was once very close friends with Blackheart, but a falling out between the two has set them both upon their paths. Arrogant, vain, and more than a little naive, Goldenloin serves as the Institution’s figurehead. Despite his role as a lapdog, however, at his heart Goldenloin is a virtuous character who wants to do good, but doesn’t always know what that is and is hampered by his own selfish faults. He and Blackheart spend most of the series as frenemies, though we get occasional glimpses into their past friendship. As the plot advances their relationship as arch-nemeses escalates before coming to a head in the final act.
The art is charming and all around pleasing, even if it’s somewhat sloppy in the beginning An ambitiously simple style and restrained use of color help keep it from looking crowded or visually overpowering and the end result is rather reminiscent of a French children’s book illustration à la The Little Prince or Madeline. Overall, I think the style does a fantastic job of taking a story with complex themes and attitudes and depicting them simply and elegantly.
And what a story it is. Nimona begins as a fairly straightforward comedy action story that plays with the typical good guy/bad guy dynamic and other tropes. The setting itself plays with traditional norms – a kingdom protected by knights who use swords and arrows as readily as holograms and rocket launchers. Personally, I find the idea of knights fighting dragons with laser gauntlets is just too much fun to not enjoy. As surreal as the setting is, it somehow works, in part because we’re shown from the beginning that things aren’t always how they appear and assuming something to be doesn’t always make it so.
Again, one of the main themes of Nimona is identity and how we can either embrace, or defy it. Blackheart is labeled a villain by society simply because it needed a villain and he doesn’t fit with its ideal of what a hero should look like… at least that’s partly the reason. Nimona, on the other hand, fully believes villains should be dastardly, violent, ambitious threats to be feared by all. This may be a result of her past trauma – people have treated her as a monster for so long she begins to believe it herself, so that’s exactly what she gives them. It’s Blackheart’s faith in her and her trust in him that allows both to grow beyond the labels that others place on them. This contrasts and compliments Goldenloin’s own character development, including his eventual understanding that a hero serves not the Law or his own vanity, but the people who need him.
With marvelous, deep, complex, and evocative characters, a delightful mishmash of a setting (including knights with lasers and genetically altered dragons) and an ambitious, elegantly illustrated story, Nimona is a wonderful journey into a world of virtuous villains, haughty heroes, and pure, unadulterated, fun.
Nimona was written and drawn by Noelle Stevenson. This comic, including the images used here, belongs to her. The story may have concluded already, but it’s already been picked up by HarperCollins to be published in print May 2015. Preorders can be made here.