I picked up Nimona (2015) after recognizing that writer/illustrator Noelle Stevenson was also the showrunner of Netflix’s rebooted She-Ra, and becoming interested in what she worked on in the past. As it happens, if you enjoyed She-Ra then you’ll probably like Nimona as well (and visa-versa) as there are many similarities in style, character, depth and tone.
Ballister Blackheart returns home to his evil fortress one day to discover a perky young girl waiting for him, insisting that she’s his newest sidekick. Introducing herself as Nimona, he’s a little doubtful about her youth and bloodthirsty streak, but soon won over by her mysterious (and very useful) shapeshifting abilities.
In his ongoing vendetta against the heroic Ambrosius Goldenloin, Nimona proves herself to be a very able ally, not only in her destructive capabilities, but in discovering hidden secrets about the Institute (that’s essentially this kingdom’s Defence Department).
What follows is a story in which all of your preconceptions about good and evil, right and wrong, heroes and villains are eventually turned on their head. No one is who they initially appear to be, and Stevenson crafts a twisty tale that keeps you guessing right till the open-ended (but immensely satisfying) conclusion. Blackheart has been cast into the role of villain — but what’s he really up to? And Goldenloin certainly has feet of clay — but is he irredeemable? And what about Nimona herself? With conflicting stories about her past, there’s plenty to ponder regarding who she is and where she’s come from.
It’s all set in a marvelously inexplicable kingdom in which people dress and act like it’s the Middle Ages, though there are advanced scientific discoveries and technology far beyond our own. No explanation is offered, but somehow the combination works, and ensures that every page holds a new surprise.
The art style initially seems whimsical and soft, but this belies darker themes of pain, identity, and choices: those you make for yourself and those that are imposed upon you.
It all comes together as a graphic novel that upends all your preconceptions: about the characters, their intentions and their fates. It’s intriguing and thought-provoking and definitely deserving of several reads. Originating as a webcomic, I’m immensely grateful that it’s been published as a completed volume (I’m not sure I would have discovered it otherwise) and I’m already looking forward to reading through it again with the power of hindsight.
So like I said earlier, if you like She-Ra for its three-dimensional characters, its careful treatment of ethical issues, its distinctive style and even its LGBTQ relationships, then Nimona should definitely be on your To Be Read list.
Incidentally, the back of the book also includes some of Stevenson’s original character designs, and a couple of short comic strips featuring the likes of Nimona, Blackheart and Goldenloin.
I was fortunate enough to discover Nimona as a twice-weekly webcomic and quickly was sucked into the Tinfoil Brigade, the cadre of loyal and wildly enthusiastic commenters who pounced on each new installment with fervor and joy. (Stevenson’s mention of the group in her acknowledgements was a thoughtful and well-appreciated touch.)
Nimona’s art style shifts over the course of the story, as Stevenson tightens her character models and intensifies the color scheme, and the story itself takes some truly unexpected turns despite what may initially seem to be a predictable story arc. Ballister Blackheart’s ongoing conflict with Ambrosius Goldenloin is further complicated by the involvement of his unasked-for sidekick Nimona, but her meddling (and her more destructive acts) come from genuine emotions, and ultimately each primary character undergoes a nuanced transformation. Don’t worry too much about whether the scientific resources available to the characters “fit” a Middle Ages-style fantasy; Stevenson makes sure it all adheres to the world’s internal logic, which is key to the story’s overall success. And the epilogue, which came as yet another surprise — it wasn’t included in the webcomic — perfectly befits the tale.
I lost track of this story when it first came out and I’m glad this pair of reviews is here to remind me. I’ll pick it up for the holidays.
This sounds great! I’m always looking for new female-focused graphic novels to read.
It’s the kind of story that gets better with each re-read. :)