Task #6: Read an all-ages comic
Book: Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson
Publisher: Harper Collins (2015)
When former-knight-turned-supervillain Ballister Blackheart comes home one day, he finds a girl waiting at his lab. Her name is Nimona, she is a shape-shifter, and she wants to become his sidekick despite his initial reluctance. With the help of both magic and advanced science, the two of them wreak havoc across the kingdom. Their goal: to prove that the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics and its champion, Sir Ambrosious Goldenloin (who has a complicated history with Blackheart), are not as righteous or law-abiding as they appear.
I first heard about Nimona from a friend in college. At the time, it was still only a web comic- the print version did not come out until later. I find that it made the transition smoothly between the two formats. On average, there are six to seven panels per page, filling the space but also leaving enough room in the margins so as not to seem cluttered. The panels are large and easy to see, although the font for the dialogue is a bit small. Stevenson’s backgrounds are relatively low in detail, employing a lot of solid greens and reds. The simple backgrounds balanced well with the novel’s complex plot, which was full of little subtleties that required the reader’s full attention.
What I love most about the comic are Stevenson’s multi-layered characters. Ballister Blackheart’s name is perfect for a supervillain, and “Ambrosious Goldenloin” for a champion. Despite his dark hair, red cape and a mechanical arm, Ballister lives by a high moral code (which Nimona finds un-super-villain-like). In contrast, Ambrosious has flowing golden hair, and wears golden armor and a green cape as part of his long effort to appear heroic, but his place as champion came at a high cost. The two are arch enemies, but their relationship is not so simple – at the bottom of it all, there lies a deep friendship and probably, as Stevenson subtly implies, something more than that.
Nimona herself is quite complicated. At first glance, she is a fun, punky shape-shifting youngster looking to wreak havoc. It all looks like a game on the surface, but it eventually becomes clear that there is something more sinister to her than she is willing to show. She is a loyal and determined sidekick to the end, however; her relationship with Sir Ballister develops into trust and true friendship. Stevenson builds their relationship with a series of “mundane” moments that are a lot of fun nevertheless, such as a zombie-movie night (Ballister, ever the scientist, is not at all impressed with the scientific inaccuracy, much to Nimona’s annoyance).
Two supporting characters also merit mention: the director of the Institution, who is the de facto main antagonist, and Dr. Meredith Blitzmeyer, a prototypical mad scientist who has invented a machine that will prove very important to the story. I appreciated the fact that both are women in positions that are still not female-friendly in our world: a position of political power, and a position in scientific research. Like with everything in this story, Stevenson defies the set standard here as well, although I would have liked her to give Dr. Blitzmeyer more room to develop as a character.
One great piece of world-building is the way Nimona mashes medieval and modern together. It is set in a kingdom ruled from a palace; it has an Institution which trains knights and upholds law and order; people generally dress in medieval fashion. And yet, the world also brims with highly developed technology; a newscast which features a very modern-looking anchor; a science fair where we first meet Dr. Blitzmeyer. Nimona and Sir Ballister even discuss using genetically modified dragons at one point. Ballister is a very modern sort of nerd, getting overly excited about all things “science,” while Nimona – who would prefer to be blowing something up – quickly grows bored.
I truly adored this graphic novel. Both visually and narratively, I was always having a great time. There is, I think, something for everyone in it. The ending, true to the concept, is deeply satisfying and emotionally nuanced, if a little sad. When I finished, I was left wishing there could be more. Highly recommended.