I have just had the pleasure of reading Noelle Stevenson’s graphic novel, Nimona, thanks to a recommendation from our excellent Teen Librarian, Sarah Prosser. I can’t believe I’ve never read this before, but now that I have, I want to recommend it to everybody who has (a) a basic knowledge of the superhero genre and (b) a warped sense of humor.
When you start reading the book, you think all these characters are pure stereotypes: the villain (whose name is Lord Ballister Blackheart, talk about obvious!) with the mechanical arm and the elaborate schemes for world conquest, the pure hero (Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin — see what I mean about the names?) with golden curls and the perfect physique, and Nimona, the young would-be sidekick to Lord Blackheart. However, you don’t have to read long before you realize how the author is undermining these stereotypes (and having a wonderful time with it).
Nimona is a shapeshifter, enthusiastic about the prospect of causing unbelievable destruction, especially when she discovers exactly WHY Goldenloin and Blackheart are enemies. Considering that she can turn into anything from a small bird to a full size dragon (and many things in between, including a cat and a shark and even a duplicate of Blackheart, among others), she’s well-suited to turn any kind of encounter into near apocalyptic chaos. Her relationship with Blackheart starts out as somewhat antagonistic, since he has rules and she can’t understand why anyone, especially a villain, would restrict himself to following rules set by the Institution (the real villain in the book). She has a problem with authority in general, a problem with sticking to the plan (and sometimes that inability on her part is good for both of them), and a low tolerance for things she considers boring (in short, she’s almost a stereotypical teenager — if a teenager had nearly infinite powers of shapeshifting), and Blackheart is incredibly frustrated with her at first. Obviously, over the course of their adventures together, both of them develop a certain affection and each one is ready to sacrifice to protect the other.
There’s something going on between Goldenloin and Blackheart, something beyond the ordinary hero and villain dynamic, and while Stevenson doesn’t spell it out, the argument could be made that they were more than friends before Goldenloin betrayed Blackheart into his life of villainy. Just as Blackheart and Nimona reveal deeper layers of their characters beyond their stereotypes, even Goldenloin proves to have hidden depths and potentials beyond his good looks and his naive support of the Institute of Law Enforcement and Heroics.
The book is laugh out loud funny in places (mostly toward the beginning, as Nimona and Blackheart are working out the rules of their relationship), and also becomes exciting and even moving by the end. It’s a fast read, and the art is simple but quite evocative. It’s a delight to read, and the fact that it qualifies as an All Ages Comic for the 2017 Reading Challenge is just icing on a delicious cake.
And if you love this book (which of course you will) and want to find more like it, check out Sarah’s brilliant Pathfinder for the book Here.