Today’s post is about Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona! There’s not much to warn about, though you could make a case for violence, drips of blood, and science gone wrong. This book is a darling read and while I’m sure everybody can find something enjoyable in it, you’ll like it if you are especially into neo-Medieval fantasy, anti-villains, and light-hearted humor.
Plot: When a mysterious girl named Nimona begs to be the sidekick of super villain Ballister Blackheart, Blackheart must protect the people from the Institution’s dastardly deeds and (!?) Nimona herself.
Initial thoughts: So this was first a webcomic, which is of course no longer available online, but the site has some interesting overview like character blurbs and such. I read it as a webcomic, so one of the endearing parts about it was to watch it grow. For example, an early script shows Ballister’s name as Balister, as if Stevenson is also figuring out her world and characters. This is sadly lost when you read it as a full novel.
As always with Stevenson, her artwork is endearing and despite being simple, varied. Although more could be in want in terms of skin tones, there is a prominent POC and Nimona is a full-figured, gender-changing character with an ever-changing alternative hair cut and color. It’s hinted at that Goldenloin and Blackheart were/are lovers, so that’s pretty refreshing for a comic geared toward youths. My only complaint is that it doesn’t go far enough. There is some gender trouble regarding pronouns and Nimona, but this is never specifically addressed, alternating between it/its and she/her/hers. It has been a historically degrading pronoun for many gender queer people, and it is clear from its use in the comic that the use of this pronoun isn’t supposed to be empowering. Similarly, Goldenloin and Blackheart’s relationship is hinted at but never realized, which is a shame. In fact, the final bonus comic at the end of the comic shows them both as orphans and buddies, reducing this potentially queer couple to “just friends.”
Itty Bitty Research: I’m at a loss of what to research for Nimona since it is such a peculiar book. It’s not necessarily historical fiction because modern (and even better) technology exists alongside magic and dragons. Also, Blackheart is an anti-villain instead of an anti-hero and definitely our protagonist despite much of the story revolving around the mystery and fascination of Nimona, the title character. I suppose what I’ll focus on today is tropes in order to better understand what Stevenson is doing with these tropes.
At first look, there is a binary of good vs evil in this world, represented by the Institute and Blackheart. We learn that Goldenloin and Blackheart were once buddies both vying to be heroes, but Goldenloin “accidentally” blew off Blackheart’s arm and thus Blackheart was cast into the villain role. In the traditional sense, this is within the rules of tropes because evilness is represented by physical deformity and/or a tragic backstory: Blackheart’s loss of his arm and replacement of it with a mechanical arm. Blackheart’s use of technology and his arm are supposed to be seen as monstrous, as he is not fully human and therefore sits comfortably within the villain role. Blackheart has stereotypical visual markers of villainy as well, such as appearing older through use of facial hair, dark hair, and appearing in gloomy armor of dark shades and a red cape. His name Blackheart is also representative of stereotypical villainy since his name is a compound of black and heart, representing a metaphorical corruption of the heart since it is attributed by black. Overall, Blackheart embodies many obvious tropes of villainy.
Despite being in the villain role, Blackheart does not act according to his trope. He abides by rules in which he refuses to kill anybody. Nimona’s appearance defies these rules and suggests that Blackheart break them so that he can truly act like a villain. In this sense, Nimona is more of a villain than Blackheart, both tempting him and releasing him from the bonds that enslave him to the pseudo-villain role he doesn’t wish to play. Nimona is also monstrous, literally morphing into different beasts, and, as we learn later, she dies and reincarnates herself into different bodies. The stereotypical trope of villain as physically deformed and having one bad day that changed their life forever proves insufficient in Blackheart and is realized in Nimona. Her name is also an original creation, making her origins unknowable and harder to recognize as corruption (of language) compared to Blackheart, who becomes a red herring for the villain spotlight. Stevenson presents degrees of villainy where Blackheart can be understood as a villain by himself but not when compared to Nimona. It leads to a question of relative morality because Blackheart simultaneously is and is not a villain.
Stevenson also deconstructs concepts of goodness in Goldenloin and the Institute. Goldenloin is the stereotypical hero: he wears golden armor, his name has golden and loin as if his body is made of gold, his appearance is youthful and handsome, and he works for the Institute, which protects the people. We are supposed to recognize Goldenloin as true representative of goodness, as everything seems to be right with him, but we learn he is inept and morally corrupt, responsible for the loss of Blackheart’s arm. In fact Goldenloin has yet to apologize to Blackheart until three-fourths into the story. This allows Stevenson to demonstrate how there is no hero that is entirely good or no villain that is entirely bad. In fact those roles have been artificially created in the story by the Institute, which it holds up in order to maintain control over society.
However, Goldenloin’s idiocy – or, more aptly, naivety – exonerates him also of the villain role. He is at the whim of the Institute, the true source of evil in this story. But even the Institute isn’t truly evil. Although the Institute has been conducting unethical research in Jaderoot, an extremely rare and fatal toxin, they have done this in order to bolster their defenses so that invading countries will learn to fear them and leave them alone. There is the question of whether this was truly the intention or if this intention would be realized, but Nimona’s backstory of invading forces brutally destroying her village makes us inclined to believe this is at least a legitimate possibility. The Institute proves the villain in the way they dupe peasants, attempt to control knowledge, and order Goldenloin to kill both Blackheart and Nimona.
Ironically, Stevenson refutes her thesis that nobody is entirely good or bad because Nimona’s presence and Blackheart’s goodness are the impetuous for overturning the moral corruption in society. The more you think about it, the more it is obvious Blackheart has done nothing seemingly wrong. He steals in order for peasants to have access to money, he develops a genuine fondness for Nimona, and he forgives Goldenloin despite their long-standing grudge. While it seems like nobody is entirely good or bad, Blackheart is the best candidate for protagonist and representative of goodness.
Works cited: Stevenson, Noelle. Nimona. New York: Harper Collins, 2015. Print.