by Noelle Stevenson
2015, 272 pages, 6 x 9 x 0.7 inches (softcover)
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A few years ago, I had the good fortune of discovering Noelle Stevenson's comics through an interview she did with Danielle Coresetto of the webcomic Girls with Slingshots. I read Nimona when it was available in full online and fell absolutely head over heels in love with the comic, blasting through it from start to finish in one sitting. When I revisited the site a few months later to show it to a friend, I was delighted to find out that it had been picked up by HarperTeen and was to be published later that year – no one deserved a publishing deal more than this incredibly talented illustrator and writer.
The graphic novel is set in a fresh fictional world of Stevenson's imagining, inspired by the medieval fantasy scene but infused with science and technology. The titular character, Nimona, is a shape-shifting young girl who has foisted herself upon her favorite super-villain, Ballister Blackheart, as his sidekick and general mischief-maker. In a Despicable Me-esque fashion, the moral and big-hearted Blackheart has dedicated his life to grand (and mostly failed) schemes against the Institution of Law Enforcement & Heroics, a shadowy corporation with shadowy motives that ousted Blackheart years before. Nimona herself is brash, mischievous, and reckless – and in a split second, can turn into a rhino to smash through a steel door, or into a dragon to fly off with a massive chest of gold.
The characters are clever, snarky and lovable; the plot is filled with adventure and, at turns, heartbreak. Stevenson's art is wonderfully stylized, colorful and expressive with charming and memorable character design. It's a tricky thing to make a cast of characters this likable without it feeling cheap or like pandering, but don't worry, there are no Mary Sues here. Every character has depth and pain and plenty of flaws, but they wiggle into your heart a little deeper for it. Their bickering and bantering give them a real family feel.
What I love most about Nimona is the delightful subverting of expectations and conventions: the collision of the modern and the medieval; a world where science and magic and technology all work side by side. The bad guys are good guys and the good guys often aren't. Our hero is a super-villain, and the strongest characters are the most vulnerable. The contrasts don't feel like stark juxtapositions – they feel like a harmonious blend of swords and science in the loveliest way possible.
– Michelle Kaatz