Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona debuted as a webcomic before being reworked into a graphic novel. I find that it reads better — or maybe I’m better able to keep up with it — as a collection. Pages have been revised and a new epilogue added for this edition.
Although it’s set among knights and battles, it’s a very modern-feeling story, because Nimona is a very young and current character. She’s a shape-changing teenager with all the attitude and lack of respect for authority that goes along with that. Stevenson’s art does a terrific job of capturing those feelings visually, without needing to spell out for us everyone’s motivations textually.
We meet her as she meets one-armed supervillain Lord Ballister Blackheart. She’s a fangirl, and in spite of her abilities, Blackheart is a bit suspicious of her youth, enthusiasm, and drive. He’s also got a grudge against Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. The two were young heroes together before their battle led to his loss of limb.
Nimona’s fascinating because Stevenson doesn’t make her stereotypically feminine. She doesn’t feel the need to prominently signify “this is a girl”, which is a refreshing take on these kinds of comic projects. In fact, the first thing we see Nimona turn into is not a cat or something fluffy or cute, but a shark. She’s also fond of being a dragon. (When she does turn into a cat, it’s to jump on someone’s head.)
There’s plenty of adventure and action here, portrayed in a way you’ve likely never seen before. Stevenson also humanizes the traditional bad guy type by giving him significant motivation and personal ethics, while Nimona doesn’t seem to take much of anything seriously. I figured her sympathies are as changeable as her physical state; plus, as we learn more about her background, she’s got good reason to ignore her past.
As the story continues, some items appear that will be familiar to readers, from documents revealing a secret conspiracy by a reputable source of authority to distrust of financial institutions. There’s a pending epidemic and discussions of how to reconcile science and magic. What appeals to me most, though, is the little family Nimona and Blackheart make and the fatherly way he treats her, particularly on board game night. Nimona is a fresh take on the classic knight vs. dragon story with a lot more depth. (The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)