Nimona is one of those graphic novels that is always on lists with titles such as “Graphic Novels You Should Read.” It is usually described as “fun.” So, I read it. At the beginning it is fun. In fact, it’s incredibly fun. But even early on, this is one dark comic, and as it progresses, it becomes unbelievably dark. I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s excellent. It’s a simply amazing graphic novel. But it’s some dark, dark shit.
Nimona is a graphic novel that originated as a webcomic. It details the adventures of Lord Ballister Blackheart, a self-proclaimed villain who grudgingly takes on a sidekick, Nimona. Blackheart fights against The Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, and his nemesis is the self-proclaimed hero, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin (not a typo).
Nimona is a book in which tropes are challenged, overturned, and blasted through walls. The story is a fabulous mix of stuff – knights with cyborg parts, robots, dragons, mad science…you name it. The Institution is not heroic at all. Blackheart and Goldenloin were once best friends, possibly lovers. Nimona is a child, but a bloodthirsty one who kills and who urges Blackheart to kill. But she’s also a funny, playful, silly person – and also a terribly tragic one.
Nimona starts off very funny and silly. Nimona, a shapeshifter, delights in playing tricks on Blackheart, which is why the Internet is alive with variation on “I’m not a ____! I’m a SHARK!” Blackheart is exasperated by her need for attention and her constant desire to kill their enemies with wild abandon.
As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that Nimona and Blackheart are both deeply sad and lonely. They establish a beautiful father/daughter relationship. When Nimona feels very needy, she begs Blackheart to carry her, and when he says she’s heavy, she turns into a cat. They watch scary movies together, and Blackheart fails to grasp why Nimona is scared by movies but not by anything in real life. They fight about pizza (he likes anchovies, which is probably the only truly villainous thing about him).
Ultimately, the story becomes so terrifying and heartbreaking hat writer Noelle Stevenson had to post the following online for her fans:
“No matter what happens, remember that there is always an alternate universe out there somewhere where this is a story about some hip gay dads who adopt a baby and everything turns out OK.”
This story is deeply melancholy, but not depressing. For one thing, it moves fast. It’s exciting. There’s a ton of action and plotting and crazy science and shapeshifting. For another thing, the ending is bittersweet, not a total downer. Some characters reconcile, some are redeemed, some both. Even in its darkest moments, this comic is, at its core, a sweet story. For all the explosions and dragons, it’s really about love – what we do when our hearts are broken, and how we put them back together. It’s also a story about reclaiming joy. So was it the lighthearted romp I expected, Hell no. It was something better.