Nimona is unlike almost any other graphic novel you’ve ever read. Irreverent yet heartfelt, comical throughout yet serious at points, the graphic novel is a marvelous amalgamation of fantasy, black comedy, and wit. It also happens to be a shame that a large piece of the book’s ultimate thematic elements become a wholehearted endorsement of the homosexual lifestyle.
As many successful indie comics do these days, Nimona started out as a web comic. The premise is as absurdist as it is delightful – a mysterious shape-shifter girl shows up to beg a villain in a Medieval fantasy world to let her be his sidekick. She’s quirky, funny, and kind of mortifying (even to the villain) – thus start that absolutely ludicrous adventures.
The world that Noelle Stevenson paints for us could be described as a fantasy world, but it’s also a scientific one – a mix of interests that accurately depicts the divided sentiments of the Middle Ages. Blackheart, our villain and Nimona’s boss, is fascinated with science, and has little patience for magic. And yet, he has an invaluable henchwoman whose shapeshifting magic enables him to accomplish great things, and take revenge on his arch-nemesis, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, and his employer, the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. This contrast is used not so much for a challenging of worldviews (both fantasy and science fiction are part of this world, as is made clear from the beginning), but a setup for Nimona to flaunt her gifts even more. With a dastardly delight for making trouble, and completely devoid of any perceivable conscience, Nimona’s diabolical personality even goes beyond what Blackheart is willing to do – he simultaneously likes and is troubled by her.
Nimona is half black comedy, half parody. All of the signature tropes of fantasy are here – the long-haired, sword-bearing hero, the villain with a physical defect, and the law enforcement organization (think of a kingdom or government) working with the hero. There’s even a monster to the story as it develops, which is analogous to, say, a dragon, or even a creatures such as Tolkien’s balrog. These tropes are all present, but turned on their heads, thus the parody nature of the story. The villain is the most virtuous of them all. The hero is a laughable shell of a hero. The “good guy” organization is in fact a villainous one.
That last element becomes a significant shifting point for the story. It turns out that Blackheart isn’t exactly the villain. He’s an eccentric mad scientist to be sure, but he was always right when he thought that the Institution wasn’t so heroic after all. They’re doing some pretty wicked things, and Blackheart takes it upon himself to expose them to the world. Simultaneously, he begins to grow curious about Nimona. Exactly who is she? What is she? Where did she come from? These events shift the comic from a straight-up ludicrous black comedy to a rumination on other issues – issues of social conformity, of the ability of the wicked to reform themselves, and who or what we see as the villain and the hero.
Some of this is very good. The idea of Blackheart not being the villain after all, and the villainous role of the Institution, causes us to think not in terms of labels, but in terms of actions. We might think in terms of “know them by their fruits,” not the names that people in the culture call them. The second idea, which is the book’s primary concern, is intriguing as well, as Blackheart implores Nimona not to let previous behavior determine her future course. All of that is positive, and the fact that the book delivers it in a fun, quick sketch style art that is overflowing in black comedy is absolutely to the book’s credit.
But at the same time, there’s a secondary theme endorsing homosexuality that becomes, by the book’s end, not quite so secondary. Lord Blackheart develops a male love interest that is not only more or less pursued by the book’s ending (although nothing is shown in quite so explicit terms, other than a reference to “someone I love”), but also explicitly opposed by the book’s villain, the Director of the Institution. The implied result from this is clear: villains oppose same-sex relationships, not heroes.
To be fair, this is not the primary theme of the book. But it is a significant sub-theme, and this cannot be overlooked when analyzing media from a Christian perspective. There’s a lot that I really like about this story, and I do really wish that I could wholeheartedly recommend it. But with the justification of same-sex attractions so prevalent in our current culture, I must give a heavy warning regarding it. Aside from that element, Nimona is a clever and witty parody of epic fantasy tropes handled with expert precision and comedy. But that caution is not an insignificant one, and should be handled with caution.