Nimona is a real favourite of mine. Before Noelle Stevenson saw success with the She-Ra series, she was writing Nimona—an absolutely glorious webcomic-turned actual-comic.
The setting of Nimona isn’t actually too far divorced from what we see in She-Ra: rather high fantasy on the surface, with a lot of nerdy science and magi-tech elements scattered throughout. We have heroic and villainous knights in shining armour with jousting sticks but said knights also have high-tech research labs where they develop secrete weapons, watch televised broadcasts and order pizza. Which they can then stash in the fridge for later. Things continue in the same vein outside the labs as well, with medieval markets paired alongside modern banking institutions. And dragons.
The story follows the pair of Lord Ballister Blackheart and his young punk-rock styled side-kick, Nimona. Blackheart was really not on the look-out for a tag along for his villainous exploits, but Nimona was very, very persuasive:
Well, can’t argue with that, can we? Also, shapeshifters are useful.
So if Blackheart, with his traditionalist villainous looks, is meant to be the ‘bad guy’, then who is his ‘heroic’ counterpart? Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, Blackheart’s contemporary in college, who he has a contested history with. Goldenloin is still in the good books with The Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. Blackheart… is not.
Goldenloin still has one of the most glorious entries of any character in the comic:
If Nimona’s introduction didn’t sell you, Goldenloin’s should.
The early parts of the comic play out with Blackheart and Nimona as the antiheroes cheerfully taking down The Man. And you can really get behind it, with Blackheart acting as the straight man to Nimona’s cheeky-ness, all drawn out in a vibrant, energetic style. And emotionally, it hits all the high notes, with Nimona and Blackheart adopting a sort of foster-child-parent type of relationship.
But then things start to shift subtly. Nimona’s impulsiveness and impatience around killing and wanton destruction are darkly humorous at first. But then we’re asked to look at them again. Then Blackheart starts scrutinising her originally amusingly outlandish backstory with more care. It’s at this point that we realise that we’re really following Blackheart through the story here, and not the titular Nimona. No one knows what’s going on with Nimona.
Almost parallel to this, the almost Discworld-y Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics starts looking less and less benign. And we’re not alone in discovering this either; Goldenloin starts acting less actively antagonistic towards Blackheart and tries to warn him against his employers.
Even the comic’s aesthetics take on a new meaning. While the magic-science setting seems like it was originally picked for how cool it is (and it is cool!), there’s a scientist almost nebulously working on marrying the effects of the two disciplines together, and that spells strange things for Nimona. And even Nimona’s Chelsea-style crop has a greater significance – she’s not just running on an anti-Thatcher like vibe.
Even the character models start to become more tightly drawn. And I don’t think that’s just down to art evolution.
The joy behind Nimona is not just the initial ridiculousness of the setting or the snappy dialogue throughout. The real treat is how the story evolves as it goes along. Nimona may subvert your expectations. But even though she remains mysterious, she always remains endearing. All the stars.
No wonder Noelle Stevenson was tapped on the shoulder to act as the showrunner for She-Ra at such a young age.