WARNING: The following is an in-depth analysis of “Nimona” by Noelle Stevenson. If you have not read the graphic novel, DO NOT READ THIS AS THIS CONTAINS HEAVY SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE STORY, unless you do not mind massive amounts of spoilers.
It’s been quite a while since I put up a huge analysis like this, as I haven’t had much time to read, but I managed to pick up “Nimona” by Noelle Stevenson during some Boxing Day shopping. Here’s a quick summary so we know what it’s about:
“Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.
But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.”
There are two things I want to highlight, and they will be put into two separate posts just because I’m going to be looking at these with much depth. The first thing I wish to focus on for this post is trauma; how the characters take and deal with trauma. The second thing will be the exploration of a romantic relationship between the characters Ballister Blackheart and Ambrosius Goldenloin, and that will be covered in the next post.
If there is one recurring thing that I like about “Nimona,” it’s the fact that it does not shy away from how trauma is instilled in a character, particularly the characters Goldenloin, Blackheart, and Nimona. Blackheart shares, in chapter two, about how he and Goldenloin used to be close friends until they jousted against each other, with it ending with Goldenloin shooting Blackheart’s arm off using his weaponized lance, therefore making Blackheart lose any chance of being a champion of the Institution of Law Enforcement. Goldenloin shares the truth behind Blackheart’s backstory—that he was forced to beat Blackheart in the joust that destroyed Blackheart’s arm to ever have a chance at being the Instutition’s champion, no matter what the cost. Goldenloin realized on the day of the match that everything was rigged to be in his favour, specifically with his lance being replaced with a weaponized one to horribly injure Blackheart so that he had no chance of being the champion. Up until chapter ten when Goldenloin reveals the truth about the joust incident between him and Blackheart, Goldenloin repeatedly goes into a state of denial whenever the incident is brought up, always claiming it was an accident when in reality he knew it wasn’t true. He was just saying it was an accident to make himself feel better about it. He even puts this point of denial up to the point of claiming that everyone knew that Blackheart would be “the one to go bad” (96, Stevenson). It is only once Blackheart finally confronts him about the joust incident in chapter ten that Goldenloin finally has to face the truth behind the incident, and he just breaks down sobbing. Blackheart, at the very least, accepts the apology and understands that Goldenloin regrets what he did in the past. From that point on the two are trying to help one another for the rest of the book, the two of them understanding that they need to work past the trauma they both went through in the past from the joust.
Nimona’s triggers are made far more obvious in the book, with them first seen after the chapter where Nimona revealed her supposed backstory. In chapter five, after Nimona explains to Blackheart about her shapeshifting powers a bit while Blackheart is giving her a tour of his lab, Blackheart suggests (in the name of science and his own curiosity) that they run tests on Nimona to figure out how to make the best use of her powers. Nimona seems to immediately snap at hearing this statement, grabbing Blackheart by the metal arm and telling him that she is “nobody’s lab rat.” (37, Stevenson). While she is saying this, the hand grabbing Blackheart’s metal arm temporarily becomes muscular and monster-like, emphasizing her anger. Before Blackheart can fully reassure Nimona that he won’t run tests on her, seeing how angered she is by such a statement, she goes back to her seemingly bubbly, happy self, distracted by one of the various experiments Blackheart had in his lab.
Nimona displays another sign of being triggered in chapter six, after returning from robbing a bank. Ballister has to mend Nimona’s wound from being shot with an arrow in the leg, and Ballister warns Nimona about how the Institution isn’t going to be playing around, believing Nimona is treating the fight against the Institution as some sort of game. Nimona, in response, looks a bit angry and states that although she appreciates his concern, she’s been looking out for herself for a long time. With this being said, she goes further to tell him not to baby her. We can assume that people such as Ballister have most likely tried to help her in the past, and such statements of wishing to help. Even Ballister, who may have been genuinely concerned for her, made Nimona feel like a victim, which is something she doesn’t want to feel like.
A third sign of triggering with Nimona also occurs when she also has trouble changing form due to being exposed to Blitzmeyer’s Anomalous Energy Enhancer at the Science Fair in chapter eight. Nimona is completely angry, raging about how she has never gotten stuck trying to change form. Blackheart tries to reassure her that she’s not losing her powers, explaining that being exposed to the Energy Enhancer affected her access to the energy that makes her change form. Nimona, however, is not reassured by this statement, claiming that science is stupid, just as she smashes up a kitchen counter. She then proceeds to state her worries about the Institution finding out about the machine, most likely out of fear of being controlled by having that device used on her. Blackheart still attempts to comfort her, trying to tell her that he can help her, that he wouldn’t dare let the Institution get their hands on her. Instead, Nimona snaps even more, yelling at him that she doesn’t need his help. She states, just as she lifts up part of the floor, “Do you know how many people said they wanted to help me?” (121, Stevenson) This remark holds the implications that Blackheart is definitely not the first person who has attempted to help Nimona, or that people in the past that have claimed to want to ‘help’ her instead tried to take advantage of the gifts she had (particularly her shapeshifting abilities in this case). She has issues with trusting people, and from this point on Nimona starts distancing herself more and more from Blackheart. Over the next several chapters, Blackheart attempts to try to reach her, trying to get to the heart of why she is so distant, going to the point of confronting Nimona in chapter ten about her own backstory, realizing that she has completely made up her backstory. Nimona is so enraged at his lack of trust in her due to his confrontation with her about her background, while she had put so much trust in him by this point. She nearly transforms into a more monstrous form as she is raging about this, and instinctively Blackheart reaches for his sword. Nimona finds Blackheart’s action of picking up a sword (a sign of aggression) as losing his trust in her and she sees it as a joke, especially considering that up to this point Blackheart has never raised any physical aggression towards her. Nimona leaves Blackheart, believing that he’s lost all trust in her and therefore assumes she can’t trust herself to stick around with him, either.
Later in the same chapter after Blackheart has realized that Nimona might be a lab-modified mutation of an ancient beast, he realizes that Nimona must have been used in the past as a lab experiment. Though even we readers never get the full idea at this point of the story of what Nimona went through, we get the idea that 1. Nimona were experimented on, and 2. She suffers a lot of trauma from that, and it’s burdened her for quite some time. We also find out much later in the book, when Blackheart is retrieving the main part of Nimona from the cell the Director trapped her in that Nimona was indeed taken in by people that claimed that they could help her but instead experimented on her, causing her to be enraged and kill them all before venturing out into the world on her own. She therefore suffers from trauma and trust issues from those incidents. “Nimona” did not shy away from exploring how deeply trauma from scarring effects can affect people and I really enjoyed how the book explored it as well as how it represented the trauma instilled in the Goldenloin, Blackheart and Nimona.
Something else that I enjoyed about this book was how Blackheart tried to understand Nimona’s triggers and help her throughout the book without even realizing how bad the trauma has gotten to her. Once when the Director’s experimentation on Nimona and torturing of Blackheart in the same chapter triggers her, Blackheart continues to try to reach her despite the risk that he could easily be killed by her in her mad, rampaging state. He retrieves her main body from the cell she was trapped in after the beast born from her raging blood cells starts rampaging to try to help her get to safety. He tries to keep calm and talk to her, even when she turns on him. Right up until he’s forced to defend himself from being actually attacked from Nimona, he keeps pleading and reasoning with her, and even after he has to knock out the beast part of her to prevent himself from getting killed, he still asks the main part of Nimona to try to come with him and Goldenloin to safety before the entire city is ‘purged’ with explosives, which seemingly kills Nimona in the process. At the hospital, Blackheart talks with Blitzmeyer about how he regrets being unable to save and help Nimona. Prior to that he talks to the nurse examining Goldenloin (who was Nimona in disguise, as the real nurse had just gotten off break at the time), telling the disguised Nimona that “she’s not a monster” (250, Stevenson). At the end when he realizes the nurse he was talking to was the disguised Nimona and tries to go after her to see her one last time, seeing her leave the hospital after she waves him a goodbye. This second time that Nimona leaves him, however, is much more peaceful, giving the implication that Blackheart trying reach to her during the rampage did have a positive effect on her and has helped her in some way to trust people again, if not fully healing her. In the epilogue, Blackheart narrates that although he might not see Nimona ever again, he still voices concern for her and hopes that she still sees him as a friend despite all they went through.
In the end, Nimona, Goldenloin and Blackheart are not in a state of ‘oh we’re over it completely now’ in terms of facing their trauma. Recovering from trauma does not mean an automatic switch straight to happy, cheerful things. They will all still have their triggers coming from their traumatic incidents of the past, but all of them appear to understand that the trauma is not what defines them. Goldenloin understands that he can’t run away from the past and dismiss it as an accident and therefore must work through it with Blackheart. Blackheart learns that he can’t hold grudges forever and he needs to think past the whole jousting incident that literally blew off his arm. Nimona, though forced to leave the entire kingdom more for the safety of Blackheart than anything, leaves with the knowledge that though there are lots of nasty people out there that tried to use her for her powers, there are also people out there that are good, such as Ballister, and would accept her and stand beside her when she needs that support. The end of the story gives the conclusion that though they might be driven apart due to the horrors of the past, they can still come back together and that they can recover from the suffering they went through.
Stevenson, Noelle. Nimona. New York: HarperCollins, 2015. Print.