I am still working through some problems on my end of this weekly review column, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s hope it isn’t actually a cartoon train heading for your beloved tipster, though that could be hilarious.
My top pick for the week is Nimona by Noelle Stevenson [HarperTeen; hardcover, $17.99; softcover, $12.99]. Starting out as a webcomic, this National Book Award finalist is a fantasy adventure that is, by turns, action-packed, frightening, funny and poignant. I’d buy the hardcover for your own home library and the softcover to share with family and friends who, afterward, will be forever grateful to you for turning them on to this graphic novel.
Nimona is a seemingly young, unquestionably powerful shapeshifter who attaches herself to “super-villain” Lord Ballister Blackheart. Blackheart, a one-armed former knight, at first resists taking her on his sidekick in his ongoing war against the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. But he comes to see her value as an ally, despite his horror against her violent ways. Nimona keeps her past hidden, but the bond that forms between “villain” and “henchperson” breaks down the walls each have created.
Blackheart is an amazingly benign villain, almost a Robin Hood in this world that mixes magic and science as a matter of course. His nemesis is Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, the knight who was his dearest friend until Goldenloin cut off his arm. Their relationship is as complicated as it gets, especially as Ambrose begins to question the Institution’s intentions and methods.
Stevenson’s writing and art are razor-sharp. You can hear the words coming out of the speech balloons, probably in British accents. Or maybe that’s me. Her drawings appear to be deceptively unfinished. They are not. They are expressive and take the reader from panel to panel. They explode with action and they take the reader into the souls of the main characters. I love this book.
Once again, I am absolutely flabbergasted by the incredible number of great comics works that were published in 2015. How can I choose between them when it comes time to vote for the Will Eisner Awards and its fellow awards? It seems impossible.
Despite all the competition, Nimona deserves to be nominated this time around. It’s a masterful graphic novel that’ll be a cherished friend for many years to come.
I’m not sure I have the following sequence of events correct, but I’ll take a shot at it. First there were the DC Comics Collectibles Bombshells statues inspired by pinups and fashion of the 1940s and 1950s. These statues looked so darn cool that DC followed them with a series of variant covers of the retro-heroines. The images were as cool in two dimensions as they had been in three. Thus was born DC Comics Bombshells, a digital-first ongoing series by Marguerite Bennett with art by Marguerite Sauvage and others. It launched last July with the print version following shortly thereafter. This is where I come in.
Intrigued by those statues and variant covers, I bought DC Comics Bombshells #1 while attending a pulp convention in Columbus, Ohio. The series is set in an alternate universe going through its not-dissimilar-to-our World War II. But the characters were familiar to the ones I knew from the overall DC Universe.
Kate Kane was Batwoman and in a relationship with police detective Maggie Sawyer. Amanda Waller was imposing without reeking of evil. Wonder Woman was on Themyscira with Amazons who are somewhat more bloodthirsty than I prefer and she is smitten with Steve Trevor, the first man she’s ever seen. That first issue ended with a female Russian pilot revealed as a super-human and branded as a traitor. Yeah, I was hooked.
Since then, in issues seemingly building towards an epic, Bennett has introduced her alternate world’s versions of Mera (who I love), the Joker’s Daughter (who I have always thought was one of the most idiotic concepts ever to appear in a DC comic book), Zatanna, John Constantine (one of the few male heroes to appear in this series) and others. The Russian pilot and her sister have been pressed into service by their government as the Supergirl and the Stargirl, and learned Mother Russia has some very dark secrets. Praise to Bennett for making this title fun without diminishing the terrible cost of the war and the villainy of those who launched it.
The first six issues of this series will be collected in DC Comics: Bombshells Volume 1 [$16.99], which is scheduled for an early March release. If you like strong female characters, if you are open to somewhat different versions of beloved characters, then I’m pretty sure you’re gonna love this series as much as I do.
Several months back, a reader described Eric Larsen’s Savage Dragon [Image; $3.99 per issue] as a “teen sex comedy.” While that might not be entirely unfair, it’s akin to the blind men each describing the part of the elephant they are touching. I read and enjoy Savage Dragon because, as a whole, it’s like no other super-hero title in the comics marketplace. It’s unique, which is an adjective I don’t use lightly.
Savage Dragon is many things. If you flip through most issues, you would see fast-moving, often brutal super-hero slugfests. But you would also see a generational story; the current star of the title is the son of the original lead character. You’d see a “coming of age” story as Malcolm Dragon graduates from high school, considers career options, has a lot of sex, falls in love, gets married and prepares for fatherhood. You’d see a very large cast of supporting characters and quickly realize none of them are assured continued health. You’d see a comic book that doesn’t play it safe.
Larsen’s writing, which is always the most important element of a comic book, is quite good. His dialogue comes off as natural for a frenzied book of this nature. He generally gives enough background so that, the enormous cast of characters not withstanding, I don’t feel lost.
His art? It’s big and boisterous and fun. His visual storytelling, the panel-to-panel and page-to-page progression of his stories, is as good as his writing.
Larsen’s dedication to Savage Dragon is remarkable in this day and age. I just read issue #210 of the title and he’s written and drawn all of them. I admire his passion for his creation.
If all of the above weren’t enough for me to recommend this series to you, each issue has many pages of extra features: a very lively letters column as well as stories by other creators. It delivers a good bang for your four bucks. Give it a try.
I’ll be back next week with more reviews.
© 2016 Tony Isabella