The Upside-Down Villainy of Nimona Jan25

The Upside-Down Villainy of Nimona...

Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! These are all things that make up Noelle Stevenson’s web-comic-turned-graphic-novel, Nimona, a silly but poignant story about heroes and villains. The twist in this tale? In Nimona, the villains aren’t really villains and the heroes aren’t really heroes. This is a story in which a kingdom has a Champion (the “good guy,”) and a Villain (the “bad guy”) who follow a routine: the Villain, Lord Ballister Blackheart, makes some mischief, and the Champion, Ambrosius Goldenloin, fights him off, Ballister goes home and comes up with his next plan, repeat. That all changes when Nimona, a young shapeshifting girl, shows up. As her story unfolds, the deeper question that arises is “what, exactly, makes a villain?” Villains on the surface The two surface villains in this story are Ballister, who wants to bring down the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, and his sidekick Nimona, who just wants to blow things up and cause general chaos. But we soon learn that Ballister has a deeper reason for his actions: he has a grudge against the Institution, which raised him to be Champion and then threw him out after he lost his arm in a joust with Ambrosius, who was his best friend. And, while Ambrosius always maintained that his injury was an accident, Ballister never believed him. Nimona’s origin story is more ambiguous. She can take any form she wants and heals incredibly quickly. Who is she? From where does she come? Those questions aren’t really answered, but there are clues scattered throughout the story: when Ballister wants to learn more about her powers and suggests running some tests on her in his lab, she reacts violently; in a battle with the Institution, she takes the shape of a scaly beast...

Identifying with a Sarcastic Martian Apr04

Identifying with a Sarcastic Martian

Sarcasm is my love language. If anyone can understand what I mean by this, it’s Mark Watney, the protagonist of The Martian novel by Andy Weir. Watney, a brilliant botanist and astronaut, finds himself stranded on Mars after his crew abandons him for dead. Completely isolated, he has to survive in a hostile environment that is basically out to kill him every second of every day. New problems stack up during his indefinite stay on the planet while he waits for a rescue that may never come—how to get enough oxygen? What to eat? Where to get water? How to pass the time when you don’t have Netflix? You know, the important stuff. But perhaps the biggest problem he faces is psychological. How to stay sane? (Remember, there’s no Netflix on Mars.) Watney answers this question with one coping mechanism. Watney is stranded for several months before being able to communicate with Earth. His ten days of isolation training at NASA is a joke. Even the most introverted of people (and I would know) need a certain amount of social interaction to stay mentally sound. How does he deal with his isolation? The only way he can: with humour. “I started the day with some nothin’ tea. Nothin’ tea is easy to make. First, get some hot water, then add nothin’.” (The Martian) Many studies have shown that humour and laughter are therapeutic for relieving tension and anxiety. There is even evidence to support that a good sense of humour can contribute to muscle relaxation, control of pain, positive moods, and overall psychological health. NASA psychologist Al Holland also says it’s actually healthy for a completely isolated person to start interacting with inanimate objects (think of the volleyball named Wilson from Cast Away). Watney has a similar relationship with his camera and logbook, using them to talk out what he is going through. This is also a way for him to express his delightful sarcasm. “Problem is (follow me closely here, the science is pretty complicated) if I cut a hole in the Hab, the air won’t stay inside any more.” (The Martian) Humour, for me, has always been a way of coping with less than optimal experiences and, most importantly, it helps me battle loneliness (that, and Netflix). My close friends know to crack a joke when I am sad, because it will relieve my tension. I know that if I make a joke about my own negative feelings, it will shed some light in my darkness. Growing up in an evangelical Christian environment, I often felt like humour was frowned upon when talking about God or my beliefs (not by my parents, bless my dad’s sarcastic heart, but by “the church” in general). God was serious business; you didn’t joke about him and certainly not with him. (See “A Laughing Matter” for more on humour and the Christian Church.) I only thought to question this later in life. If I’m operating under this presumption that I am created in God’s “own image,” is it so far-fetched to extrapolate that God may have a sense of humour of his own? I mean, talking donkeys, kings literally caught with their pants down, stomachs so big they swallow up the sword they’re stabbed with and it’s not discovered until the autopsy—some of these biblical tales are rather amusing. There’s definitely irony there. Is it so unbelievable that Jesus could have cracked a joke? Wouldn’t his listeners have laughed when he talked about rulers calling themselves “benefactors,” when the working folk knew very well those in authority were just the opposite? That’s actually bordering on sarcasm. Jesus, sarcastic? No, that can’t be right. Could it be that Jesus knew about this trick that Mark Watney employed, that psychologists have confirmed? That humour is the answer to life, the universe, and everything? Okay, fine, perhaps not the answer to everything, but it sure makes my...