The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

Return of Zita the SpacegirlZita and her friends are back, this time to conduct a jailbreak, rescue prisoners from the corrupt Doom Squad that runs a penitentiary planet, and save earth from the evil Screed and their leader the Dungeon Lord.

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl brings back characters from the first two Zita books and introduces a few more.  While in prison, Zita meets a talking rag pile name Raggy and a skeleton named Femur who are two creative additions to the cast.  Ben Hatke’s artwork, characters, and story maintain the quality of the earlier books, and Return of Zita finishes the series strong.  Best of all, Hatke introduces new themes, pointing out Zita’s character flaw of impulsiveness that leads to problems in all three books.  When Zita tries to defend herself during her trial at the beginning of Return of Zita the Spacegirl, she admits that she didn’t think about the possible outcomes of her actions when she destroyed the asteroid, killed the Star Hearts, and stole a spaceship in the previous books.  The story doesn’t delve much deeper into this subject, but Return of Zita the Spacegirl shows that wrong means to a good end can often result in unintended and disastrous consequences.

When Zita finally returns home, she will not be the same girl who left, for her adventures have changed her.  Now, Zita is ready for whatever lies ahead, whether on Earth or in space.  Her adventures have taught her about courage, friendship, and most of all about herself, for as Hatke quotes at the beginning of the third book, “I went coast to coast, and from star to star / That’s how you learn, just who you are” (1).

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Say Hello to Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth

hilo-coverMeet Daniel Jackson Lim, or D.J. as everyone calls him.  As a middle child of middling capabilities in a family of extremely smart, athletic, and successful brothers, sisters, and parents, D.J. thinks there’s only one thing he’s good at:  being friends with Gina, his next-door-neighbor.  Since Gina moved away, though, D.J. has been alone and has lost the one part of life in which he felt successful.  Now, life is just average.  One day, though, a little boy hurtles from the sky and craters into a field behind D.J.’s house, and Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick begins.

D.J. soon discovers that the newcomer in the backyard is just as unusual as his method of arrival.  Ecstatic, curious, and talkative, the boy introduces himself as “Hilo,” and D.J. quickly learns that a name, shiny underpants, and a bad case of amnesia are Hilo’s only apparent worldly possessions.  After smuggling Hilo into his house, D.J. feeds, clothes, and befriends him.  Before long, though, Hilo’s past begins catching up with him, and D.J. finds himself caught up in life-threatening adventures with his new friend.  D.J. realizes that, in addition to being a good friend, he’s good at something else:  running for his life from alien robots.

hilo-comic-pageJudd Winick and artist Guy Major have designed a colorful, quirky book which has illustrations that match the exuberance of its characters.  Hilo is both fun and easy to read due to well-planned panels.  Even though the panels are irregular in size, varying from full page spreads to five sections on a page, the transitions between pictures are simple and smooth.

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick is a hilarious story peopled by funny characters with personalities that remain believable, even in a fictional story.  This book will entertain and delight audiences of many ages with its characters, setting, and new twist on science fiction and alien stories.

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Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

legends-of-zita-the-spacegirlZita is still far from home, but after saving Scriptorius from an asteroid in the first book Zita the Spacegirl, she is now a galactic hero.  Being famous, though, is not all she might have expected.  For instance, there are the crowds of jostling alien and robot fans which Zita would rather avoid.  Matters only grow worse when an “imprint-o-tron” robot shows up, becomes fixated on Zita, and imitates her identity.  Zita meets the look-alike robot and switches places with it so she can enjoy a day of fun with Mouse while her look-alike handles the mob of fans.  One hitch in this plan is that the robot wants to become Zita, not just copy her.  Consequently, a seemingly innocent deception and excursion leave Zita and Mouse stranded on Scriptorius, and the imposter robot heads off on Zita’s ship with Piper, One, and Strong-Strong to save another planet.  In Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, Zita is off through space on another dangerous adventure.

Though Zita continues to show good character qualities such as courage and devotion to her friends, her weaknesses outweigh her strengths more in Legends than they did in the first book.  Zita’s most common failing is acting on impulse.  Her intergalactic adventures began after she thoughtlessly pushed a red button, and her adventures continue after she impetuously decides to swap with a look-alike and then steal a spaceship to chase down her friends.  In this way, seemingly innocuous rashness leads Zita into deception and theft.  Now, thanks to her thoughtless actions, the public is questioning whether Zita is a hero or a villain, and she is on the run with only Mouse to help her.

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl continues Zita’s story well, with fun characters, exotic settings, and dangers that call for quick thinking and fast acting.  The story lacks some of the momentum that the first book had, and Hatke spends less time developing his characters’ personalities, but all in all Legends of Zita the Spacegirl is a good sequel and suggests that the final book will be worth reading as well.

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Interplanetary Adventures

If you find a device with a red button in a meteoroid crater, don’t push the button…    unless you want to be whisked off your feet into another world.

Far from HomeAfter Zita pushes the aforementioned button to annoy her timid friend Joseph, Joseph is kidnapped and taken to another planet by an evil bounty hunter.  Remorseful Zita instantly pushes the button again to follow and rescue her friend.  Where she lands turns out to be a planet of robots and aliens, but there’s no time for sightseeing, for Zita must locate and save Joseph before an asteroid hits in three days.  Soon, through her kind behavior, Zita has rounded up a ragtag band of trusty, but not necessarily reliable, friends.  The newfound help includes a crafty human named Piper, a giant Mouse who communicates with a printing device on his collar, a blustering and belligerent battle orb named One, the rusty robot Randy, and a soft-hearted alien named Strong-Strong.

Author and illustrator Ben Hatke vivifies the world and characters of Zita the Spacegirl with colorful, cartoonlike pictures that make the story fun.  In addition, he smoothly transitions from panel to panel, making this children’s graphic novel easy to follow and enjoy.

Though the book is primarily an entertaining adventure story, the bravery and kindness which Zita exhibits fill the story with wholesomeness.  Much like in fairy tales where a compassionate and sweet-natured girl, such as Cinderella, wins friendship from animals and humans by her kindness, charity, and courage, so Zita wins unexpected friends through her own caring acts.

Zita the Spacegirl: Far from Home is a story that will delight young audiences and refresh older ones.  At times the story and characters are predictable, but Ben Hatke has a few surprises up his sleeve as the plot unfolds, and he introduces enough twists to make the protagonists creative and likeable.  Zita the Spacegirl: Far from Home is the first installment in the Zita the Spacegirl trilogy, and I’m curious to see where Hatke goes with the sequels.

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Three Newspaper Comics and Avengers: Age of Ultron

Flint has been busy penning articles about comic books and movies at our other writing blog this year.  Here are two reviews he has written, one of something old and one of something new.

Prince Valiant

Prince Valiant

3 Titles from the Golden Age” – Flint discusses Terry and the PiratesSecret Agent X-9, and Prince Valiant, three newspaper comic series which began in the 1930s and later became standalone comic books.  Several years ago, Flint and Bone briefly reviewed Prince Valiant in their “Ten Great Newspaper Comics” article.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron – Flint analyzes the story and entertainment value of the Avengers film which came out in May of this year.

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Superman Redux

I am not the Man of Steel’s biggest fan. In fact, I am quite the opposite, because while I have enjoyed the occasional superhero tale that includes Superman (most notably Justice and Kingdome Come), he has never impressed me as a solo act. I found Superman’s most recent film, Man of Steel, to be predictable, the motivations of its characters contrived. In general, Superman’s array of powers–his strength, speed, ability to fly, x-ray vision, ice-cold breath, and eyes that shoot lasers–makes him one of the most overpowered superheroes in the history of comics.

And in most cases, I find this monotonous. His only weaknesses are Kryptonite, Lois Lane, and (possibly) his desire to help people. Character flaws? Practically none. Is it difficult for me to identify with such a character? Absolutely.redson1

So imagine my surprise after picking up Superman: Red Son (written by Mark Millar), and discovering a really interesting “what-if” tale: what if Superman crash-landed not in America but in Russia just prior to the Cold War? What if he absorbed his Communist upbringing and sought to spread the Soviet regime worldwide? And what if Lex Luthor (Superman’s nemesis) was a brilliant American scientist seeking the means to defeat this Russian superman?

This is the story of Superman: Red Son. Without significantly altering Superman’s character, this comic shows how Superman’s goodness blinds him to the hurt he is causing humanity in his attempt to spread his Communist ideas. This is a complex, layered tale that left me thinking long after I finished.

The cover artwork and costume coloring in Superman: Red Son are styled after Soviet-era propaganda posters, giving the tale an appropriately vintage look:

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Though I stand by my criticism of Superman as a character, I have found a welcome exception in Superman: Red Son, a story which gives a more interesting, albeit different, portrait of the Man of Steel. If you found this review interesting, you may want to have a look at Flint’s review of Kingdome Come.

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Calamity Jack

Calamity Jack Cover“I think of myself as a criminal mastermind…with an unfortunate amount of bad luck,” admits Jack (4).  And with these words, Shannon and Dean Hale launch their latest graphic novel, Calamity Jack, in which Jack from Rapunzel’s Revenge returns – this time starring in his own tale.

Calamity Jack is set in Shyport, a metropolis miles away from the western wilds of Gothel’s Reach where Jack and Rapunzel first met.  Shyport is populated by townspeople and thugs, as well as fantastical creatures like brownies, giants, Jabberwocks, and Bandersnatches (a creative nod to Lewis Carroll).  And then there’s Jack, who realizes at the early age of two that his calling is thievery.  Jack also discovers this depressing equation about himself:  Jack + Great Plan = Unforeseen (Usually Calamitous) Results.  Not disheartened, Jack doesn’t let bad outcomes squelch his ambitions.  As a result, he accidentally demolishes his mother’s bakery, angers a giant, and has to leave Shyport in a hurry.  Out west, as told in Rapunzel’s Revenge, Jack meets and befriends Rapunzel and helps her overthrow the witch Gothel.  Jack then returns home with Rapunzel to rebuild his mother’s bakery.  All’s not well at home, though.  Shyport is under attack from sizeable and ferocious Ant People, and Jack’s enemy Blunderboar is now in control of the city as head of a police force of giants.  It’s up to Jack, Rapunzel, a pixie named Prudence, and the newspaperman Frederick Sparksmith the Third to uncover the truth about what is happening in Shyport and save the city.

CollageAs the plot unfolds, Jack struggles with the consequences of his larcenous past.  Jack had planned for the act of thievery which landed him in his present trouble to be his final heist and to enable him to restore his mother’s bakery.  Instead, Jack’s “ends-justifies-means” methodology results in the obliteration of the bakery and disaster for himself, his family, and his city.  Perhaps the authors intend this for reasons beyond the storyline.  Perhaps they want Calamity Jack to show the problems of pragmatism and the unforeseen consequences that stealing can have – even after the thief has reformed.  In fact, though not as elegantly executed as “A Retrieved Reformation” by O. Henry, Calamity Jack contains similar valuable insights.

In addition to these direct ramifications of his thieving, Jack also struggles with how his past will affect his future, even though he has reformed.  If Rapunzel discovers he used to be just like the bad guys she’s always defeating, will it destroy their friendship?

Once again, Shannon and Dean Hale have woven a story worth reading, and Nathan Hale has brought it to life with his art.  Characters, setting, story, and themes all combine to make Calamity Jack a fun adventure and an excellent sequel to Rapunzel’s Revenge.

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