I’m a sucker for graphic novels with great protagonists. A good case in point is Ben Hatke’s recently completed Zita the Spacegirl comic series—comprised of Zita the Spacegirl, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, and The Return of Zita the Spacegirl—published earlier this summer. Framed with Hatke’s outstanding artwork, the series is an earnest, adorable and kick-ass story following Zita’s adventures far out in space.
In Zita the Spacegirl, Zita and her friend Joseph come across a meteorite with a device embedded in it. Impulsively, Zita pushes the button, and Joseph is grabbed and pulled through a portal that quickly closes. After a couple of minutes of panic, Zita pushes the button again and jumps through the portal into an alien world. There, she meets a whole host of fantastic characters – the simple but strong Strong Strong, Piper, Mouse and One, and finds herself on a world about to end. All the while, she sets out to try and find her kidnapped friend. In Legends of Zita The Spacegirl, Zita’s adventures continue as a robotic doppelgänger steals her identity and causes a whole host of problems. Zita meets up with a new crowd of space outlaws as she travels the galaxy to try and make things right, all while confronting her desires to return to Earth and working to save a new planet from destruction. The final volume of the trilogy, The Return of Zita the Spaceggirl, picks up after its predecessor, as Zita and company are captured and imprisoned, and aided by an unlikely ally as a full-blown escape brews.
In recent years, attention to the role of women in science fiction stories has grown greater and louder, and for good reason: there’s certainly a disproportionate coverage between genders, and the roles women are often portrayed with rarely equal the roles men often occupy. It’s a long-standing and deep-seated issue. Hatke’s Zita series is a breath of fresh air, with an outstanding young woman acting with an incredible amount of agency in the face of some pretty incredible odds. Zita is brave, vulnerable, excited and optimistic as events whirl around her, and it’s exciting to see her change and grow over the course of the three books. It’s stories like this that make me really happy, because it’s the sort of thing girls and boys can read at an impressionable age and get excited about adventures in ways that haven’t really been popular before. The stories certainly break certain gender stereotypes, but that’s never really the issue at the forefront, and it’s the best way for this to be presented. The stories are exciting, at points heartbreaking, but always entertaining. Along with Zita’s fantastic adventures, Ben Hatke’s artwork is fantastic. It’s cartoonish in all the best ways and imaginative in scale. There’s broad worlds, fantastic aliens and technology populating the pages. Hatke’s world is imaginative, fresh, and quite a lot of fun to read as you blow through page after page.
Zita’s rise as a character is at the forefront of each book. At the start, she’s a normal child. She’s brash and somewhat impulsive, and she seems perfectly suited for adventures all over the place. Yet, in the beginning, she’s also somewhat afraid in new surroundings, before she collects herself and gets ready to find her friend. Over the course of the three volumes, Zita becomes more than just a one note character. From the first book, she’s getting her feet steady in this new world and adapting to crisis. By the last book, she’s grown, and Hatke explores some fairly grim themes that challenge everyone involved. By the end of the trilogy, she’s a hero, and a fantastic role model for anyone who picks up these books, young and old.
If there’s any flaw to these books, it’s that they’re over far too quickly. Each book can be breezed through in a sitting. We recommend pacing yourself.