Thursday, September 13

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

by Ben Hatke 
First Second 2012 

Out titular (and accidental) heroine returns for continuing adventures as her fame sucks her further and further from ever returning to Earth. Bad for her is good for readers... 

A robot crawls out of its recalled packaging and imprints on the first being it sees: a poster of Zita advertising her tour of various planets as savior of Scriptorious. Finding a mop and fashioning a costume the robot not only begins to look like Zita but starts to adopt aspects of her personality, as witnessed while she is dragged out to sign autographs. Escaping her fans Zita crosses paths with her robot doppelganger and concocts one of the oldest bad ideas in the history of bad ideas: trading places with the robot in exchange for some freedom.

Naturally, this goes terribly wrong.

As Robot Zita learns and adapts and adopts more of Zita's personality it comes to believe it really is Zita, heroic spacegirl. While Zita is away a pair of Lumponian Ambassadors arrive looking for Zita to save their planet from a deadly attack by star hearts. While Zita's minder ponders the situation Robot Zita agrees to save Lumponia and away they leave... without Zita the Spacegirl! Zita and her sidekick Pizzicato the Mouse now must catch up with their friends and save the day, oh, and also do something about that pesky identity-stealing Robot Zita. And after a battle with the Queen of Star Hearts...

...To Be Continued.

The incredibly fast-paced adventure that began with the first Zita the Spacegirl continues here, with so much detail unexplained beyond the illustrations. What I mean is, it is up to the reader to fill in details that can be gleaned from the illustrations, as well they should. Seriously, nothing bogs down world-building faster than explaining why otherwordly creatures look and act the way they do, better to simply let them be (as Hatke does here) and let the reader back-fill whatever they need to know.

Though not as deep in mythology as Jeff Smith's Bone series, the Zita books have an accomplished sense of knowing where they are headed and a deft humor that makes them a joy to read and reread. Rereading will be crucial as details about characters and situations from the first book are left for the reader to recall on their own, just as they will need to consult this volume when the third Zita book comes out. Again, this is not a bad thing, as the books are simply good fun.

Or are they? I think their simplicity and the fast pacing is a sort of slight-of-hand for a non-Aristotlean (or Homeric if you prefer) narrative form.

While it's true that Zita has an overarching goal/desire – she wants to get home – everything that comes her way just piles on as one-damn-thing-after-another. Some narrative purists hate this sort of thing, but it allows for a more organic possibility in storytelling as real life rarely conforms to a Freitag Pyramid. Things do simply happen to Zita while she's in the middle of dealing with something else that's been thrown her way, but Odysseus had the same problems, and with no less freaky creatures to confront. 

So while I welcome (sort of) the continuing adventures of Zita the way I might if reading the Odyssey in serial form, trusting that she'll eventually make her way home, my one quibble is the "To Be Continued" that ends the book. The cliffhanger ending has never really worked for me in any narrative medium, and while I recognize the ending her comes at a good point I hate the feeling like I only got half the story. We could argue this point about sequels and series – you and I fair reader – but sometimes the story ends at a natural point and feels complete and sometimes the cliffhanger aggravates. It's a quibble and doesn't really ruin the fun of Legends of Zita the Spacegirl in the slightest.

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