Sometimes, you pick up a comic book or graphic novel and you have no idea what exactly it is that you’re holding. These rare moment when you get to experience something before its reputation precedes it allow you the pure opportunity to be alone with the book- to analyze, to have revelations, and to enjoy without expectations.

This is the kind of experience I had while reading THE RETURN OF ZITA THE SPACEGIRL. I was fortunate enough to know very little about the book going in, which allowed for maximum appreciation. To me, that type of experience is a kind of discovery, and Zita gives you lots to discover.

From the beginning, we’re introduced to new planets and environments (a staple of the sci-fi/space adventure genre), but Zita leads us on an even more interesting journey than just a trek across space. With this book, the plot, though exciting, seems to take a backseat to the amazing plethora of characters that author/illustrator Ben Hatke has imagined. From violent robots to a mysterious ghost, we find a vast variety of life- some of it even hidden in the typically nonliving (a talkative and curious ragpile and his skeletal cellmate come to mind). Through this array of characters, we see a great development in Zita.

Zita is typically independent, the hero, the leader of her crazy adventures, but here, she is a fish out of water, subject to the wishes of others. How she manages to overcome her own base independence and accept that she does need the help of others shows us great growth in her character. She’s not the only one with an impressive arc, as we see elements of romance develop between other characters as well. Truly, each character is fleshed out, and we really care about Zita’s relationships and friends as much as she does.

This book brings up a lot of deep concepts beyond friendship, such as the consequences of our actions. Through the positive work Zita has tried to do, she’s caused a lot of negative effects on other people and creatures whom she didn’t even consider. It really makes you think about the butterfly effect- what have we all unintentionally caused by our actions?

The plot itself is thoroughly entertaining, and it’s easy to catch up on Zita’s previous exploits. The exposition will fill you in, but at the same time, it doesn’t feel expositional. Everything is presented naturally, which helps when we’re on alien planets in unearthly situations. There are page-turning chase and action sequences which are captured beautifully in the illustrations, and the dialogue tends to shut off in these moments, allowing you to fully focus on the action. Throughout many corners of the universe, we see the reunion of the forces of good, and we even get a bit of a cliffhanger at the end.

The art really pulls everything together. It’s drawn in a cartoon style, reminiscent of a Sunday funnies comic strip, with little extraneous details. However, for the subject matter and audience, this works well. It makes the book accessible to all ages. The subject matter of the story is appropriate for children, but has deep enough implications that adults could pick it up and be just as entertained. To be honest, this is the kind of book that could be very easily and successfully adapted to a cartoon television show (and I would definitely tune in if it were).

In all, I would have to recommend picking this book up and checking it out. The characters are imaginative and well-developed, with depths that rival and surpass many others in the medium. The art is impressive as well, managing to take a sci-fi adventure story and make it accessible to all ages. The plot and themes make it a thoroughly enjoyable voyage for the reader. I, for one, can’t wait to read the continued adventures of Zita the Spacegirl. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the galaxy will need her once again.

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