Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

By Maureen Tai, 22 June 2018

“Two arms two legs? Anyone?’ – Zita

IMG_4153Planet Earth. An enormous crater scars a grassy clearing in some woods. Zita and Joseph chance upon the depression and discover a squareish object within the meteoroid that lies smouldering at the bottom of the hole. There is an enticing red button on the object, which of course, Zita mischievously pushes. Multiple times.

And of course, all hell breaks loose.

Menacing tentacles snake from a shimmering portal and wrap around the terrified Joseph, snatching him away. Fearful but resolved to save the friend she has thoughtlessly imperilled, Zita presses the button again, and is teleported to a fantastical world inhabited by giant snails, walking clumps of turf, many-limbed and many-eyed blobular creatures and robots of all shapes and sizes. In shock, Zita is jostled by the crowds and she drops the precious device, which is promptly stomped on and crushed by a lumbering but benevolent being, Strong Strong. With no way home and her friend kidnapped by presumably sinister forces, Zita retreats to the slums of The Tatters, where she licks her wounds and tries to make sense of her situation.

It gets worse before it gets better. Zita learns that the planet that she transported herself to is on a collision course with an asteroid that will destroy it and all its inhabitants in a mere three days time. Those who can flee have done so, and those who remain wait in solemn resignation for the end to come. They are all doomed.

Our spunky heroine is not deterred.  After a rather hasty intervention in a brewing brawl, Zita makes the acquaintance of another human, a tall, lanky and goateed fellow who himself is keen to flee the ill-fated planet.  Piper, who has a whiff of mystery about him, collects and refurbishes “vintage items,” mechanical odds and sods that litter the domed residence that he shares with a gentle oversized rodent called Mouse.  From there, Zita – accompanied by Mouse – embarks on a perilous quest to save Joseph from the planet’s original settlers, the Scriptorians, who appear to have taken him in the misguided hope that the boy will save their planet from destruction.  Will Zita and the eccentric but well-meaning companions that she fortuitously encounters on her way to the Scriptorian Castle, find and save Joseph, as well as themselves? But of course!

Zita the Spacegirl is a zippy, action-packed read that is chock-full of imaginative  and intriguing human and alien characters, drawn simply but with such mastery that they jump, slide, swerve and fly effortlessly from panel to panel, page by page.  The dialogue is punchy – although most of it is delivered by Zita’s companions rather than Zita herself – and the story unfolds layer by suspenseful layer until the reader is left, at the end, with the satisfying kernel of truth and understanding.  Zita herself is a well-balanced protagonist – strong, resilient and kick-ass when she has to be, but thoughtful, remorseful and empathetic when the situation calls for it.  Did I mention that the billowing green cape makes for an awesome Halloween costume as well?

For ages 6 and up.

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