How can you not love a graphic novel titled, Cleopatra in Space? Just when I was quietly mourning the end of Ben Hatke's Zita the Spacegirl trilogy, Mike Maihack gives us a new spacegirl to root for. As is the way with many great graphic novels, Cleopatra in Space began life as a webcomic in 2009 and ran until 2012 when Maihack began working on the graphic novel format of the story. Cleopatra in Space Book One: Target Practice sets up the story, introduces the characters and gives readers a little taste of what lies ahead for this time traveling Egyptian royal. Like Chris Grine's fantastic ChickenHare, Maihack leaves us wanting to know more about everything - from the world of the Nile Galaxy to the aliens and humans that inhabit it to the prophecy that has brought the fifteen year old Cleopatra VII into the future and outer space.
When we first see Cleopatra, she is tearing through a jungle terrain with cute but vicious looking creatures on her tail. Just when it looks like she's done for, a golden flying sphinx with a sidecar (and a cat sitting in it) rescues her. They zoom off into the atmosphere and the next page finds us on Earth, "many, many, many years ago." It is Cleopatra's fifteenth birthday, which marks her readiness to begin her reign as a queen, but first she has to learn some algebra from her royal tutor, her cat Kosey at her side. Fortunately, the chamomile Cleo slipped into his tea gives her the chance to run free, yet again, and bust her best friend out of school to take in some slingshot-target-practice.
When a spot-on shot leads to the collapse of a nearby temple where a secret door is revealed, Gozi and Cleo head inside to explore. Cleo finds a glowing tablet and begins reading the prophecy on it and moments later she is transported into the future. Khensu, the "great-great-great-many-greats" grandson of Kosey fills Cleo in. She is on Planet Mayet in the Ailuros System, home of the Pharoh Yasiro's Research and Military Initiative of Defense (P.Y.R.A.M.I.D) which is led by a council of cats. The cats (which have very cool names like Msamaki, Talibath, Akins, Spook and Misti...) fill Cleo in on the danger that the Nile Galaxy faces and her potential role in saving it.
Maihack's blend of futuristic science fiction concepts and art and ancient Egyptian culture and mythology is fantastic. The Xerx race, the bad guys, found a way to ruin cities by sending out a pulse that wiped out all of their electronic records, "stripping civilizations of their histories, economies, and governments." That is when the pharaoh Yasiro became a scribe, making physical records of all the information he could. This was also when the ancient scroll detailing the arrival of a hero was uncovered. Maihack adds another layer to the story, sending Cleo to school where she gets a few friends, Akila and Brian, the brain who builds her "sphinx bike," as well as some schooling in the usual topics as well as alien languages and target practice, which she excels at. She also meets the reclusive Pharaih Yosira, granddaughter to Yasiro, who is her age.
Maihack's palette in Cleopatra in Space is superb, with lots of magentas and purples making in the Nile Galaxy, which feels different for this kind of graphic novel. Cleo has some attitude and some impulse control issues that feel a little to familiar at times, but overall the concept and story that Maihack is crafting is intriguing and I can't wait to see Cleo interact with the big cast of characters he has introduced - especially the Pharaoh Yosira!
Cleopatra in Space Book 2: The Sword and the Thief, which is due out in April of 2015, finds Cleo failing a training exercise, jeopardizing her friendship her roommate and best friend Akila and stalked by a mysterious new student at the academy who is working for the enemy...