Sunday, March 16, 2014

31 Days of Short Reviews #16: Mike Maihack

Scholastic is launching yet another series of young adult adventure comics in Cleopatra In Space. The first volume, Target Practice, consists almost entirely of set-up, apart from an exciting opening sequence. As such, the book almost screams "infodump" as it introduces its premise and supporting characters. Despite being able to see through the book's structure, it works because it's charming in every way. Despite the fact that this is commercial work, it's obvious that the artist, Mike Maihack, loves drawing pretty but not overly sexualized girls, cats and ray guns. The plot is total nonsense: Cleopatra is thrust forward into the future at the age of fifteen in order to serve as the savior of a galactic civilization that's being threatened by a dread, information-devouring empire. Maihack unapologetically makes Cleo speak like a typical teenager, with modern teenage problems. The real Cleopatra was just seven years away from seducing Julius Caesar and securing her grip on the Egyptian throne, but Cleo in this book laments being confined to the palace and wants a life of adventure.

Prior to all that, that opening sequence is straight out of the Indiana Jones playbook, as Cleo takes a stolen item and tries to escape an entire tribe of cute but dangerous aliens, barely getting out of situation by the skin of her teeth, thanks to the talking cat that's driving her sphinx-shaped rocket vehicle. Yes, the book starts out silly but grounds every one of its future plot points in the expositional pipe that's laid down after that opening sequence. We meet the talking cats of the future and get some hints at discord in the talking-animal council; we meet the characters who prove to be Cleo's best friend and potential love interest in the future, and we see how Cleo's expertise with a slingshot transfers into an expertise with ray guns. This is a book aimed at 8-12 year olds, and it seems like it would have immediate appeal to that age group--both boys and girls. Maihack's line is cartoony and has the appeal of a certain kind of stripped-down style inspired by animation, but it feels like it was drawn, rather than assembled. The color accents the work but doesn't dominate Maihack's line. Cleo is funny and sassy but also flawed as she and everyone else tries to figure out how the prophecy that brought her there will actually enable this teenager to save the universe. There's a fluidity in the storytelling and character development that makes this a light and breezy read from beginning to end, as Maihack never lets the plot-driven need to introduce new characters and subplot detract from the delightful energy on every page that surrounds his Cleopatra.

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