By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X
Cleopatra in Space is technically no longer operational, but it isn’t because the author decided to call it quits. It’s because he’s gone beyond the internet and established himself in the comics business outside of a purely internet following. Ladies and gentlemen, Cleopatra in Space is the first webcomic we’ve looked at here which has actually hit the big time.
Cleopatra in Space started off as the hobby of Mike Maihack, a small-time comic artist who liked to draw cats and superheroes. He eventually turned it into more than just a hobby, getting a graphic novel deal with Scholastic. The webcomic serves as the prototype to the graphic novel series, depicting its general tone and containing more-or-less the same characters and plot. It is important as both the foundation of the graphic novels and as a pleasant diversion.
The webcomic’s title almost says it all. Our hero is the teenaged Cleopatra VII, who has been pulled from her native era of 52 BC to the very, very distant future. She is enrolled in a military school where she must learn to the fight off an evil alien race, fulfilling her destiny as the prophesied heroine. When she decides to play hooky, however, that’s where things get interesting. Her mentor, a talking cat named Khensu, is going to have his hands full keeping her out of trouble.
Drawing inspiration from old B-movies of the space opera persuasion, Cleopatra in Space is a delightfully fun, thoroughly enjoyable read. It’s foremost virtue is the author’s willingness to combine the blatantly silly with the appropriately serious. The core concept of an ancient Egyptian princess fighting evil aliens in space is too charmingly ridiculous not to like!
Cleo is a loveable protagonist, slightly reminiscent of the dorky yet unsinkable Stephanie Brown. She has an unbeatable gumption, the temperament of a not-so-typical teenage girl, and an adorable sense of bravado that is neither exaggerated nor played completely seriously. Cleo belongs to that old-fashioned class of hero, the sort of hero who can throw a punch, tell a joke, and kiss a girl (or guy, in her case). If anything, it’s as if she combines all of the best elements of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo of Star Wars into one hero while still having her own personality.
Also notable is her supporting cast, namely Khensu. I’ve never been particularly fond of cats, but a talking cat who is also a history teacher? Now you’re speaking my language! Khensu has this aura of quiet dignity about him which makes you forget that this is a talking feline in question. He’s the perfect straight-man to Cleo, highlighting the inherent silliness of her character with the even greater silliness of his own.
But for all the fun and silliness that this strip runs on, is still has the capacity for high drama. Khensu’s interview before a council of cat bureaucrats (Bureaucats?), where Cleo is eavesdropping, is a particularly notable scene. It gives exposition in a justified, engaging way, develops Khensu, and demonstrates Cleo’s range of emotion. I’m not sure if this faucet carries over to the graphic novels, but I’d love to find out.
The first few strips, drawn in black and white, start off slow. But once things get into color, that’s the signal that the strip is about to become quality. The art itself is well-suited to the tone Maihack is communicating, with the soft lines, bright colors, and cartoony atmosphere. The fact that Maihack is able to use his art to set a diverse array of emotions is a mark of his understated talent.
All told, the webcomic version of Cleopatra in Space may be confined to the internet, but it is nevertheless worth reading. If nothing else, it is a wonderful preview for the graphic novel series. The official preview for the first book in the Cleopatra in Space graphic novel series, Target Practice, is available on Maihack’s official site. If you want to help get your kids interested in comics, or reading in general, this is exactly the sort of thing you should draw their attention to.
Images courtesy of cowshell.com
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