Cleopatra In Space (Book 1): Target Practice by Mike Maihack
If you’ve read the excellent Zita books and are looking for a similar title, Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice is the graphic novel you’re looking for. Just like Zita, Cleopatra is a young, independent, intelligent girl who, though stuck in space, manages to enjoy the adventures that fate has set before her. Cleopatra is a fifteen-year-old girl in Ancient Egypt who goes exploring with her friend, a boy named Gozi. They find a tomb, and in a reversal of classic adventure books, the girl is the brave one who goes in first and finds the one particular treasure among many that transports her to the far future. The boy is left behind never to be mentioned or seen again throughout the rest of the book.
When she arrives in the future, she is told that she is the Messiah, the one who will save them all from the evil Octavian. HOW she will save them is not specified, but many believe that the prophecy of the ancient scroll is correct, and Cleo, as she likes to be called, will be the savior of the Nile Galaxy. There are some who doubt the prophecy, particularly Cleo, and eventually those who doubt send her on a small quest that nearly costs her her life. Her guide on this quest, a talking cat named Professor Khensu, is angry at the council after what was supposed to be a normal mission for students at this futuristic academy: “That was NO routine training assignment,” he yells at them. Clearly those in charge are not all in agreement.
Most of the book, however, does not focus on adults, even if most of them seem to be cats and aliens. The kids are the stars, and they all look human for the most part. Cleo finds a new friend in her roommate, Akila, and she starts to get to know Akila’s friend Brian, a boy with a crush on Akila and/or Cleo. He loves to invent, and his inventions will play a part in Cleo’s mission. Most of the time, these kids go to classes, get stuck in detention, have parties, plan for dances, etc. This graphic novel is part campus novel so most kids will get a kick out of watching Cleo’s reaction to school in the future.
The background of this story looks like it’s a rich, complex, promising one, and I think the author has major plans beyond this first volume since he spends two pages talking about “The Blight” and then doesn’t develop it much more. I get the sense that he primarily wants us to get to know the characters, while letting us know that future volumes will reveal there’s more to the story than just action (though it is good action).
Basically, “The Blight” refers to Octavian’s releasing a pulse that destroyed every electronic recording in existence while at the same time giving him access to that information. Considering that Cleo lived in a pre-electronic era and traveled so far in the future that any technology’s being wiped out is a catastrophe for any civilization on any planet, I think author Maihack is going to be developing some thematic concerns about technology, storing information electronically, and our dependence on technology as a society.
What I love about this book is the action, humor, minimal dialogue, and breath-taking artwork. The action is great because Cleo just happens to be a natural when it comes to using a Ray Gun (though she does not excel in her other required courses). This book reads very fast, but it’s supposed to because of all this visual action combined with very little text. The dialogue is good, realistic, and never over-written. Instead, it’s minimal since most of the humor comes through facial expressions and body language that let us know how to react to non-verbal action or let us know that certain dialogue is ironic. In other words, the interplay between the words and the images is so smooth and subtle, it’s easy to miss how brilliant it is. The book is also fast because much of the book is given over to beautiful artwork, particularly some phenomenal, two-page futuristic cityscapes and skylines. The art in the book deserves a second and third read, as well as a slow first read if one can resist turning the pages quickly to find out what happens next. I think most kids will read this book at least twice for the story and the art. I think adults will read it once for the story and at least one more time for the art.
It’s difficult to find fault with the book. I suppose the biggest problem is that I want more of the overall story than I got here. But the nature of comics demands that artists get paid for a part of a long, epic story before moving on to the next part. What reads fast as a finished product must have taken an incredible amount of time to produce. So, I encourage you to buy this first book, which is really the first few chapters in what I hope will one day be considered a classic science fiction adventure published as a substantial, lengthy volume. I can tell the author loves the work, too. Very rarely do I make this plea: Buy this book so the author will get a chance to tell us more about the adventures of Cleo. And if you have a second- to eighth-grader in the family, this book is a must-read along with Bone, Zita, and The Olympians.