Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Fame Monster (Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke)

                NOTE: Spoilers are contained within this review. You have been warned. 
Superfans of Zita the Spacegirl must check out the Kids' Comics Revolution all-star podcast devoted to all things Zita.  If you listen carefully, you'll hear a booktalk from me. If you want to booktalk the orignial Zita the Spacegirl, feel free to use this booktalk I wrote.  

            From Beowulf to Batman, stories of heroism often live lives of their own, far beyond their original tales. As they are retold and reinterpreted, they evolve and become something more; they become legends. But fame can turn to infamy in the minds of the masses, who are fickle in their appreciation of their vigilante superheroes. Zita never wanted to become a legend – or a villain. She wanted to rescue her friend, Joseph, and in the process, helped to save the planet Scriptorius from a deadly asteroid. But her fans see her as a larger than life hero, which makes her incredibly uncomfortable. In Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, Ben Hatke’s sequel to his hugely successful graphic novel, Zita the Spacegirl, Zita’s intergalactic adventures take a dark turn as Hatke explores the price of fame and the true meaning of heroism within the fantastic world of his own making that reveals much about our own world of celebrity. 
            In the tradition of great science fiction and fantasy, the world of Hatke’s novel is carefully constructed as a fusion of the exotic and familiar. The creatures he has crafted are bizarre and otherworldly, with rainbow tentacles, glowing eyes, and technological bling, yet they express distinctly humanoid behavior and emotions. The relationships that Zita develops with characters like Mouse/Pizzicato, Glissando, the cat, and even her robot doppelganger emotionally resonate because of Hatke’s thoughtful approach to developing the characters and the world of the story. The facets and rules of the world are revealed as Zita learns them, which helps readers identify with Zita’s discovery process. Hatke cleverly places clues about the universe Zita is exploring throughout the book, from the recalled imprint-o-tron packaging to Gilliam’s Big Book of Robots and Automata in Piper’s vast library in order to reveal information at just the right time. World building is crucial for the success of a story of this magnitude, but unlike other fantasies that may offer background information as exposition, Hatke uses it to move the plot forward. The medium of graphic novels is perfect for this kind of showing, rather than telling, that helps readers make sense of the choices the characters face.
            While the innovative landscape and unusual creatures engage readers’ attention and draw them into the story, it is Zita’s conflict about her identity as a hero that inevitably makes them turn each page until they reach the book’s shocking conclusion. Zita detests the sudden and inaccurate fame that is bestowed upon her after she saved Joseph and Scriptorius. When an imprint-o-tron robot appears looking identical to her, Zita jumps at the chance to relinquish the spotlight. But the consequences of rejecting fame and the adoring masses come at a steep price. The robot stops Zita from boarding her spaceship in order to hijack her life, which prompts Zita to commandeer another ship. Word quickly gets out that Zita is a thief and her godlike reputation undergoes a drastic makeover. She becomes “Zita the Crimegirl,” a menace to society and is hunted by the Doom Squad. Neither identity – the muscular super-powered diva or the lawless public enemy – is an accurate representation of who Zita is or who she wants to be. This new type of hollow heroism has no appeal to Zita and she rejects the lifestyle it offers. But her new friend, Madrigal, helps her gain a new understanding of what heroism means when she says, “I think you’re like the rest of us. Just trying to hold things together while you find your way. But I also think the role [of hero] suits you . . . You shine in a crisis and you inspire loyalty” (108-109). Once she arrives at Lumponia to reunite with her friends and fight the evil Hearts, she dons her signature green cape once more and reclaims her role as a heroine.
But in the end, it is not Zita who saves the day; it is her robot doppelganger who takes Zita’s place in the giant’s hero-lock and sends the Hearts packing. She decides “I will be a hero . . . for you . . . for the Lumpies” (183). Robot Zita’s selfless choice will probably rocket Zita into greater fame since there is now a giant Zita suspended over Lumponia, but Zita is now unconcerned with the life of her story. She cares more about the fates of Mouse and Madrigal who were captured by the Doom Squad.  Robot Zita has reminded her that being a hero means “doing the right thing,” which has nothing to do with fame and fortune (160). Zita remains the best kind of superstar, one who is trustworthy and loyal and utterly committed to her friends. She is the kind of superstar that will never have a reality TV show or grace the cover of US Weekly. But she is destined to remain in the hearts and minds of all who read about her adventures as they join her among the true stars.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know anything about these books! They sound super amazing! It sounds like a game that I really want to play! And the whole dealing with fame thing sounds really interesting.