‘Cleopatra in Space,’ Volume 4

The Golden Lion (Cleopatra in Space, Book 4), written and illustrated by Mike Maihack. New York, NY: Scholastic, 2017. Full color. ISBN 978-0-5425-83871-9.

I previously discussed the first three volumes of Mike Maihack’s Cleopatra in Space, a space opera aimed at younger readers. Maihack originally began the series as a web comic. The web version stopped abruptly after bogging down, but Maihack rebooted the title as a series of graphic novels through Scholastic’s Graphix imprint. The web comic is not in continuity with the graphic novels, but Maihack suggests to parents that they could check it out anyway to get a good idea of the kind of material that’s likely to appear in the print version.

Although volume 3, Secret of the Time Tablets, is still the best thing Maihack has produced in the series thus far, volume 4 is a strong entry, with some interesting revelations, a touch of character growth, and a surprising final twist. Now you’ll have to excuse the image quality in most of this post, as I couldn’t slap the comic down in my scanner because reasons.

As the story opens, the forces of P.Y.R.A.M.I.D., the Nile Galaxy’s last defense against the Xerx hordes, are in a race against time to beat the evil Octavian to a powerful artifact known as the Golden Lion, a power source capable of destroying a planet.

Supposedly, the Golden Lion was a star, but it crash-landed on a planet, and no, I don’t know how that works … actually, the less said about the backstory, the better. The important part is that there’s a McGuffin, and both the heroes and the villains want it.

A year has passed since Cleopatra, now sixteen, was carried into the distant future by the Time Tablets. Aware that her recklessness got one of her friends killed and left another permanently maimed, she has thrown herself into combat training even more obsessively than before. It’s also become clear that time travel has imbued her with certain unnatural abilities, though the extent of her powers is still unknown. Upon learning of the Golden Lion, she decides to sneak out of the P.Y.R.A.M.I.D. base alone and hunt for the artifact on the icy planet of Cada’duun.

But Octavian is on the move as well and has dispatched his new general, the wolf-headed Ophois, to destroy both the Golden Lion and Cleopatra.

Not to be confused with the jackal-headed Anubis.

Readers looking for either accurate history or hard science will have reason to be disappointed, but those looking for undemanding action adventure will be pleased. Maihack’s greatest strength is in composing action sequences, and he showcases that ability here. It feels as if most of this volume is action sequences. And since Cada’duun’s atmosphere screws with electronics or something, Cleo is even forced to holster her raygun and fight with her double-bladed light saber instead.

Unsurprisingly, she also meets up with the mysterious thief/love interest Antony and must reluctantly cooperate with him when Ophois comes calling.

Bonus.

The artwork is consistent with earlier volumes, though Maihack has a new and decidedly improved design for Brian, one of Cleopatra’s sidekicks (the designated tech geek who’s responsible for her gizmos). Before, he had this weirdly shaped face with bizarre, jutting cheekbones, but now he’s been revamped to look like the rest of the characters. Perhaps I’m not the only one who found his former face off-putting.

Brian, now with a normal face.

If the story can be said to falter at all, it is in a too-obvious dependence on Star Wars. Granted, it would be hard not to resemble Star Wars in some respects in a story like this, but the previous volumes never really called it to mind. This one, however, feels almost like a Star Wars highlights reel. We have a scene of Octavian kneeling before some still-greater evil, much like Darth Vader before the Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back, and then we have a journey to an ice planet, and then the volume climaxes with a light saber duel over a pit of lava …

Well, light staff and spear thingy, at least.

By the time the web comic ended, it looked as if Miahack wasn’t sure where to take this story. However, after four volumes, the graphic novels look as if they’re just getting started. Peppered throughout have been hints that there is more going on in the background than is immediately apparent. By the time this book is over, most of the questions are still unanswered.

The story also appears to be moving away from humor and toward a more serious tone. The title character has matured a lot since her introduction, which is probably a good thing overall, though I admit I rather miss the sassy and overconfident Cleo to whom Maihack initially introduced us. She was a lot of fun, mouthy and rebellious, reacting to a gunfight the same way some girls react to their favorite boy bands. The more conflicted and angsty version that comes across in The Golden Lion is less mindlessly entertaining.

It remains to be seen where exactly this series is going, but it’s been a good trip so far, and I intend to keep reading when volume 5 appears.