It’s oft-fictionalized historical figure Cleopatra as you’ve never seen her! Not only does cartoonist Mike Maihack focus on the character when she’s a tomboy-ish 15-year-old girl more interested in slingshots that royal duties, and still a long way off from the seductive presence once portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor or the Ancient World romantic entanglements that have helped define her pop culture presence, he also removes her pretty far from Ancient Egypt, as the “In Space” part of the title no doubt clued you in (And if that didn’t, surely the alien, ray guns and spaceships on the cover did).
Maihack’s debut graphic novel opens in medias res with youg Cleo, looking like one might imagine an ancient Egyptian teenage girl to look from the neck up, but wearing a short red, Star Trek-esque dress and clutching a laser pistol and a metal cube covered in glowing circuitry patterns. She’s being pursued by cute aliens that resemble a cross between Ewoks and Stitch (as in Lilo & Stitch), but makes a daring escape by jumping on to her flying space bike shaped like the Great Sphinx of Giza, complete with a sidecar for her taking cat companion, and flies off.
Sounds promising, right?
From there, we flash back to Cleopatra’s home time period, where she is suffering through a boring algebra lesson on the day of her 15th birthday. She escapes by drugging her tutor’s tea, and then she and her pal Gozi play hookie, playing with their slingshots in some old ruins. There they discover a hidden door and a “magic” tablet that shoots her to an alien planet in the far-flung future. No sooner has she arrived than she’s infomrmed that she’s some sort of chosen one, recruited by the ruling council of talking cats that oversee PYRAMID (The Pharaoh Yasiro’s Research And Miitary Initiative of Defense) to help them beat back the galactic hordes of space conqueror Xaius Octavian.
But first: More school!
This school seems a bit more fun then the one she ran away from. Even though she still has to take math, she also gets target practice with laser guns and combat training, and rather than learning solo in her royal chambers, she now has classes full of various types of aliens, several of whom quickly befriend her.
Maihack’s world-building isn’t mind-blowlingly original, as connections between advanced alien cultures and ancient Egypt have been a staple of pseudo-science and pop sci-fi (1994 film Stargate comes most immediately to mind) for a while now, but his application of them is at least a lot of fun. In additional to the aforementioned sphinx-cycle, Cleo faces off against robot mummies at one point, and the talking cats is a neat take on the Egyptians’ worship of them.
Maihack’s art style is bears a touch of anime/manga influence, but seemingly just as much Bruce Timm or Dan DeCarlo, making for an overall clean, inviting, simple but-not-too-simple look to his pages. It’s a style that is well suited to incorporating such vastly different settings, technologies, and characters as those that provide the clash central to the book’s story, premise, and appeal.
Most kids likely won’t notice, let alone appreciate or care, that in this Maihack has appropriated one of the most famous female characters in recorded history, one primarily defined by her alliance with and opposition to the powerful men of her era, and turned her into a kick-butt, teen girl heroine, but the surface details are all so fun and funny, the adventurous spirit so infectious, it doesn’t really matter.
Maihack’s Cleopatra, whether in space or on Earth, is a likable character, and so to is the graphic novel series she’s starring in.